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:

  1. Mental models. We are in thrall to our mental models, which tend to stay beneath the surface, nudging us without our awareness. We’ve all heard that the first step to recovery is awareness. So, how can we become aware of our mental models? It’s hard enough to spot others’ mental models, much less our own. Here are just a few of the many resources that can help.
  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.
Section 1: Mental models

Different mental models that we have

7 resources

Section 2: Stories we tell ourselves

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. There are five sections: 1. Reimagining economics. We are so embedded within a global capitalist system of economics that we can find it hard to imagine anything else – except, perhaps, in limited domains or geographies. Let’s explore some ideas about how we can challenge and spur imaginative thinking on economics. 2. Using lenses. Using diverse lenses is critical for changemakers, to be able to see and understand the system and its dynamics as fully as possible. Here are some useful resources for helping us to use different lenses. 3. Decolonising development. In addition to all its terrible consequences in the real world, colonisation is a vector of beliefs and ideas that have pervaded our cultural waters for centuries. The development sector is not exempt. How can we decolonise the work? This is a growing area of discussion and activity. Here, we offer just a few explorations. 4. Paradox. Life is full of paradoxes – especially life in complex adaptive systems. How can we deal with them? ‘Dealing’ with a paradox is, itself, a paradox, since paradoxes, by nature, cannot be resolved or made to go away. But there are some ideas and examples that we can learn from. 5. Finite and infinite games. In his short, philosophical book, "Finite and Infinite Games", James Carse proposes a paradigm for thinking about life and our part in it – and this idea is very relevant and useful to changemakers.

Section 1: Reimagining economics

5 resources

Section 2: Using lenses

5 resources

Section 3: Decolonising development

7 resources

Section 4: Paradox

4 resources

Section 5: Finite and infinite games

4 resources