When we try to address challenges such as the climate crisis or social injustice, we need a new underlying paradigm to guide our actions - and not the paradigm that caused the challenges in the first place. Good news: That new paradigm or understanding of the world is already there. And it’s actually not that new.
Science speaks about the networked character of the world. Forests are collaborative ecosystems with underground networks exchanging resources across species, and a holistic understanding of health emphasises the importance of supportive social relationships.
Many wisdom traditions from across the globe have lived with that understanding for millenia. Call it interbeing, mutual arising, Ubuntu (“I am because we are”), Pachamama or Dao. A way forward therefore is to address the most fundamental and pressing challenges of our time with the science and wisdom we already have.
Yet we know that it’s not that simple. We can’t just “switch paradigms” like we switch TV channels, mainly because the old assumptions are deeply embedded in both our perception & thinking, social structures, language and the models & tools we use.
Measurement and impact evaluation are examples of such models and tools. At times it feels that we are obsessed with numbers, running after KPIs, impact goals and other metrics.
The guiding question for this article therefore is: What does the process of measurement and evaluation look like when it’s deeply embedded in a regenerative paradigm, highlighting the interconnectedness of everything?
On a scale from 0 to 10, how alive do you feel right now? What would you need to climb up the scale by one point?
Maybe it’s rest, letting go of worries, movement or physical exercise, a conversation with a good friend, or thinking about loved ones. I’ve been curious about observing and understanding how it’s possible to shift into states of deeper connection or increased energy, both individually and as a group.
It’s not that new energy suddenly appears out of nowhere. The potential was always there. It’s much more that we, our bodies, minds or ideas are not separate from our environment. We can choose how we relate to and align with what’s happening within and around us. A regenerative approach, therefore, asks us to enter a “conscious participation and co-creation” with life (Daniel Christian Wahl).
It’s basically asking the question: How can I (or we) serve the vitality and integrity of the whole (the team, organisation, sector or field, etc.), while seeing myself (our ourselves) as a part of that?
Down below I have listed a non-exhaustive list with further resources to dive deeper into the topic of regeneration.
Regenerative approaches have found their way into design, agriculture, medicine, leadership and business at large (among others). Yet so far there is no regenerative approach to measurement.
The history of measurement is closely linked to the history of control. The objects of measurement, in that context, are seen as external to oneself. And the reason for wanting to understand them is to make their behaviour, and our behaviour in relation to them, more predictable. In short: Measurement is used to gain power over the object of study.
The results are boxes we put people, nations and nature into, and KPIs and metrics we run after.
A regenerative approach to measurement makes a radical break from that history and its underlying assumptions. Instead it asks questions such as:
How can we use evaluation to decentralise power structures in our organisation?
What are the relevant indicators to measure the system’s aliveness and what’s providing energy for it?
What blocks are in the way of the system activating its full potential?
This approach is still about metrics and indicators, however it views measurement as creative power, as described by the root word, the Sanskrit term “maya”. It’s about unlocking the creativity, care and courage within ourselves and others - with the ambition to create the more beautiful world our hearts know is possible.
I believe that reconceiving why, how and what we measure can have tremendous leverage. Instead of pressuring ourselves to achieve external goals and meeting reporting deadlines, we could see the process of measurement as an ally on our path to learn, grow and deepen relationships.
How exactly? Well, that’s something we’ve been thinking about and are just in the beginning of engaging with.
To start with a disclaimer: We are a business. We have chosen that legal setup not because we seek profit maximisation, but rather because it gives us the flexibility and opportunity to sustain ourselves with the work we carry out. We see ourselves as a purpose-driven social enterprise, and we are striving to live into regenerative principles on all levels.
Regenerative Measurement and Evaluation is one of our three working areas at Unity Effect. Within it, our focus is on developing resources, tools and templates that others can use, alongside working with organisations to apply a regenerative approach for themselves. We are also hosting a community of practice on the topic, inviting practitioners and researchers into the dialogue.
Concrete examples of resources we have developed and are further working on are:
Yet maybe most importantly: The regenerative approach is gaining more and more public awareness, which carries the risk of diluting its deeper meaning and practice. Companies are claiming to have “regenerative supply chains” and new labels are popping up in different industries. The question of how to verify and measure regenerative practices will come up more and more. And the great risk is to fall back into the old paradigm of control that we are so used to when we work with metrics and KPIs, maybe even not intentionally.
Engaging in an ongoing conversation about a regenerative approach to measurement can help to hold ourselves accountable, while also creating tools and methods we can apply in our work.
To quote Daniel Christian Wahl once more:
“The deep practice of regeneration operating from a profoundly different and at the same time ancient worldview is meeting the current mainstream accustomed to dumbed-down soundbites and demanding instant gratification and ‘sexy’ sales pitches. It is our responsibility not to lose its essence and hence the unique contribution in the process.”
If you are interested in further engaging in the topic, join our community of practice or get access to the resources we’ve been working on: Reach out!
Drop me a line at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Connect on LinkedIn.
Or directly book a call.
Laura Storm and Giles Hutchins: Regenerative Leadership
The Regenerative Paradigm Institute and the work of Carol Sanford. See also their resources overview.
The Other Others (podcast). The Process of Emergence: Tyson Yunkaporta in Conversation with Fritjof Capra and Jack Manning Bancroft
And so much more out there to be discovered :)