Building solutions from the bottom up

October 28, 2009 at 11:32 am | Posted in Articles | 2 Comments

We all know that we are in an economic and financial crisis. We also know that we are in an environmental crisis. We are subjected daily to descriptions and analyses of just how bad things are. Both appear overwhelming, to such an extent that we feel powerless to do anything about them.

 It is clear that what we need is solutions. Yet solutions seem to be in short supply and, insofar as any are being offered, they all appear to be in the realm of macro, ‘big-picture’ structural changes which only governments can bring about. Hence, we wait frustrated and disempowered while our leaders strive for answers.

 Yet, here’s the interesting thing. The solution to both of these problems can best be found through a ‘bottom-up’ participative process. Not only is this the most comprehensive way to deal with our problems and fix them, it will also invigorate our democratic and social culture. What we want to do after all is to build harmonies and find solutions, not accentuate antagonisms and build conflict and despair. Here’s how it can be done.

 First, we need to state clearly what our social and political goal is. What is our State about? This is a debate we rarely have but, particularly at times like this, it’s good to consider what might be thought of as obvious. Part of the answer must be that we want all citizens to be included, to have meaningful social activity, to have the means for a decent quality of life. There can be no more appalling notion than that of someone being ‘redundant’. Now, how do we bring this about? We do it by constructing a system that is more responsive to people and their real needs. The way to do this is to give people the power to define and solve their own problems. The means and ends become harmonised – the means used lead to the ends desired.

 Therefore, second, we need to acknowledge that people can be trusted and empowered. Those affected by issues or those at the frontline of issues, are the best sources of knowledge about what needs to be done. Empower them to do so! Let the power go from centralised, bureaucratised systems! We need to allow all kinds of groups – community groups, citizen groups, disability groups, drug addicts, businesses, public services – to work out their own solutions from the bottom up.

 Third, there is a straightforward method for doing this. Key to the method is that the effected group defines the problems and defines what they need. They do this by developing a generating question. Examples might be as follows. How do we who have disabilities live as independently as possible? How do we as a business improve this organisation’s service and save money? How do we as a community provide activities for our children?

 The critical thing is that the relevant group, i.e. those directly affected or those who directly work in the delivery or activity, are trusted to generate the answers and given the budget directly (however limited this must be) to achieve their own priorities. There are lots of ways that this can be done. These range from open meetings and facilitated gatherings right up to the wonderful possibilities available through the internet such as virtual solution systems and specially created social network sites. Information and ideas can flow and be accessed with greater ease now than ever before. Any problem can be addressed in this way from those that are small-scale right up to large-scale issues such as setting budgets through a participative process.

 If communities and organizations – both real and virtual – could empower themselves we would see a real social, political and cultural renewal. Our people would stop being made dependent and would start acting. We would build a culture of engagement, one that hopefully would sweep away our discredited political system of clientalism. Our organisations would become facilitators of activity not depositories of resources unequally distributed.

 A bottom-up democratic participation would almost certainly give rise to new forms of local economic activity. Local currencies and local credit systems might be developed which would provide the means for a renewed community economy providing a basic stream of goods and services. Local currencies could be utilised to reward useful social activity such as work with children, with our young people, our elderly and environmental enhancement. We need meaningful activity for all our people. Local economies creates local resilience (a buffer against global economic shocks) and a basic security foundation for all citizens regarding a minimum of basic goods and services.

 What is outlined here is not utopian. It is entirely achievable once people have confidence and the impetus to change the way we are doing things. What is required is to reduce bureaucracy and top-down management systems and instead to build smart organisations and communities. This is an agenda for economic, social and political change that is radical but uses no jargon, involves no protest, is positive, smart and empowering and uses tools already available. It centres simply on bottom-up participative solution seeking.




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  1. “Local currencies and local credit systems might be developed which would provide the means for a renewed community economy providing a basic stream of goods and services. Local currencies could be utilised to reward useful social activity such as work with children, with our young people, our elderly and environmental enhancement.”

    Jct: It’s already spreading around the world. With Africa trading with mobile-phone minutes, Arabia trading with mobile-phone card credits, with Hours being traded in Ithaca, with Greencredits being traded in LETS, the banks get no interest. And the movement to cut the middleman out of the usury is growing.
    When the local currency is pegged to the Time Standard of Money (how many dollars per hour of volunteer labor, children too) Hours earned locally can be intertraded with other timebanks globally! In 1999, I paid for 39/40 nights in Europe with an IOU for a night back in Canada worth 5 Hours. You can too.
    U.N. Millennium Declaration UNILETS Resolution C6 to governments is for a time-based currency to restructure the global financial architecture.
    See on growth of the international time-trading network.

    What is outlined here is not utopian.

    Jct: It is utopian. It’s good engineering.

    • John,
      Thanks for that. I agree – it’s not utopian, it’s here and it’s needed.
      Best wishes,

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