In a groundbreaking recent book, Change: How to Make Big Things Happen, leading social network theorist Damon Centola demonstrates how transformative change is generally catalyzed by small, highly committed groups of enthusiasts located on the periphery of mainstream culture, who reinforce each other’s commitment to a new sociocultural norm through repeated affirming interactions, which help to validate innovative ideas.1
The conventional view of social transformation is that this kind of network merely leads to redundant connections and that effective social contagion requires multiple weak ties. However, Centola convincingly shows that when it comes to innovative ideas and behaviors, the reinforcement of redundant, strong ties helps to create a critical mass for transformation by turning novel ideas into familiar norms.
That is the underlying notion behind the Deep Transformation Network (DTN), an online network that I initiated in early 2022 with the help of several committed colleagues, and which has since grown into more than 3,000 members worldwide. The network is open to all those who recognize that our civilization is in existential crisis—and desire to engage with others in facilitating a deep transformation toward a life-affirming future on a regenerated Earth.
The network’s mission, as its tagline states, is to “explore pathways to an ecological civilization.” It offers a vibrant place for ideas, practices, and approaches for civilizational transformation as well as an inspiring and nourishing place to cultivate an international community of care.
We are a community sharing deep concern about our civilization’s direction, with an intention to engage constructively to change its trajectory and to help amplify the forces for Deep Transformation that could set humanity on a path of future flourishing on a regenerated Earth. With reverence for the dignity of all sentient beings, we pursue sustained mutually beneficial symbiosis within human society, and between humans and the living Earth.
The DTN is a public network, welcoming people from diverse backgrounds, ethnicities, and cultural traditions. It is free for everyone, and so far has been sustainably funded on a donation basis. The community places a high value on principles of self-organization and grassroots empowerment. Any member can post an article, share their own offerings, and create an event, and even create a separate identifiable group within the network.
From the outset, the community established certain “Guiding Principles” around caring, diversity, generativity, respect, and non-commercial behavior. Perhaps because of this, the quality of interaction has been consistently respectful and generative, with only extremely rare cases where moderation has been needed. While there is clearly a “founder effect” which has given me outsize influence, governance is driven by a Moderators group, which anyone can apply to join, with an intention to move toward a sociocracy governance model as the community expands.
Beyond the active feed, where members continually post articles and engage interactively on issues around deep transformation, the network hosts regular live events, often with over a hundred members participating live, and hundreds more watching the recordings. Monthly meetings feature expert panels and cover topics salient to system redesign, e.g., citizens’ assemblies, effective forms of direct action, cosmolocalism, worker-owned co-ops, the population issue, and evaluations of the COP process and the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
Using a systems perspective on civilizational change, the DTN might be conceptualized as a “transformation catalyst” in the terminology of change theorist Sandra Waddock. In her upcoming book Catalyzing Transformation, she describes transformation catalysts as “entities—people, groups of people, organizations, and initiatives—that work to bring about systemic transformation by undertaking a set of activities that we synthesize as connecting, cohering, and amplifying the work of others.”2
Using this formulation, the process of “connecting” and “cohering” seems to correspond to Centola’s description of transformative networks with reinforcing strong ties. So far, so good—but what about “amplifying the work of others”? It is clear that civilizational transformation only has a chance of occurring if a critical mass of networks dedicated to change engage in positive feedback with each other, thus augmenting the energy of each, and ultimately creating an emergent result where the whole becomes greater than the sum of the parts.
In network theory, Metcalf’s law states that the power of a network is proportional to the square of the number of connected users. This would seem to argue for an increased emphasis on greater inter-network cooperation, where each community actively seeks to amplify the energy of related communities that hold aligned values and goals.
For this reason, the DTN’s orientation is as much directed outward toward other networks as inward to its own membership. Live events give an opportunity for DTN members to learn and engage with other related change-making groups. We have hosted leading members of the Global Tapestry of Alternatives to share their work as well as leaders of the Wellbeing Economic Alliance to educate DTN members on their plans. Other groups that have been platformed in DTN meetings include the Equatorial Voices Network—an international group of young climate activists in the Global South—and David Sloan Wilson’s Prosocial Commons.
Additionally, the DTN invites other networks to establish “portals” within it, in the form of sub-groups that enhance further interaction between the DTN and other communities. Examples of these groups include the Prosocial Commons, Gaia Education, and the Religious Natural Orientation, which links to the Religious Naturalist Association inspired by biologist Ursula Goodenough.
The DTN is still very early in its life cycle. As our community expands, we are asking how best to cultivate and direct its growth. Should we focus more on guiding members directly toward action initiatives? Can we find creative technical solutions to enhance inter-network collaboration? How can we encourage more diversity in membership (it is currently comprised predominantly of white, English-speaking members from the Global North)?
It is my intention, and that of others in the DTN, that this network will help to contribute to the broader movement for civilizational transformation that so many in the Great Transition Network are advancing.
1. Damon Centola, Change: How to Make Big Things Happen (New York: Little, Brown Spark, 2021).
2. Sandra Waddock, Catalyzing Transformation: Making Systems Change Happen (New York: Business Expert Press, 2023).