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Wednesday, November 11, 2015

A Place called SYNETOPIA

Thomas More famously called his fictional society ‘utopia’ – which has the double Greek meaning of ‘ou-topos’ (i.e., no such place), and ‘eu-topos’ (i.e., the good place). Understandably, a society free from the kind of excessive wealth and poverty More so deplored is one that is for him both good and, sadly, nowhere to be found.

Since More’s Utopia was published in 1516, there have been many attempts to transform the world into a more perfect state. Some have raised hopes, made little sustained impact, and faded away as feeble utopian dreams. Others have pushed through completely new systems, brought sweeping changes, and created what turned out to be frightful dystopian nightmares. But in between the extremes, progressive reformists have been experimenting cautiously and over time their accumulative learning provides a substantial resource to guide us on how to improve human association and social structures.

In ‘Communitarian Governance: a 9-point guide’, we looked at how the three communitarian principles of mutual responsibility; cooperative enquiry; and citizen participation, can guide us towards better governance of groups from a local organisation, to a national state or a global institution. By applying those three principles to each of the three core dimensions of human association (namely, its culture for problem-solving, its power structure, and its system of accountability), we arrived at nine elements, the strengthening of which would continuously improve the wellbeing of the group and its members.

We can now build on these nine elements to develop a general model for any place or group where people can cooperate together on the basis of objective reasoning and mutual respect to work out how to better themselves individually and collectively. We call this model: SYNETOPIA.

Shared Mission
You-and-I Mutuality
Nimble Membership
Educative Collaboration
Testing of Claims and Assumptions
Open Access to Information
Participatory Decision-Making
Impartial Distribution of Power
Accountability for Action

In addition to being an acronym for the nine elements, it is a composite of the Greek words, ‘synergatiki’ and ‘topos’, denoting a cooperative place.

A brief description of the nine elements is given below. They have been drawn from the reform ideas in the development of small groups, businesses, and public institutions, so that the essence of each is identified and separated into the smallest number of categories. One of the key projects relating to the ‘Question the Powerful’ collection of resources will be to formulate more detailed exposition of each of these elements, so that they can be more closely examined and practically applied to different forms of organisation.

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Summary of SYNETOPIA

Shared Mission
All members of the group should have a shared understanding of their common mission or purpose. The group should be effectively and visibly organised to enable its members to join forces for their respective wellbeing.

You-and-I Mutuality
Instead of ‘Me’-centred individualism or ‘We-subsume-all’ collectivism, there should be genuine mutuality in distributing the benefits and burden connected with the group, and none should amass what comes from the group’s joint endeavours to enrich themselves at the expense of others.

Nimble Membership
There should be a transparent and responsive membership system that underpins who is brought into the group or excluded from it, and sets out the rights and responsibilities of both the group and its members.

Educative Collaboration
All member of the group should be enabled to share ideas, learn through collaborative exchanges, and have lifelong opportunities to study, formulate and discuss interpretations of the world as well as ideas for change.

Testing of Claims and Assumptions
The group should make sure no claim or assumption is privileged as unquestionable. It should subject all doctrines and findings to continuous testing, and revise them in the light of the latest evidence.

Open Access to Information
There should be open access so nothing untoward is hidden and useful information is widely shared. Processes to detect and expose deception should be in place, and demands for secrecy must be independently scrutinised for their legitimacy.

Participatory Decision-Making
The group should enable and encourage all members to participate as equals in the making of decisions that affect them, and ensure everyone can contribute to those decisions on an informed and deliberative basis.

Impartial Distribution of Power
The distribution of power should be monitored and where necessary revised to minimise the likelihood that an individual or an alliance of them can come to possess so much power that they can intimidate or dictate terms to others.

Accountability for Action
All members, especially those entrusted with the authority to act on behalf of the group, must be held accountable for any action against individual members or the wider interest of the group. Disputes over charges should be resolved through independent mechanisms and judgements carried out in accordance with the rules.

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More details on each of the nine elements that constitute synetopia can be found in the essays on those elements listed in the 'Guide to Synetopia'.