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Ten ingredients for low carbon change

“The most fruitful developments frequently take place where different lines of thought meet.”

Werner Heisenberg

THIS MAXIM FROM PIONEERING uncertainty physicist Werner Heisenberg can be applied to many situations where we seek to manage change — including sustainable transformation.

Progress towards a low carbon future depends on many factors, social, cultural, technical and economic. But opportunities to effect real change occur only briefly. The best chances arise when there is an alignment between complementary traits of individuals and organisations, such as skills or motivations. During such an alignment, improving one thing has the effect of improving another, creating a virtuous circle.

Effective action for climate change — and wider issues of sustainability — depends on seizing, or creating these opportunities. Some common ingredients that enable effective action offer a way of making the most of what we have.

1. Create a diverse coalition

There is a coalition of people crossing professional and/or organisational boundaries
which possesses relevant skills, knowledge and political positioning and whose clear
focus is unconstrained by normal functional boundaries. The members of this team
develop strong trusting relationships with each other.

2. Systemic understanding and timeliness

The group works to develop an understanding, at least implicitly, of the broadest
systemic context of the work, the technological choices, the economic opportunities
and constraints, the cultural enablers, and so on. Within this context they are able to
identify a clear opportunity and seize the moment for initiating change.

3. Translator go-between

At least one person is able and willing to act as translator and intermediary
between different expert-knowledge groups – technical, scientific, business, activist
etc. This is a really important role, and may be filled by more than one person.

4. Wide vision

People within the coalition are able to act strategically, with a clear sense of
purpose and with an eye on the bigger picture. They understand that different
people bring different perspectives and value that. They spot opportunities and
make good use of chance and serendipity; they find people to help make sense of
things and give support outside the immediate professional environment.

5. Agency

Individually and collectively, this group is able to see opportunities in which to
exercise ‘agency’, to be proactive. Together, they are willing to take risks, to
experiment. They are able to live with some uncertainty and ambiguity.

6. Enabling culture

Change agents are operating inside an organisational culture that in some way
enables proactivity, or at least does not squash it. This may include creating a
protected space and building alliances with powerful individuals who can protect

7. Daring to not know

Individuals know they do not have all the answers, that they are not experts
following a clearly laid down path. In consequence, they approach their work
together in a spirit of collaborative learning, developing an active culture of

8. External networking

As part of this, they link to and consciously build wider networks outside their
immediate organisation.

9. Amplifying feedback

The team are in an environment that in some way rewards and amplifies the
innovation (there are positive feedback loops) so that room for manoeuvre gets
larger as the project progresses. As this happens, others are attracted into it so the
project develops a positive reputation or story which is told outside the immediate

10. Tenacity

Team members are prepared and able to exert influence on the constraints
that they encounter. They are willing where necessary to seek to change or
challenge rules, standards and procedures that are potential barriers. They show
tenacity in this.

Source: Insider Voices, Human dimensions of low carbon technology (Reason et al, 2005) Centre for Action Research in Professional Practice, University of Bath

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