Blog > Peter Pula

Generative Images of the Future: 2021

Sixteen ways to progressive democracy where we live and work

The pandemic gives us reason to move forward rather than delay.

I would like to see us pivot rather than postpone. Deepening democracy, liberating our strengths, and cultivating peace and abundance amidst trying times … this is what I’d like to see happen in 2021 …

Most of the notions I share here are things I have done, am doing, and intend to continue to do something about. That being said, I have broken a bit from my rule about not coming up with good ideas for other people to do. Some things are asks. There is nothing I can do about them but ask, and so I have done at least that in those cases.

Here we go.

Community Dialogue About What’s Important … Everywhere

There are a lot, and I mean a lot, of important conversations for communities to have. This is a time for us to grapple with what is important to us, to become intimate with our interdependencies, make choices, exercise our freedom and agency (which can be terrifying prospect), and step up and into our power to create communities of wellbeing, peace, and abundance. I would like to see an explosion of artfully hosted community dialogues, in which people talk with one another rather than listen to someone at the front of a room, that awaken giftedness and cultivate real possibility on the ground.

Local Social Value Marketplaces

I would like to see social procurement established as a common practice in municipalities. The pandemic is reason to do this sooner rather than later. It holds promise as a powerful way to leverage local assets as a response to what is coming. Municipal governments are best to lead the way as their mandates are already directed at the wellbeing of their local communities. All other anchor institutions in a given locality — colleges, universities, school boards, public health, hospitals, government departments — by joining in and being in conversation with one another ignite local decision making, problem solving, and possibility.

Non-Profits Become Enterprising

  A municipality has it completely within their power to contract with a non-profit to deliver services they already purchase like, say, catering, cleaning, or groundskeeping.

Current funding models are colonial. I would like to see non-profits become enterprising in a way that they solve social problems and garner revenue commensurate with the real value of having addressed those social problems and possibilities. Non-profits are in the best position of all of our institutions to do so. A step in the direction of becoming ‘enterprising’ will be facilitated by the anchor institutions in their communities embracing social procurement practices.

Did you know that non-profits are exempt from otherwise compulsory competitive bidding rules? That means, for example, a municipality has it completely within their power to contract with a non-profit to deliver services they already purchase like, say, catering, cleaning, or groundskeeping. They could also be an anchor customer to a new enterprise to employ people on the margins in say, a mattress recycling operation. They could do so directly and without the requirement of a competitive bidding process. That means the social, cultural, environmental, and human capital goals a municipality might have is something they can address directly by contracting in specific ways to suit specific circumstance, strengths, and capacities.

I would like to see enterprising non-profits proliferate, and for the value they bring socially and financially, properly honoured.

Social Financiers Show Up

There might be a funding gap between when a municipality, say, hires an enterprising non-profit to get a social good done and when the results, social and financial, kick in. In Canada, for example, there are some 84 billion dollars stored up in foundations that could be applied to that gap, at interest rates that meet the conditions of ‘minimal and reasonable’.

An Explosion of Local Democracy

There are civil society organizations everywhere; non-profits, third-sector organizations. These are a key to deepening democracy with immediate effect. There is no need to wait for a change in political election processes or laws to level up democracy. Just about every one of them is a membership organization which has a board of directors elected from its membership. Good governance is an art. I would like to see a flood of people joining these civil society organizations and a reawakening and engagement in the art of local, democratic governance. Imagine all these non-profits, now accessing a new local marketplace of millions of social procurement-borne dollars, addressing highly localized circumstances, problems and possibilities? There is so much to be gained by being ‘truly progressive’ in the sense of participating in associational life, in community, where agency and efficacy are most likely to be experienced and enjoyed.

Fully engaged in this realm of democracy, we would be less likely to await some federal mandate to save or fix us, we would feel more connected and empowered, experience relationship with others, and find ourselves in flow. This would make us real progressives, acting locally and in ordinary ways to make a difference … and do far better than empty moralizing and absenting.

Partnerships In the Liminal Spaces

  There is much life in the spaces in between — in between the silos organizations reinforce, between community members, and between community members and institutions.

We have become so enamoured with the system world that we have drained the energy out of the life world. I would like to see the system world, institutions and organizations of all sorts, step into partnership with associations and community members. There is so much more people can and want to create in their communities than we are currently bringing to life. Sometimes the limits are met early because institutions take ownership, dominate a space, make promises they ought not make or on which they cannot deliver. There is much life in the spaces in between — in between the silos organizations reinforce, between community members, and between community members and institutions.

Organizations concentrate resources. Often, modest funds, people, resources, to support citizens who ask for it and in the way they ask for it is easy to access and grant. Imagine what would happen if members of organizations showed up at community conversations as citizens first, and then return to their organizations look around in the broom closet and budget to find what the community is asking for, and give it to them?

There are many things organizations can and must do.

There are also things organizations just can’t do. They often aren’t particularly suited to emergence, are confronted with all kinds of internal processes, teams of skittish lawyers and the like. What if a new fifth column formed? What if people ‘on the inside’ fell quietly in league with ‘pirates’ or ‘free-rangers’ … community members who can do what they can’t. Sprinkle a little fairy dust, a wink and a nod, and watch the magic happen.

We Buy from the ‘Little Guy’

I don’t know about you, but I have found that the small shops I’ve visited during the pandemic for everything from groceries to house plants have been as, and most often more, stringent in their adherence to occupancy limits and physical distancing. I have also found the patrons of small shops to generally have been more attentive to public health guidance than what I’ve seen in the big shops. I have experienced more physical distancing in the few restaurants I’ve visited than I did at, for example, Costco and by far. Shutdowns have clearly benefited the ‘big boys’. Now it’s time for the ‘little guys’ to have their turn. Lockdowns rules ought to reflect that intention.

It’s time for our governments to learn how to buy from the little guy too. If governments want to be ‘innovative’ they can embrace the idea that it is the small nimble outfits who are more likely to deliver, on the whole, more diversity and innovation. There is no need to come up with massive one-size-fits-all answers, control the process, and award contracts to a ‘prestigious firm and supplier of record’.

And, if you can pay your bills quickly, the smaller firm will jump through hoops to make things work for you. Let’s give the little guy a try.

An Increase in, and Celebration of, Employee Ownership

Employee ownership does not necessarily mean an organization becomes consensus driven to an inane degree. Healthy hierarchy and personal choice still make natural sense in the ecology of things. That being said, I would very much like to see an increase in employee ownership. It is well known that employee-owned firms, or firms that create value ‘for the benefit of employees’ perform better than other forms of organization on profitability, longevity, safety, retention, and community commitment. They are far less likely to sell to venture capital firms for eventual proffering into the stock market. They generally stay put and don’t sell, and when they do, the employees get to choose, and face the implications and receive the benefit of their choice.

Why not sell your firm to employees rather than to absentee owners? Turn in, instead of out. It can be complex, but there are good people who can show you how.

Guaranteed Basic Income

  I would like to see what happens when people are valued for who they are and are encouraged and enabled to bring their gifts to bear in the service of life and community.

I would like to see federal elections which deliver governments, majority or coalition, with a clear mandate to — and without fear of causing the government to fall over the question — establish guaranteed basic income for its citizens and new immigrants.

I’d like to see movement to replace employment insurance, federal pension plans, old age security, corporate welfare, wage subsidies, CERB-like initiatives and other related programs with a guaranteed basic income for individuals.

I would like to see what happens when people are relieved of the burden of meeting their natural and necessary needs, how mental health, associational life, and wellbeing reduce the costs of mental illness, dissociation, crime, recidivism, addiction, consumerism, extraction, repression. I would like to see what happens when people are valued for who they are and are encouraged and enabled to bring their gifts to bear in the service of life and community.

I would like to bear witness to what community can do for itself when its members are not forced into a single mode of being in order to meet their basic needs, when failing to do so is not seen as a failure of the person, but as a failure of how our system is set up.

Increased Tax On Capital Gains

The fact that income is taxed at much higher rate than capital gains is germane to the reasons the rich get richer while essential workers live at subsistence levels. Capital gains are very often the result of money making money, rather than by people offering their time, strengths, passions, and gifts to do work that is of value. Capital gains are very often gotten by absentees. In those cases, value gained is ‘extracted’ from the ‘human resources’ doing the work. The gentler treatment of capital gains, just about everywhere, encourages extraction and signals what we value. Do we value the ability to be absent and extract, more than we value an honest day’s work?

A Movement Amongst CEOs

As an example, and they are easy to find, there is a CEO I have heard of, in the grocery business, who makes about 150 times what the lowest paid employee in the same organization takes home. The lowest paid employee’s annual wages, in the same organization, is near to what I would call subsistence. How is it that in the food business the farther away one gets from the farm the more one makes?

In 2021 I would get pretty jazzed up to see a surprising movement by CEOs to limit their salaries to no more than 10 times, hell even 20 times would be a start, the full-time equivalent (FTE) wages of the lowest paid member of the organizations of which they are also ‘an employee’. These CEOs would then be well positioned to advocate for the increased wages of their fellow employees rather than remain so singularly and exclusively concerned with benefiting shareholders, who again … are most often absent.

A Movement Amongst Shareholders

Shareholders in publicly-traded corporations don’t just include the stereotyped, hawkish, narcissistic, powerful investor. They include retirees, people who are saving up to join those ranks, pension funds, and charitable foundations. What if these shareholders also advocated for equitable, life-giving wages for the employees of the firms in which they are invested? I’d like to see that.

More Organizations Operate More “Democratically”

I’ve already mentioned that I’d like to see, in 2021, a movement to democratize income (in the sense of being reasonable and quite a bit more equitable), ownership, and governance. Something that could be done without changing the way any of the money works is to democratize how we operate our organizations day-to-day. I would like to see a shift in which managers convene, host, and connect their teams in such a way as to encourage choice, agency, and efficacy. Rather than decide, direct, and recruit buy-in, I would love to see leaders become participatory.

Every organization is a context. That context sets a shared purpose. From there, we either trust people or we don’t and the structures of interaction we design reveal which it is. With context and purpose set, and agreement to join in on that mandate, every person has something unique to offer. I would like to see people in organizations learn to host one another in such a way as to discover that unique gift each has to offer, what those gifts together make possible, and to cultivate movement in that direction.

  I can imagine cooperatives, employee-owned firms, and non-profits creating media everyday about what people are doing in their midst to move towards their preferred futures.

Imagine what life we could unleash in our workplaces if we took off the bridle and bit.

Generative Journalism Takes Root

I would like to see Generative Journalism take root in organizations, associations, and communities as way to cultivate change in the direction of people’s preferred futures. It’s an approach to discovering the stories and emerging futures alive for people who together make up an organization, association, or community. It is a strengths-based, appreciative approach that honours each person. This makes it fundamentally and deeply democratic. It is also attuned to emergence and therefore is always new, news. It cuts away from the institutional narratives that have become lifeless and very often disingenuous. It cuts to the stories of the people who make up the organizations, associations, and communities in which we work and live. It is an addition to community journalism and a life-giving alternative to conventional corporate communication.

A Generative News Network

I would like to see a collaborative network of generative news organizations come to life. I can imagine cooperatives, employee-owned firms, and non-profits creating media everyday about what people are doing in their midst to move towards their preferred futures. I can imagine local, trans-local, and even international news purveyors of these and other sorts cooperating with each other to circulate stories and shift the narrative we are living into. 

A Shift in News Narrative

I would like to watch as broadcasters and newspapers lead with stories illuminating where all the things I’d like to see are actually happening. I’d like to see the winding down of the narrative of ‘big’ and of the ‘chattering classes’ and the ramping up of stories about how deepening democracy is manifesting in ways like the ones I’ve mentioned.

That’d be a year of progress. 


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Peter Pula's picture

Peter Pula has been exploring the pathways to social evolution since founding the Grassroots Review in his hometown of Peterborough in 1992. Since then he has served on the boards of civil society and arts organizations and served as board president on two of them.

He has been actively involved in federal politics and led a corporate communications firm. Axiom News was incorporated under his leadership in 2009 and went on to establish the practice of Generative Journalism in an international arena.
In 2015, Axiom News founded and funded the Peterborough Dialogues in its hometown. The Peterborough Dialogues hosted over 350 deep community dialogues, established and refined hosting arts, and has had lasting impact in the Peterborough community. For this work in community, Peter was awarded the 2017 Brian L. Desbiens Community Service Award by Fleming College after being nominated by his peers and members of the community.

In 2018, also in Peterborough, Electric City Magazine was acquired to marry local media capacity with citizen-led dialogue. Peter is now gently cultivating dialogue and media collaboratives.

Peter works in support of deep democracy and passionately but lightly-held spaces for citizen-led community development. He believes that artfully hosted dialogue and generative media making are together a necessary social innovation for cultivating local-living abundance.

Peter is an artful dialogue host, newsroom director, team leader, mentor, trainer, and consultant. He can be a supportive force in the cultivation of initiatives in your community, network, or organization.

He has been invited to host dialogues, summits, workshops, and learning circles in Canada, the United States, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, and most recently in France.

If you would like to enjoy an exploratory conversation about engaging Peter in appropriate ways to enliven or enlighten your initiatives, you can reach him directly by writing to

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