Recipes for Efficacy

Recipes for Efficacy
Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

This episode is a compilation of clips from previous episodes–all centered on the concept of efficacy, which is like a red thread running through my Minotaur’s labyrinth of conversations with thinkers makers and doers here on The Working Together Podcast. We will explore the concept of efficacy in personal, political and technical modes (in that order).

I think efficacy is like a motif behind all good social innovations, community engagement efforts, co-design efforts, barn raisers and work parties. It’s also behind more personal endeavours like tinkering in your basement or starting a small business.

I also think efficacy is less bombastic than “impact” (and certainly less bombastic than “disruptive”).

Efficacy is much more about the day-to-day, and the quotidian. But it is also about the messy problem that nobody wants to be responsible for dealing with (but that we all are responsible for). In this sense efficacy feels like a somewhat truer expression of a latent zeitgeist that has yet to fully emerge: the desire that many of us have to contribute something–to our lives, to our families, neighbourhoods, communities and heck, to the world.

The other, more pronounced zeitgeist is one driven by cynicism and fear. It is characterized by a feeling of paralysis, as if you are lockstep with a dark movement that is entrained towards inevitable catastrophe. Sadly, in this context “impact” and “disruptive” are at home–they are less a joyful smashing and bashing of the status quo, and more of an amplification of its underlying logics: innovation for innovation’s sake; better service delivery; more efficiency; more value for money; “fitter, happier, more productive…”

Efficacy isn’t afraid of messy problems, conflict, catastrophe, and so on. Efficacy has faith in “rolling up the sleeves”, “making fast friends”, “messing around” and working together.

On your own, regaining a sense of personal efficacy can be a fun challenge. You learn how to tinker with things, grow your own food, start your own business and so on.

Giving a group of folks or a community a sense of efficacy, on the other hand, is a damn hard thing to design for.

It requires careful preparation. It requires knowing a thing or two about your ingredients and how they will interact. It requires observation during the encounter–to help facilitate constructive work, and to learn how to design better the next time. In short, it requires recipes and a good chef.

So this episode is a series of recipes for efficacy.

Some recipes are loosely defined, and easier to incorporate into your life, because, well, it’s just about “you and your thing”. There’s less at stake when you are trying out a new dish by yourself. This is all about personal efficacy and I use clips from my interviews with Mark Frauenfelder and Kevin Kelly to explore that angle.

Others require a lot of work designing and facilitating–in short, a lot of meal prep and planning, and at least one good chef (if not a kitchen full of ’em!). These practitioners are always cooking up new ways to combine ingredients, always reflecting on what could be done better the next time and making edits to the recipe until it works. In short, they are always strategically designing. My interviews with Patrick Condon, Peter MacLeod and Gui Seiz are an exploration of some working recipes for helping groups of people achieve political and technical efficacy.

Have a listen to the episode and subscribe to The Working Together Podcast to hear more conversations like these, now and into the future!

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