I want to share the themes I have circled during the last year. Maybe I did more reflection than usual, as we have celebrated Mesopartner’s 20th anniversary this year.
Co-evolution is the first theme I have circled back to many times over the year. In the first half of the year, I tried to work through some of these ideas in different blog posts. The importance of understanding that in a co-evolution, changes in one element enable or demand changes in another. When we say that institutions, technologies, companies and places co-evolve, it implies that a new possibility or competence (or a constraint) in one dimension will shape what changes are possible in other areas. Or the interdependencies might resist lasting change.
Yet, in economic development, there is often a tendency to want to fix through a theme focused mainly on one dimension (think of projects targeting skills development, digitalisation, green or inclusion) without paying attention to the interdependence that makes systems return to some form of stability. This is the reason I keep on circling back to co-evolution.
In our approach in Mesopartner, we pay careful attention to how firms, their supporting institutions, places and technologies co-evolve. It is hard to achieve lasting positive change without considering how these different spheres affect each other. At the same time, co-evolution happens in a context with many different histories, and changes are also affected by the inherent interest of various stakeholders to respond to implicit or maybe explicit pressure in their context.
In July, at our Annual Summer Academy event held in Berlin, we illustrated co-evolution in an economy by presenting the Systemic Competitiveness framework in the shape of a cube, with the volume of the cube representing the interdependence between six sides.
The Systemic Competitiveness framework presented as an evolutionary system in the shape of a cube
I must admit that this explanation worked better than I ever expected (I have been playing with this idea already for a while). When presenting Systemic Competitiveness in our usual way (think of the rainbow map of Systemic Competitiveness), the co-evolutionary interdependencies are not so visible (see the images at the bottom of this post). Firms are in the bottom layer, specific supporting institutions in another layer, with generic macro policies on the third layer and the meta factors on top like icing on a cake. Further, illustrating these forces on the Systemic Competitiveness framework diagram with lines and arrows makes the approach look like a messy closed system diagram.
However, when we show people this cube, they can immediately look at one side to describe a situation, and then, as they turn it, they can look at the same situation from another dimension or angle. We then have to remind people that the space in the cube represents the dynamics or the co-evolution between the different sides.
There was another motivation for developing this cube as a physical object, which is about complex facilitation. Complex facilitation methods are about removing the bias, question framing or group steering of a group of people as they navigate or explore a given issue. As often is the case, Dave Snowden deeply impacted my facilitation praxis with his methods of complex facilitation. The launch of the brilliant Cynefin Hexi kits last year made a deep impression on me. As a side note, we have developed an add-on Hexi-pack pack for our clients, but I will write about that later.
Let me explain how the Sysco cube enables complex facilitation.
When using the Systemic Competitiveness Framework (in our conventional map approach) during fieldwork or workshops, we must facilitate conversations between stakeholders about where certain actors, organisations, functions or persistent patterns are on the Systemic Competitiveness map. People are often more focused on correctly classifying issues rather than exploring how different things may be connected or affecting/reinforcing each other. With the physical cube, people can now use the six sides and the space within it to explain persistent patterns they observe from different angles. They can then offer hypotheses of how the issues are related from the different perspectives described on the sides of the cube, or what they think can be tried to shape the observed patterns. The facilitator is no longer required to interpret and classify the issues raised during the discussion; their role is to urge people to add, disagree, challenge, connect and document what is being discussed. I have found that in most meetings, people immediately understand the interconnectivity between the cube’s six sides. The conversation is no longer about where an issue should be categorised but how it relates to other factors.
I must add that now that I have thought through co-evolution in the Systemic Competitiveness framework with the cube, I have even invoked this image during meetings where I did not have the cube physically with me. Even without the cube present, people have understood the implications of what I explained.
To frame the significance of this method in another way. I have shifted Systemic Competitiveness from a taxonomy system to a typology, where we can look at the same socio-economic system from different yet related dimensions. Where the interconnections and dynamics were often an afterthought of the mapping process, it is now literally central to the conversation.
Below are the images showing the layers of Systemic Competitiveness we have been using in the past.