Voices of Humanity has four intermeshed features: 1) the Order Out of Chaos forum, 2) Together and Apart (T&A) inter-community conversations, 3) an Easy Access App and 4) Bottom Up Networks. The Order Out of Chaos forum is up and running. The Together and Apart intercommunity conversations are likewise up and running. The app is nearly ready but work on Bottom Up Networks has not yet begun. Everything always takes longer than expected!
The world, our world, Planet Earth is in trouble, a trouble of our own making. Humanity, by a combination of population growth and misguided economic development, has overstepped Nature’s limits. Civilization as it goes is not sustainable and will collapse, and in the non-linear way of things, all too likely sooner rather than later.
We know the hardliners must be marginalized but let’s be even more assertive and think in terms of capturing the center. To humanity’s credit, international and interfaith organizations have established a powerful global perspective. The fact is, though, that the nations and religions are still caught up in an us vs them matrix. We know what we need to do, but we don’t have the trust and cooperation to make it happen.
Unity and diversity. To capture the center we need a massive heartfelt sense of human unity that will underpin international and interfaith trust and cooperation. We love our nations and religions, and won’t give them up, so in this shift to a larger sense of unity, we need to be thinking how we can motivate the nations and religions to be willing partners. Voices of Humanity (VoH) will manage this feat by supporting both unity and diversity within the same framework. We BOTH strengthen human unity AND we strengthen the national and religious identities.
Together and Apart
Imagine a collective discussion between the Democrats and the Republicans in America. A simple back-and-forth dialog would just widen the divide. But if we alternate between red & blue together and red & blue apart then we give voice both to America-as-one and to each of the country’s two major parties separately. In this way we build a sense of American unity that respects American political differences.
How does it work? Voices of Humanity uses crowd-source technology (voting on messages) to give each participating community a collective voice of its own. For every T&A conversation, there will be a monthly Together phase followed by an Apart phase. Winning messages for both phases will be available online and emailed to the participants. In the Together phase, messages from all participating communities are mixed together and voted on by everyone. In the Apart phase, messages are elected separately by each community.
The same together-and-apart process will apply to the nations and to the religions. Hardliners in each nation and religion will have to choose whether or not to participate in a forum that supports their national or religious identity by giving it a voice of its own, but which also supports human unity. Hardliners who refuse to take part will effectively marginalize themselves. When the hardliners marginalize themselves, those of us who want to cooperate can focus more on our positive goals.
It gets complicated. Each nationality is a community in VoH and every participant must specify one or two nationalities for their profile. A nation may well participate in more than one T&A conversation. For instance, the “International” T&A conversation will include all nations, but the nuclear armed nations may also participate in a “Nuclear Weapons States” conversation. Therefore, the USA and all U.S. participants will be a member of both conversations. And what if an Iranian immigrant to the U.S. lists both Iran and the U.S. in their VoH profile? Binationals must decide which perspective to take when participating in the “International” conversation. Another detail to be aware of: all messages posted in a T&A conversation are also listed in the Order Out of Chaos forum. It has taken a lot of thought to put the online interface together in a way that is usable (we hope!).
The plan is to begin with two T&A conversations: the Cities, and Israel-Palestine. Hopefully in 2022.
Across the Silos
In the together phase of a T&A conversation, a heartfelt sense of collective unity is established. The power of a heartfelt sense of collective unity cannot be overestimated.
Together and Apart conversations are a potential game changer when diverse partners are working towards a common goal, aka “cooperating across the silos”. On the local level “collective impact” is a highly developed concept along the same lines. An article in the Winter 2011 Stanford Social Innovation Review outlined five ingredients for successful collective impact at the local level. The idea took off in a big way and is still going strong. See the original article here: https://ssir.org/articles/entry/collective_impact.
The five ingredients for a successful collective impact project.
Common Agenda. Collective impact brings local people and organizations from different sectors (civic, business, government) together to work on a particular initiative. All participants must understand and agree on exactly what the initiative intends to accomplish. By focusing on a particular set of goals, chaos is reduced and success is more likely.
Shared Measurement System. For each goal or subgoal, measurable key indicators are specified. All participants must be open with the measurements that they can provide. This can be problematic for some participating organizations and agencies, so it is critical that all participants honestly agree to be transparent.
Mutually Reinforcing Activities. This is where real progress can be made. Each participating organization, as it learns what the others are doing, can make modest adjustments in their own activities in order to mesh better with the others, thus improving outcomes all around. But this requires real friendship, with everyone being delighted to boost the overall result. A tit for tat approach will bring only minimal benefits. That heartfelt sense of community produced by a Together & Apart conversation makes the difference.
Continuous Communication. Clearly everyone has to be kept up to date and new ideas must be encouraged to percolate through the collective impact community. In person meetings are often possible, since everything is happening locally, but an online process is also required.
Backbone Organization. The independent backbone organization provides paid staff. The wikipedia article on collective impact lists six functions of the backbone staff: “Guide Vision and Strategy; Support Aligned Activity; Establish Shared Measurement Practices; Build Public Will; Advance Policy; and Mobilize Funding.” Clearly a backbone organization is a requirement, but that organization is ever so likely to have its own agenda, however much it tries to be purely supportive of the collective impact initiative it has adopted. The process will only work if the participating organizations trust the backbone to be open and not heavy handed.
Bringing the Goals of the UN Home to San Francisco
The Voices of Humanity San Francisco team aims to persuade the SF Board of Supervisors to pass a resolution establishing a UN Goals Advisory Committee that will develop detailed proposals how the goals of the UN may best be supported / implemented by the City. The resolution will cover each of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), human rights, CEDAW, nuclear disarmament and world peace, with a blanket clause covering all the other goals of the UN.
The plan for San Francisco is to build a civic / academic / business / government coalition for a “collective impact” project to get the resolution passed. The VoH Together and Apart feature will provide the needed “continuous communication” tool and the team will build the coalition from the ground up, all the while looking for a “backbone organization” to partner with and grant money for outreach staff.
The SDGs are coming down to the city level in any case, so our efforts are very likely to succeed. That success will generate much good will and momentum for a second stage to the project as our coalition transforms itself into the new San Francisco UN Goals Advisory Committee. Then the real work will begin.
While collective impact projects deliberately focus on a particular goal at the local level, the VoH Together and Apart feature opens up a possibility of working across the silos on multiple goals and at every geographic level simultaneously. Success in San Francisco will open the door for similar projects in the Bay Area cities, in California cities, in US cities and across the world. We can connect all these cities in one global network. Let’s make it happen!