The problem we need to solve
Too much disagreement, too many voices, too little time
Before COVID-19 held our world in its grip, people across the globe were losing their trust in politics. In many countries, rich or poor, it seemed harder and harder to agree on the past, the present or the future. Our divisions made progress seem impossible. Bitter polarisation was a growing trend between and within countries.
Fast forward to now: COVID-19 has brought fear and disruption into our world - but it’s brought so much solidarity and common purpose too. Everything already looks so different. And when this crisis blows over, we’ll need to rebuild so much. What we build must follow a new blueprint for our future, so that the next chapter delivers on our needs and our dreams.
Right now, we need a strategy for hope that will give direction and purpose to people across our planet. We need to figure out how to channel millions of voices into a common call to action. We need to be inspired into pooling our collective energy into a clear, committed, progressive re-construction effort.
The sheer number of communication channels, opinions, voices, tools, ideas, projects, images and apps out there are stretching our attention spans and diffusing our energy. This is a systemic problem and the solution must involve a large, representative cohort of citizens from around our world.
Now more than ever we must cut through the noise with clear messages, with courage and speak as one.
What it does
Our simple method will deliver a common story that is the blueprint for our future.
The antidote to confusion, chaos and noise, is to be inspired by a shared story of a hopeful and just society after COVID-19. This story will inspire and motivate us to rebuild a world fit for our ambitions after the crisis.
Our foundational story as a global collective doesn’t need to be long. Actually, we should be able to express it in one sentence. Our old, pre-COVID-19 world had one such simple story at its heart, which was: “the worthy individual does well”. You might agree or disagree with that idea. But you can’t deny how powerful it was in ordering our politics, our economies and and our societies.
What and how?
In our old pre-COVID world, our team at Flare bridged divides by bringing together unlike minds to develop collective visions for change.
We are a Brussels-based non-profit with an innovative method for developing clarity and shared purpose in an atomised, multi-tonal world. We use a combination of methods taken from linguistics and therapy to help people develop shared metaphors, common language and joint commitments. We strip debate down to the basics and enable those who don’t always agree to build a common story and speak with one voice. We help them map out what happens next, what role they can play and what they can improve in their own actions and attitudes.
Now, we are moving these debates online, supporting individuals across sectors to build tomorrow’s world.
The team at Flare have a way forward for developing that inspiring, hopeful, shared story quickly and collectively. With this method we’ll lead the way to energise and unite people across the globe. We will map out our skills and interest to turn our shared story into an action-plan for our future.
We are social scientists, not techies though. We need tech support to transport our innovative method into the new world of mainly online connection (for now).
The solution we are proposing consists of three parts, each of which will be built out during the hackathon.
Gather: we will energise and inspire people across the globe to share their vision for change Delve: We will map out the hopes, skills and interests, going deeper with key groups to turn our shared story into an action-plan for the future. Create: We will amplify our collective story of change, connecting power and knowledge, to inspire courage and progress in our new world.
How we built it
The product is a simple campaign to collect ideas and build a shared story for mankind’s post-COVID-19 future. We will be asking people all over the world to complete the following statement with no more than 7 words:
“After COVID-19 we will build the new world. This world will be [use your words here to describe what it will be like]”.
What should a post-COVID-19 world look like? What are our hopes for it?
These ideas will be collected via web form, as text, images, and video or sound clips.
As we collect these ideas, we will plot them onto word clouds, collate into inspiring videos and provoke creativity through art partnerships with musicians, visual artists, film-makers and others. We will develop narratives and ideas through insightful podcasts, collecting views from across the world. The end result will be much more than our common story for the new world we are building, it will be a worldwide movement for change.
In addition, we will map out the skills, expertise and interests of all those participating, in order to encourage immediate next steps following our global visioning exercise. We will be able to apply our method thematically (e.g. climate, hunger, resilience, human rights, everything covered under the SDGs and more) and by geographical area. For example, if we have 500 submissions from citizens with skills and interest in sustainable development in the region of West Africa, we will be in a position to connect them so that they can progress with more targeted, localised visioning that meets the needs and aspirations of people in their region.
Challenges we ran into
The key challenge for us remains that we are a team of five social scientists with a tried and tested method for developing shared narratives for change. What we do not have is
Accomplishments that we're proud of
The stories we tell about our world determine the actions that we take and support, in personal as well as public life. A huge body of evidence from cognitive linguistics, moral reasoning and metaphor theories (Lakoff et al.) supports this. Throughout mankind’s history, political ideologies, power structures and ways of organising society have been built on simple foundational stories that have offered a filter for understanding reality, including justifying the arrangements of a particular social order. For instance, in contemporary capitalist societies, that story is “the worthy individual does well”, in feudal society it was “feudal lords enjoy wealth by God’s will” and in many contemporary populist movements “you are being taken advantage of” energises millions.
Flare believes that shared narratives and collectively developed metaphors are a fundamental step to joint action. Too often, their absence is the very reason why progress is slow and action inconsequential in public policy.
Since early 2020, Flare has been developing “Speaking one language for the future of food” with a core group including the European Commission, the UN FAO, Oxfam GB, Slow Food and Compassion in World Farming. On a journey that should have culminated in a face-to-face share-out in early April at the UN SDG Festival of Action, we have been developing our shared story for a food system that delivers sustainably and plentifully for all. This story will allow us to agree steps for action and understand our individual roles in delivering change.
Our world has changed quickly. Within Flare, as in the rest of the world, as COVID-19 has pushed us to learn fast how to build connections, create space for reflection and develop our shared story online. Our new world needs a new narrative for a sustainable food system. It also needs a new narrative for the climate, for politics, for change. Flare is in a unique position to build these narratives collectively in this project, “After COVID-19 we build the new world”.
What we learned
What we are learning quickly is that we cannot simply transfer our offline method lazily to the online medium, without proper reflection on how genuine connections happen and how hope is created and propagated. Our experience of delivering change and connection gives us a good insight into how connection is created. With technical support, we could turn this into powerful tools to map out the fast change and reconstruction that must take place globally once the flames of COVID are extinguished.
What's next for After COVID-19 we will build a new world
Beyond the prototype
The prototype will be developed during the hackathon in a way that is realistic from a technical perspective given constraints of time and resources. Based on successful testing of the prototype and development of the campaign over the next 8 weeks, future elements could be added to facilitate connection globally irrespectively of any future restrictions due to pandemic control or any other factors. They could include:
- an app allowing for ongoing global visioning process in an accessible form
- a game, which could be used to build connection, collaboration and solidarity across different themes (e.g. building an ideal farming system)
- art projects (music, poetry, visual arts, drama, etc)
- focused visioning exercises guided by Flare’s unique methodology
- a story of change in a new world, a snowball of hope, a foundational narrative for a new world
Just imagine: if 10,000 people contribute, 500 submissions may concern climate change, 250 of those people may be willing to be contacted for further information, 100 of those may have specific expertise or skills that they would like to contribute, 50 may want to take the conversation further with politicians, business, civil society, academia, supported step by step by Flare's unique dialogue method. Some of these folk may submit video content, half of these could form a focus group who develop a collective vision and action plan for change. The possibilities for channeling a common vision and driving change in this way are truly exciting.