Transformation Theory & Flaten

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Writing this from back home in Australia, at the end of an exciting and hectic month. First dive into the project, it’s been a steep learning curve and a lot of incredible sights and sounds.

One of the things I’m taking away with me is an idea which lurked somewhat in the background of Best Festival Ever, and which is coming into sharper focus with these new collaborations with Forum for the Future and Miljoverkstan; the idea of Transformation Theory, and what that means in a systems sense.

Sometimes, we want a system to be resilient. Other times, we desperately want to change something, and the resilience of the system counters any effort we make to push it into a different state.

Forum’s work is centered around the idea of pursuing targeted transformation – the idea that we can introduce certain kinds of pressures and disturbances into systems that can shift them into new regimes that we would prefer. Miljoverkstan have a more exploratory focus on the Flaten system, but if the system’s trajectory points towards environmental destruction and the loss of what makes the area unique, they would certainly seek to intervene.

People managing complex systems have three choices when they are impacted by a disturbance: cope, adapt or transform. Coping means soaking up the damage and continuing on as before. Adapting means reorganising the system in order to absorb the effect of the disturbance, while retaining the core function of the system. Transforming means fundamentally altering the composition and behaviour of the system.

I get the impression, from the contexts in which we’ve heard it, that ‘transformation’ is a buzzword in the way that ‘resilience’ has become in the last few years. (This is always interesting to me, because as a theatre-artist, I have no concept of recent buzzwords in the science / business / management worlds.) But in the way that resilience is not necessarily a positive quality for a system to have, transformation is not necessarily a positive solution in many instances.

One of the biggest qualifiers that Anna mentioned when talking about transformation practices was cost: cost in resources and cost in time. You might want to fundamentally transform a system in order to respond to disturbances (or the threat of disturbances), rather than merely coping or adapting. But if you don’t have the money or time to really carry that transformation through, you might simply be leaving the system in a more fragile and damaged state than it was already.

I’m not yet sure what the link between transformation theory and this new work is, but I have the strong sense that the number of times it’s been raised and discussed is indicative of something.

So my question is: What would it mean to transform Flaten? What might we transform it into, and how?

– David

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