Layers of Change

How are we to make sense of the changing nature of work and the demands of digital capacities in thinking about civil society? Several years ago, Stewart Brand of the Long Now Foundation posited a “pace layer” approach to thinking about change. As shown in his graphic below, he notes that change happens at different paces—some is much more rapid than others. While some components change rapidly, others change more slowly. These time scales should not be seen as being in tension; it is not better to be fast or slow. There is a role and reason for the pace of each layer. While fashion can change with the season, governance requires deliberation and recourse and therefore moves more slowly. The most trouble arises when one of these layers moves at a rate other than its norm, such as we are now experiencing as nature shifts quickly due to global warming.

For at least a decade, civil society and philanthropy have been heavily focused on the commerce layer of change. This has included adoption of and adaptation to technologies,experimentation with new business models, and an endless search for new revenue streams. In accepting the frames of the social economy and the prevalence of digital tools, we have to recognize that the infrastructure and governance models built to support a sector of nonprofits and foundations need to be expanded to support the social economy. These levels change slowly, but their time has come.

It will take a collective effort to design governance and support systems for digital civil society. Some of what informs these collective efforts will come from the accumulated, fragmented, and independent decisions and struggles of organizations making sense of this for themselves. That’s a good thing. And every reader of this Blueprint is in a position to nudge at least some of that work along.

Takeaways are critical, bite-sized resources either excerpted from our guides or written by Candid Learning for Funders using the guide's research data or themes post-publication. Attribution is given if the takeaway is a quotation.

This takeaway was derived from Philanthropy and the Social Economy: Blueprint 2016.