Learning from First Hand Accounts
- I share my work with and for John Rogers and his colleagues at the Wales
Institute for Community Currencies. We're developing an online learning
environment. We want to help people design their own community
currencies. We are also applying this system to other subjects as well
at http://www.findbetterways.info I share with our working groups:
- http://groups.yahoo.com/group/cyfranogi/ for community currency,
participatory society, etc.
- http://groups.yahoo.com/group/livingbytruth/ for conceptual
frameworks, absolute grounds, etc.
- http://groups.yahoo.com/group/backtotheroot/ for leadership
development, also hosting our work on distance learning
- http://groups.yahoo.com/group/learningfromeachother/ our new group
lead by Pamela McLean for distance learning, it will take some time for
us to get going, please join us by sending a blank message to
Learning is a risky, even dangerous endeavor. I think it is fair that
we learn by experimenting on ourselves rather than experiment on
others. Let us create a learning system where we are the first
learners. I would like our system to explicitly show how we are
learning. How have we variously come to believe what we do? Yet also,
in order to share our learning, we do need to discover some basic
invariables that are present in all that we learn.
My major concern is that we be able to ground our learning in first hand
accounts. Many of the subjects that we are interested in, such as
community currency, are still in the early stages of development. Much
of the "knowledge" that is circulating is second hand. It is often
divorced from reality and spread by inculcating formulaic thinking.
Such formulas sound logical but may fail in practice because they are
incomplete. I wish us to focus our attention on first hand accounts.
They often bring to light aspects that may be counterintuitive, but
taken together, can help us understand how we can put together systems
that actually work.
My goal is to structure our online learning environment so that we might
accumulate our first hand accounts, share and apply our knowledge, and
build our intuition. John and I considered the trajectory of our
learning. We bring forth our knowledge from out of our unconscious. We
make it explicit in our conscious, where we can transform it to address
our needs. We then name what we have learned in a way that lets us
store it back in our unconscious, so that we have assimilated it as part
of our intuition.
My conclusion is that we access knowledge from our unconscious in the
form of a story regarding what has us "stuck". We then consciously
rework the story until it works for us. Then we capture the knowledge
with a sign that we store back into our unconscious. This means that we
are using our conscious mind to leverage the much larger knowledge of
our unconscious mind.
We can travel this path in two ways, forwards or backwards. We can go
forwards and consider our own experience as learners, in practice,
focusing on the particular matter at hand and resolving it. Or we can
look backwards at all the solutions that have ever come up, and then
select the one we prefer, theoretically. We might first ask: "Do you
wish to address your particular challenge, or do you wish to overview
all solutions?" In what follows, I will assume a particular challenge.
At the heart of learning is a three-cycle:
* taking a stand
* following through
This is familiar by other names (such as plan, do, review). As we face
challenges, we overcome them by choosing, applying and evaluating our
principles. When we have learned a subject, then we are able to take up
all manner of challenges and keep learning from them. At times, we may
get "stuck", but then we grow by finding ways to overcome the
obstacles. This is what I seek to document. We can make explicit the
obstacles and the solution, and so we can share them.
Different kinds of support are relevant for different modes in the
three-cycle. When somebody is following through on their principles, it
is not the time to ask them to reassess them. Instead, we should help
them be true to their existing principles so that they might have truly
put them to the test.
It is therefore important to identify the mode in which the learner is
at. We may focus on the case where they are stuck. If they are not
stuck, then they do not need support! We can make this point by asking
explicitly: "Do you want to consider changing what you are doing?" If
they do not want to consider changing, then they are done, or we may all
focus on another person who is willing to consider changing.
Next, I believe it is important to tap into our feelings, for they are
our guide as to what is real to us. My hypothesis is that our feelings
reveal where we are stuck in the three-cycle. It is enough to ask the
learner, regarding the matter at hand, such as community currency
design, What kind of change do you most want?
A) Do you wish to feel more sensitive, rather than insensitive?
B) Do you wish to feel more positive, rather than negative?
C) Do you wish to feel more calm, rather than riled?
My hypothesis is that the choice of A, B or C will indicate the learning
mode in which the person is stuck.
A) If they feel insensitive, then they have trouble taking a stand, they
need new principles.
B) If they feel negative, then they have trouble following through, they
need new solutions, patterns.
C) If they feel riled, then they have trouble reflecting, they need new
They can feel where they are ask. So we can ask them to tell a story
that relates to where they feel stuck. We can then ask them to take a
step back within that story, back to where they were not stuck:
A) If they are having trouble taking a stand, then have them go back to
reflecting. What are the conclusions that are convincing? Then have
them tell the story so as to shift onwards to a consensus regarding
principles. They will thereby take a stand.
B) If they are having trouble following through, then have them go back
to taking a stand. What are the principles for which they have
consensus? Then have them tell the story so as to shift onwards to
constructing solutions (or "patterns") that resolve the tensions between
C) If they are having trouble reflecting, then have them go back to
following through. What are the solutions which they have constructed?
Then have them tell the story so as to shift onwards to conclusions
which they find convincing.
This method can be applied to current challenges, but also to document
how we have overcome earlier challenges.
In this way, we will accumulate a set of stories, but also principles,
solutions and conclusions that are grounded in these first hand
accounts. We can then survey the knowledge that we are building.
By making ourselves aware of the story that we are in, we can tease out
the various dimensions and find ways to pull them together:
A) principles that position us with regard to our conclusions
B) solutions (patterns) that resolve tensions between principles
C) conclusions that make clear the real value, if any, of solutions
This is now conscious knowledge. In order to remember it, and be able
to draw upon it in the future, we want to name it. We want to
assimilate this knowledge and find a place for it in our intuition, our
unconscious! Our idea now is to do this we create a sign by which we
express our knowledge: an "integrated communicative unit". John noted
Robert E. Horn's book "Visual Language" and suggested that, optimally,
such a sign might include words, images, symbols, sounds and more, all
integrated together to capture the meaning.
My own hypothesis, which I will try to implement, is that we can
identify an angle which helps us create our symbol. We started by
identifying one of three modes where we were "stuck" in our learning:
taking a stand, following through, or reflecting. Now consider at what
level of knowledge did we manage to overcome the obstacle:
- "Why we are learning": through clarifying our purposes and assessing
- "How we are learning": through thought experiments and considering
- "What we are learning": through role playing and understanding
different points of view
- "Whether we are learning": through real life implementation and
I think that by pairing the three modes and the four levels we get what
I call the "twelve topologies" which I think of as the building blocks
for the imagination. They are abstract concepts: be, do, think; one,
all, many; object, process, subject; necessary, actual, possible. More
about them at:
I think that each topology matches with a pair of mode and level. So,
for example, if we have a story about our experience with community
currency, and we learn how to "take a stand", and this learning takes
place through implementation, then I think the relevant pairing would
lead us to the topology "necessary", where what's necessary in the story
is the "unit of value", the particular currency. And so we might name
and remember that story by virtue of that unit of value.
In fact, I think that given a particular domain such as "community
currency", we will find that the twelve topologies take on a more
concrete form, as they seem to have in the "design feature matrix":
This is again something that I will be exploring. My main point for our
purposes is that I think it is possible (given the mode and the level)
to suggest what information to capture in order to recall the entire
If this method is truly helpful, then it is I think describing a
language of "verbalization" by which signs (names, words, images...)
come to have meaning. This language has our minds move from stories to
spaces for metaphor (what I call topologies), and thereby we "learn", we
rely on old and new signs to navigate intuitively, without getting "stuck".
So this is the process of learning, as John describes it, a "learning
journey" as follows:
* Unconscious Incompetence: "I don't know that I don't know about
Community Currency - never heard of it."
* Conscious Incompetence: "Someone told me about CC. I'd like to find
* Conscious competence: "Now I'm learning about and practising CC."
* Unconscious competence: "Now I'm doing it and don't even think about it."
This is a personal journey. We also considered how we might overview
all of the knowledge. Certainly, we will accumulate knowledge bases of
stories, principles, solutions and conclusions. However, if my
hypotheses above are fruitful, then we will also be able to find
families of currencies and design accordingly.
In 2004, I had pulled together the knowledge of WICC on design features
into a matrix of issues.
The matrix expresses how the issues arise as constraints that different
roles (rulemaker, connector, giver, receiver) make on each other.
Note that we may and do play all roles. I think of these roles as
representing different levels of awareness, different kinds of economy,
and applying different kinds of mental categories:
- Rulemaker thinks in terms of Why, lives in the Casino economy, and
experiences through "be, do, think". (Like a shareholder deciding where
- Connector thinks in terms of How, lives in the Market economy, and
experiences through "one, all, many". (Like a shopper deciding where to
- Giver thinks in terms of What, lives in the Core economy, and
experiences through "object, process, subject". (Like a volunteer
deciding what help to give.)
- Receiver thinks in terms of Whether, lives in the Natural economy, and
experiences through "necessary, actual, possible". (Like a child
enjoying a gift.)
We can design a currency by considering which relationships are most
essential and starting with those. So, for example, if we want to
emphasize the Rulemaker and the Receiver, then they restrict each other
- The Rulemaker restricts the Receiver through the "unit of value" they
- The Receiver restricts the Rulemaker through the "validation of
currency" they require.
A currency that starts with this relationship may be simply a ration
system, for example, between government and citizens, or between an
event organizer and the attendees. Then we might add a relationship
with a Connector (who may be considered a "scalper") and so now we have
to add two more relationships:
- The Rulemaker restricts the Connector through "taxation" (and trading
rules, payment for administrative tasks, etc.)
- The Connector restricts the Rulemaker through "governance" issues,
such as future value, monitoring, evaluation.
- The Receiver restricts the Connector through "demand for services".
- The Connector restricts the Receiver through "range of services".
Finally, we can add a Giver (perhaps somebody doing work for the
tickets, such as an usher), and that adds three more relationships.
I believe that in this way the laying down of the relationships
determines the nature of the currency, where the emphasis is placed.
For example, I think a "free market" system is one where we start with
relationships between Giver and Receiver, then we add Connectors, and
finally we introduce Rulemakers. In all, if you go through the
combinations, there are 6 x 2 = 12 ways of laying down the constraints,
which suggests that there are 12 familes of "community currencies".
I have made quite a few hypotheses above, but they are testable. The
important activity is to collect stories that show how in our lives we
have overcome challenges in our thinking about money.
We find such stories in Edgar Cahn's book "No More Throwaway People".
He writes about how he took up various principles and then had to
develop them further. Similarly, Stan Thekaekara's
http://www.justchangeindia.com spirited talk at the BeTheChange
conference http://www.bethechange.co.uk included many stories of how he
and his fellows started out working on one issue (such as political
rights) and then found this lead naturally to other issues (such as
getting land for those without it) and then other issues (such as
finding a market for their tea). It's easy to misrepresent other
people's stories, so it's important to focus on our own, or to interview
I invite us to share our stories where we we felt "stuck" in our ways
but overcame that. I and John will share our own stories from our
lives. Also, I will be working with Jeff Buderer, Markus Petz, Benoit
Couture and others who would like to learn how to interview people to
document their stories. These are important skills that I will be able
to include in our proposals to Hewlett-Packard and elsewhere. Together
we will gradually build a collection of profound stories.
Thank you to all for reading this far if you have! This all represents
a set of conceptual breakthroughs for me. I am very grateful to John
for working with me to figure this out. Now there will be a lot of work
to collect stories, learn from them, and adjust the system above as
warranted. Meanwhile, I will be organizing our wiki pages to present
our stories and the principles, solutions and conclusions they contain.
But we might start by sharing stories at our Cyfranogi working group
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/cyfranogi/ Of course, we may try to apply
this in other domains as well, not only community currency.
I share below a few side notes.
in Brussels, Belgium
A side note: I think that generally that "getting unstuck" is a matter
of distinguishing and living by "the truth of the heart" rather than
"the truth of the world". Earlier, I had worked on "good will
exercises" for situations where we are riled, and there is a conflict
between what we believe and what is the case in the world. I set up
more than forty exercises. I found pairs of truths pulling us in
opposite directions. The truth of the heart and the truth of the world
differed as follows:
* the person who is riled is generally wrong as to which is the truth of
* the the truth of the world follows from the truth of the heart, but
not the other way around
* the truth of the world can be learned from examples in real life that
we can point to, whereas the truth of the heart is tautological
* the truth of the heart addresses the broader question, and the truth
of the world address the narrower question, from among Why? How? What?
Whether?, where Why? is the broadest and Whether? is the narrowest.
More on good will exercises at:
End of side note.
A side note: We drew on John's distinction of "consensus, constructing,
convincing" which he has found relevant in approaching community
currency from different ways. We also can draw on the theory of
narrative (and storytelling) which I had worked out some years ago.
Here we find ourselves telling "a story about the story". My hunch is
that in this special case we can have only three tones of voice that
cause tension in a story (commanding, explaining, caring) as the fourth
tone of voice (forcing) is not relevant because the story is about a
story and thus exists only in the realm of signs, is not grounded in
reality. Furthermore, I think that in a story about a story:
* "caring" is understood as consensus
* "commanding" is understood as constructing
* "explaining" is understood as convincing
And I think that three kinds of "stories about stories" are constructive:
* shifting from consensus to constructing ("empowerment")
* shifting from constructing to convincing ("taking up a calling")
* shifting from convincing to consensus ("coming together")
And three kinds of "stories about stories" are destructive:
* shifting from constructing to consensus ("transgression")
* shifting from convincing to constructing ("marking of the good")
* shifting from consensus to convincing ("rescue")
This is to say that we may be able to guide ourselves, more concretely,
from consensus to constructing to convincing. This will become apparent
as we consider particular cases.
More on narration at:
End of side note.