Questions beget questions

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Some years ago, running action learning in the Water and Rivers Commission in WA, I developed a bunch of materials and thinking around the idea of intelligent enterprise. What might that be? Recent work with Landcare is the same question in a different context, where the issue is more starkly how to mobilise distributed intelligence.

When you have a strong question, a Question Without Easy Answers, it’s a law of the the universe that such a question spawns other questions, and attracts many answers.

Distributed means that the context varies at each point in the field of intelligence. But when we talk with each other, how do we take in the context of the person speaking, when our own is either so different as to make it hard to enter the other’s, or so similar that we fail to see that water we’re swimming in?

Case example: Last December, the Latrobe environmental philosophy group that Freya Mathews convenes met to wrap up the year, not discussing a text, as we usually do, but with a round where we each describe one current project. One of our elders, the woman in who’s house met, kept time, 20 minutes each:

Mayer, who walked up the Yarra, is now exploring the state of loving attention that happens in writing, and when being in nature, and in meditation.

A Brazilian guy going back to home to talk with indigenous philosophers, and analyse what happens when those sages’ voices are brought to the Western World.

Alexis reading the British naturalist Wallace ( he of the Wallace Line and contemporary of Darwin), to understand his presentation of himself as a man of science. In the 19th century, this included a deep draft of emotional and moral sensibility. How did Wallace respond, Alexis is asking, to the realisation in the science of the time that species die out?

And on we went, seven of us in all, with our two elders attending, Freya alert to when some angle of inquiry was overlooked.

Next morning, in that lovely reverie s possible on a Saturday morning, what came to me was the value of encountering great differences when there’s an underpinning similarity in sensibilities. Delicious.

Next case example, also from the end of 2014: a gathering of landcare in the Goulburn Broken region, which surfaced five Questions Without Easy Answers, setting us up for inquiry till we reconvene early February 2015 for answers. I was thrilled we made it this far in just one session, but one moment in particular stayed with me.

Discussing what was needed next for Landcare, one woman pointed out that accountability for projects and expenditure needed to be well managed. I found myself interjecting to say that flexibility is necessary too, at least with projects where the purpose is to create something new that works, and in exploratory projects born out of and run by a community.

CLEA is one such project – how to mobilise distributed intelligence is a question for exploration and innovation. The paths of such projects can be mapped out in advance somewhat, the deliverables pencilled in, but ink them in and you kill the innovation.

So the distributed intelligence question spawns another question – how can government bureaucracies, with their accountabilities and command-and-control cultures, support innovation? This is a question I find genuingly perplexing.

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