Part 2: From Change Initiatives to Change Systems

Part 1 described global energy as a change system with five subsystems.  The question was then asked: “What makes a (sub) system successful?” and “What must it do well, in order to realize its change goal?” Academically, these questions lead to questions about “functions” or “activities” that are necessary for systems and networks to be effective. A review of answers to these questions led to development of Table 1, where seven activities are identified.

Visioning: Sustainable Energy for All (SE4All) is playing a pre-eminent system-wide role in this. It is creating a much broader vision than the climate change one associated with the Kyoto Process by including issues of access. It is creating coherence amongst intergovernmental organizations: the World Bank, for example, has categorically adopted the SE4All goals as its own. However, every change initiative has its own particular focus that is the basis for its work and is critical for it to mobilize action. The Electricity Governance Initiative, for example, holds a vision of an electricity sector that is transparent, inclusive and has accountable decision-making. Issues of effectiveness of the change system raise the question about whether the individual visions are sufficiently aligned with the broad change system one and the individual subsystem ones.

Organizing: The change system requires organizing of effort and stakeholders in ways that provide coherent aggregation of voice into appropriate scale. The change initiatives themselves represent system organizing for their participants. This is obviously true for the change initiatives in the global arena:  each has brought numerous organizations together to play the particular function. The trade associations for renewables such as the Global Solar Alliance play a key role in organizing voice and effort of their emerging industry. The Climate Action Network is playing an important role in creating a global voice for NGOs.  However, organizing is also a significant challenge for change initiatives within an organization such as a utility. The consumer subsystem is probably the most under-organized, even though it has a critical role in the arising “pro-sumer” world.

Resourcing: Provision of financial and personnel resources is something that is foundational for any of the change initiatives to be able to play their roles. For the study population of global networks, resources typically are provided by organizations participating in change initiatives; in some cases particular for NGOs and research work this is supplement by government or foundation funding. The development banks, like the African Development Bank, are big funders in the policy and service provider subsystems. Climateworks is a collaboration of foundations funding change globally.

Learning: This is an absolutely critical function to address complex change challenges, which requires new ways of thinking about issues and taking action. Mindsets and capacities are key issues at the individual, organizational and system levels. The change initiatives are generally involved in more mundane but also critical learning challenges about development and exchange of knowledge arising from prototyping. For example, REN21 provides a pre-eminent multi-stakeholder network for collective knowledge products. The World Energy Council is a multi-stakeholder network that focuses on creating events, exchanges and publications to realize an affordable, stable and environmentally sensitive energy system for the greatest benefit of all. The UNEP with developing country governments, and ICLEI Local Governments for Sustainability, also provide critical capacity development for their respective stakeholders.

Measuring: Many different measures are needed for each of the subsystems. Policy making requires a different array of measures, such as those developed by the UNFCCC on national level carbon emissions. Both the policy and consumption subsystems depend on standards-setting measures such as those produced by Collaborative Labeling & Appliance Standards Program (CLASP);  the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) develops measures for companies’ and cities’ carbon emissions to influence investors in the finance subsystem and the consumption subsystem.

Advocating: A change subsystem can simply be a subsystem without a change dynamic, if there is no pressure and energy for change. The Principles for Responsible Investment and the Global Investor Coalition on Climate Change and its members such as CERES’ Investors Network are good examples of advocating within the finance community.

Prototyping: This could be considered part of the learning function, but it is so critical to change that it is separated out as its own function. It is usually associated with new technologies, such as is being done with the MIT Energy Initiative. However, actually testing new ways of organizing, new policies, new financial products, and ideas to influence consumption are important as well.  The Renewable Energy Energy Efficiency Partnership (REEEP) focuses on prototyping both new technologies and financing approaches.

Putting together the change system as five subsystems and functions produced a Change System Matrix that became the focus of a 1.5 day meeting for leaders of change in the energy arena where they identified strategic actions to strengthen efforts to integrate sustainability into electricity production.  This will be the topic of the next blog.

This is the second of two blogs on this topic.  To see the first go here;  to see the third go here.

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