Making Sense of the 'New Economy'

05/06/2015 04:33 pm ET | Updated May 05, 2016

Ever wondered what the 'new economy' actually looks like, who the players are and how they interrelate? The Real Economy Lab is excited to able to announce that, after extensive consultation, we have now initiated a survey of hundreds of initiatives on the 'new economy' as part of our mind-mapping process. The resulting, highly visual, mind-map will we hope serve as a foundation for a converging of the 'tribes' of the new economy.

There's a growing consensus that our current economic system is failing to work for the wellbeing of people and planet, intent and reliant as it is on exponential growth on a finite planet and on the concentration of power and resources into the hands of the few.

So what might the alternative be? In many forms and guises, a distributed and diverse global 'new economy' movement for change has arisen in contrast to this status quo. We hear a lot about this 'new economy'. But what actually is it?

Well, it's a movement that includes a wide ecosystem of initiatives creating exciting new ways of doing business, living and interacting. As of yet it exists as a tentative patchwork held together by the common desire to manifest a new shared reality, a new way of creating, connecting and being which is, beyond the constraints of private ownership, of unending growth and the perhaps now redundant form of economics we call capitalism.

You won't hear much about it in the mainstream media though. As Professor Gar Alperovitz, a leading thinker and practitioner in this area, recently said: 'Just below the surface of media attention literally thousands of grassroots institution-changing, wealth-democratising efforts have been quietly developing.' Around the world, citizens are taking control and creating a new economy out of the ashes of the old.

But despite all this great work going on around the world, it's hard to see how this plethora of work fits together into a broader ecosystem, let alone a coherent progressive force pulling in the same direction an becoming more than the sum of its parts. How do the 'tribes' within this ecosystem relate to each other? How does the practitioning link to (or not link to) various schools of thinking about how a new economy could function? What might practitioners learn from each other and how might they be able to combine forces?

Without such an understanding it's perhaps no surprise that there is little in the way of a concerted progressive movement working together to mainstream this new economy. Perhaps, if we could all point in the same direction, we might be able to do what the shock doctrine regressives did so successfully in ensuring neoliberalism succeeded for so long.

Without a convergence of these movements, it is hard to see how the currently disconnected parts of the new economy can build towards a Just Transition. But if such a convergence is to be possible we first need to see and understand the emerging new economy ecosystem in all is complexity.

Connecting and converging the dots
In responding to this context, the Real Economy Lab aims to support the mobilising of a convergence of the tribes of the new economy. We aim to support such a convergence alliance in bringing a united vision, voice and clear case for alternative solutions into the mainstream. We want to help practitioners around the world to collaborate and combine their efforts.

The Real Economy Lab aims to do this in two ways; firstly by building an interactive, evolving and highly visual ecosystem mind-map and online hub, and secondly offering up the hub as the focus for a convergence movement of new economy tribes.

Its our belief that amidst the expanding web of loosely connected initiatives and experiments there are multiple opportunities for discovery, innovation, collective breakthroughs, cross-fertilization and newfound coherence. Through launching the online hub and mind-map, the Lab aims to help realise these opportunities. We aim to start to connect the dots and ensure that collectively all the new economy tribes and their impact can become greater than the sum of their parts.

Supported by an extensive outreach and publicity campaign, the hub will be designed to foster convergence and shared understanding through an innovative approach to systems mapping and design based on common values and narrative.

The 'new economy' space the lab focusses on is attracting increasing interest from progressive businesses, politicians and foundations. Since its initiation in 2014, as well as support from NEF, the Lab has been funded by a leading Swiss foundation FPH, with active involvement from FPH's Nicolas Krausz. Two major US foundation networks, NEFN and Edge Alliance, are now active in new economy work and three major EU and US funders, Oak, Mava and Marisla, have just announced a new multi-million pound fund for new economy systemic-change called FNE (Funders for a New Economy) to which I am an advisor.

Powering and launching the visual mind-map
The Lab is now building up a network from amongst practitioners across the new economy and in consultation with this network the Lab's first task has been to collaboratively design, build and power a highly visual mind-map of the new economy. Unlike many other 'mapping' initiatives, ours maps not where things are happening but how and why and with whom. It illustrates the complex web of connections and interactions across many issues and ways of working in the new economy ecosystem.

As well as launching a beta-version website, a detailed survey has now gone out to over 150 initiatives within the new economy ecosystem around the world, from Co-ops to Fablabs, Makers to Commoners, Transitioners to P2P and shared economy innovators and many more.

The results of the survey will power the building of the highly interactive, evolving online hub and mind-map which will illustrate what all these tribes are doing, why, how, with whom etc. The survey asks questions about the theories of change of initiatives, their position on key things such as growth, capitalism and the use of markets as well as on some emerging principles of the new economy such as sustainability, equality and democratic ownership and participation. The intention is that the mind-map will be updated on an on going basis as more tribes are identified and invited to input data. We hope to launch the first version of the mind-map in September 2015.

Users of the hub will be able to build their own bespoke visualizations and mind-maps based on specific search options, to research and better understand the macro, meso and micro of the ecosystem, the strategies, visions, theories of change, collaborations and desires of tribes within the ecosystem. The mind-map will also enable the Real Economy Lab to research the new economy ecosystem and discern tensions, opportunities and needs of players as well as the ecosystem as a whole. The hub will incorporate cutting edge deliberative collaboration software that will enable convergence alliance conversations and strategy development.

To help people understand the mind-map and for use at events, we have developed a short introductory presentation about the Lab and on the lab's website there is an introductory presentation to the mind-map's exciting visualisation tools. Imagine an evolving multidimensional map of ideas, principles, practices, dimensions, and locations of everything going on in the 'new economy' world. Imagine being able to user-generate idea-maps relevant to your own inquiries. Or being able to see where tribes stand on a set of core principles for the new economy.

These idea-maps might suggest areas where more emphasis or a change of direction might be needed by tribes or networks. And anyone will be able to interrogate the mind-map to see linkages, gaps in practice or thinking, differences of opinion, opportunities for collaborations, requirements for funding or other resources and much more.

The mind-map will serve as an interactive and evolutionary tool for the new economy ecosystem. It will bring clarity and support consensus through a systemic view of actors and objectives within the new economy, acting as a foundation for convergence and coalition. It will highlight ways the various tribes might work together and will serve as the basis for networking and collaboration towards pervasive change.

Where next?
The Lab plans an extensive outreach and publicity campaign on and off-line. The aim is to spread the word about the Lab as widely as possible and to launch it at a number of events over the autumn. We will also be producing a report of the findings of the mind-map which we expect to raise numerous questions, challenges, tensions and opportunities the new economy ecosystem needs to consider in order to become a force to be reckoned with.

Once the mind-map has been launched the intention is to use it and the online hub/platform to support the convergence of global tribes of thinking and practice on the new economy through events, blogs, reports and webinars to support conversations, collaborations and synergies within the new economy ecosystem.

We also hope to organise a major global gathering of leading practitioners on the new economy in early 2016 to discuss and plan a global convergence of the tribes of the new economy.

We hope you will want to get involved and encourage you to connect with us via our website.