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Natural Awakenings Tampa Florida

The New Science of Living Systems is Making a Difference in Tampa Bay: How local networks of influence are convening and collaborating for healthy change

Dec 01, 2012 05:07PM ● By Linda Sechrist

In our chaotic world, as rich in the potential for disaster as for new possibilities, the founder of Berkana Institute, Margaret Wheatley, offers a new worldview to navigate our times. Her valuable perspective on bringing about change through fostering critical connections with kindred spirits can help us to develop new knowledge, practices, courage, and commitment that lead to broad-based change.

From Wheatley’s viewpoint, "As separate, local efforts connect as networks, they grow and transform into active, working communities of practice from which a powerful living system emerges at a greater level of scale," says the author of Leadership and the New Sciences. Capable of global influence, the emerging system possesses qualities and capacities that are "of the system" and not the individual simply because they don’t exist until the system emerges," advises Wheatley, who was a presenter in 2009 for the University of South Florida St. Petersburg’s Bishop Center Leadership Series. Bob Stilger, past Co-President of Berkana, led a workshop in 2010 for senior student leaders.


Tampa Bay’s New Quadruple Bottom Line

Wheatley notes that emergence is how life creates radical change and takes things to a new and larger scale. In Tampa Bay, emergence is creating a new scale of change as networks of influence convene to collaborate on important issues such as economics, education, healthy food, social justice, and renewable energy.

A local student of how the new science of living systems can be applied to ways of better understanding change is Sharon Joy Kleitsch, founder of The Connection Partners in Tampa Bay. She points to one of the first recognizable local changes. "A new Quadruple Bottom Line (QBL)—People, Planet, Profit, Place—has emerged to replace the Triple Bottom Line (TBL)—an easily recognizable phrase coined by John Elkington, founder of SustainAbility," says Kleitsch.

"I believe that two books—The Seamless City: A Conservative Mayor’s Approach to Urban Revitalization that Can Work Anywhere by Rick Baker, our former mayor, and For the Love of Cities: The love affair between people and their places by local resident Peter Kageyama, secured "place" as a necessity in any bottom line that measures financial, social, and environmental performance," says Kleitsch, whose focus is to weave and widen webs of influence in the Tampa Bay area.

Baker and Kageyama agree that the spaces and resources of cities should be used to build social capital among citizens. "When we get people out of their homes, out of their cars, and interacting with each other, we increase the possibility of them slamming headlong into an interesting person or idea," notes Kageyama.

Kleitsch and her partners use compelling questions, such as in World Café, which encourage collective learning. The World Café process, developed by Juanita Brown, author of World Café, promotes meaningful conversations that enhance the capacity for collaborative thinking about critical issues. "Since we have all the wisdom and resources that we need, what we require is strategic planning to bring people together and allow the collective intelligence to emerge from the dynamics of that living system, where everything is interconnected," advises Kleitsch. Individuals who participate in the process often identify their common interests and go on to become communities of practice that foster emergence as well as listening for issues that need addressing and for local social innovation that can be taken to a larger scale.


Connecting Silos

"While the silos of organizations, institutions, and special interest groups are essential to developing specific expertise, they have to come out from behind their walls to play in the Florida sandbox that we all call home," quips Kleitsh, who cites One Bay as one of the earliest diverse partnerships of public and private leaders. Spearheaded by five regional organizations—Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council, Tampa Bay Estuary Program, Southwest Florida Water Management District, Tampa Bay Partnership Regional Research & Education Foundation and the Urban Land Institute Tampa Bay District, One Bay has engaged more than 6000 citizens across a seven-county region in a series of public input events and presentations.

Other examples of connecting local silos for the purpose of collaboration, cooperation and developing communities of practice are the St. Petersburg Sustainable Urban Agriculture Coalition, the Wealth Creation Coalition, and Tampa Bay Time, a time bank. Additionally, the Tampa Bay Partnership Regional Business Plan is working to create community awareness and understanding of the region’s collective strengths, such as renewable energy. This 8-county partnership is chaired by Sudeep Vyapari, PhD, Program Director for the Institute for Florida Studies at Hillsborough Community College (HCC).

The American Association of Community Colleges recently named HCC as the first winner of the Green Genome Award, which recognizes comprehensive leadership in community, engagement, governance, program design and delivery as well as strategic partnerships. Many of HCC’s partnerships were showcased at the 2011 Beyond Sustainability Conference, which linked ecosystems, economics and education. The 2013 conference, Social Entrepreneurship and Sustainable Economy: Exploring Nexuses, will continue to move ideas into action and offer opportunities to engage in meaningful dialogue with intended outcomes to cultivate potential collaborations.

"The goal of the 2013 conference is to shine light on creating nexuses among social entrepreneurs, investors, educators, government, regulatory agencies, businesses, and community," advises Vyapari.


For more information on what is emerging in Tampa Bay, visit