The Evolving Practice of Cognitive Policy Works

When I launched Cognitive Policy Works in 2009, my vision was to incubate and deploy a new generation of best practices in political strategy, policy analysis, and social campaigns based on cutting-edge research in cognitive science.  It was a labor of love from the beginning — having previously worked with George Lakoff at the now-defunct Rockridge Institute — with a firm commitment to spreading the use of strategic frame analysis among progressive groups.

As the diagram below illustrates, the initial emphasis was on frame analysis for politics.  It was clear at the time that no one was going to fill the void left after Rockridge closed and that the progressive movement still desperately needed to understand political framing — indeed they do even to this day!

It quickly became apparent that a broader foundation would be needed to tackle the systemic challenges confronting the peoples of the world, expanding beyond US politics into the realms of social innovation and large-scale behavior change.  Research was continually broadened to incorporate findings from complexity science, regional planning, organizational behavior, and much more — all the while CPW operated by offering workshops and attracting clients who needed white papers and research reports to assist them in their campaign efforts.

Along the way, experiments were conducted in identity campaigning, crowdfunding, and open collaboration to broaden our hard skills in strategic engagement and critical action.  New enterprises were incubated and launched in different parts of the world with strategic partners from the private sector and among NGO’s to hone an ever-growing toolkit for large-scale social change.

This lead me to the realization that I have a “grand vision” that is much larger than Cognitive Policy Works.  Throughout all of this bubbling activity, I was laying foundations for a new design science that integrates the cognitive and social sciences with Earth Systems science.  Eighteen months were dedicated to working with the International Centre for Earth Simulation in Geneva.  It became clear throughout that period of time that fundamental constraints keep our academic and governmental institutions from innovating at the scales necessary to make the transition to global sustainability.

The new field of science incubated through Cognitive Policy Works is called Human Interface Design for Global Systems.  It calls for a convergence of the physical and social sciences, including an emphasis on getting beyond the inadequate dualism of quantitative/qualitative research.  And so I forged a partnership with the brilliant Hungarian scholar and social entrepreneur, Lazlo Karafiath, to launch DarwinSF, a social impact company offering research tools for studying cultural evolution in business, politics, and broader civil society.  We employed crowdfunding to conduct an in-depth study of the climate meme to demonstrate the power of our approach.  It brought us a lot of media attention and pulled our work into the corporate social responsibility and sustainability arenas.

And now we are formalizing the rigors of research on cultural evolution with a specific goal — to enable the intentional design of transition for global civilization.  We cannot wait for the change to unfold haphazardly.  It is vital that rigorous, scientifically robust methods be deployed to navigate through what I’ve come to call the “sustainability bottleneck” of collapsing empire and into a configuration of global democracy.

Our eye is ever watchful of social unrest as expressed in swarm behaviors like those seen in Occupy, Arab Spring, and more recent activities in Egypt, Brazil, Turkey, etc.  We have begun to envision how to apply network science, social analytics, mobile technologies, and digital communications across cultures around the globe.  We daily delve into the research literature and engage brilliant minds around the world in deep conversations about how we can all work together to iterate and innovate as quickly as the planet’s natural systems require.

This is where we are today.  A broad synthesis of knowledge and practice has been completed, new tools for research and social engagement have come into being, and a global network of partnerships has been cultivated for launching our vision upon the world.

So what’s next?  Honestly, we are still figuring that out.  No one has ever done anything like this before and we are constantly testing and learning as we go to discover the path forward.  I write this update now to invite all of you into the conversation.  There is much to do and little time to make the transition away from the cancerous economic paradigm of 20th Century neoliberalism (and it’s toxic form of capitalism) and into modes of cooperation that enact viable economic models for regional resilience and global thriving.

What would you like to do to participate in this ambitious endeavor?

Faithfully in service of humanity,

Joe Brewer
Founder, Cognitive Policy Works

Cognitive Policy Works specializes in providing organizations and individuals with frame analysis, policy briefs, strategic advising, and training.