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What's Next: Gil Friend
Gil Friend, 31 Dec 06

The key words I'm watching for 2007: generative feedback. Performance feedback that doesn't just track behavior; it drives it.

Just as Prius owners inevitably change their driving behavior (whether they want to or not, whether they intend to watch their energy dashboard or not, and regardless of penalties or incentives) relevant performance feedback can engage stakeholders, steer strategy, and markedly improve implementation - the achilles heel of most sustainability initiatives.

JM Juran pegged this nearly 60 years ago, when he observed that "To be in a state of self-control, a person must know: what he [or she] is supposed to do, what he [or she] is actually doing, what choices [or she] has to improve results wherever necessary. If any of these three conditions are not met, a person cannot be held responsible." (I ask for a show of hands in every business audience I speak to: "How many of you have all three in your organization? How many have two? One?" The silence is consistently deafening and the unease palpable, as everyone realizes what a fix we're each/all in.)

Which is why it's such good news that technology is conspiring to break this logjam (even if management and organizational culture may still lag the opportunity).

- Business intelligence "dashboards" are all the rage - though how well and how fully they're used is open to question.
- Web 2.0 mashups, with lots of stuff, both silly and cool, underway, including the geospatial opportunities being cataloged at Where 2.0 (Participatory Panopticon.

Where's the cool feedback on the Worldchanging front?
- Worldwatch Institute has been chronicling planetary "vital signs" for years (but hasn't yet made the leap to web interactivity
- FAO's FAOSTAT offers a richness of breadth and interactivity that one can only hope for from the US government, which is hopefully near the end of its recent phase of constraining rather than expanding information access
- Gapminder's slick - and dynamic - views of Human Development Trends provides a fascinating way to understand trend and pattern. (For example, look at how differently income distribution changes as China, India and Brazil develop.
- Buckminster Fuller Institute's EarthScope offers up trending data in "geostories" rather than charts and graphs, providing dynamic maps with supporting graphics, imagery, sound, and text - all inspired by Bucky's "GeoScope" vision, laid out in Critical Path.
- Swivel's preview provides a cool tool for data mashups or all sorts.

Our focus at Natural Logic: building on Bucky's GeoScope inspiration, Jan Hanhart's early 90s "EcoFeedback" project in the Hague, our own work with our Business Metabolics sustainability indicators system (delivering
live corporate sustainability metrics to help people manage more
sustainably, not just report on it), Regional Metabolism Assessments of city and county economies, we're building a "Regional Sustainability Dashboard" for the San Francisco Bay Area. (And encouraging the formation of a public/private consortium to support real time regulation of environmental performance.) We're weaving a juicy web of technology-, data- and channel-partners, and we'd love to hear from you if you have a potential role to play.

There'll be more about this, coming soon, on the Natural Logic web site, my blog (newly located at, and of course here at Worldchanging.

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Great post Gil. To your list of "generative feedback" tools, I'd add "management flight simulators", pioneered by Dennis Meadows. John Sterman and others. These have the advantage of teaching not only through their use, but also in their creation, since they require explicit modeling of stocks, flows and feedback loops.

Posted by: David Foley on 1 Jan 07

Great post. We definitely need a dashboard for Spaceship Earth and I'm glad to see that we are finally getting to the point where we can generate it collectively online.

Posted by: gmoke on 1 Jan 07

Thanks, Dave. The Systems Dynamics simulators are a powerful tool; we used one in the simulation at the heart of our recent "Integral Sustainability" five-day.

Thanks George. Let's make it happen! (And see if you can get me off your black list - I can't send you email!)

Posted by: Gil Friend on 2 Jan 07

I always enjoy your insights. As for Juran's statement, there are two other important points I'd like to add. A person needs to know and appreciate where he (or she) is and where she (or he) is going. Context and clarity of vision are critical to understanding and action. In our work, I think we find either one or both are missing - and consequently, action and progress become unmeasurable in meaningful ways.

What I am finding in my public work is that people have very little understanding of where they are. Most of the information they receive from popular media (and the government) is inaccurate and misleading. They often are not willing to take action because of the mistaken belief that none is necessary.

Personal and Community Vision have also been muddied by those who have the power to create strong commercial visions that are often at odds with the needs of the many.

Many of us are looking forward to the Tipping Point when the public discovers where they truly are - and begins seeking where they need to be. Perhaps some of the new tools will help us create the stories needed to bring us closer to that important moment.

Posted by: John Neville on 2 Jan 07



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