A process called SCAN FOCUS DESIGN is sometimes used for thinking through complex business problems. It is relevant to social change as well. I will give examples from different disciplines to illustrate each of these phases, and then connect the process to large-scale transformative social change.


As a Feldenkrais practitioner, I help people move better. If someone comes to me with a painful left knee, I don’t try to fix the knee. Instead, I inquire What is this person doing with their hips, their shoulders, their ankles such that they strain the left knee, but not the right?

This is my SCAN. I am taking into account what’s happening with their whole body, not just their knee.

DesignShops are thinking events typically conducted for large companies with challenging problems. The company needs to come up with an innovative approach to their situation, or possibly go out of business.

Faced with challenging problems, people often want to jump to solutions. DesignShop facilitators prevent this. Instead, they divide the participants into groups with different tasks. One group might be assigned to consider what competitors are doing. Others might review current social trends, emerging technologies, and the history of the company. Each group gives a report out to the full group.

This is their SCAN. The group looks at their situation from many different perspectives. As a result, each member develops an expanded mental map of their situation.

So SCAN is developing a big picture overview of the current situation.


FOCUS is identifying your way forward – your approach to dealing with the situation.

For example, a young engineer was asked to review a proposal to automate the loading docks of a manufacturing company’s twenty-four warehouses. It occurred to him that it would be far more efficient to consolidate the warehouses into four regional distribution centres.

Consolidating the warehouses was his FOCUS, is new approach.


DESIGN is about designing everything required to make the new FOCUS work. It is not enough to have a good idea; folks need a way to act on it.

There are thinkers who clearly articulate the need for systems change. They may call for ‘conversations’. But they provide no organized way for folks to act on this call. So far as I can tell, it does not occur to them to do so.

Applying SCAN FOCUS DESIGN to social change


My initial SCAN is quite simple. As this cartoon by Tony Biddle illustrates, we have an industrial-economic growth-militarized society that is ecologically self-destructing. Mounting climate mayhem in the form of fires and floods is one of the symptoms.

On the positive side, a majority people now accept the reality of climate change, and there are millions of groups that care about ecological and social well-being. Many people care. The members of these groups are an untapped resource for transformative social change.


In a famous article, Leverage Points: Places to intervene in a system, Donella Meadows asserted that the most influential leverage point in any human system is the thinking that drives the system.

The major driver of our current system is devotion to economic growth, amplified by population growth. These two factors lead to ever increasing industrial production and ever-increasing ecological damage.

Some people think that our proper goal should be to evolve a life-affirming culture – a culture that operates within planetary boundaries, and cares for people and nature. I am among them.

Currently the general public as well as political leaders desire increased economic growth. Any political leader who stood up and said, “Folks, we need to slow our economic system to preserve our life support system,” would be immediately shouted down.

Therefore a key leverage point is to inspire thoughtful mainstream commitment to doing everything required to pull out of our ecological nosedive, and indeed evolve a life-affirming culture… even if this means slowing the economy.


Our times call for a new kind of social change movement based, not on protest, but on helping people think better. (Actually, improving emotional functioning comes into this as well.)

I have developed three tools for this:

Escalating Disasters

A set of loose leaf images to bring home to people the reality of current disastrous ecological trends. The images include global warming, of course, but also species loss, falling freshwater tables, toxins in the food chain and other disastrous trends.

Kitchen Table Conversations

We use labels on beer coasters to help people connect the dots about how economic growth, population growth and consumer psychology drive ecological self-destruction.

Inspiring Transition outreach slide deck

This slide deck supports an introductory conversation on Catalysing mass commitment to transformational change. In other words, it introduces the basis for a new kind of social change movement, with a view to recruiting colleagues.

A new kind of social change movement

Many movements in the past succeeded (and many have failed) by focusing on mass protest. Protests typically have clearly identified issues, and the aim at influencing government policy (or even overthrowing the government). People rally behind protests because they feel oppressed, and they have reached the breaking point.

Our situation is different. If we pull back the curtain, it turns out that we are oppressed. But few people feel that to the point of rebellion. And who would we rebel against? After all, we elect our representatives. It’s all quite murky.

But this analysis ignores the deeper issue. Those of us who live relatively affluent lifestyles or beneficiaries of the current system. Rather than change it, we want economic growth to ramp up.

Beyond that, protest is a blunt instrument for changing people’s minds. While it may call people’s attention to issues – think of the School Strike 4 Climate – it does nothing to stimulate the complex thinking necessary to deal with the problem.

Mindset change is key. Our challenge is to help people come to grips with the devastating reality of current ecological trends and, more than that, help them embrace the systemic changes necessary to stop making things worse.

Which raises the question: How might we reach the mainstream?

The reach of any one organisation is limited. So there’s no point in starting a new organization with its own message, etc. Indeed, there are a few operating in this direction already, but they do not have serious clout. Only a few people read their blogs or participate in webinars. We preach to the converted.

However, as I noted in my initial SCAN, there are millions of groups that care about environmental and social well-being. Mostly their members pay dues and sign petitions. But they care. By inspiring the members of many of these groups to act as citizen-educators – and providing tools to make communicating succinct and effective – we can seed transformative ideas into the community.

The idea here is simple: we talk to people we know – our friends and business colleagues. We are all part of the mainstream.

To drive this agenda, colleagues and I are forming a League of Evolutionary Catalysts. There is a bit of a learning curve involved, because the background ideas are novel , and we want people to have experience with our communication tools. Steps to Becoming a Member of the League of Evolutionary Catalysts tells the story.

We would be pleased if you would consider adding your influence to this nascent movement. We need to catalyze public will for whole system change to a life-affirming culture. Nothing less will do.


Following the process of SCAN FOCUS DESIGN I have created a working prototype as the basis for a new kind of social change movement.

Can it be improved? I’m sure it can. But like Henry Ford’s Model T, it has everything required for it to work.

This new kind of social change movement has two key features.

Mindset change

Helping people come to grips with the reality of our existential emergency, and the systemic changes necessary to stop making things worse.

Mobilizing the members of groups as citizen-educators

This is how we can seed a new inspiration into mainstream thinking.

Inspiring Transition is an open-source support platform for citizen-educators.

The League of Evolutionary Catalysts is an informal group of colleagues committed to driving this agenda. We would be pleased if you would consider working with us!

I would be happy to talk!


Andrew Gaines
Inspiring Transition
Greta Thunberg will have reason to hope when she sees that mainstream society is committed to turning things around.

A note of appreciation

DesignShops, and the sequence of SCAN FOCUS DESIGN, was developed by Matt and Gail Taylor. They called the sequence SCAN FOCUS ACT. But in my view, ACT is not about action, is about designing everything required to make your new approach work.

Leaping the Abyss: Putting group genius to work is a great book about DesignShops. The MG Taylor website is http://www.mgtaylor.com.