“What do we need to be capable to skilfully navigate through increasing complexity and uncertainty, with the aim of supporting resilience and the regenerative capacity of our systems?”
“How can we further explore approaches, formats and strategies for policy which suit the complexity and diversity which reality holds?”


At the core in REALS and associated networks, there is an insight that the world isn´t working as a machine, where you can find a magical button which repeatedly can be clicked followed by the same repeated outcome. The earth’s life-supporting systems and their related challenges are highly complex, living and uncertain. The outcomes will look different in different contexts and through time.

Examples of such complex systems are interconnected ecological, social and economical systems living and developing within a certain territory – big and small settlements and communes. Each such territory and system is unique. Although significant “pool” of expert knowledge and successful patterns are readily available, complex systems ask for more than experts and best practices for finding solutions which work through time and in each given context.

Inflexible and highly centralized policies can often be hindrances for increased local development, low-tech innovative thinking and resilience. Examples of this are to be found within building permissions, sewage system regulations, CO2 tax regulations, procurement-rules within the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), and within the European regulation of seeds. At the same time, decentralized governance can also bring challenges. Water, soil, biodiversity, food-distribution and consumption are highly interconnected. Nature doesn´t adapt to human-made boundaries. A river flows through many communities. Decentralized communities can lack resources, expertise and knowledge needed to support diverse large-scale initiatives. Skilful coordination between regions as well as between stakeholders supported by lifelong learning, training and dialogue between actors are critically important for sustainability and resilience. Multi-level governance based on effective distribution of the resources (financial, human, informational, cultural and others) are key solution for balancing complex systems.

However, changing the management paradigm from an experts- and market-led approach towards a multi level governance model where markets and experts only play one role of many, require “cultivating” ways of common work which are people-centered, inclusive, appreciative, diverse and oriented towards flexible, need-oriented and strategic solutions.

Sustainability researchers state that successful policies for complex, adaptive systems will typically need to be adaptive themselves” (Bankes, 2002) Academic literature argues that the central feature of the classical planning and decision-making is identification of a single ‘‘best’’ model describing the system of interest, followed by designing a policy that is ‘‘best’’ in the context of that model. Nevertheless, the practice shows that this approach often fails when applied to strategic long-term decisions in the conditions of uncertainty. Researchers frequently warn about the tendency to apply single, technological solutions to complex problems.

The need for adaptive policies is already well known, yet there is still much to explore in terms of how to implement this need on practice and how to create structures which truly care for people, local communities and the planet.

One example of such “caring” approach is permaculture design based on three ethics of: Social care, Earth care and Fair shares. REALS partners actively work on designing and supporting permacultural practices in different parts of the Baltic Sea region. Our experience shows what the most beneficial and “caring” solution for people and planet are different according to context and one of the most important – and still open – question is:: how can we design for an increased sense of care?

Community based approaches and innovative solution-focus for resilience are context-dependent and diverse. Participating in the REALS project has increased our common insight that there is a need for adaptive policy and structures which embrace and enable existing local mosaics of creative approaches and initiatives for sustainable life.

We see a general need for the Baltic Sea Region and beyond to continue and increase academic reflections and practical actions in the fields of non-antropocentric adaptive policy, community resilience, sustainability and caring relationships. We call for increased enquiry on how regulations and jurisdictional structures can be, on the one hand flexible enough to adapt to the local needs while, on the other hand, being , robust enough to give support and care for the health of local culture, people, communities, economy, animals and ecosystems?

We believe that responsive, context-dependent and adaptive policy can:

  1. Empower and enable local community-based initiatives for sustainability.
  2. Create access to expertise, good examples, practical experience and engagement embedded in grass-root initiatives ready to be scaled up.

So, how could policy be structured in a way where its design is flexible according to context, but without loosing sight and navigation of that which holistically benefits people, communities and bioregions as wholes?
In the basis of permaculture design lies the three ethics of; People care; Earth care and Fair shares, upon which design of systems are built. How the most beneficial and “caring” solution for people and planet looks will be different according to context. Can permaculture-ethics guide the work with policy?
In exploring adaptive and resilient policy in favour of socio-ecological “care”:
Which kind of policy can “host” increased uncertainty, unique local needs and
biocultural diversity?


We suggest that policies and regulations in BSR can be more context-responsive and enabeled by:

  • In their design being responsive and sensitive towards emergence, changing needs and opportunities of diverse local initiatives. This is crucial for the enablement of diverse, holistic approaches to local sustainability initiatives. “Emergence requires constant attention, support and resources, and the ‘success’ of emergence – like successful leadership – depends on the quality of resources and attention that individuals and managers bring to the process”.
  • Finding forms of regulations and offering funding schemes which encourage experimentation and development of small scale and appropriate solutions for sustainability – within social, economical and ecological spheres. In todays society, technology is often adapted to big scale industrial systems. There is a need for increased legal, affordable and “people-owned” appropriate technology adapted to each place and need. Funding programs and policies encouraging bottom up technological solutions, can motivate a diversity of creative processes, socio-ecological solutions, new jobs and an increased satisfaction in lifestyle.
  • Enabling financial, educational and consultative support for and with local initiatives for sustainability such as ecovillages, permaculture initiatives, urban gardens and more. The support should be built on an awareness of the holistic basis of sustainability. This would strenghten peoples’ capacity to take local initiatives for sustainability further.
  • Using the precautionary principle for designing and implementing plans, policies and practices at all levels. Discussions on adaptive policies enabling local initiatives for sustainability, made special emphasis on applying“precautionary principle” which calls for refraining from actions if the environmental effect of it is uncertain and can be potentially harmful. This principle is usually seeing in the context of todays high-tech innovation and technologies, however it can also be applied by local communities using low- tech solutions. Based on the practical experience of the REALS partners we highliht the need of an increased use of the precautionary principle for preventing harmful decisions, policies and interpretations of policies.
  • Encourage the use of truly participatory process facilitation, decision making and leadership with the aim to build on multiple perspectives. Establish participatory leadership trainings and process facilitation within BSR, and beyond forn all levels of society. Participtory methods such as Open Space Technology, Appreciative Inquiry, World Café and Pro Action Café as well as online collective drafting of texts, have been continuously and successfully used within the REALS partnership. These are methods tailored to facilitate group processes within complex, uncertain systems in a need for co-management, dialogue, and co-governance. By acknowledging the benefits of this and also by seeing the increase of participatory leadership methods in our partner- and associated partner organizations (examples: Permaculture networks, Transition network, ECOLISE.eu, Global Ecovillage Network), we highlight the value of participatory group-processes and a skills to organise and facilitate such processes. In such initiatives and events equity, consent and participation becomes central goals themselves. Increased access to trainings with focus on participatory facilitation would open up for increased cross-silo and a multi-level governed interaction and co-creation.
  • As a partnership we would encourage establishment of Baltic Sea Region based projects with primarily focus on science-policy-practices interaction, participatory involvement and facilitation and new ways of leadership. Examples of actions to be supported by such project or series of projects include:
    • Analysing and developing funding mechanisms which support community- led initiatives for sustainability
    • Analysing and developeng mechanisms and practices of Multi Level Governance (MLG) suitable for different part of the BSR and the region at whole to enable community-led-, bottom-up interaction with the sense of care at its centre.
    • Establishing and supporting free local consultancies built on an awareness of complexity, non-silo and holistic thinking. (Permaculture design, Transition, Ecovillage Design Education (EDE) living systems design, and socio-ecological innovation are examples).
    • Establishing and supporting educational and networking forums for community-led initiatives on diversity of livelihoods, awareness rising, experimentation, entrepreneurship and innovation. The Nordic model for popular education is an example.
    • Increase cross-sectoral research which bridges academia and grassroot initiatives with practical experience.




Recommended sources for further information training, tools, methods and consultation:

Training and education:

  • Popular and action based education. Eg Folkhigh schools in Sweden: www.folkhogskola.nu
  • Theory -U and the Precensing institute:www.presencing.com
  • Art of Hosting and Harvesting Conversations that Matters www.artofhosting.org
  • Appreciative Inquiry – a method for powerful participation: appreciativeinquiry.case.edu
  • Sociocracy as a tool for governance: http://www.sociocracy.info/policy-and-operations-decisions/

Further references:

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