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The question of how to define and how to identify ‘glimmers’ of the future has been an important part of our journeys and wider research at New Constellations. Gemma has been collaborating with Graham Leicester and Cassie Robinson on a collective enquiry around how to identify examples of the flourishing futures we hope to help reach towards.


Made by Jo Barratt

Gemma: So I’m Gemma, I’m one of the co creators of New Constellations, which is a collective really, an organisation that was set up um, to help people begin to imagine and then create futures of human and planetary flourishing. And that idea of a future in which both the planet and human beings um, flourish together, recognising the independence of them both uh, is really important in what we do.

Graham: So I am Graham Leicester, and I run the International Futures Forum. So the clue is in the name. We think about the future. We’d like a future better than the present, and IFF has done a lot of work, uh, particularly in recent years, around something I call system transition. So how do we take the system that we’ve got at the moment, which is failures, and shift it to a new pattern?

That’s fit for the future. And, uh, I think we all share that Gemma and Cassie and I all share that aspiration.

Cassie: Um, I’m Cassie Robinson and I am currently working across four different sort of initiatives and organisations. One is the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. One is the Paul Hamlyn Foundation. One is fund a collaborative called Partners for a New Economy.

And the other is a small team called Arising Quo, who are particularly focused on wealth redistribution in Europe. Each of us had been asking ourselves, if the existing systems are breaking apart and failing to serve us, how do we see where new ones are germinating? What are the signs that enable us to have trust and confidence that we are starting to see something that is a new paradigm emerge?

And so what we agreed to do, given that we’re all coming at this from slightly different vantage points, was to spend some time together working through this and respecting that we do have slightly different perspectives on it, seeing how far we could go in Asking ourselves some questions, exploring what we did feel sure about and being honest about what we didn’t.

What we would like to do is to record a conversation which is much more reflective and much more open ended so that we can share the inquiry that we’ve been going on with others and we can ask other people the same questions that we’ve been asking ourselves and turn that into more of a collective conversation, a collective process of reflection and see where that goes.

You know, we’re suspended in the middle of that at the moment.

Cassie: Why I’ve come to this work, to this particular piece of work with Graham and Gemma for me was Very much to try and work out. Is there something we can equip more funders with in response to the question that I always get asked, which is how do we do a better job of finding and identifying that those third horizon initiatives to fund.

Graham: So IFF works a lot with the three horizons framework, just a version of a kind of two loops model. You know, a reading of the universe that says that there’s always something growing and something declining at the same time. You know, there’s a pattern of growth and a pattern of decline, you know, I am both living and dying at the same time.

So if the pattern that’s dying, the pattern that’s failing us, the pattern that’s in decline is not going to support us and the kind of life that we enjoy and we want to maintain, then we need to find the new pattern, the alternative viable pattern. the one that’s already here that we need to grow and nurture to support the kind of life we want in the future.

Cassie: You know, I’ve been working with Graham on and off for quite a while, bringing Graham in to some of the contexts that I’ve been working with funding, you know, in philanthropy and trying to influence. Funders in particular are people that are like moving wealth and resources to move their resources into patterning different futures rather than just funding kind of amelioration, immediate need, plaster sticking, that kind of thing.

Graham: In IFF we talk about two ways of getting to the future. One is going there. So imagine the future you want and plot the course and go there. That’s a kind of journey metaphor. The other is to grow the future. The future is already here. It’s just unevenly distributed. So let’s find the future we want in the present and try and nurture and support it and grow it from there.

Cassie: I remember walking in Devon through some of the Dartmoor landscape, talking with Gemma about the need to build greater literacy in the funding world around the three horizons. And in particular, How do funders get better at recognising what is the third horizon in the present and how do they notice that?

And the conversation with Gemma was very much about how does that also relate to, in the new constellations context, what Gemma was thinking of or calling glimmers.

Gemma: One of the things that New Constellations does is run what we call a journey, which is an immersive, intensive retreat like process, um, that people go on. And it helps people come to terms with the reality of the present moment that we’re living through, ask deep questions about what transformation is needed at the level of self, group, and system, and to look at, as it were, what are the, what are the new design principles.

that we can use to build or create the future that we dream of. What are the new stars that can guide us? What are the new constellations of hope and possibility that we can use to set a new course towards beautiful, flourishing futures rather than the very terrifying futures that await us if we do not change direction?

Graham: You know, the pattern that we, the so called stable pattern that we rely on to support all of our lives is failing us, you know, at every level, it is no longer resilient, uh, it’s breaking down, um, at all levels and in all places. And so, You know, there is an urgent task of growing a new pattern of viability that will support life on the planet.

Gemma: I think it’s very natural for human beings to resort to that which feels fixable. So as an example, I think, um, the current obsession quite rightly with net zero is, um, admirable and excellent in that it is, um, seeking a solution to the amount of carbon in our atmosphere, but it fails to do that. To embrace the whole, the holistic nature of what we are living through and experiencing, which is a breakdown of the independent life systems of the planet.

And I think that this work, in saying, What are we seeing? What can we discover that feels like it is, um, recognizing and speaking to that whole picture, not just a part of it? What are the initiatives, the projects, the theories that are saying, um, it’s not enough, it’s not okay to deal with a part of this, we have to deal with the whole of it, even if that whole feels bewilderingly enormous.

impossible to fathom and get our arms around. So the question that we are asking ourselves is where are the The fragments, the pieces of that whole and that, that piece might in its present form be incomplete. It might be the germ of something, not the, uh, not the, um, you know, finished grown something. But it, even if it in its kind of nascent form, it has, it has to speak to that whole.

There’s very, very, very, very few people are doing that. By and large, the main response is, Either to deny the whole, because it’s too terrifying and awful, or to look at it and feel that it’s impossible to take it on as such, and so to resort into a silo that feels more manageable. I believe it is in some ways the work of our, yeah, generation, without sounding too grandiose about it, to support people to do the work of the whole, not the part.

And it’s got to start now. I mean, it has to be done, or I think we will pour an enormous amount of time and energy and effort into, um, things which won’t make the difference that we need to make.

Graham: So how do we find those pockets of the future and the present? What are we looking for? And when we find them, uh, how do we grow and support and nurture them so that they grow into a viable pattern that really, you know, forms a stable system that we can all live in a society, if you like.

Cassie: In the funding world, people love a case study or a, you know, we, we want, we want to, we want someone to be able to point out a thing and say, it’s like this, this is what we mean. I do think There are some things you can start to point to. There are these, these emerging patterns, but I don’t think there are these big concrete examples of totally different worlds that have emerged because we would be living in them and we would be living differently in times of such.

Certainty and turbulence, people just reach for what they know and what feels familiar. You know, funders are going to continue to just fund what they think they can measure, what they think feels familiar, where they think the greatest need is. And actually the third horizon, that more visionary or alternative voice is the thing that gets the least resources.

It gets drowned out by all these other things. I’ve got these resources and I really don’t want to be a funder that is just putting my money into making the existing system better. I really need to find people and initiatives that are showing us a different way. How do I find them? What do they look like?

Who are these people? What’s the work they’re doing? So in some ways, in a very crude way, for me, this is like literally, where do I move resources to? First

Graham: of all, glimmer is a metaphor. And one of the things that’s come out of our conversations is, uh, a metaphorical richness. And I think we, we reach for metaphor when we don’t really know what we’re talking about. We’ve got a sense of what we’re talking about. It’s one of these, it looks like that. Is it a glimmer?

Uh, is it a niche? Is it the third horizon in the present? We’re groping towards a common language for something we know when we see it and feel it. You know, it’s like beauty. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. You know, the glimmer is in the eye of the beholder.

Gemma: So as part of the journey, which we run in this kind of metaphor, we deliberately run it as a story because human beings are storytelling creatures.

And In the land, in the world of mist, we can all meet. We’re able to come together despite our differences. It’s almost like a kind of mutual ground. And so if we’re exploring different possible futures, more beautiful futures, and imagine that we’re out to sea on a ship, and the fog is all around us, and we can’t quite see what that future looks and feels like yet.

But as the fog clears, there are these bright, beautiful glimmers that emerge from the night sky, and There’s something about them that’s magnetic and compelling, we want to head towards them and explore them and find out what they are. Very much like the early astronomers looked up at the night sky and started to piece together new constellations and from those constellations came stories of possibility, became part of the kind of sense making of the human condition.

Graham: I don’t respond to the glimmer word so much because I am a words person. I’m a writer really. And for me, glimmer is about something that’s unsteady and flickering. And when I come across the third horizon or the future or the present, it’s really strong and, you know, kind of takes your breath away.

Cassie: Yeah.

So the word glimmer or glimmers isn’t really one I feel a huge deal of attachment to either. Like it’s definitely at the moment for me. Something that we’ve just been using as a shorthand. I tend to talk more about patterns, like what are the new, what are the new patterns that are emerging.

Gemma: For me, what the word glimmer speaks to is something that is, in the moment, maybe a little bit elusive in that it is a part of something, not the whole of something, but is magnetic and bright.

and glorious and certain, you know, and it’s not part of the fog. It’s something that is very distinct and crystal clear.

Cassie: I’m almost probably in some ways more interested in the practice of the identifying, the recognizing, the tuning into what, what these patterns are than kind of the glimmer themselves, like the, the kind of end point, if that makes sense. Because I still find it really hard to say like, what is one glimmer?

Graham: Well for me, it is always about people. That is part of what IFF talks about. Whatever else we’re doing, we’re always dealing with a human system. If we’re talking about the agents of change, we’re talking about humans working together. And if I come across, you know, an inspirational pocket of practice in the present, first of all, I’m visiting it.

I am experiencing it. I mean, I might read about it, but we can all tell inspiring stories. What I need is, is to go and visit it. And when I visit it, what I’m visiting is a bunch of people who are making something happen. You know, a bunch of people relating to each other in a certain way, you know, embodying.

The future society that they wish to see in the world. So there’s a kind of authenticity.

Cassie: Like, who are the people around this pattern? And what does, what do those people themselves tell you in terms of the types of, like, knowledge and wisdom they have, where that’s been drawn from, how they embody it? So there’s something about just, yeah, where the pattern is being

Gemma: born from.

I’m completely agnostic about the sector that you can find a glimmer in. It doesn’t matter whether you’re looking at farming or education or healthcare or energy. Um, a lot of, uh, a lot of what might look glimmery on the surface, when you dig around and you look at, um, the individual elements of them, some of them don’t stack up because, you They are not actually, um, truly rooted in and built out of a truly new set of values that speaks to how we meet the challenges that we face, but also how we build that beautiful future.

Graham: For some of them, there’s a narrative of transition. There’s a story. That holds that pattern of behavior together. That says, actually we are being the change we wish to see in the world. And one day they may be able to tell that story one day, both an origin story. It used to be this way. Then we decided to do this.

Now we’re doing this. It’s growing. And in time, we hope to get to the point where everyone does this and everywhere feels this way.

Cassie: Is there something in the pattern that feels commensurate with the kind of complexity and scale of challenge that we’re facing?

Graham: For me, it is about engaging reality. And we talked about the urgency, um, you know, Obama, the, the fierce urgency of now, well, there is a fierce urgency of now, which is, which is almost overwhelming.

And so, you know, a typical response is to deny that tune that out. I’ll just do this little bit and we can ignore the rest. I’m looking for the patterns of human activity that are engaging with the full force of that reality, have recognized it, have taken it on board, have internalized it, and in the face of that, in full recognition of that, are doing whatever they’re doing.

Cassie: Some of the work around the collective imagination is really important. I think some of that work is about just remembering and yeah, noticing things that are already here in a way that we haven’t been able to before. But I also think we might have a crisis of imagination in the sense of we’ve also not.

being coming up with as good ideas or we haven’t got the creativity that we need at the moment to imagine new and different things. And

Gemma: when you find these instances or these glimmers, what’s so clear about them is that people have made a very, very, very brave and difficult decision to live differently.

and try and create a space in which those new ways of being and doing can kind of take root and become evident. But it’s difficult because all of the structures that you have at your disposal to build the thing that needs to be different pull you back into the old ways of doing things.

Graham: I mean, perhaps the final quality is hope.

You know, we talk in IFF about practical hope. That, that visiting these patterns of activity, visiting these projects, these people, these integrities, as we call them, visiting these integrities gives you hope. Wow. You know, they are expanding what’s possible. I didn’t think that was possible. I’ve seen it.

I’ve been there. I’ve breathed the air. I’ve felt the feelings. If they can do it, I can do it. And I think that comes from it. If the people involved have not engaged reality, then the danger is that this is false hope that actually it’s self delusion. It is delusional. Uh, and I think these, the places that I’m talking about, they, they show real hope.

There’s a lot that is known. We did a lot of work with school inspectors, for example, a while back, and they would say, you know, they got all their rubrics and their algorithms and their inspection criteria and all the rest of it. They say they, they, they were experienced. They would walk into a school and within a couple of minutes, they’d know, you know, this is a good school.

This is, there’s trouble here. We know i don’t want to give the impression that there’s too much unknown and too much uncertainty to to make a judgment there’s plenty you know we can make judgments we just won’t we’re in a culture in which we won’t back our judgment unless the numbers add up or whatever the data stacks up there are some companies that.

We’ll have a kind of portfolio of investments or innovations or all the rest of it. And they’ll, they’ll have some portion of that, of that work will be based on, you know, wisdom based judgments, you know, judgment based on experience. And I think we’ve got to trust our own judgment and then back it.

Cassie: How are funders Currently looking like how and where are they looking for things to fund that they think might be more transformative and like how they look and how they find things requires looking in a different way.

Graham: And if you’re seeing like a state and you’re looking for glimmers you will you’ll find a certain kind of glimmer if you’re if you’re seeing like a foundation that’s another way of seeing if you’re seeing like an entrepreneur. If you’re seeing like a poet, if you’re seeing like a biologist, all of these are different ways of seeing, and you’ll see different things.

Cassie: So there’s like practices of looking and then practices of attunement, which is more around, you know, what are we looking for, but like which flow or pattern are we already attuned to and do we need to unlearn or. tune down some of the things we’re currently paying attention to and pay more attention to something else.

Once you’re tuning in to these new patterns, are you paying further or deeper attention? Like, what are you honing in on? And I guess I’m, I’m, I’m, I’m really interested in how can you build this discernment over time, because I think that’s when you get to notice and be able to cluster and kind of track a field of emergence, because you’re tuning in over time to these newer patterns.

Gemma: I can see what a different world might look like if there were tens and twenties and hundreds and thousands and hundreds of thousands of millions of instances. Of these glimmers that suddenly in the sky make up this beautiful, beautiful array, a new constellation, a new constellation of hope and possibility that’s not utopian, that’s not denying the depth of what we’re facing, but shows without wanting to be too cheesy about it, that another way is possible.

And it is because it’s happening and it’s around us and it’s, it’s a case of looking for it and supporting it.

Cassie: I think every funder has to believe something different is possible. I think every funder has to believe that something transformative is possible and that change is possible. And I often ask that now to people working in funding.

Like, do you actually believe something different is possible? Because if you don’t, you should probably not be working in funding.

Graham: Bill Sharp writes about this hope as the regenerative virtue. And it’s always present. It’s always present everywhere. So in a way I’m reluctant to say this is not a dilemma. It’s like saying you don’t have any hope. I can find a dilemma anywhere.