Bringing new ideas and visions into the real world requires accurate, effective and integrated understandings of how to build regenerative vitality in human systems of every type, from financial to community, and at every level from local, regional, and national to global. This requires the ability to connect emerging theory and measures to on-the-ground practice in a way that enhances both.

Recent advances in the science of flow [1] are producing a more accurate understanding of how systems grow and develop, and what makes them remain vibrant for long periods of time. These findings dovetail with a great deal of social science research and rubber-meets-the road experience in building healthy human networks.

RARE’s approach to quantitative measures is just as groundbreaking as the regenerative framework itself. We are not simply creating more ways to assess desirable outcomes; we are developing ways to measure the health of the system itself. We do so by identifying and measuring critical structural, circulatory, and value factors known to support a system’s ability to remain vibrant for long periods of time. Here, just as assessing human health requires measuring multiple factors such as blood pressure and glucose levels, so combining multiple factors of economic health gives us a clearer picture of how to develop systems that can live long and prosper both internally, and in relationship with the other nested subsystems – social, economic, financial, environmental – in which they are embedded.

In this case, understanding how factors such as resilience, efficiency, circulation, adaptability and degree of “regenerativeness” make or break systemic health allows us to broaden the term “sustainability” to apply directly to the long-term health of the organization or economy, in a way that incorporates social, economic, and environmental factors in a commonsense, dynamic whole. The underlying premise is that healthy human systems, ones designed to obey the long-term laws of health, naturally become oriented towards the socially, economically, and environmentally desirable outcomes we currently measure.

Because this approach can be applied both within and across scales, it allows us to shift the unit of analysis as necessary from the firm to an ecosystem of firms within and across sectors. Cities within their watersheds are one logical unit of analysis, for example.

Dr. Goerner and her RARE colleagues have developed the initial ten measures of systemic health contained in the appendix of the Regenerative Capitalism white paper. Much work lies ahead, but we are optimistic that such measures will aid the challenge of managing complex systems in a sustainable fashion, benefiting policymakers and enterprise leaders alike.

Initial interest in these ideas has been encouraging. We are currently working with two international development groups seeking to apply these measures in their work on the ground. Opportunities also exist to apply these metrics around numerous domestic development initiatives such as those taking place in Cleveland, Oberlin, and Western Michigan. Most recently, we were approached by the Ministry of Finance in France to apply these metrics of systemic health to the French Financial system. A formal proposal has been submitted.

[1] A flow-network is any system whose existence arises from and depends on the circulation of critical resources throughout the entirety of their being. Living organisms depend on the circulation of nutrients and oxygen. Ecosystems depend on the circulation of carbon, oxygen, water, etc. Economic systems depend on the circulation of money, resources, goods and information. While ecological flow-networks are particularly advanced, the advantage of applying the broader-case principles to finance and economics is that avoids the question of whether the results are merely a metaphoric extrapolation from ecosystems.