A-3 Components in Opal Design Systems

On This Page:

  • What Components are in the Opal Design Systems?
    • A Seven-Part Paradigm
    • Nine Complementary System Components
  • What Makes Opal Design Systems Unique?
  • Teamwork Workbook: Introduction to Samples
  • Navigating Utopia, Dystopia, and Realitopia
  • What to Expect in Workbook Sections of “Do Good Plus Do No Harm”
  • Introducing Case Studies: “Live Aid” as an Example of Applying the Threefold Framework

*     *     *     *     *     *     *

Opal Design Systems Masthead 2

“opalescent gemstone texture” © Darek / Fotolia #2878279.

What Components are in the Opal Design Systems?

This article overviews the components in my Opal Design Systems, and orients you to the pieces and processes in my Do Good Plus Do No Harm training series. (This is the non-technical version of the descriptions for these resources. See the page 4 Opal Design Systems Technical Overview for explanations that include some of the theoretical backgrounds.)

A Seven-Part Paradigm

The Opal Design Systems includes everything I’ve been working on since starting my studies on postmodern culture in 1990 – learning styles, cross-cultural engagement, non-profit organization work, event planning, strategic foresight (futurist) skills, abuse of power by malignant leaders and how toxic systems emerge from it. Within the concept of a paradigm or mental model, I found a way to interconnect all of these topics and more, in a way that organizes them in a holistic system that makes it easier to make sense of how the parts fit together. My paradigm framework has seven compartments, subdivided into three levels. The deeper the level, the less visible it is, but the more influential it is to what we actually do see in our everyday activities and interactions.

DEEPEST LEVEL ~ Our (1) information processing styles, and how they shape both our (2) beliefs and our (3) values. In other words, HOW we think significantly WHAT we think.

MIDDLE LEVEL ~ Our (4) abstract organizational strategies and the (5) concrete organizational structures, and how those three deeper elements shape them.

SURFACE LEVEL ~ The visible “social skin” of our participation in (6) cultures and (7) collaborations, and how those emerge from all of the distinctive elements deeper in our paradigm.

Problems with too much or too little of certain factors in any deeper element(s) will inherently lead to problems of conflict, communication, and power at higher levels. So, working with paradigms offers a way of understanding more specifically where surface problems come from, and addressing them at deeper levels where transformation should last longer.

Nine Complementary System Components

If all goes according to plan, I’ll be able to use this seven-part paradigm analysis approach to create a set of nine resources to equip organizational developers, survivors of power abuse, and culture workers to create better social transformation endeavors with more sustainable impact.

[#1.] Futuristguy’s Field Guide Series to “Do Good Plus Do No Harm” introduces concept frameworks and practical skills for designing holistic social transformation endeavors. It presents a systems approach with an integrative paradigm, interdisciplinary processes, and intercultural partnerships. The series consists of three sets of field guides, each of which develops a part of that systems perspective:

Set #1, Building Organization. This set of three field guides begins with how things can go wrong in organizations, and then finishes with how to do things in ways that are healthier and less likely to inflict harm on participants and recipients of our endeavors. I’ve chosen this order purposely after observing too many “leaders” who have some grand scheme of what to create in a project or organization, but have no awareness of how every deficiency in their “visionary DNA” will lead to toxicity. Exposing the destructive sides of power first helps teams ask better questions about starting their enterprise on a healthier trajectory and sustaining it. This material creates the base for Resource #3, the organizational Opal Profile assessment tools, with its criteria and processes for evaluating how trustworthy or toxic an enterprise is.

Set #2, Orienteering Transformation and Processing Information. This set of two field guides details three key sources of potential conflict, miscommunication, and misunderstanding because of our differences: learning styles, cultural perspectives, and paradigms. It explores some of the main problems that stem from clashes of these differences, and looks at various possible pathways forward. This material creates the base for the Resource #2, the individual Opal Profile assessment tools, with its frameworks for identifying information processing modes and cultural engagement style.

Set #3, Facilitating Participation. This set of two field guides focuses on the relational aspects of cultures and collaborations, including a lot about specifics for putting together teams and projects. I’m specifically designing this material to be compatible with The Transformational Index, which is a system of tools and “qualitative indicators” for planning, implementing, evaluating, and revising sustainable social transformation endeavors. I am a co-creator of The T.I. with Shannon Hopkins and Andy Schofield.

Workbook exercises in each volume typically use media and/or historical case studies, questions for personal reflection and group discussion, and different types of team activities.

[#2, #3.] Opal Profile assessment tools. I suspect that one reason current assessment tools don’t always help analyze the present or prepare for the future is that they were specifically designed around an incomplete paradigm, or a now-obsolete paradigm that no longer describes the world as it is – even if it was an accurate picture for how things used to be. Some also use measures that are too quantitative, when viability and sustainability are far more about qualitative aspects. So, some new assessment tools are needed, and that’s what Opal Profiles are.

[#2.] Opal Profiles – Personal. This resource helps individuals better understand their dominant modes of information processing and communication styles, plus their “cultural flexibility” potential and best roles in collaborative endeavors. It is based in a theoretical framework I’ve developed on the spectrum of monocultural to transcultural

[#3.] Opal Profiles – Organizational. This resource offers criteria and processes for evaluating where a project, program, or partnership is on the spectrum of “trustworthy” to “toxic,” and whether its trajectory is stuck, orbiting, moving forward, or moving backward. It is based in research writing I’ve been doing about organizational systems and toxicity. Hopefully, this meets the need that’s been expressed in survivor communities for more effective ways to identify, assess, and correct churches, ministries, and other organizations that have malignant leaders and sick systems that inflict damage on people.

[#4, #5, #6.] Most Opal Design Systems components include a range of practical, workbook-type exercises. I call these Opal Encounters, Immersions, and Expeditions, depending on their focus. Most of these learning experiences involve are designed to take us into different worlds we might not be used to, to similate the kinds of culture clashes and culture shock we’ll experience when involved in social transformation projects. So, they give us unique opportunities to explore what various transformation concepts look like in realistic situations, and we can try out ideas and intuitions for seeing how these situations could change.

[#4.] Opal Encounters – “Play Work.” These are group activities and simulation games, mostly involving team-building and cultural fieldwork. For instance, I’ve beta-tested parts of one seven-level simulation game in cultural fieldwork, where each level synthesizes progressively more complex concepts and skills.

[#5.] Opal Immersions – “Lab Work.” These installation learnings with historical case studies; concrete media experiences using  games, toys, trading cards, etc.; and media case studies using music, movies, multimedia, fiction, young adult novels, etc.

[#6.] Opal Expeditions – “Field Work.” These community field trips are designed to observe and interpret cultural artifacts and interactions. They form a base for thinking about and working out cultural contextualization, i.e., learning how to interact respectfully as a guest in another culture, while also finding ways to challenge aspects of that culture which are harmful to its members.

These case studies, concepts, and tools for measuring degrees of transformation use a quadruple bottom line framework. That means they consider how activities benefit the interconnecting elements of people/community, planet/ecology, profit/economy, and personal and social transformation/spirituality. Keeping in mind the quadruple bottom line helps us organize details and maintain a holistic picture of our enterprises.

[#7.] All of the above resources relate to the central piece in the system, the Opal Pyramid. This is an original, technical “paradigm and cultural GPS system.” The Opal Pyramid pinpoints the relative location in a three-dimensional system of an individual’s or organization’s paradigm and culture. It uses a triangular pyramid to account for five different information processing styles, and the seven-part paradigm systems that stem from each. Knowledge of people’s or organizations’ locations can then be used to measure “cultural distance” between any two points in the system, and also identify probable issues of “culture clash” between people/organizations on those two points. It also includes a theory for creating effective integration of cross-cultural teamwork. In other words, compositing the cultural differences among participants offers greater possibilities for more and deeper levels of personal and social change.

[#8, #9.] There are two additional components designed with more specialized audiences in mind.

[#8.] Field Guide to Working with Futuristics. If we’re interested in cultivating sustainable projects and enterprises, we have to consider what shapes the future. Futurists help clients sort out what options for their organization are plausible and possible, given the current state of culture and trends that are driving change, and then discern and decide what options are preferable. They don’t make the decisions for the group, but try to supply information on which to decide. Futurists use three main strategic foresight tools: (1) tracking trends that are driving short-term and long-term changes in paradigms and cultures, (2) non-linear extrapolation – a form of mind-mapping to consider the possibilities if specific changes happen, and (3) scenarios that capture the emotional and relational elements of what the trends suggest. This field guide describes and illustrates those three techniques, gives case studies and exercises to show how they work, and suggests how groups include “futuristic” type people who intuitively or intentionally use these kinds of techniques.

[#9.] Developing New Church Planter Placement Systems. I’ve had some significant experiences participating in start-ups for Christian churches, ministries, and faith-based non-profits. I’ve also worked with church planting candidate assessment clinics, primarily in analyzing people’s communication styles. Most of the current approaches to assessing candidates for leadership in these kinds of start-ups are based in very specific assumptions about what constitutes “appropriate” leadership, entrepreneurship ethics and methodologies, and organizational structures. They were developed and tested for validity and reliability in a very different paradigm from what is now dominant. Mainly, they have been applied to evaluate probability for “success” in creating hierarchical structures, with visionary CEO-type leaders and program-oriented ministries.

From what I’ve seen, there are several key problems with this. First, it doesn’t seem to work well in screening out candidates with tendencies toward overcontrol and/or self-benefiting that will inevitably lead to abuses of power that harm congregants. Second, it only evaluates candidates for their relative fit with a prescribed ideal methodology. So, it isn’t designed to place in other cultures or contexts those determined to be unlikely to find “success” within the prescribed ideal.

So, new systems are needed that start from the ground up that accommodate centered systems, with gift-based populist participation and people-oriented ministries. This resource will hopefully help a future research group develop a new system that focuses on matching start-up team members with placement options where they could make a significant contribution, with clear reasoning as to why (based on Opal Profiles), rather than merely assessing candidates for how well they fit with a particular, pre-set methodological model.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *

What Makes Opal Design Systems Unique?

The majority of these components constitute “primary source” material for training social transformation practitioners, more than they are scholarly treatises for teaching academicians and theoreticians. A primary work means these represent first-hand experiences and original research. So, they aren’t mega-book-reports where I simply read everything available and then synthesized other people’s ideas with a few of my own personal add-ons. Instead, it’s based in a lot of observing, analyzing, and interpreting of my own experiences with volunteer activities, cultural interchanges, abusive leaders, and toxic organizations – all in multiple kinds of settings.

I realize primary work has its own inherent set of potential strengths and weaknesses. On the positive side, it gives one integrated, comprehensive, coherent perspective. On the detraction side, it can be overly flawed by harmful biases and blind spots. Being too idiosyncratic limits how applicable it is for others – but, I’m trying to make this as broad-based as possible for teams.

While I could have just responded to the academic work or fieldwork of others, that didn’t seem the best stewardship of my opportunities. My dominant learning styles tend toward paradoxical insights and immersion learning. My being a polymath[1] and futurist[2] give me some unusual skills. So, I’ve chosen to go the route of original work instead of summarizing, synthesizing, or simply playing off the work of others. This approach made more sense for processing actual questions that arose from my own experiences of success and failure that I personally participated in or observed. There may turn out to be a lot of gaps here, but I also believe you’ll discovery things that haven’t been covered elsewhere. To me, that seems to make the investment worthwhile.

Final thought: I see several key distinctives in the resulting Opal Design Systems for Social Entrepreneurs.

  • They arise from an emerging holistic paradigm, not conventional Western philosophy that splits material from immaterial, mind from body, philosophy from spirituality.
  • They are based in extensive academic work, self-studies, and practical experiences in the field.
  • The content is “learning-style-friendly,” with materials presented in multiple formats that each appeal to various kinds of learners: words, images, graphics, questions, quotes, big-picture themes, detail lists, charts, personal reflection exercises, and group activities.
  • They provide frameworks compatible with The Transformational Index’s organizational development and planning system to measure qualitatively what matters in social change. (The Transformational Index is a set of practical tools I co-authored with Shannon Hopkins and Andy Schofield, for creating and tracking social change projects. Much more about that in later volumes.)

These are what make Opal Design Systems different. But how do those Systems relate with this particular training series? Let’s take a closer look at the Do Good Plus Do No Harm series and see.


[1] Polymath: A person who has wide-ranging interests, significant areas of expertise in multiple fields, and integrates knowledge through high interdisciplinary thinking processes. Polymaths often come up with fresh, intriguing perspectives on subjects. Often, the older they get, and the larger the databanks of multi-disciplines they can draw from, the more unusual the insights they can integrate. More than just dabblers in various academic disciplines, they grow into paradoxical and interdisciplinary philosophers who sometimes become “paradigm shifters” – making original contributions in their field(s) of interest that may forever change their main discipline. We’ll look at this perspective more when we delve into thinking processes behind “creativity.”

[2] Futurist: A person who uses a specific set of critical thinking skills for “strategic foresight” to provide insights and questions that guide an individual or group to discern what is plausible versus possible given current cultural conditions, so the client can decide their own most preferable route forward. Strategic foresight techniques include tracking trends that create unavoidable long-term social changes, using non-linear extrapolation (a type of mind-mapping) to find patterns of possible consequences to decisions, and developing scenarios that help clients think through relevant “What if …?” situations and options.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *

Do Good Plus Do No Harm ~ Cover art, “Pathway of Peace” ~ Original quilt design and production by Sonja Naylor Andrews, image used by permission.

Do Good Plus Do No Harm ~ Cover art, “Pathway of Peace” ~ Original quilt design and production by Sonja Naylor Andrews, image used by permission.

Teamwork Workbook: Introduction to Samples

Each volume in the Futuristguy’s Field Guide training series has:

  • One or two overall focuses – such as orientation and information (Volume #1), organization (Volume #2), and participation (Volume #3).
  • Two main themes – such as (1) assembling concept frameworks and (2) exercising critical thinking skills in Volume #1.
  • Six sections, each consisting of numerous chapters and at least a few workbook elements.
  • Numerous types of workbook elements, such as:
    • Indicator Scales and Identifier Grids (assessment concepts and tools).
    • Deeper Details (more about concepts) or Application Dynamics (practical exercises).
    • Historical Case Studies (illustrations drawn from actual events).
    • Media Case Studies (illustrations drawn from fiction or non-fiction sources found in movies, multimedia, websites, etc.).
    • Master Classes (in-depth examples to help synthesize concepts and practical applications).

The following three segments are samples from the very first workbook section for the entire training series. They are not very detailed, as later workbook segments are, because they’re designed simply to introduce the overall concepts of different workbook elements. This set represents three different types of those elements:

  • An “Identifier Grid” – Navigating Utopia, Dystopia, and Realitopia.
  • A “Deeper Details” sample – What to Expect in Workbook Sections of “Do Good Plus Do No Harm.”
  • A “Historical Case Study” – Introducing Case Studies: “Live Aid” as an Example of Applying the Threefold Framework. (Volume #2 uses Live Aid as the subject for an in-depth Master Class that looks at historical and media sources, and critical analysis thereof.)

The versions that appear in the training series will have numerous art images added.

Rather than detail all the (i.e., my) answers, my goal is more to equip learners to dig deeper into the questions. See what you think about how well I do that …

*     *     *     *     *     *     *

Navigating Utopia, Dystopia, and Realitopia

Later chapters will have various workbook articles and exercises designed for practical application of the content in that chapter. However, this being the first chapter under the topic of Transformation Orienteering, it’s more important here to share the contours of what workbook sections will be all about than to jump immediately into applications.

Over the years, I’ve collected or created frameworks for helping sort through safe versus unsafe environments for vocations and volunteering. I’ve shared these concepts and skills regularly with those I’ve mentored the past 20 years. So, this book isn’t all just about theory of what maybe could cause good or harm. I’ve field-tested the material myself for how it actually helps people process why things go well or poorly on our teams, collaborations, and projects. [Click on image bar to see a larger version.]

Utopia Dystopia Realitopia

And through suffering my own series of worldview welts and teamwork bruises, I discovered an important principle:

Harmful people who go unchecked ruin the process for everyone. So, if we aim for utopia, but dystopian people and processes dominate that journey, they block us from even being able to create a “realitopia” that would have been possible and positive, despite being imperfect.

Our drive to do good can draw us into great work. But, it is also true that, “Power is a magnet that draws the corruptible,” as Frank Herbert, the author of the Dune saga stated. Mix people who have a conscience and compassion with those who’ve been corrupted by power, and that’s a recipe for disaster.

Our deficiencies can overtake us in an uncountable numbers of ways, especially when we get a group of flawed (but sincere) people together. And we are all flawed to one degree or another, right? More people getting together can just compound the individual difficulties. But things just shouldn’t be where a minority take over and hijack OUR trajectory for their own benefit, should they? Surely there must be ways to avoid that kind of culture clash, and resolve those levels of miscommunications and conflicts, mustn’t there? It can’t be all up to the leaders to make everything work perfectly, or to expect participants to just serve like mindless, uncreative drones, right?

So, in deciding to write something of use for people like me who have a passion to serve as agents of social change, I knew I had to keep things in balance: Do good PLUS do no harm. Otherwise, it turns out an automatic (and sometimes epic) fail – at least, that’s been my experience. What has been yours?

Many of the case studies, film studies, and other media studies in this training series seek to help us navigate between the polarities of utopia and dystopia, and find something that’s real, workable, and beneficial in between. My goal for the workbook sections is to equip you to do that.

After Thoughts …

What do you think is going on in each “gold guy” image in the Utopia – Dystopia – Realitopia trio? How does each image relate to the type of society it represents, in terms of its main goals for its members?

How does the term realitopia strike you?

What do you think it means?

What kind of social, cultural, political, ecological, economic, and spiritual space does it occupy in the threefold set of utopia, dystopia, and realitopia?

Are there other “-topia types” that could or should be given a place in this framework?

What do you usually expect when you see the term workbook? Do you think the workbook sections with this training series will be any different from the usual? Why or why not, and if so, how?

*     *     *     *     *     *     *

What to Expect in Workbook Sections

of “Do Good Plus Do No Harm”

As stated in the previous article, my goal for the workbook sections is to equip you to explore “realitopia” – social transformation that is real, workable, and beneficial for both those serving on the project as participants and those who are its recipients.

One of the key methods I use is to take you out of your cultural comfort zone. This could happen in several ways.

  • We’ll explore examples where a principle for social transformation was applied, such as a particular organizational strategy, and made a positive difference for a community – and also where it failed and caused trauma to people.
  • We’ll look at a somewhat familiar topic, like creating teams, but through an unexpected perspective (like the metaphor of the opal) or through media outside the norm (like an online photography exhibit about compositing images).
  • We’ll discover topics that you might not have otherwise considered, such as a case study on the Cultural Revolution in China as an illustration of an organization run by chaos, or a series of movies that illustrates the character deficiency and integrity problems of leaders who are narcissistic or even sociopathological.
  • We’ll consider the reflections of people who experienced or observed important issues, such as someone who lived in San Francisco near The Peoples Temple at the time of the Jonestown Massacre, or someone whose parents met at a Japanese-American internment camp during World War II.

The reasoning here is to remove you from what’s probably familiar, so you can consider it a cross-cultural exploration. And, given the dramatic shifting among population groups worldwide, we are now more likely than ever before to interact with people who are different from us. So, intercultural communication and engagement are necessary skills to do good plus do no harm.

Also, in a media-saturated culture, our differences include people’s favorite storying genres. So, with any given movie or media study, you might end up thinking through a world of sci-fi or fantasy, ancient or contemporary, privilege or poverty, local or global, actual or virtual. But, many of the human issues involved will be similar in some key ways to those in our everyday current world. Thus, those seemingly theoretical exercises can equip us to find ways to work with others, so our teams can engage in activities that bring about personal and social transformation.

Thus, the workbook journey will involve finding such points of relevance, and considering how they will affect our practices as an agent of social change and/or as a survivor of power abuse. Case studies, movies, and other media offer a “neutral” zone to observe the outworking of people’s stories, and hammer out how to apply various interpretive frameworks. If we can’t do that in situations where we’re not invested in finding immediate answers, what makes us think we can do it well when we must because circumstances or crisis force us to?

Here are typical elements that may show up, in any combination, in any given workbook section:

  • Questions for individual reflection and group discussion.
  • Articles with more in-depth information on topics in the previous text section, or introducing related practical topics that help bridge the previous section to a later one.
  • Case studies that show – not just tell – how particular ideas work themselves out in real-life situations, usually with some exploration of their constructive and/or destructive impact on people.
  • Film studies that serve as realistic cases to explore, often with suggestions for particular DVD or Blu-ray special features that expand on the relevant characteristics, concepts, and/or practices.
  • Media studies might serve similar purposes – comic books, graphic novels, CD-ROMS, music and lyrics, online art exhibits or curated multimedia research sources, etc.
  • Young Adult Literature (YAL) studies, like The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins, and The Selection series by Kiera Cass, because these individual books, films, and series provide a multi-generational base for looking at key personal and social problems. The plotlines and language levels tend to be accessible to a wide audience. YAL also tends to explore problems and perspectives that appeal to next generations of social change agents, and involving young adults as protégés is important if we want to create a culture of participation for an organizational that lasts beyond two generations.
  • Group activities, team-building exercises, or other kinds of immersion learning experiences, whether inside or outside of a classroom setting.
  • Artwork, photographs, charts, or other graphics and illustrations to capture some kind of important question, idea, emotion, relationship, etc.

After Thoughts …

What do you think of the following concept:

If we can’t apply principles in “safe” settings – like working out in our own team how they are relevant to the personal or cultural situations in media-based stories – how can we do any better with people’s real-life situations?

Do you find that intriguing? Exciting? Scary? Daunting? Other …?

*     *     *     *     *     *     *

“ethiopia on world map” © michal812 / Fotolia #21630968.

“ethiopia on world map” © michal812 / Fotolia #21630968.

Introducing Case Studies:

“Live Aid” as an Example

of Applying the Threefold Framework

I find the threefold framework of Information – Organization – Participation to be a practical checklist for creating balanced teams on social transformation enterprises. I wondered if maybe it would whet your appetite for the workbook case studies if I mention that we’ll use as a Master Class case study the 1985 Live Aid “Global Jukebox” concert. In Volume #3, we’ll explore in depth for how the framework applies to the ground-breaking Live Aid event and its spin-offs, and consider how it helps us process humanitarian and social transformation projects of much smaller scales.

Live Aid was a huge undertaking that came out of the earlier efforts of Band Aid at the end of 1984 to raise funds for famine relief in Ethiopia and surrounding countries. It was held July 13, 1985, at Wembley Stadium, London, in the UK and JFK Stadium in Philadelphia, in the US. This was the first global, simultaneously broadcast concert of its kind, available to be seen by an unprecedented audience that was estimated to be one out of every five people on the planet.

For that trend-setting event, writer Paul Vallely, and a team of writers, artists, and photographers, handled Information with media, photos, and archives. Rock event promoters Harvey Goldsmith (UK) and Bill Graham (US) took care of the Organization plans – venues, broadcasters, advertisers, vendors, etc. Pop singer Bob Geldof was the chief Participation person to motivate others and get them involved – including leaders from music, arts, and other professions; and laypeople in the general populace. And this massive, history-making event for famine relief in Africa all got put together in about six weeks!

Afterward, many of these same lead people went on field visits to interview representatives of governments and Live Aid recipients. Some served on the Band Aid Charitable Trust board, where they worked to discern how best to use the funds Band Aid and Live Aid raised, and kept spending on track with the charity’s aims as promised. They didn’t deny they were naïve about international aid work. And they faced many challenges because of spotty infrastructures for delivering massive amounts of food to people in famine-stricken areas. Here are some of questions they had to contend with:

  • How do you ship food commodities to Africa quickly enough to make a difference when people are dying from starvation?
  • How do you truck in food and other supplies when there are no roads to affected areas? What are other options?
  • How do you ensure the resources end up where they are supposed to, and don’t get siphoned off along the way?

The Band Aid Trust board and staff had to find creative, concrete solutions to all kinds of logistical problems like those. And yet, in the bigger picture of things, Live Aid made history by changing the default paradigm on humanitarian aid. It helped forge a populist approach to charitable giving where anyone and everyone felt they could make at least some difference through their participation.

Twenty years later, they created Live 8 – a next step that included political activism to lobby leaders of the developed world at the G8 economic summit. This paralleled the emergence of the Make Poverty History campaign, and the “ONE” humanitarian agency campaign (co-founded by Bono) to support the United Nation’s Millennium Development Goals:

  1. Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger.
  2. Achieve universal primary education.
  3. Promote gender equality and empower women.
  4. Reduce child mortality.
  5. Improve maternal health.
  6. Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases.
  7. Ensure environmental sustainability.
  8. Global partnership for development.

We take humanitarian participation, political campaigning, and media pressuring for granted now, decades after Live Aid. But, these were fairly novel concepts back in the mid-1980s and mid-2000 decades! And they continue to evolve, as seen with the push-back in recent years on a global political-economic oligarchy – the so-called “1 percent.”

Controversy is sure to ensue when the status quo gets upset by upstarts. And the culture that this Live Aid paradigm shift created has been criticized as being overly sentimental, patronizing, a new form of Euro-Western colonialism, celebrity self-promotion, “brand aid” marketing that masquerades consumerism in the guise of participation, etc.

Some of that critique certainly was and is valid. However, in the mid-1980s, negative evaluations of pre-existing models of humanitarian aid also had degrees of validity: international non-governmental agencies becoming self-sustaining enterprises, the idea that only experts knew what constituted best policies and practices, governments unable (or unwilling) to mobilize quickly in response to time-sensitive crises.

Also, back then, everyday people seemed to feel they could make little difference on big issues. But Band Aid/Live Aid helped change that notion, and provided motivation to get involved. Many small contributions add up, as we now see in crowdsourced projects like disaster survivor care situations, cultural productions, campaigns for change, micro-business start-ups, etc.

Band Aid – Live Aid – Live 8 did not represent a perfect paradigm, nor a perfect execution of ideals. But then, every project or program is messy because we complex human beings are messy. That is not an excuse, it’s a reality that has to be navigated at every level in our attempts to do something that matters in making a difference. The unfolding history of the Band Aid Charitable Trust seems to show that its leaders learned from their mistakes, and from critiques offered by aid recipients, humanitarians, media, and academia. And there is evidence that Live Aid’s processes and procedures improved over time. They’ve also purposely updated their projects for new generations, and not every institution makes those kinds of intentional efforts.

So, Live Aid makes for an important case study to examine questions, concerns, and critiques of social transformation processes and projects. For better or for worse, Live Aid pioneered a paradigm shift that has put into effect changes that look likely to last 50 years or longer. We’ll look at it in some detail, along with considering questions like these:

  • How did Live Aid’s key organizers use a methodology that addressed information, organization, and participation elements of creating a transformative event?
  • In what ways did the leaders and teams of these three elements integrate their efforts to bring things together in such a short time?
  • In what ways did Band Aid/Live Aid become a global game-changer?
  • How did Live 8 apply the Live Aid models, and, overall, did they use or misuse the Live Aid legacy?
  • What can we learn from the Live Aid and Live 8 projects in terms of pitfalls to avoid and practices to embrace in our own engaging in social transformation enterprises?
  • What other well-known or lesser-known projects took cues directly from them, even if they critiqued some of the goals or methods used?
  • What elements of the Live Aid legacy have been successfully transferred forward to following generations?

I’ve chosen as case studies those like this that I believe yield practical questions and insights for improving our own projects, teamwork, evaluations, and overall social transformation impact.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *