Growing Institutional Imagination Capacity and Collective Intelligence in a Complex World  - Moral Imaginations - with Phoebe Tickell



Growing Institutional Imagination Capacity and Collective Intelligence in a Complex World  - Moral Imaginations - with Phoebe Tickell

Phoebe Tickell joins us to explore how imagination gives us the ability to think beyond traditional frames. We delve into training a new breed of imagination activists, mapping unintended consequences, and how to coordinate at a massive scale thanks to the emergence of DAOs.

Podcast Notes

Phoebe Tickell is a biologist and systems thinker developing methodologies and approaches  suited for a better world. She is an innovator with a background in the biological sciences, technology, social entrepreneurship and systems design. She left the scientific academy with the knowledge that an understanding of complex systems could be applied to real world pressing issues and that bridges were needed to stretch from theory to practice. 

She works across multiple societal contexts applying a complexity and systems thinking lens and has worked in organisational design, advised government, the education sector and the food and farming sector. She is a co-founder of the DGov Foundation – a community of distributed governance practitioners – and Member of Enspiral, a community that innovates in decentralising power and developing decentralised tools and technologies to do so. She also created Moral Imaginations in 2020 to push the frontier of research and implementation of research-backed collective imagination exercises and training to inspire change and find new solutions in an era of unprecedented disruption and potential for transformation.

It’s clear that society needs direction when it comes to change, and in today’s episode we explore how imagination gives us the ability to think beyond traditional frames. Join us as we delve into training a new breed of activists, mapping unintended consequences, how to coordinate at a massive scale – and accounting for future generations with the choices that we make.  

Key highlights we discussed:

  • Why imagination has become central to building the future
  • The moral elements of new ways of organising
  • How diverse teams or communities can work from shared principles
  • Why we need to stay connected to our local communities
  • Why coordination is not ‘everything’ for DAOs 


To find out more about Phoebe’s work:


Other references and mentions:



Find out more about the show and the research at Boundaryless at


Thanks for the ad-hoc music to Liosound / Walter Mobilio. Find his portfolio here:


Recorded on 19 April 2022.


Simone Cicero:
Hello everybody and welcome back to the Boundaryless Conversations Podcast. I am here today with my usual co-host, Stina Heikkila.

Stina Heikkila:
Hello. Happy to be here.

Simone Cicero:
Today with us we have another special guest, Phoebe Tickell.

Phoebe Tickell:
Hi, good to be here.

Simone Cicero:
I mean, I feel we have to give a little bit of a frame and a little bit of a story as well, because the topic that we’re going to discuss today – among others, but I would say probably the core topic – is this idea of imagination.

This idea of having this capacity, I would say this capability, to think beyond the traditional frames which, to some extent, we acknowledge have been limiting our capabilities and capacity to envision something different, basically.

You have been doing lots of work in systems thinking, in governance, in organizational design. Probably as a first introductory question; you can also help us to understand why imagination and those kinds of capabilities have become such an important focus for anybody today that engages with the idea of, essentially, mobilizing collective capabilities within – and beyond – organizations in movements and in society in general.

Why is imagination such an important thing and how did you get to make it so central to your work?

Phoebe Tickell:
Ah, thank you, Simone. That’s a great question to start off with. I’m just very excited to join you in this podcast that I’ve been following for the last couple of years.

So imagination has really become such a big part of my work; actually through the path of working on governance. Working, as you say, on organizational design and systems thinking. The question of “Why is it so important?”… I think I would start with, first…

So, obviously if we are wanting to change any sort of system – and an organization is such a system – or if you want to gather or organize a group of people; it goes without saying that it very much helps to know where you’re going.
It helps to have a collective alignment and collective vision. Within the organizational context, people talk about vision and purpose and direction and having this collective coherence.

Actually, a lot of the organizations and movements I have worked with in the past, like Extinction Rebellion or Enspiral or other movements and networks; a very key, central patterning force is a shared purpose. You know, this is something we used to say within Enspiral, which I was a member of for three years (which we can also go into a bit later).

When you decentralize activity and decision making and autonomy and you allow people to use their context to make decisions, without having to go up to a management top-down hierarchy to make decisions, it’s very key that people have a collective sense of purpose and direction, so that they don’t need to keep on checking in with that top of the pyramid.

So having a shared collective imagination and having the capacity to do collective imagining is super important for any organization, but particularly a decentralized organization of any kind. So a DAO, a movement, a network or a horizontal team. But on top of that, the reason imagination is so important right now – and actually within the framing I use – is that we need to train a new breed of activist and leader, an imagination activist.

It’s because at the moment there is more and more of a narrowing, in terms of our sense of how the world could be, fuelled by polarization and our current political system where we’re given these false dichotomies of “The world could be like this” or “It could be like this”.

You can vote for this side, or you can vote for this side – and that means that we actually have… It’s almost like a stolen imagination because there’s no space left for “How could things be different?”

Actually, how could the whole system be different; the system within which we are already being framed within say, the political system. It really robs us of the capability and the capacity to look at the options that are not on the table.

So I think that’s another really important angle; is the, I want to say, the epistemological activism or the epistemological disobedience of using imagination to think about how things could be radically different, or to imagine the unimaginable.

And I think, in the bigger framing of systems change and really wanting to radically change everything, seeing as we’re in (most people would agree) quite a tight spot as a civilization and as a species; to be able to do that radical reimagination, that’s also a capacity that needs to be practiced.

So it’s really a practice. It’s a muscle that needs to be flexed. And I believe that that is also connected to things like sovereignty and confidence and having the permission. Giving ourselves the permission to think and imagine in these ways.

Simone Cicero:
So when you speak about this idea that the possibilities have been narrowing constantly in the last decade, let’s say, or in the last century… The possibility to envision a different world or things made in a different way has been narrowing, right? So I totally agree with this; because we have been thinking about organizations as players in the system.

So for example, you have a company. Then your role is to maximize your shareholder returns, for example, or something like that. I really resonate with this idea. You spoke about sovereignty, for example. When we think about imagining something different and enacting this, to some extent, my recurring question around imagination and envisioning has always been about the other side. Essentially, the responsibility; accountability.

So how do we basically imagine something that we can be accountable for? So how can we kind of reduce the distance, let’s say, from what we imagine and what we can actually enact? This also resonates with some conversation we had recently related to our blog post that our common friend Indy brought, when he spoke about the need to go beyond the risk-driven perspectives for the future into more like, developments-driven.

So I always struggle, let’s say, in putting together this risk perspective about what is actually possible. What are the priorities that the world is dictating to us versus our imagination?

So how do you think about how these two pieces go together? So how would accountability – the accountability we have towards our context, our landscapes, our communities and so on – in terms of dictating what we should do – weights imagining? So how does it work together?

Phoebe Tickell:
I think that’s a really interesting connection to be made and directly also relates to the concept of moral imagination. I don’t know if you just set that up perfectly for me to segue into the topic of moral imagination; which really brings together that ethics, values and accountability in a sense of like “What kind of world do we want to live in?”, much more tethered to the constraints that we are in right now (because that’s how we can actually develop a sense of what is right and what is wrong) but then using the imagination to really stretch out and expand into that realm of limitless possibility.

So I think exactly having that; holding that tension, is where designing and developing new practice and developing new systems can be born in a very — It’s a very fertile tension. I really enjoyed Indy’s new — That article that you mentioned around kind of going beyond risk. I think with risk, it’s almost like the master and the emissary.

Risk is something that, absolutely, we need to account for and use as a constraint; but we shouldn’t be dictated by it. It shouldn’t be our master. So that at the cost of that creativity, that imagination, that sense of the very edge of innovation. Like if we only stuck to risk, if we only stuck to designing with risk at the centre and minimizing risk, then we would never actually take those great leaps of innovation that everybody would agree are the steps of our civilization actually developing in the direction that we collectively would like.

So ‘moral imagination’ is a term that’s been around since the 1700s, actually. It’s seeing a revival in the cognitive sciences, which is quite interesting; where people are saying that we cannot really have – and cognitive scientists are making the case for the fact that we can’t really have – ethics and morals without the imagination; because the imagination allows us to even test out future scenarios. How would we behave? What would we write?

So, imagination is so key to the development; as Indy talks about, this development and this sense of: Who do we want to be? What kind of society do we want to live in?

And I think he spoke about existential care, which also really connects to the concept of existential hope and existential creativity; which I think is a really great frame. We are facing huge existential risks as a civilization and species. How do we balance that huge responsibility and, as you say, the accountability, to future generations; with also the creativity and the innovation to create better solutions?

Simone Cicero:
You know, in the manifesto that you have on your website, for example: You make a reference to how morals that we are dealing with, let’s say at the moment, are pretty much framed in rational and deductive approaches. Right? So in terms of deciding what’s good, what’s bad; we tend to think in terms, for example, of sustainability. It’s something that is related to how much we consume.

For example, let’s say that: Okay. This business is sustainable because it consumes in a way that is sustainable over the long term. But it’s always about computing how much we can and so on and so forth. So for example, this is the same concern; that, for example, we have – and we discussed it in this podcast with people from r3.0, which is very much based on calculations, let’s say. And also the “donut approach” right? It’s based on this idea of calculating our footprints and so on.

But I am wondering how much of these new morals… It’s much more abductive. So it’s much more related to how we perceive. In aesthetics, for example, right? You have been working a lot with Nora [Bateson]. So how can you, you know, give us an idea of: What are these new moral elements that may be central to our ways of organizing; beyond accounting and beyond calculations and rational drivers to changing the way we do things?

Phoebe Tickell:
I think it’s so connected – again, almost looping back to the beginning of the conversation. You know, this is really an active field of inquiry for me. Like I’ve been researching and developing this concept of moral imagination and the practice for the last three years, but I’m really in the inquiry around it.

The thing that comes alight as soon as you ask that question is that: If we only operate within the frames of, I think, as you said, “calculations” and what is already on the table. There are these invisible narratives and frames. Almost like the chessboard has already been drawn, if you are not engaging the moral imagination. As soon as you start to plan for the future, the strategy; the next five years strategy – and this is also connecting a lot with Nora Bateson’s work of Warm Data – and complex systems.

Like how do you really practice and work within a complex system? If you’re planning with what’s already on the table, then you’re not leaving the space to actually imagine far bigger. I think the core part of moral imagination is that you also engage that deeper sense that humans have; to think: What kind of person do I want to be?
What kind of world do I want to live in? Why are we not accounting for the future generations within this strategy?

I want to live in a world where we are directly linking our governance for future generations, or we are directly counting for nature and non-human beings. If you are not engaging that imagination, driven by the values and the sense of what kind of world you want to live in (which, to me, that’s really how I would define moral imagination)… It’s the imagination driven by a sense of: Who do we want to be and what kind of world do we want to live in? Then you’re already operating within the predefined game.

Like Daniel Schmachtenberger and his colleagues refer to “Game A, Game B”, which I also think is a helpful frame because it’s: How do we reframe the whole game? The rules of the game. And if we’re not engaging with the imagination, then we already play within the constraints of what is considered important, what is accounted for, how we account for value.

There’s so much invisible infrastructure and mental infrastructure around what we consider as important and worth accounting for, that I think organizations that really want to be almost bringing the future that we want to live in into being; need to engage with developing very different governance structures and organizational structures and experimenting with: How do we actually get closer to our values and the things we find deeply important? Because currently they’re not being accounted for. They’re not being valued.

You know, the really crude example I have always given is: If you take a tree and you try and put a number on it, in terms of what it’s worth, you end up costing the amount of furniture and wood and paper that you can make out of this tree; we don’t account for the multiple complex processes and interdependencies that this tree is engaging in and nourishing the whole ecosystem.

So this also brings in the perspective of ecology, which I also really feel has been massively left out of organizational design and theory and practice. We talk about complex systems, but very rarely do we talk about the ecology and the wider complex system that an organization exists in.

Stina Heikkila:
I would like to try to see if I can understand something more about your practice of this moral imagination or imaginations in general; and what you mentioned in the beginning about this shape incoherence.
This seems somehow difficult to me; also in a world that is increasingly polarized. How do you tease out, let’s say, a sort of shared direction through this work when you don’t really know what each individual’s experience and imagination would entail?

So I am very curious to know what kind of processes you have for this work and how much it’s sort of – I don’t want to say “normative” – but what are the shared principles to reach some kind of coherence and does it work in a group that is very diverse in terms of viewpoints and world views and so on?

Phoebe Tickell:
I think that’s a really great question. My experience so far with these practices is yes – because my thesis is that these disagreements and polarizations and divisions really happen at the level of concept. They happen on the level of “this policy makes more sense compared to your policy” or “My viewpoint is different and clashes with yours”; but if you get into the level of values and what kind of world we want to live in; if we can get into that shared space of imagining the sorts of worlds we want to live in, it sort of changes the context. It changes the context and the level at which people are engaging and connecting.

But I also think it’s worth mentioning that within the collective imagination practices that I have been working with and developing there’s a huge emphasis on plurality. We’re not trying to get to a shared singular point of agreement or future, although I think that’s also quite interesting; using deliberative practices.

I just participated in a very inspiring convening of democratic innovation practitioners; people who are really innovating at the edges of democratic practice and citizen assemblies and citizen juries.

The practice of deliberation itself can really be a collective imagination practice; because when citizens come together to make decisions around whether to create bicycle lanes through the whole city, they start to engage in practices of collective imagination. What could our city look like if we did that? If we did that, what would the consequences be?

I think this imagination practice is also very key for the mapping of unintended consequences. Rather than making decisions from a linear point, from the present into the future… “Okay. We’ll do this, this and this. Here’s the five-year strategy”… you can engage – and actually exploring the possible unintended consequences of different actions and mapping out using more strategic foresight approaches; which do tend to be more linear and moving from the present into the future. That can also be a very helpful practice.

But to go back to the question around, I think, different viewpoints and how that works; the practice really is around engaging in the complexity and creating this plurality of visions and approaches. And we also work closely with artists and poets and people who, as part of the Moral Imaginations team will come in and work together with a group or a team or an organization and help bring alive these different visions and different metaphors – so we work a lot also with metaphors – of the future or of desired… I’d say desired futures, but in a sense almost timeless.

So not necessarily in ten years or fifty years from now, but just alternative realities. It’s almost like also visioning alternative presence. It doesn’t just have to focus on envisioning alternative futures.

A very key part of the practice is creating a space that is safe enough for people to engage in that imagining and actually share these often quite intimate and personal visions of what kind of organization they would love to work in, or what kind of world they would like to live in – and through then being influenced by the other visions and imaginings of the group, you start to find these points of coherence; but there’s no kind of double diamond.

Like there’s no need for the group to then move towards a single point of coherence or create a singular output. There are just as many outputs from these processes that are intangible and around the team dynamics and the communication that is possible – in the room, in the group, in the team – as there are tangible outputs in terms of visions of different futures and artwork or poetry and these pluralistic visions.

Stina Heikkila:
That’s really interesting. I really appreciate how you compared this deliberation with collective imagination. It’s really helpful to see that more sort of open-ended, supercharged deliberation process in a way that is not assuming the end post that we want to reach, right? So I think that’s super interesting. Thank you.

Phoebe Tickell:
That’s great. And I just wanted to add that it’s been really interesting speaking with colleagues and, as I say, the democracy and bottom-up democracy citizen movement; because they speak about this deeply transformative effect of citizen juries and citizen assemblies where people are really themselves deeply transformed by the process of being in deliberation with a group of people very different to themselves.

I think it goes without saying that our current social media landscape really almost does the opposite. It creates these environments where we are led to believe that people are very different from us and it creates false divisions.

A lot of the people I speak to also in the political or the politics sector say — Most people are not left or right. Everybody is a mix in terms of the policies they agree with or disagree with. It’s far more complex than we are led to believe; and so these deliberation practices can be so transformational for people, which I thought was interesting.

I don’t think it’s the first thing that comes to mind when I imagine being part of a democratic citizen assembly. It could seem like something quite dry and process-based. Yeah. So I just think that’s a very interesting comparison.

Stina Heikkila:
I love how it’s coming back from other conversations that we’re having, too; that we are these social animals and that sociality and relationships are really something that now seems to be emerging quite a lot in these different conversations. Yeah.

Simone Cicero:
So basically, I have these two things in mind at the moment. One is: When we make space for this new approach to imagination- as I understand that it’s not just about being imaginative, right? It’s also about, let’s say, being aware, at least, of the trade offs, let’s say, that are related with thinking from a different or starting our imagination from a different standpoint; which is not the traditional standpoint and thus the consumerism.

So for example, I am thinking of when we imagine as an embedded community. For example, there are tradeoffs that are related to our landscape or our capabilities, the resources we have. As we see in the world going a lot more into more regional perspectives, more sovereign; let’s say, players, that to some extent also compete between each other.

So on one side I am thinking about what happens to our imagination when we integrate to the fact that we should be more embedded into the space, into the context, into the landscape and so on. So if you want these more in-event tradeoffs; as we reconnect with reality, as we reconnect with the reality of existing in our world that is characterized by limited resources, the landscape, the ecosystems and the ecologies that you spoke about.

So that’s one thing that is more about inherently accepting this new reality of rethinking our organizations; for example around institutions embedded into the places.

On the other side, I am thinking about more critical elements. I mean, we had Michael Sacasas recently on the podcast, discussing the ideas behind conviviality and the facts that we may have to look into, imagining things from a perspective of critically engaging with technology, for example. Renouncing, to some extent, some technological outcomes that we have. Be a little bit more austere, you know, in relating with technology. Focusing more on playful relationships and valuing different things which are not produced by the technosphere essentially. Right?

So how do we give organizations that are more playful, more relational and less technological, let’s say? And also, as humans, how do we rebuild our imagination in a way that is a bit more disconnected from technology and that kind of picture of the future that we are being used to consider as progress, let’s say.

So these two things. And finally, of course, these two kind of different approaches to the future. So one that is more embedded on one side and a little bit more technology critical on the other side. How do we fit those also into the existing systemic lock-ins that exist, right? So how much systemic lock-ins… Lock-ins – I mean, the things that we have to do or just because we are apart of, I would say, background… let’s say, right?

Phoebe Tickell:
I think the laws of gravity.

Simone Cicero:
Exactly, exactly. You speak about “the train”, right? So that’s essentially the idea, right? So how are these new institutions built on this new imagination, that is also aware of where it’s rooted? How does it look? What kind of space will we have to also be real, I would say, right? To also be capable to imagine something that we can actually enact and we can decide to enact in a different way?

Phoebe Tickell:
So to me this question is really about constraints and about freedom. It’s like freedom and constraints and the question around: How much do we want to devolve power to technology, or which parts are we willing to automate and to allow to run; embedded in technology and whether that’s smart contracts on the blockchain or other forms of kind of digital automated organizations… Because I think, yes, especially for this podcast, the interest in really around organizing and organizations.

I think also we shouldn’t leave out the possibility that engaging in radical imagination and moral imagination undoes the organizational frame as well. So what if, in the future, there is the question of whether organizations and institutions will exist in the form that we currently recognize them in?

And I think DAOs are a very, very early kind of gesture at the future of how we might start unbundling legalities and agreements and accountabilities and financial investment and dividends. All of these things that are currently bundled within what we call an organization. I think it’s interesting.

A little bit of what your question gestures at, to me, is how might we unbundle those things; where also by unbundling human play and creativity and improvisation together, which is really what sparks joy for the majority of people. It’s where their work can also be the place of their creativity, their thriving, their development.

There’s a huge movement around the deliberately developmental organizations and all of the Teal organizations. There’s this call for the workplace also becoming the site of the development of a human being and consciousness and play. I really like that you also brought in play.

And another tension also comes up for me, which I discussed on The Green Pill podcast with Kevin Owocki, founder of Gitcoin and really embedded in the regenerative blockchain Web3 movement; around the tension between this Web3 digital organization, decentralized autonomous organizations movement of people who actually are becoming less and less connected to their locality; to the point where as long as you have an internet connection – this digital nomadism – to the point where you don’t need a bank account if you have crypto…

It’s becoming less and less embedded within the current system and nation states and the constraints of your passport and where you were born, but at the same time it starts to feel very disconnected from reality.

I think that’s just another tension to name; that there’s a very interesting development going on around embedding organizations into digital systems and into distributed ledger technology – and currently I am not seeing enough of the constraints around a responsibility and an accountability to a bioregion to the land, to the actual physical reality of polluted ecosystems and soil and the fact that until we can totally plug ourselves into an energy source… Like all of us rely on food and the soil that has a limited number of cycles left.

So I just think we live in a very interesting time where there is a disconnect between the physical corporality of: Where do you live? Where were you born? The connection the land. The more indigenous embeddedness into an ecology and then this other very futuristic and disconnected, and almost trans-humanist, movement towards “Okay, how do we plug into stateless?”… Going beyond the state and beyond passports and actually “Why don’t we just all got to Mars?” total disconnection, even from the planet as a whole. I mean, these are extremes obviously, but I think it’s an interesting tension.

And it also brings in the Solarpunk movement, which I know we have spoken about previously Simone, and I have been very much a proponent of and involved in (since around 2014 – which we can also go into). But again, a risk around the Solarpunk movement, which is essentially an aesthetic – movement around the future and alternative visions of the future that bring together nature and ecology and technology – I think another danger there is that the visions of the future that are driven by this Solarpunk ideal often look very, very futuristic and technological and disconnected from the land and from context. But then on the other side you have what people call “cottagecore” or the more degrowth ecovillages. Like again, an extreme that doesn’t account for the reality of the technological development that we are living in.

So those are some reflections. We could dive into any area from there, but that’s kind of what’s coming up for me in response to your question.

Simone Cicero:
I mean, just probably double clicking quickly on some interesting points that you brought up. This idea of DAOs and blockchain as a way to unbundle organizing, I think it’s really interesting and resonates with some other projects that I am seeing emerging in the space. For example, I am thinking to the Metagov project as well.

So this idea that, as we unbundle the organization, we reduce it to the bare functionalities. We kind of codify bureaucracy into software. And suddenly we are left with basically the need to rebundle that. Once its unbundled, then how do you rebundle it? And there’s no more the institution that bundles the organization for us, so that we can just consume it. We have this kind of responsibility to take over this rebundling process.

In a recent piece that I wrote, I am arguing that this kind of democratization of contracting and kind of technologically mediated organizing becomes more usable and more accessible. I am arguing that essentially teams, communities if you will, and teams of teams, should be more in charge and more able to contextualize and organize into their context.

So I am assuming that, as these spaces of organizing technologically; mediated organizing democratize and makes itself available as a set of pieces that you can rebundle; we will see more rebundling in the context. In the landscape, as you said.

So you know, essentially people should be more concerned about producing, essentially, what they need. To some extent, this is resonant with what is happening from the risk perspective; because we are seeing systemic crisis, increasing lack of systemic support.

So everything pushes, let’s say, towards a more responsibility; us being more protagonist in imagining, essentially, how we organize and enacting it. And I think, you know… In line with this; of course, imagination becomes essential, right?

Because if you are in charge of envisioning how you rebundle an organization around your context, your landscape, your connections, your relationships; then you have to be able to imagine what you’re building. Because nobody is going to serve it for you, just to consume. So that’s essentially something that’s very interesting to us.

I mean, the major challenges we see… It’s in the emergence of this constituance. This kind of institutional exertion process; it’s really hard, especially if we look into how people are captured into their jobs and into this kind of failing, rational, mechanistic system that is fading… but we are all trapped into that.

You know, what is your feeling in terms of how much these kind of emerging imaginations… You know, we spoke about Solarpunk and the blockchain space. How much are they actually aware of, you know, these kind of responsibilities and these kind of need to take over the job that we have to do, to some extent.

So essentially, what I mean is: It’s not something that we can just imagine. We also actually have to do it. We have to take responsibility. Us groups, us communities, us teams. How do you feel this kind of perception is measuring in the ecosystem?

Phoebe Tickell:
I think that’s exactly why we need imagination activists. Not just dreamers. You know, we need to move from the dreamers. And, I think, you know, musicians and artists and poets have done so much for us.

I was just reading a piece by Percy Shelley just before saying “Poets are the true legislators” because the poets and the artists really create the imaginary space from which then people can then legislate and do things. But actually, let’s try and train both of these in the same individual so people can actually imagine and then act and do.

So that’s one point I wanted to mention, and the other is: I really like what you mentioned around democratizing contracting or legislature or institutions, because, in a sense, one metaphor for an institution is bundling; but another metaphor would be like an interface, because it’s the interface of human spirit and energy and creativity and agency with the system. With legalities, finance, accountability, recognition. It’s kind of that interface with the systems that we all agree to live by and to be controlled by to some extent.

And actually, there’s not much choice there. Depending on where you were born; you don’t have so much of a choice. There isn’t really a way to opt out, if you want to play within the confines of society. I mentioned that because I am interested in also something that the DAO movement really has ignited, I think, in the public imagination; which is around the use of DAOs to organize groups of citizens almost like movements, really around coordinated activity. So there is a meme in the blockchain space that everything is coordination.

All the problems we face just boil down to coordination problems, which personally I don’t agree with, because I really believe there’s also a problem of values and choices. The choices we make and what we stand up for and integrity. It’s not just coordination.

But I think, especially in the younger generations, I think it’s quite empowering because they see it then as “Oh, this is just a problem that needs to be fixed”. We don’t need to actually contend with the huge question of: “What kind of human beings are we all and what are we willing to let happen and what is good and evil?” and these huge questions.

But just to go back to the DAO point, I think there’s just something interesting to me; that in the future, beyond organizations and beyond institutions (which at the moment are limited to the elite)… It’s not like everybody actually can really set up an institution or an organization and do it successfully. There are a lot of odds stacked against you if you don’t have the necessary training and credentials and all of that.

But I think something interesting about DAOs and blockchain based organizations is it’s so easy to set up a bank account and you can immediately start organizing; in this transparent way where people are really rewarded for their work, and it’s tracked.

That, to me, is really interesting because actually – in the future – how could we have a citizen-powered cleanup, you know? And renegeneration of the world? We need the kind of institutional infrastructure or the coordination tools to be able to do that.

I don’t know. How could the citizens of London come together to clean up the Thames? Like right now it’s very difficult to do that. You can use Facebook groups or email chains, but there’s a missing piece around how we can organize outside of institutions and really democratize the ability to coordinate on a massive scale, which also connects with the scale question.

Stina Heikkila:
I’m kind of — We don’t have video on, but I am kind of nodding along as you speak – and it’s very interesting; many of those points that you bring up. And I think maybe I can try to bridge it to another question that we had. We were exchanging with Simone in the background.

It’s a little bit on: How do existing organizations incorporate these kinds of transformations or transitions that we are talking about? And I think what you mentioned, with the DAOs… We had, I think it was the first episode of this season, where we spoke to guys from Colony; and they were saying something like: “Why not use DAOs as the new sort of software to organize things?”

So you don’t need to sort of ask for permission. You can bring in those solutions into existing organzations as well as you would introduce something like Trello or something else that helps you organize as a team. So I don’t know to what extent that resonates with you. I know that you said that you worked quite a lot also with the local government levels. So these are sort of in existing incumbents, let’s say, and legacy institutions. How do you think that is going to play out? Like how would you work with these kind of tools; transforming organizations from the inside?

Phoebe Tickell:
I think it’s a great bridge, because I know many of the people who will be listening will be part of an organization or a local council or government and be thinking: “Well, great. Like, this is all really great and fantastical, but actually how does this relate to me and to what my organization is doing?”

In my experience of working with local councils and government and organizations, it always takes having an inspired individual from the inside who is just willing to put in the extra energy and hours to find the get arounds, to find the loopholes, to get something approved through; whether it’s the HR budget or the CSR budget.

It is really difficult, within the current constraints of our organizational infrastructure and also the norms of what is considered acceptable. And within these hierarchies, also where there’s a pressure to perform and to rise up through the hierarchy, there are many, many pressures that means it’s very difficult to really get radical ideas and experiments into the organizations; unless you have that spark and that inspiration coming from the inside. Whether it’s from a manager or from the CEO, or a visionary leader, or an intrapreneur. I think it was Alexa Clay who kind of coined this term.

Yes, so just to recognize that it’s difficult, but as you say, there are ways in. You can do all sorts of experiments at the level of culture and at the level of practice; and I said, like HR and leadership trainings, but the place where it gets really interesting to me is around the governance experiments – and that’s really where I am most interested in working at that level; for which you definitely need to have the board and the senior leaders on board.

You can start at the level of practice and go from there. Like a lot of my previous work and training organizations in horizontal practices and drawing a lot from Samantha Slade’s Going Horizontal work and also the practices that we developed and created within Inspiral and Loomio; you can start at the level of practice and actually, through changing culture, you also change change what is considered possible.

So you can actually work at the level of the Overton window, which is a term used for the window within which certain policies are considered possible or not too radical. So you can expand that Overton window through the level of culture and practice, but really you want to get to the point where there are experiments going on. In governance, in agreements; in more than just norms and behaviours. Actually more at the level of governance, basically, and experiments in how things work at the board or even in hiring and recruitment.

Yeah. So I think that’s important to say – and also at the level of ownership. That’s almost like the holy grail. And something I used to say quite candidly as a consultant; that you can be as decentralized and horizontal as you like, in terms of practice and culture and behaviour, but if you are not actually experimenting with decentralizing ownership (even if it’s just a little bit to start with), then we’re not really changing the deeper wiring of our economy and ownership in that true democratic organizational vision.

Simone Cicero:
So I see this continuity with, for example, the experiences in Teal, Agile and all these shared governances and organizations and potentially also the blockchain and so on; but in your experience, how much — Do you actually also need different — I mean, I don’t want to say “spiritual elements”. You know, if we connect this kind of new epistemic that is needed to really embrace the new possibilities of imagining something different… I tend to connect these with spiritual elements, tradition, culture; religion.

So in your experience, is this also part of the organizational transition or is it possible to just embrace this transformation within the frame of…100% frame of modernity?

Phoebe Tickell:
What a great question! I love that you brought the word “spirituality”. And I think this comes back to – is it actually a coordination problem, or is there something deeper here?

Simone Cicero:
I mean, totally. I mean, I was thinking to something that I brought too often here on this podcast. That is, Wendel Berry’s work. He used to say that you cannot delegate change to an organization, basically. It needs to start from the human; from the person. And Wendel Berry’s work has always been in connection with agriculture and culture, essentially; as an expression of place. It has all these elements of connection with tradition.

So I am really curious to know. What kind of roles do these things have in your work, if any?

Phoebe Tickell:
Oh, massive! I mean, very much at the core of the Moral Imagination work. It’s really at the level of the human and of values and of that deeper transformational — With this work, transformation is really overused now.

Really to change systems – and I think this also really draws on what I have learned from Batesonian systems and Nora’s work. I don’t think it’s possible to change culture from within the system. So if you’re trying to work on the change within the organization, I think what becomes more interesting is moving into the context between organizations; or at another kind of level of context. Nora talks about this. Like people within the organizational context will be really living in a role and very constrained – and you can think about this also in the context of family. Just to help people draw a metaphor: When there are dynamics that are present in a family, you try and sort them out from within the family context. You know, just the family members – and you just end up going in loops; round and round and round around, because it’s so hard to get out of the scripts that are running within the family context.

So how does change happen? It’s got to come from a different context and something has got to loosen up within the dynamic. Whether its family members going to therapy or taking a trip. There’s got to be something that loosens the dynamic; and I think that’s the same within organizations. I mean, it also begs the question. For me, at the moment I am really contending with whether doing this work within the organizational context really makes sense. Like do I really think the change exists within the organization?

You know, it’s like: Is it possible, with all of the constraints and even the legal constraints that keep us within certain traps of behaviour and thinking and what is considered possible or what is considered allowed or acceptable…

I think I am more interested in inter-organizational communities. Like these communities where people can have one foot within their organization and another foot out with others from different organizations. So there’s this sense of: What’s going on in your organization? Do you also have this problem?

Like, how do we actually loosen this up and how do people start to break these encumbent structures that keep them within ways of behaving; and acting, contributing to society, that no longer fit their vision of who they want to be and what kind of world they want to live in.

Stina Heikkila:
Yeah. I think, like I was mentioning before, I think we have touched on these kind of topics and I can see now that we have three coherent episodes. We were talking to John Alexander about a new citizenship project. You might be in the same ecosystem as him.

Phoebe Tickell:
Yeah, very much so.

Stina Heikkila:
So I think the dots connect and that’s really what we aim with this podcast as well; to sort of stretch our way of looking at things. Now it’s really from this sort of “outside in” perspective and we don’t really know exactly how things are going to play out. So thank you for bringing all your amazing experiences into this conversation.

Yeah, listening to those together and also with the one we had that we’re publishing next week, like Simone had mentioned with Otti Vogt and Antoinette Weibel on virtue ethics and even, I would say, almost more abstract to some extent; or more philosophical, maybe. So I think we can start to weave some threads around that.

So the next final question is: How do people find your work? How do they follow what you do and what’s the most relevant resources to look into after this?

Phoebe Tickell:
Mm-hmm. Yeah. I just wanted to add that I think that’s really the space that I try to traverse; is to be like one arm stretched out into these much more intangible concepts and things like values and ethics and the unimaginable; territories of imagination, and as we talked about, the concepts or metaphors for organizations. But then also one arm really stretched into “What can we do today?” and practices and really bringing it back to the individual and to the collective. What can be done? What can be practiced? What can be learned? Where can we find community to bring these visions and ideals into practice?

So the places that people can find me I would say are my website: I’m also on Twitter; and unfortunately often quite active there. So please do reach out. That’s solarpunk_girl. The website for Moral Imaginations is; and we also have a Twitter which is moral_imagining, and a Substack.

And I am in the process of building an organization which will hold a lot of the work that we have been speaking about. That is coming; so stay tuned and please reach out if you are interested in speaking or collaborating or exploring these topics further.

Simone Cicero:
Thank you so much. It’s great to have these conversations, as I said. Unless you want to ask the usual questions, you end up having to ask the different ones – and that’s what we also do on this podcasts. So thank you so much, Phoebe. It was great to have you. I hope our listeners will follow your work closely. Thank you so much, Stina. To our listeners… catch up soon.