Can we make progress without permission?

By Mike Klein

In a world where the means of communication are increasingly accessible even as positional power and wealth are becoming more concentrated, the matter of self-empowerment and identifying the real scope for action becomes a vital question : “how much progress can we make without permission?”

I had the pleasure of leading a session on this topic, “No Permission Required,” at last week’s “Creating and Communicating the World in 2017” event in Brussels.

The discussion itself yielded no dramatic conclusions, but captured the range of concerns that people are confronted by when considering action outside of normal frameworks and channels as well as some strategies and ideas about how individuals and small groups can make a difference, inside of companies as well as in the broader community.

The first concern that participants confronted was in identifying situations which enable freedom to act—does acting without permission mean breaking existing rules and laws, or does it mean finding opportunities to create activities and initiatives where such rules and laws don’t currently apply.

This became a long discussion in our group, which reflected the event’s mix of communicators and leaders in business and government. But the question reflects two distinct and fundamental opportunities for participation and activism in the Trump-Brexit era, because one can make a difference without permission both by going outside the rules and hierarchies as well as breaking them directly.

My intent in hosting the session was to focus more on what it is that’s permitted when “that which is not forbidden is permitted.” I see massive opportunities, even at a time when political authorities, business hierarchies and media empires may decide to aggressively exercise their power, for individuals and groups to create solutions that add value and improve quality of life by moving outside of “official” control..

For no group, in my opinion, has a greater opportunity to make a difference in these circumstances than communicators, who can reach more people with more visual and narrative impact today than ever before and often with minimal infrastructure and investment.

Of course, acting on self-empowerment is not without risk. Those who are aggrieved can invoke the rules or, in some cases, have them changed to put a stop to things. Citizens acting visibly need sufficient bravery to see their initiatives through and sufficient justification if challenged—indeed, they need to give themselves permission to act in the absence of clear parameters.

One thing the session participants agreed on was the importance and power of small groups. And that was in evidence throughout the event, where 40 attendees from across Europe delivered ten small group sessions on topics ranging from Food Security to the future of communication, many of which concluded with tangible actions the participants will take forward.

Creating and Communicating the World in 2017 was sponsored by IABC’s EMENA region and co-hosted by Femflection and the Belgian and Dutch IABC chapters. Participants are now planning similar events in Denmark and the Netherlands in 2017. The event hashtag is #openspacebrussels.

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