Toolkit two: challenging what we know

Toolkit two: challenging what we know


Current social-ecological trajectories paint an alarming picture while changemakers, a hopeful breed, refuse to give up and are working hard to change things. Yet, there’s often a sense that despite all efforts, larger forces continue to drive us in directions that aren’t helpful. How can we really get ourselves onto a different track? 

It’s not news to anyone that we first have to imagine it. But are we imagining transformations deeply and widely and audaciously enough? If not, what’s holding us back?

In this toolkit, we’ll examine the question of what we know – or think we know – and how this can impede imagination. We’ll begin to explore the immense topic of mental models, how they drive us, how we can examine them, and how we can change them. Here, we can only make a start. But until we make a start, our thinking will continue to be automatic, mostly invisible to us, and unlikely to imagine the futures we need.

Acknowledgements: This toolkit was created by the Interaktiv kapacitetsutveckling för systeminnovation i utvecklingssamarbete/Interactive capacity development for system innovation in development co-operation​ (IXUS) collaboration, supported by a grant from Sida, and building upon thought leadership in a number of changemaker programmes from the Stockholm Resilience Centre, University of Cape Town, Adapt, Southern Africa Food Labs, University of Waterloo, and University of Victoria.

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Chapter 1

Interrogating our thinking

A core skill of changemakers is to be aware of and to interrogate their own thinking. In this chapter, we’ll explore two topics of immediate relevance: mental models and stories we tell ourselves.

Section 1: Mental models

Different mental models that we have

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Section 2: Stories we tell ourselves

We tell ourselves (and each other) stories about nearly everything that happens to us or that we interact with. Like mental models, we’re often not even consciously aware of them. Certain stories float through our culture and conversations with such pervasiveness that we may not even think to question them. Here, we examine – and challenge – some very common ones for changemakers.

Chapter 2

Changing our thinking

Now that we understand how fallible our thinking can be, how can we change it when we discover mental models that no longer serve? For this chapter, we’ve collected some examples and tools from others who are making real attempts to change thinking.

Section 1: Reimagining economics

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Section 2: Using lenses

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Section 3: Decolonising development

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Section 4: Paradox

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Section 5: Finite and infinite games

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