The Backstory

The history of our understanding of the problem we're trying to address
The Institute of Applied Metatheory (IAM) grew out of a 15 year history of integrative metatheory (IM) gradually maturing into a coherent intellectual concept and realistic possibility for greater social emancipation. Building on the cross-disciplinary symposia started in 2012 between Critical Realism and Integral Philosophy sponsored by Integral Institute, which advances to this day through books and literature by a dedicated group of excellent scholars, IAM seeks to enable metatheorists from across the scholarly landscape with a new set of tools for applying Big Pictures to hard problems, while providing the funding and support necessary to experiment with an emergent metapraxis.
We've watched closely as Big Picture communities with sophisticated worldviews and methods have struggled to make the impact they've sought. The "metacrisis" is characterized by a deep epistemic crisis generally, which reflects the real, over-the-limit complexity of today’s wicked problems and hyper-perspectival occasions. People can hardly agree on what’s real. But we've observed that even integrative movements are afflicted by sensemaking confusion and diffusion. First, the practitioners inside these communities are human, and despite very advanced capacities for integration, they too are affected by the overwhelming fragmentation of human knowledge and blistering pace of socio-historical development. And second, the metatheories themselves have not yet been adequately reconstituted as a metapraxis capable of addressing wicked problems on sufficiently practical terms.
Further, while they tend to attract deeply-passionate communities of scholar-practitioners with their common worldviews, ethics and philosophy, that social cohesion hides a deep and problematic communal fragmentation: as there’s no good mechanism for functional consensus of social action in specific contexts, these communities tend to have highly-fragmented task cohesion for engaging in real-world social action.
It seems obvious to many in these communities that our current life conditions, problems and goals are not considered with the complexity needed to maximize their transformational potential. They are not adequately conceived, visualized, considered or conveyed with the sophistication needed to understand them fully, much less discuss them properly or address them effectively. Devoid of the best available philosophical underpinning, and too often understood in one-dimensional ways, wicked contexts clearly confound the very people with the power and responsibility for leading powerful change: business leaders, funders, policy analysts, social entrepreneurs et al. who transact in complex ideas, and we believe could benefit from better methods of knowledge application in order to focus their limited time and energy on the most promising, most creative transformational innovation available.
This problem is compounded by the nature of the knowledge production that is integrative metatheory itself: complex, meta-contextual, integratively plural epistemologies that can apply to anything, at any level of scale, in any domain of human life. This very "go anywhere" Big Picture strength is also their vulnerability, as they can get easily "lost in the noosphere" without reducing to practice to real-world, value-generating use cases. New processes and tools specifically designed for applying IMs are called for.
One way to visualize the trap that one of the current IM communities (the Integral Philosophy community) has fallen into can be visualized below (start at the top):
A partial map of the Integral Philosophy econo-sociosphere
Against this backdrop, however, the magic of IM communities lies in wait. We've seen firsthand that there's a deep wellspring of frustration and motivation to make a bigger impact, and in this lies the opportunity. There is immense latent transformational energy in integrative metatheories and their global community of experts, with thousands of transformational experts who can make a far bigger impact on human flourishing if they are given better tools, structure and methods of social action incubation.
Our goal is to help these global movements move from mostly thinking, publishing and media production to more focused, more rationally-legitimated collective action. We believe that doing so might accelerate key power structures and their leaders to shift into more fully-integrative modes of knowing-being themselves, while enabling the hardest, most complex contexts of the 21st century to be served by the most comprehensive philosophies, metatheories and metapraxis available. We believe those who would take on the responsibility of leading within these communities have to rise to meet the generational opportunity to convene and reinvigorate global movements of Big Picture experts. To do so, IAM starts with four premises:
  1. 1.
    Context prevails: Issues that matter, from teen depression or school shootings, immigration policy to policing transformation, global climate change to nuclear non-proliferation, are complex, wicked real-world contexts. We can never understand them, much less hope to transform them to different forms of more effective functioning, without a corresponding transformation in our epistemological strategies towards these contexts.
  2. 2.
    Knowledge is deep, powerful and fragmented: Most human knowledge, beyond baseline personal sense data, is captured and theorized from “middle-level” disciplinary theory. But this theoretical landscape presents an overwhelming fragmentation of human knowledge and a “Blind Men and the Elephant” problem in understanding wicked issues. Big Picture metatheory is urgently needed to organize and make sense of theory and knowledge that is applicable to wicked contexts and sub-contexts.
  3. 3.
    Human talent remains an untapped global resource: Over the past 40 years there has been a worldwide explosion of human talent dedicated to personal, organizational and systemic transformation (not to mention hard and soft science theory exploration). This explosion correlates with the rise of late-stage, knowledge-centric capitalism, but it also mimics the worldview, values and sensemaking fragmentation of the late Information Age that is ripping apart societies at every level. What we’ve seen for years is that transformation experts are deeply frustrated that they can't seem to make the impact they want, nevermind seeing which transformational efforts have the most promise. Artificial Intelligence can be a useful toolkit to accelerate a portion of the analytical work humans do, but it's not remotely close to the synthetic-syncretistic work that is urgently needed and only humans can yet do.
  4. 4.
    Sponsors are essential: The stakeholders of wicked contexts, from social impact nonprofits, donors, corporations, governments and others, are embedded in these contexts and value holistic views of the entire landscape they’re attempting to navigate. They spend billions of dollars collectively on analyzing where and how to effect transformation towards better outcomes, but rarely does anyone have a fully-integrated view that rationalizes the most powerful fulcrums based on available theories in each context and its sub-components. Engaging these stakeholders so that Big Picture analysis is funded, grounded, informed, and tested by those on the frontline of real world settings is essential.
To summarize, we need a better way to know which knowledge, innovations, processes, media or practices to apply where, and how, to effect transformation: anywhere, in any domain, to any problem, at any level of scale. This problem statement formed the basis of the IAM hypothesis that to integrate the above four elements we needed a fifth element, a new kind of software platform for integrative epistemology that scaffolds experts to quickly and more thoroughly map complex issues and suggests what new social action experiments might be run to potentially achieve better outcomes. Said simply, we want to convert wicked problems into actionable experiments that unleash the potential for transformation.