Bridging 'top-down' & 'bottom-up' approaches

Towards a more coherent strategy for metadesigning paradigm change

Paradigm change may need orchestration

  • Paradigms strongly resist change.
  • Paradigm change needs simultaneous, strategic interventions at requisite points in the system.
  • One way to achieve this is to orchestrate simultaneous top-down & bottom-up changes.

Models of success

  • Top-down approaches work differently from bottom-up approaches.
  • See our notes on workshop preparation.
  • Their relative success will depend on situation, conditions and context.
  • The Transition Towns (TT) movement and Cradle-to-Cradle (C2C) initiative can rightly claim great success.
  • Both offer unified theories, frameworks and practices for changing the dominant paradigm of energy profligacy and waste.
  • In this regard, they are commensurate with the aims of our project.

Transition Towns

  • The Transition Towns movement evolved, after 1988, from grass-roots initiatives by ordinary citizens and activists in Ireland.
  • While its networks are growing in many other countries it tends to suffer from the inertia that can be expected from a self-selecting group of like-minded volunteers.


  • By contrast, the C2C framework has been operating commercially since 1995 and has enjoyed considerable success in persuading large corporations and governments to optimize product life cycles, and to integrate their organizational operations and decision-making procedures in a less wasteful fashion.
  • But the system depends heavily on certain central core activities that are inaccessible to most non-specialists.

Top-down + Bottom-up = paradigm change?

  • Where C2C elicits change from the top-down - TT invites change from the bottom up.
  • What might make them more effective is a combination of both strategies.
  • Our initiative offers a simple framework that will synergize the work of key individuals across a whole system, whether they work in the president’s office, or as the lowliest employee.

See a Workshop in 2011
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