Trim-tab for Dover

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TRIM-TAB DOVER - this is a draft of our bid for the 2013 Buckminster Fuller Challenge


Our Dover-based team will re-language key assumptions and meanings that sustain the town’s behavioural paradigm. In Fullerian terms, we aim to become a synergy-of-synergies. We will then self-publish a Sharealike handbook of methods for trimtabbing a global, comprehensive, paradigm change.

Critical Needs We Address

Without a paradigm change humanity faces extinction. Yet we focus on symptoms, rather than causes. Rather than exploring nature's comprehensiveness we expect ‘gadgets’ (e.g. electric cars or PV panels) to save us. Because energy is cheap we continue to shuttle data, people and money across vast, leaky systems. This myopia perpetuates itself, because education policies lack a sense of deep purpose, and because governments use inappropriate levers for change. While 'creativity' could help us adapt to the ecosystem, capitalism encourages corporations to see it as a 'disruptive' weapon for competitive advantage.

Changing the paradigm means changing the mindset which, in turn, entails re-languaging the values, perceptions and belief systems sustaining the old paradigm. Old 'economies of scale’ and 'division-of-labour' arguments encourages us to seek ‘quantity’, rather than ‘diversity’. Likewise, our belief in the ‘law of diminishing returns’ (rather than the ‘law of increasing returns’) makes us see life as an accelerating treadmill. We need a co-creative, democratic, technical, linguistic and somatic framework that transforms a diversity-of-diversities into an abundance of synergies. Instead of fragmenting and problematising the world, our new paradigm would offer a relational, combinatorial approach to co-innovation.


We will trim-tab a paradigm change, in Dover, UK in the belief that any town can transform itself into a self-sufficient, creative democracy. In order to co-create new ways to produce food, clothing, shelter and fun, we will sensitively locate existing initiatives, harness gut feelings and co-create new trends. We will mediate between top-down and bottom-up discourses to align different interest groups. We will re-language, assumptions about the deep purpose of business, enterprise, education, competition etc.

Our combinatorial approach re-visions 'problems' as ‘resources’. It therefore shows diversity as our only source of synergy. We use Fuller's tetrahedral logic to derive (6) new synergies from (4) existing ‘resources’ (see above). This aligns the outcomes of four simultaneous, parallel, practical innovation processes to deliver a cluster of abundances.

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Why Dover?

Dover is a recession-hit, de-industrialization zone. Its internationally famous White Cliffs attract 600k overseas visitors per year and it is the world's busiest passenger port. These conditions make it ideal for a 'diversity' experiment that can attract global attention.

Who Inspired Us?

Fuller's agenda led us to explore chaos and network theories and to develop ideas by Euler, Macchiavelli, Lorenz, Kuhn, Koestler, Maturana & Varela, Meadows, Romer and others. These led us to a more managerial, collective and somatic approach.

How Did We Start?

when Metadesigners and Dover Arts Development met as trustees of a Dover charity they both recognised a complementarity (depth of thought + breadth of creative practice). This is our sixth joint project.

How Will We Proceed?

Using different media and approaches we will devote 18 months to seeding a more positive, optimistic and affirmative way to harness 'problems' as 'resources'. Our aim is to transcend entropic notions of sustainability and business by re-branding Dover as a 'Synergy village'.
(download article).

Engaging at the Right Levels?

At the local level, Dover Arts Develoment has shown how art can work as a cross-disciplinary language of change. This has influenced new local leaders who are inspiring grass-roots changes.

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Creative Commons LicenseShare-alike

Our Vision

A creatively democratic, convivial, safer and ecologically responsible town would inspire others to emulate, and to develop the process.

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Volunteers with Dover Arts Development made a mile of bunting for Dover town, 2011

Balancing top-down and bottom-up approaches

The Transition Towns movement (TT) successfully encouraged communities to shift from a pessimism-driven inertia to a state of optimistic determination. Largely by declaring themselves to be ‘in transition’ (towards a solution), they initiated a shift in the paradigm. This affirmative re-languaging of the status quo resembles a tool we conceived in our Attainable Utopias project and developed in several countries.
Some critics of TT have noted that, while it is a bottom-up approach, most members are 'converts'. A more top-down approach is the Cradle-to-Cradle (C2C) initiative, which enables industries and governments to envision a new paradigm (i.e. a circular economy) that transcends the old 'cradle-to-grave' model. Despite its success it exemplifies an intrinsically top-down organisation that is limited by the small size of this scientific sector.

As top-down and bottom-up approaches are both important to paradigm change, they will need to be addressed in tandem. However, reconciling TD and BU approaches means reconciling different languages. Our project will operate in different ways: e.g. systemic, technological, cultural, agricultural and linguistic. Rather than using 1st order cybernetic principles, (e.g. Stafford Beer's famous Cybersyn Project) its 2nd-order cybernetics approach will bring about greater inclusivity.

Our success will depend on:

  • Team-spirit / quality of delivery / rapport with local stakeholders / effective theories, strategies, adaptability etc.
  • Good international database of contacts
  • As key coordinators, Dover Arts Development's track record of delivering projects to budget and on time is exemplary (winners of 2012 Canterbury Excellence award and shortlisted for 2013).
  • A reputation of working with a wide cross-section of the community.

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We will use a range of team tools that are somatic and collective developed by Metadesigners

Criteria for Success

  • Excellent networks /
  • High calibre & experience of the bidding team
  • Several benchmarking criteria already developed by the Metadesigners group
  • Also by Dover Arts Development (DAD), - custodians of Dover District Council’s Cultural Survey and Framework doc. that includes criteria inspired by DAD)
  • Dover Big Local (National Lottery initiative) awarded Dover £1 million for residents to spend on projects in Dover Town Centre. This provides an existing diverse group of Dover residents that we can link with.
  • We will build on our established relationship with Dover Community Radio


  • Delivery essentials complete (e.g. information packs / workshop tools /database of local 'needs' / 'wants' / 'problems' / 'ideas'
  • Local volunteers trained to run workshops
  • Locals trained to run their own 'Creative Quartets' workshops
  • All communication media working
    • e.g. Market Square giant digital billboard / 'Trim-Tab' drop-in centre opening every Tuesday (Market Day) / our 'Spaceship Dover' newspaper effectively run by school students from 3 primary and 3 secondary schools, supervised by Lesley Finlay) / local volunteers running regular 'Spaceship Dover' items in local press and radio / all website/s running / our 'Tree With a View' design competition (architecture students from UCA Canterbury) end Sep. 2013 / tree-viewing structure built in Bay Trust site (Spring 2014)
  • Our methods written up in replicable and adaptable way
  • Longer-term resourcing secured
  • Benchmarking methods agreed / tested
  • Creative Commons License/s embedded in all docs.
  • (X number of) others request template for our approach.
  • Others emulate our methods (how?) successfully


The following are all generous team players.

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Some of the Bay Trust's environmental education activities & their carbon-negative building
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Images from projects by Loop.pH
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Some of Foreign Investment's art projects in Norway, Liverpool & St. Helens (UK)

Past Funding

  • Metadesigners - AHRC & EPSRC relevant research-funding (since 2005) £400k
  • Dover Arts Development - many sources (since 2006) £400k

Future Revenue

  • We will seek commercial work (guided by our team)
  • We will seek more from Kent County Council, Dover District Council, Dover Docks Development Board.
  • We will pitch to Dover Big Local (awarded £1 million for projects that support community enhancement). We will request matched-funding for one workshop in this phase.
  • Although our metadesign tools are available on a Creative Commons basis, some future income for this project may be generated on a not-for-profit basis.
  • We are confident that some clients will pay for workshops
  • Revenue from licensing trainees in our methods


  • Our approach is intrinsically contingent and flexible.
  • We will continue to explore innovative and diverse sources of revenue
  • We will continue to seek subtle and creative means by which to achieve the aims of this bid. We will, for example, explore ways to re-think what our ‘survival’ requires. We might, for example, trade ‘resources’ other than money. After funding Metadesigners published around 20 articles, book chapters etc.

Additional material

See also metadesigning paradigm change article
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