Three Lenses

Three Lenses tool from Flow’s Thrivable Culture toolkit

In Ecosophy – an ecological philosophy developed by Arne Naess and Felix Guattari – there are three ecologies.  These are the environmental, the social and the mental. At each level, ecological principles can be seen to apply. Because our society and our individual selves are part of nature, we operate according to ecological principles. However, humanity has gradually constructed a system for social and individual operation that results in the destruction of the environment (the world, our habitat, everything we depend upon).

In Flow, we use these three ecologies – or Three Lenses – as a device to help organisations think and plan. If you plan your future-facing action on these three levels, what would you do? Here are three suggestions for aspirations you might have:

1. External or environmental lens

Advocating that culture has great public value, not just financial: Rather than try to demonstrate their value only in financial terms cultural organisations use and promote a more ecological and socially just mode of economics. This could be called Oikonomics. Such an approach to economics emphasises diversity, wellbeing, place, common assets and creativity, all things at the heart of cultural activity.

2. Relational or social lens

Shifting social values to ‘bigger than self’: Currently the dominant values in society are extrinsic ones based on materialism and projecting a strong self to the world. Cultural organisations can help with a shift to intrinsic values based on co-operation and ‘bigger than self’ ideals. See this guide produced by Common Cause and Manchester Museum on how this can be done, working with communities.

3. Internal or mental lens

Changing organisational culture through individual values and behaviours: To harness this shift, cultural organisations may need to transform themselves from within. They could aim to be more democratic, critically engaged and egalitarian. Of course everyone should play a part by reducing their Global Ecological Footprint, but this is only one element of taking future action.


Work through each lens in turn. What can your organisation do to ensure that you are developing work at each level?

  • External or environmental lens: Taking a bird’s eye view to see the whole picture? Talking to politicians, funders and media?
  • Relational or social lens: Looking outwards to empathise with others? Engaging your audiences and supporters?
  • Internal or mental lens: Sharing views between you as individuals? Reflecting personally?

You could draw a big diagram showing how these three lenses intersect, and outlining some of your aspirational ideas and actions.