Agora videocast: Nora Bateson and Luca Gatti on Covid-19 and Thinking Through Complexity

UNDP Europe and Central Asia launched a new videocast series on using systems thinking to solve development challenges. In this opening episode of the series on agorà, Nora Bateson and Luca Gatti discuss how we unpack complexity in societies and demonstrate its relevance through new ways of working in development.

UNDP Europe and Central Asia launched a new videocast series on using systems thinking to solve development challenges. In this opening episode of the series on agorà, a novel initiative to design a portfolio of development options and new development response capabilities in urban settings, Nora Bateson, president of the International Bateson Institute, and Luca Gatti, founder and the chair of Chôra Foundation, discuss how we unpack complexity in societies and demonstrate its relevance through new ways of working in development. The discussion is moderated by Gerd Trogemann, Manager of the UNDP Regional Bureau for Europe and Central Asia.

While the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed vulnerabilities in our health, economic, social, political, and environmental systems, it has also forced a shift in the way we conceptualize complexity in society. Nora Bateson and Luca Gatti explore the impact of the pandemic on systems thinking, its implications for development paradigms and discuss how we can imagine a different future in which complexity and uncertainty are embraced as defining features of our society. 

Reflecting on how the pandemic has fundamentally changed the way we conceptualize society, Nora explains that prior to the pandemic, speaking about intrasystemic fragility would have been far too abstract. After months into the pandemic, however, society has come to recognize that health is very much connected to education, technology and many other facets of our social system. This attitudinal shift in how we comprehend complexity and interconnectedness in society, Nora hopes, can open possibilities for new ways of thinking about how we address complex social issues, going beyond looking for simple solutions. 

Explaining the importance of warm data and its implications for thinking through complexity, Nora defines the concept as the data of complex systems, of seeing the relationships between complex social processes via an analogy of learning to play the violin:

“Where is the learning around how you learn to play violin? Is it in your muscles? Is it in your relationship with your teacher, or …in the written notes of the music itself? … It’s in the relationship between all of those things!”

The way in which we have developed our response system to even describe what a problem is has blinded us to the complex conditions that created it in the first place. When the stakes are high, we tend to focus on reductionist thinking to measure and solve problems quickly, but this way of thinking doesn’t tell us about important interactions and relationships between multiple existing contexts. We need to think about information in a new way – moving away from problem-oriented approaches and into understanding the conditions and relationships to build solutions. 

Emphasizing the necessity of systems thinking and the productive shift that has occurred against the backdrop of the pandemic, Nora argues that those communities that have been left behind by society, that are in the worst conditions, are the fastest at picking up and using complexity thinking to lift themselves up. They know what a systemic problem is because they live it.

Moving to the importance of using systems thinking and a portfolio approach to enabling various options for development, Luca explains that portfolios of options work on two levels:

  • First, we need to look at the role of relationships and experiences in influencing the system. Apart from the various informational assets that you have at your disposal, the portfolio approach enables us to be on the ground to learn and discover. 
  • Second, against the backdrop of the old paradigm of prescriptive experts presenting problems and solutions, options create relationships with communities to say: here is a capabilibility that you hold and that you can use to make decisions about yourselves. 

“A portfolio of strategic options is that noble gift where you are literally bringing a capability and saying: this is how you could do it… Nothing is more precious to the resilience of a system than the capability it has to make decisions about itself.”
– Luca Gatti

Concluding the conversation with a discussion on the concept of ecological flexibility1, Nora underlines the crucial need for another kind of flexibility. We need to think about ecological flexibility in terms of our ways of perceiving and thinking – to go beyond pragmatic, solution-bound thinking that seeks to measure impact narrowly. We need to be able to meet the complexity on the ground in the communities and cities. “There is no KPI that you can fit systemic work into because it’s moving through multiple contexts.”

“And I would say this is probably one of the most important issues of our time. How do we actually start to talk about the living, difficult, blurry processes that we live within in a way that matches or meets that complexity.” 

– Nora Bateson

Speakers:

  • Nora Bateson is an award-winning filmmaker, writer and educator, as well as President of the International Bateson Institute, based in Sweden. Her work asks the question: “How can we improve our perception of the complexity we live within, so we may improve our interaction with the world?”. As an international lecturer, researcher and writer, her work brings the fields of biology, cognition, art, anthropology, psychology, and information technology together into a study of the patterns in ecology of living systems. She is founder of the Warm Data Lab and author of Small Arcs of Larger Circles. 
  • Luca Gatti is a founder and the chair of Chôra Foundation. He has extensive experience in the articulation of policy and the facilitation of governance, and a deep understanding of the leadership and operational implications of Strategic Innovation processes. He has previously worked in both public and private sectors across the globe in bringing conceptual architecture of decision-making centred around resilience and renewal. He is currently working with UNDP on the Agora project to design a portfolio of development options for cities in the region.

Moderator: 

  • Gerd Trogemann, Manager of the UNDP Regional Bureau for Europe and Central Asia Istanbul Regional Hub

1.The concept of “ecological flexibility” emerges from Gregory Bateson’s “Reconstructing the Ecology of a Great City,” originally prepared for a symposium of city planning in October 1970. Ecology and Flexibility in Urban Civilization, Steps to an Ecology of Mind by Gregory Bateson

UNDP Europe and Central Asia launched a new videocast series on using systems thinking to solve development challenges. In this opening episode of the series on agorà, a novel initiative to design a portfolio of development options and new development response capabilities in urban settings, Nora Bateson, president of the International Bateson Institute, and Luca Gatti, founder and the chair of Chôra Foundation, discuss how we unpack complexity in societies and demonstrate its relevance through new ways of working in development. The discussion is moderated by Gerd Trogemann, Manager of the UNDP Regional Bureau for Europe and Central Asia.

 

While the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed vulnerabilities in our health, economic, social, political, and environmental systems, it has also forced a shift in the way we conceptualize complexity in society. Nora Bateson and Luca Gatti explore the impact of the pandemic on systems thinking, its implications for development paradigms and discuss how we can imagine a different future in which complexity and uncertainty are embraced as defining features of our society. 

 

Reflecting on how the pandemic has fundamentally changed the way we conceptualize society, Nora explains that prior to the pandemic, speaking about intrasystemic fragility would have been far too abstract. After months into the pandemic, however, society has come to recognize that health is very much connected to education, technology and many other facets of our social system. This attitudinal shift in how we comprehend complexity and interconnectedness in society, Nora hopes, can open possibilities for new ways of thinking about how we address complex social issues, going beyond looking for simple solutions. 

 

Explaining the importance of warm data and its implications for thinking through complexity, Nora defines the concept as the data of complex systems, of seeing the relationships between complex social processes via an analogy of learning to play the violin:

 

“Where is the learning around how you learn to play violin? Is it in your muscles? Is it in your relationship with your teacher, or …in the written notes of the music itself? … It’s in the relationship between all of those things!”

 

The way in which we have developed our response system to even describe what a problem is has blinded us to the complex conditions that created it in the first place. When the stakes are high, we tend to focus on reductionist thinking to measure and solve problems quickly, but this way of thinking doesn’t tell us about important interactions and relationships between multiple existing contexts. We need to think about information in a new way – moving away from problem-oriented approaches and into understanding the conditions and relationships to build solutions. 

 

Emphasizing the necessity of systems thinking and the productive shift that has occurred against the backdrop of the pandemic, Nora argues that those communities that have been left behind by society, that are in the worst conditions, are the fastest at picking up and using complexity thinking to lift themselves up. They know what a systemic problem is because they live it.

 

Moving to the importance of using systems thinking and a portfolio approach to enabling various options for development, Luca explains that portfolios of options work on two levels:

  • First, we need to look at the role of relationships and experiences in influencing the system. Apart from the various informational assets that you have at your disposal, the portfolio approach enables us to be on the ground to learn and discover. 
  • Second, against the backdrop of the old paradigm of prescriptive experts presenting problems and solutions, options create relationships with communities to say: here is a capabilibility that you hold and that you can use to make decisions about yourselves. 

 

“A portfolio of strategic options is that noble gift where you are literally bringing a capability and saying: this is how you could do it… Nothing is more precious to the resilience of a system than the capability it has to make decisions about itself.”
– Luca Gatti

 

Concluding the conversation with a discussion on the concept of ecological flexibility1, Nora underlines the crucial need for another kind of flexibility. We need to think about ecological flexibility in terms of our ways of perceiving and thinking – to go beyond pragmatic, solution-bound thinking that seeks to measure impact narrowly. We need to be able to meet the complexity on the ground in the communities and cities. “There is no KPI that you can fit systemic work into because it’s moving through multiple contexts.”

 

“And I would say this is probably one of the most important issues of our time. How do we actually start to talk about the living, difficult, blurry processes that we live within in a way that matches or meets that complexity.” 

– Nora Bateson

 

 

 

Speakers:

  • Nora Bateson is an award-winning filmmaker, writer and educator, as well as President of the International Bateson Institute, based in Sweden. Her work asks the question: “How can we improve our perception of the complexity we live within, so we may improve our interaction with the world?”. As an international lecturer, researcher and writer, her work brings the fields of biology, cognition, art, anthropology, psychology, and information technology together into a study of the patterns in ecology of living systems. She is founder of the Warm Data Lab and author of Small Arcs of Larger Circles. 
  • Luca Gatti is a founder and the chair of Chôra Foundation. He has extensive experience in the articulation of policy and the facilitation of governance, and a deep understanding of the leadership and operational implications of Strategic Innovation processes. He has previously worked in both public and private sectors across the globe in bringing conceptual architecture of decision-making centred around resilience and renewal. He is currently working with UNDP on the Agora project to design a portfolio of development options for cities in the region.

 

Moderator: 

  • Gerd Trogemann, Manager of the UNDP Regional Bureau for Europe and Central Asia Istanbul Regional Hub

 

1.The concept of “ecological flexibility” emerges from Gregory Bateson’s “Reconstructing the Ecology of a Great City,” originally prepared for a symposium of city planning in October 1970. Ecology and Flexibility in Urban Civilization, Steps to an Ecology of Mind by Gregory Bateson

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