In today’s planning session for the Regenerative Design Lab with my co-facilitator Ellie Osborne, we asked what if we made the lab itself a regenerative system?

Based on my working definition (see my previous post on the four characteristics of regenerative systems), a regenerative regenerative design lab would:

  • Be able to renew its sources of material and energy;
  • Thrive within wider ecosystem boundaries; and,  
  • Adapt to a changing operating environment. 

How does this help us? Well, we think it gives the twenty or so people involved in the lab a model of a system that they can interact with and help to shape, and in doing so, think about how to apply regenerative principles in practice. For the lab system to be regenerative it needs:

  • A renewable source of energy and resources
  • Various built-in feedback loops that help keep the system on track
  • The capacity to learn and self-organise
  • A nested hierarchy, that allows sub-systems to operate independently, while benefiting when these sub-systems support each other.

The output that the lab seeks to create is knowledge that can be shared with wider industry. 

We can think of that renewable source of energy as the stock of ‘collective engagement’ within the system. The lab needs the collective engagement of its participants to function. This is a renewable resource. At the end of a workshop it may be depleted, but it can restored through rest. The stock of collective engagement can be potentially built up through trust, and having a sense of collective goals. And it can be depleted through a lack of trust or through undermining behaviour. 

Feedback loops might help participants to better understand how the level of collective engagement is being maintained. Feedback loops can also help the participants understand how their experiments in regenerative practice are going. Feedback loops can help the participants decide if the direction for research needs to adjust in response to changing internal and external factors.

How do we imagine the lab might have the capacity to learn and self-organise? This depends on having a sense of shared objective, feedback that tells the system if it is on course, and the possibility for a change of direction to emerge when necessary. 

The idea of nested hierarchy is that the lab could be split into smaller sub groups that could operate reasonably effectively independently, but which are enhanced by collaboration and coordination between groups. So we could imagine splitting the cohort up into smaller action-learning groups that are able to carry out many of the functions of the lab on their own. But these separate action learning groups can learn from each other, and the output is richer when the work of these separate groups is coordinated and brought together.

If we can think of the lab as a potentially regenerative system, then as we establish the lab we can think about what are the behaviours, norms and processes that we would need to bring that regenerative system to life.