Designing Regenerative Systems to Nurture Collective Thriving

#HolochainChats with Ché Coelho & Ross Eyre

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As interdisciplinary designers Che and Ross explain, prevailing technology too often serves narrow corporate interests rather than the empowerment of communities. Yet lessons from diverse, decentralized ecosystems demonstrate that more holistic models for catalyzing economics are aligned with collective thriving.

Just as living systems are circular, we must redesign digital infrastructure to nurture regeneration rather than extracting from the system. 

In our interview with Che and Ross, we learned that by applying principles of interdependence and circularity, technology can shift from concentrating power to cultivating mutually beneficial prosperity. 

Ingredients for Regenerative Value Flows

To build technology capable of empowering communities, we must look to the wisdom found in living systems that have sustained life on this planet for billions of years. As Ross explains:

Regenerative systems are living systems. And living systems tend to be characterized by things like circular value flows. It's like recycling, nutrients and resources, and energy. They tend to be diverse, and there’s a diversity of forms that allows it to adapt to complex, changing environments. And evolution in that, I think, is learning about information and feedback loops.

These properties allow ecosystems to be “both intensely resilient and creatively generative at the same time — maintaining integrity through shifts while allowing novelty to emerge.

Taken together, these key ingredients include:

  • Diversity: A variety of components and perspectives allows greater adaptability. Monocultures quickly become fragile.
  • Interdependence: Rather than isolated parts, living systems work through symbiotic relationships where waste from one process becomes food for the next in closed nutrient loops.
  • Circularity: Resources cycle continuously through systems in balanced rhythms, more akin to the water cycle than a production line. Renewable inputs and outputs avoid depletion.
  • Feedback loops: Mechanisms for self-correction through learning. Information flows enable adaptation to dynamic conditions.

Technology typically pursues narrow aims without acknowledging the repercussions outside corporate interests. However, by studying ecological patterns and the deeper properties that sustain them, we can envision digital infrastructure aligned with collective prosperity across interconnected systems. 

Starting the Shift to Regenerative Models

The extractive practices prevalent in mainstream economics have fundamentally different outcomes compared to the circular, regenerative flows seen in natural systems. Commons-based peer production is one way to more closely align with natural systems, yet shifting the entrenched infrastructure rooted in exploitation presents an immense challenge.

As Che recognizes, the tension of, “incubating Commons-oriented projects” lies in “interfacing with a capital-driven system without the projects being subsumed by that system, in a way that suffocates the intuitions of the commons.”

Technology builders, of course, face a choice: will new solutions concentrate power further into existing hierarchies of control or distribute agency towards collective empowerment? Each application encodes certain assumptions and values into its architecture.

Creating regenerative systems therefore requires what some refer to as “transvestment” — deliberately rechanneling resources out of extractive systems into regenerative alternatives aligned with the common good.

As Ross points out: 

Capital actually needs to be tamed, utilized, because that's where all sorts of value is stored. And that's how we get these projects started and going. But if you're not able to sort of turn them under new Commons-oriented logics, then it escapes.

Grassroots projects cultivating local resilience while connecting to global knowledge flows demonstrate this paradigm shift. For example, Farm Hack uses open source collaboration to freely share sustainable agriculture innovations.

So as solutions centered on human needs gain traction, the tide may turn towards nurturing collective prosperity.

Nurturing Collective Knowledge

As Che and Ross explained, extractive technology dumps value into corporate coffers while frequently compromising user privacy and autonomy. In contrast, thriving systems empower broad participation at individual and collective levels simultaneously.

For instance, public data funneled through proprietary algorithms often fuels asymmetric AI rather than equitably enriching shared understanding. "Data is being locked up,” Che explains.

And that puts a lot of power in the hands of a very small group.

Yet human instincts lean towards cooperation and collective learning. Wikipedia stands out as a remarkable example of voluntary collaboration in service of the commons.

“It demonstrates how willing and how fundamental it is for humans to share, to share knowledge and information and contribute towards the commons,” Ross notes. Rather than reduce users to passive consumers, it connects personal growth to universal betterment.

At their best, technologies can thus amplify innate human capacities for cumulative innovation and participatory sensemaking.

By structuring information as nourishing circulations, technology can shift toward cultivating empathy; from addicting users to advertised products to aligning connectivity with meaning. 

Holochain was built to enable this kind of circular value flow, connecting users, resisting centralizing tendencies, and enabling the Commons.

We hope our data and digital traces might then grow communal wisdom rather than being captured and used to control.

Originally published on the Holochain Blog by Holochain on 17 April 2024.

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