an updated manual for navigating the future…. centred on the 12-step Synergistic Toolkit, and the Synergistic Collaborium in context… complete with pictures & conversations…

Synergistics – practical guide


The Deeper-City-III is all about synergies, literally ‘working together’. There are synergies between people, organizations, communities, economies, political systems, technology systems and so on. There are positive synergies of learning or thinking or collaborating. There are also negative synergies (i.e. ‘syndromes’) of conflict, oppression or psychosis.  To understand and work with synergies – this is the job of Synergistics. 

For instance, public health has synergies and inter-connections with housing, education, food, employment, and welfare. Climate change has synergies with social, technical, ecological, political and other systems, from local to global.  Someone, somewhere and somehow, needs to put all this together, but this is a huge challenge.

Ch3 - toolkits - v0.71 - 21-09-15


The ‘synergistic toolkit’ helps to put it all together.  Basically this helps to draw mental maps and wiring diagrams for complex problems.  Starting with rough drawings on flipcharts, we can map people and organizations and their relations (‘actors’ and ‘factors’), with as much detail as needed. Then we can start to explore beyond the usual boundaries:

  • Wider, at different sets of actors and factors, (people and organizations and institutions).
  • Deeper, at different layers of reality (social, technical, economic, political etc).
  • Longer, at different horizons for change, beyond straight line trends, into the realm of  transformation.

Then we go more in-depth, and move from understanding problems, to designing responses. We follow a cycle in four stages, (‘4S’), each with questions to be explored:

  • System mapping of the landscape:
  • Scenario mapping of the changes:
  • Synergy mapping of opportunities:
  • Strategy mapping of pathways and road-maps.


 With this mapping method and toolkit we can look beyond the short-term to more structural transformations.  At the core is the capacity to learn and think in synergy, where the whole is greater than the parts.  We find there are different levels of synergy, each with a different ‘model’ of system operation and change:

  • a) linear model: the synergy works as a ‘functional system’: it follows instructions and responds to direct short term change: (like a complex machine).
  • b) evolutionary model: synergy works as a ‘adaptive system’: it can learn and evolve but in a ‘winner takes all’ style of self-organization: (like a jungle or wild-west).
  • c) co-evolutionary model: the synergy works as a higher order, shared-mind, learning and thinking, collective intelligence.  This is  shaped more by human qualities of questioning, creating, collaborating, strategizing. The result is that ‘winners-are-all’, if we can learn to think ahead, to find bigger picture opportunities, in co-innovation or co-evolution of social, technical, economic or political systems (like a human community). 

This ‘3.0’ model can help to understand almost any human problem or challenge, (e.g. social, economic or political), and to design shared-mind 3.0 type responses. Some examples:

  • Economy-3.0: An economic / financial system which includes for plural and non-material values, responsive to global limits, creative and resilient, self-organizing & self-stabilizing.
  • Governance-3.0: A networked model of decision-making and management of shared resources, with pro-active participation, with social media for shared-mind real-time collaboration.
  • other applications include Housing-3.0, Technologies-3.0, Money-3.0, Circul-onomics 3.0.

This method is at the core of each chapter on The Book page.  A short Practical Guide is available here:

Synergistics – practical guide

Also there are various presentations:

 Granada – science for sustainability – 02-06-16
Helsinki – elephant cities  – 21-01-15

with various papers for download:

BDC paper – evaluation in real systems

IJ Global Env – synergistic pathways – Ravetz

Future of Cities WP – Future of Urban Ecosystems

Background: inter-connected things & thinking

Whether at city, national or global levels, there is an over-whelming call for ‘joined up thinking’, for inter-connected problems.  Why all this focus on inter-connections?  Well, if we work on public health, it’s highly inter-connected with housing, education, food, employment, welfare and others.  Or, if we work on climate change, it seems very inter-connected with urban planning, engineering, economics and psychology issues. Everywhere there seem to be inter-connections, between local and global, sectors and professions, government and citizens, between providers and consumers.  And yet we all get into our silos and specialisms, and assume that the inter-connections are someone else’s problem.  So, living in an age of inter-connections calls for more inter-connected organizations, economic systems and governance systems – and in turn, more inter-connected kinds of knowledge and ‘know-how’. This book is a contribution to that knowledge and ‘know-how’.

Synergistic approach

If we’ve lost our path in the mist on the edge of a cliff, a map and compass could be really useful.  Likewise, rather than long descriptions of how to get around London, a map could be more useful – (also, your author has a simple mind and needs to see things to understand them). The point of the ‘synergistic’ mapping is that we have messy, inter-connected, out-of-control, existential Challenges, where synergistic thinking / mapping may be the only way through.  Luckily the synergistic mapping method is fun, and simple to get started: (a more complete 12 step method comes later on):

–          First draw what you see as the ‘problem’ or ‘agenda’ for today – its components, boundaries, and maybe some important things outside the boundary.

–          Then draw, in a rough kind of circle, the most important ‘actors’ (people / organizations) for your problem:  and maybe another circle with ‘factors’ (other significant things or issues).

–          Then draw the most important inter-connections, positive or negative, between the actors and/or factors. Add more circles if they seem relevant, for instance economics, technology, or cultural values. This all builds up into a ‘landscape mapping’, i.e. a baseline picture of the current situation.

–          Then with different colors, photocopies, post-it notes, duct tape or dried leaves, draw over with more layers of mapping. Include as far as possible: change-mapping, synergy mapping, and road-mapping (next section).  The drawing itself can be rough or smooth, but the more visual signals the better: instead of a box labelled ‘community’, draw a bunch of people-shaped blobs or sticks.  However the drawing / mapping is only a proxy for the real process of thinking, creating, deliberation and negotiation.

The “3.0” co-evolutionary models

These “3.0” models comes with insights on the ‘inter-connectedness of things and of thinking’. Based on creative synergy and social intelligence, it’s relevant to almost any kind of human problem, (social, technological, economic etc), which is shaped by inter-connected thinking, and where the solutions (or at least responses) are at least as inter-connected.  At the core of this book is the application of 3.0 thinking to urban, economic, technology, and other domains.  For each we make the proposition of ‘urban 3.0’, etc, and then sketch out the implications and applications: to fill out the landscape would take many more books. So first, here is the 3.0 elevator pitch:

  • ‘Urban 3.0’ points towards a city system based on cognitive capacity or shared intelligence, which can move towards economic vitality, social inclusion, ecological responsibility, cultural creativity, political participation and so on.
  • Economy 3.0: An economic / financial system which includes for plural and non-material  values, responsive to global limits, creative and resilient, self-organizing & self-stabilizing.
  • Community 3.0: Application of social enterprise, mutual aid, community cohesion and cultural diversity across all sections of society, with creative enabling for the excluded and vulnerable.
  • Ecology 3.0: ecological intelligence for global and local resources, with synergistic policy and investment, responsive & participative governance, integrated management of water, carbon, biodiversity etc.
  • Tech-know (‘Technology-Knowledge’) 3.0:  Development & innovation in digital technology and infrastructure:  applications to ‘smart cities’: synergistic science and multi-valent knowledge management: education as the enabler of change.
  • Governance 3.0:  A relational and networked way of decision-making and management of shared resources, with pro-active participation of stakeholders, based on shared intelligence for synergistic collaboration.

Synergistics: science & art

Here we stand back and look at some of the theory behind synergistic thinking, together with practical applications for policy and research. First, some general thoughts on synergistics as a science and/or art: then we follow around the cycle with applications and methods related to landscape mapping, change mapping, synergy mapping and road-mapping.

The philosophy of inter-connected thinking is an age-old quest, now with new insights which are suited to 21st century Challenges.  Take a typical city – shaped and driven by many forces – social / technological / economic / ecological / political and value-based.  In some ways it’s like a giant machine, or like a forest: in other ways it’s a cognitive community of humans who can learn, think, love, collaborate, create (but also creating conflict, oppression, paranoia, alienation and so on). For each of these components of the city, we can divide into specialist knowledge camps: or we can look for larger patterns across the whole. The science of synergistics looks at the whole, with a particular focus on co-evolution and the human cognitive level – a.k.a. social intelligence – and on the emergence of new patterns from such social intelligence.  This leads towards the normative part of the agenda: we see these emerging patterns in economic, political, technical and other systems, i.e. the “3.0” models, as the response to the Challenges:  and we look for ways to move towards reality.

To make this happen, the science and/or art of synergistics has to be creative and open-ended: not so much statistics or random trials, it’s more about sense-making and entrepreneurial exchange between academic and other forms of knowledge.  It includes new thinking such as complexity and transition theory, network analysis and information sciences:  with fields such as evolutionary or institutional economics, development or behavioural psychology, human geography and economic anthropology, energy and climate modeling, urban planning and design, policy evaluation and foresight, and so on.

As a basic research tool, the synergistic approach provides methods for analysis of complex cognitive systems, policy / governance models, relational ecosystems or emergent transitions.  As an applied research tool, it helps with mapping and analysis of almost any agenda in the STEEPCU range (social / technical / economic / ecological/ political / cultural / urban). Overall it doesn’t have all the answers, and doesn’t present a ‘theory of everything’: but it does point towards a whole new paradigm of knowledge on emerging Challenges, i.e. highly inter-connected systems with “3C” complexity (cognitive, collaborative, co-evolutionary).

Joined up thinking in practice

Everything so far has been to say – don’t do checklists, do really creative synergistic things….  So here is a summary of how to do that, in the form of a 12 point checklist.

You can take relevant bits for whatever kind of problem or opportunity is on the table. You can report on this in huge technical detail, or in rough notes (preferably with pictures and conversations). You can attach background data or technical analysis where suitable (with economic, engineering, ecological, landuse, demographic or other kinds of models).  You can do it more in expert studies mode, or in social deliberation mode with active participation: and if the latter you can try the prototype technology ‘Synergy Forum’, which might improve efficiency and transparency. You can use 6, 9 or 15 steps, but we generally find 12 steps is the most practical.  Anyway here they are, in the form of questions to be addressed.

12 steps & questions to be addressed

1)       Landscape mapping – scoping: what is the agenda or problem for today: where are the boundaries & what is the structure? What overall system effects?
2)       Landscape mapping – relations: how do the actors or factors interact: in what kind of system, hierarchical or inter-connected? What overall system effects?
3)       Landscape mapping – metabolism: how do different domains inter-connect: e.g.   STEEPVU (social / technical / economic / ecological /political / values / urban)? What overall system effects?
4)       Change mapping – drivers: what are the driving forces of change and uncertainty, internal or external: which horizon or cycle of change is relevant to these?
5)       Change mapping – dynamics: what are the internal dynamics of change – succession & renewal / tipping points / wild cards / transitions?
6)       Change mapping – scenarios: which projections and scenarios are most relevant & provocative?
7)       Synergy mapping – linear (1.0): what opportunities for growth or change in functional efficiency & performance of the system? What possible negative effects?
8)       Synergy mapping – adaptive (1.0): what opportunities for creative enterprise, evolution of new functions & niches? What possible negative effects?
9)       Synergy mapping – intelligence (3.0): how can opportunities emerge via synergistic collaboration, learning & social intelligence? possible negative effects?
10)   Road-mapping – pathways: which synergistic combinations can form pathways which bring different actors/ factors into alignment & added value.
11)   Road-mapping – strategies: which pathways, actors and factors can be combined into practical strategies & actions? what implications for resources?
12)   Road-mapping – evaluation: how can the experience and results from these steps be evaluated, with feedback & learning into the next cycle?