Whole Culture Led not Technology Driven – getting SDG’s to really work

The UN’s idea of Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s), as a “unified policy framework”, and seemingly everyone else’s too, turn out to be “missing something”,

Missing the glue that fits and holds the many parts together, high aspirations lacking a real method for connecting the parts

In the UN’s “Vision of a Future Worth Choosing

“The High-level Panel on Global Sustainability argues that by making transparent both the cost of action and the cost of inaction, political processes can summon both the arguments and the political will necessary to act for a sustainable future.”

Human cultures have NEVER changed according to plan, is the problem.  That’s now how societal change works.   How people are discussing the implementation of the SDG’s, called a “unified policy framework”, is almost entirely as just a list of ideals, almost like “complaints” about how economic development didn’t fulfill our best intentions over the past century…  No, it certainly didn’t.

What isn’t mentioned, though, is how to change that.  How would the economy’s normal steering mechanism might be changed, if it didn’t go where we’d want in the first place?   How would a new steering mechanism be created that would be more responsive to rational concerns about fairness and our role on earth?   Just a list of desires for what didn’t happen is really just wishful thinking, a delaying tactic perhaps, rather than addressing the problem.

The simple framing of this problem below, what steers the economy, is followed by my brief reports to CAUN on how the “connecting the parts” problem came up in the DESA workshops on implementing SDG’s.  The Workshop Agendas offered a fairly comprehensive view of the “technology push” transfer techniques being contemplated… which helps illustrate the basic problem that human cultures don’t learn that way.

the servant became master, the served the slave
A choice between Whole Culture Led and Technology Driven change...

A. Technology Driven Change, the “tech solution” – leaves cultures shaped to serve technology values, perhaps with ignorance of culture

B. Culture Motivated Change, “the cultural solution” – leaves technology shaped to serve cultural values, perhaps with ignorance of how things work

What thrives in nature is the cultural solution, when… cultures are able to understand what technologies are physically profitable, linked together to produce more than they consume, and… their choices show long foresight in being responsive to where profit ends…

A combined solution is needed, to both:

*stop multiplying technology for exhausting the earth, and
*start selecting technology really serving mankind.

An Earth Dashboard displaying the problems and benefits of cultural and technological solutions, options offered by technology for well informed cultural guidance and choices to select from. One way to do that would use the UN to facilitate getting science, finance and cultural choices ALL on the same page, like my “Ideal Model SDG’s” concept proposal.


It’s also important to see the main reasons why our use of technology went astray, from excess, to the point modern civilization is no longer thriving and in growing danger of failing on earth, as a result of our economic model for thriving naturally leading to the opposite:

1. The profits of technology being fed back into multiplying technology, in an unsustainable closed cycle of growing exploitation of people and the earth, that breaks the circle of returning the profits to its earners for use in making informed cultural choices,

2. Cultures being misled by the cycle of investment to maximize growing investment, to prefer being exploited by addictions because that’s what investors (most of us, really) measure as profitable for themselves, making choices that ignore how unprofitable that become for thriving on earth.


Two Short Reports on: the important DESA Workshops 1 and 2 on
Development, transfer and dissemination of clean and environmentally sound technologies

Notes on Workshop 2.  for CAUN

1 May 13 The second day of this week’s DESA meetings on SDG technology was quite remarkable for a few reasons!    The sessions were very poorly attended, though, evidently because the quality and breadth of the review of the UN’s work on techniques for implementing SDG’s wasn’t advertised as such.   The titles given the four sessions didn’t really convey the content.

As usual I can only give a few highlights.  The tension of most interest to me, and I hope to us all, was between technology led and civil society led economic transformation.   When you think of technology as a tool for reshaping economies (an engineering approach), the question of whether it integrates with the ways of thinking and working of the people whose ways of life you’d be changing is somewhat of a “problem at the end” of the thought process, an afterthought, an “externality”.   Natural technology change is the opposite, the externality of culture driven aspirations.

The first day of presentations were 100% of the engineering kind, with all the words referring to people in inanimate terms, actually.  I mentioned it briefly to David O’Connor, the DESA organizer, citing the scientific studies he turned out to be familiar with, that show that technology change naturally works as a culture change (see prior report below).   On day II he mentioned the issue as panel moderator, as did a few of the other presenters, that technology needing to work with nature including the nature of societies, as critical to its success and difficult to accomplish.

Toward the end of the 2nd day the discussion turned to how to connect all the different parts of the broad scope intervention in the world economy being planned.  Discussion turned to the many evident “gaps” between parts that weren’t really connected.  None of the gaps were given special attention, really, but just noticed as part of the message coming at the end of a comprehensive view of the whole assumed strategy.    That was really very exciting!    That “the plan” at present is generally not seen as culturally led but as technology led, but would need to work culturally, was just one of them.

So, that actually fits in perfectly with our own discussions of how to have the transformation culturally led, through civil society networks.    It also exposes the importance of finding how civil society networks can lead a technological change process, making complex technology investment decisions.   That brings up the one part of the “Ideal Model of SDG’s” designed expressly for that, to create information commons to steer SD investment choices.   So, I’d like us to include some version of that “process piece” in our group SDG drafts and discussions, to address the “how to” problem unavoidably tied to the “what works” discussions, as a way to serve and inform our “higher aspirations”.

So, that’s a good to stop,…  except to mention Elenita Dano (email) with ETCgroup.org, an NGO rep invited to be on the last panel.    She spoke of implementing just the kind of purpose driven commons network that CAN seems designed for.   I’ve been very impressed with that approach since going to a 2009 NAS conference on it, leading to the resources for it on my multi-stakeholder partnerships page.   Hers was a network of farmers working to collect and maintain crop seed diversity for the future.

I told her of CAN and gave her the web link.  I think that kind of “purpose driven commons”, a kind of “environmental commons action group” will have major influence, and as we work on CAN we might give more attention to.  It’s kind of “hybrid” for us, not a co-op nor a successful ecology, while still working by creative internal cooperation and external negation in an environment with others.

Most best all…   :-)  Jessie

Notes on Workshop 1.  for CAUN

30 Apr 13 –

All,  Yesterday’s meeting at the UN was really impressive, and productive.  The morning and afternoon started with very excellent DESA organized panels making technical reports on the UN’s preparations for what is being called “technology transfer”, but really means “technology transformation” if you consider the scale of change contemplated.    It also got into the daunting challenge of working in each cultural context, replacing technologies to drive climate change mitigation and adaptation, along with SDG’s, potentially different ways in each country.

I made three very good contacts, though.   One was the representative of Nigeria, who had seen my hand-out on our commons approach proposal last week, and mentioned why a commons approach would matter.   Its’ because major technology change is always a cultural process, and gets in trouble if it is pushed on cultures that don’t welcome it.  The conversation was prompted by his mentioning he can now call his dad by cell phone, who still lives on their family farm which never had electricity.   I asked who paid for it, and of course it was the Nigeria representatives own UN scale salary, as it would cost more than the annual incomes of most of his countrymen to have cell phones of their own.   I think he’ll get in touch.

Another was the lead panelist in the first session, Daniele Giovanucci, a leader Sustainability Assessment (COSA).  His approach sounded as comprehensive as my little outlines in Models of Commons Interests suggest are needed, but also being implemented worldwide.  Though he didn’t mention the special problem my approach solves during his talk, he was delightfully quick to acknowledge there was a real problem with the way environmental impact measures are defined, and eager to read my SEA paper on it.   For green businesses the usual definition of impacts counts technology consumption, but leaves out the human consumption for the people who run the business and operate the technology.   That’s an important place the commons approach will eventually get the kind of information needed to guide SDG investment choices.

I also was able to pass on the name of an expert I know, Ricardo Haussmann who studies natural technology change, and offered a comment to the DESA organizers of the meetings.   Natural technology change involves whole cultures of related technologies, that evolve along with the mores of the social cultures adopting them.   When technology systems are forced on cultures that don’t accept them, like for colonialism, or US attempts at “nation building” that failed, the cultural disruptions can be dramatic and long lasting.   What made me mention it was noticing the presenters were never used the word “culture” or about “introducing” technologies, but about “transfers”.  They acknowledged all the difficulties of getting people to change their ways, but as a problem to deal with after the new technology is developed, so happening at the end of the process instead of at the beginning, as technology change occurs naturally…

See Clean & Environmentally Sound Technology program

I also sent out a correction for the letter last week on the UN not following an ecological method for the SDG’s… which unfortunately appeared to apply to UN staff and organization… , see attached, fyi. Comment welcome.

Today’s technology transfer subject is more on the field experiences in less developed countries.   Glad I approached the whole day yesterday completely relaxed, and with no agenda really…   ;-)       Jessie



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.