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14 Giugno 2013 ~ 0 Comments

Narratives come strumento di azione collettiva


On June 11, during the meeting organised by J. David Tabara in Brussels (Second Open Global System Science Conference), a special session concerned with “narratives” has been run by Filippo Addari. Here is Paolo Gurisatti’s contribution to the debate, presenting the MD (Emergence by Design) project.

Narratives play a special role in the theory of innovations cascades developed by a group of scholars engaged in a long term research programme about innovation processes. The group, led by David Lane and Sander Van der Leeuw, is nowadays engaged in a EU funded project (MD – Emergence by Design) concerned with the development of a user-friendly set of ICT tools and good practices for the “dynamic evaluation” of social innovation processes.

According to the theory developed by Lane together with Robert Maxfield, social agents, who participate in innovation processes find themselves in great difficulties in interpreting the importance of emergent artefacts or identity attributions. In these cases they suffer what the two scholars call “ontological uncertainty”. In order to deal with this typical problem of the innovation society they interpret the emergent features through existing “narrative structures” (those used to interpret the past). This way they can organise social interaction around the novelty.

People construct new patterns of interaction around the new artefacts (which probably lead them to changes in their social roles and even identities) by enacting collective narratives that come from the combination of “fragments” of pre-existing narratives. Thus, in order to deal with their ontological uncertainty, they use existing knowledge (in the form of socially available narrative structures) to envision and construct what they believe to be a “socially sustainable future”. This social capacity of selecting and changing “narratives structures”, has to be re-invented today, in a global system driven by new mass media and cultural streams.

People should develop an up to date capacity of “narrativising” collective experiences and to construct narrative communities, otherwise great problems (like climate change, financial defaults, unemployment, etc…) could remain unsolved. From this perspective narratives are not just a “translation” in common language of sophisticated mathematical theories, but a “collective tool” for action, sometimes represented in part by mathematical models.

The present Innovation Society ideology drives human beings and policy makers to insist in priming the pump of technical invention and scientific studies, instead of taking care of the great number of social and cultural cascades that new inventions produce. Lane and Van der Leeuw claim that an effort in shifting attention to social innovation should be done now, by introducing new concepts, ICT tools and even a language supporting the idea of “narrative communities”.

Summarising, the MD project has produced not only a theory of the Innovation Society, but also a language for describing social innovation processes (based on the key concepts agent, artefact, attribution and action). Furthermore it has developed a set of tools enabling project designers and dynamic evaluators to deal “just in time” with emerging (by design!) shared narratives. A web platform for innovation processes facilitators (DIPO – Distributed Innovation Policy Organisation), interested to construct their own “narrative community”, by sharing with many others a common ontology, is almost ready today.

MD has involved scientists, practitioners and software engineers coming from different experiences. Alpha tests of the tools, language and platform are almost completed today and Beta tests are planned for late summer this year.

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