CCMag, Big Picture Interview: John Rogers

This interview appeared in the Community Currency Magazine (archive link), April 2012
John Rogers has been working on the forefront of the CC movement for nineteen years, fourteen as a LETS coordinator, Time Bank Developer and researcher in Wales and since 2007 as a trainer, consultant and author based in Germany. There, we asked John about the history and future of the movement.

by Leander Bindewald

What are the questions you would most want to explore with fellow movers and shakers in the complementary currency movement?

“What are the key sustainability factors for complementary currencies of whatever model you are talking about?” and ”What training and professional development is needed both for designers and users of new systems?” I want to find out, what bridges theory and practice. I can´t quote the baseball coach Yogi Berra too often: In theory there is no difference between theory and practice, in practice there is.

What recent developments in the field do you find most exciting?

Some recently published papers on typologies seem very useful and interesting, and successful hybrid-currency systems like the Talente Tauschkreis Vorarlberg in Austria are pointing the way forward. But having started our first LETS in 1993, it is most encouraging today that there is always a new generation diving into the issue with a new wave of enthusiasm. There seems to be this constant swell of idealism and enthusiasm, unfortunately often crashing on the shores of reality.

And what do you see as key challenges, obstacles or blind spots which hinder the movement’s success?

We need less ideology and more methodology. Just like in any other field, people have their favorite model or theory which they preach to other people. I feel that this is of limited usefulness.
Myself, I try to learn how to apply systems thinking to currency design. A currency is never an end in itself but has to be seen as a facilitator of flows within the system of a whole community and economy. Its essential systemic role is to match underused assets and unmet needs. Only then can we learn, what feedback loops we trigger by introducing a currency into that system.

Where do you see untapped resources and unmet needs within the field of complementary currencies? And do you have any suggestions about how to bridge them?

We should start to use our own technologies more fruitfully. In this sense only CES from South Africa has achieved what others talk about in theory: they established an international trading system which is useful for the CC activists themselves. For my currency design webinars my students from 4 continents paid partly in CES credits and I used the credits to pay a guy in Australia to do some graphic design work for my book.

Besides financial support, what would help the acceleration of the monetary shifts that are needed?

There is a massive need for us to improve our communications skills especially in talking to decision makers like politicians. I recently worked with the “Amoeba-Game” model of Alan AtKisson who asks: “How do innovations get from the periphery of society into the mainstream?” In an idealistic movement people are attached to ideas but they are not very good at packaging and presenting these ideas. So we certainly need better marketers, film makers, poets, writers, musicians. In the amoeba game there is actually an explicit role assigned to the artists.

What could bring about a tipping point in the shift from a monopoly of bank debt money toward a monetary ecology? And is the idea of a “tipping point” the best way of thinking about that change?

A tipping point is reached when an idea moves out of the heads of the innovators into the heads of the “Movers and Shakers”, that Joe and Jill Public look up to. That is true for all innovations, cell-phones, text messages, email. It might even be the widespread use of facebook-credits and loyalty points that will teach people the idea that national currency is not the only way. But I´m sure there will be different factors at play and not only one tipping point.

There are those who feel we need to organize ourselves more efficiently (the way the Right has done in the United States), and those who suggest that there is strength in our natural diversity or that networked systems organize themselves. Where do you stand on this question?

I´m a bit of a fence sitter on this question. I have a big sympathy for letting networks emerge, but that requires time and we humans are very impatient beings. But calling what we have a movement is like herding cats: we are so diverse in our viewpoints, that nobody can even agree on the basic definitions of complementary or community currency. George Lackoff, a left leaning linguist wrote his book “Don´t think of an elephant: Know your values and frame the debate” in 2004 trying to teach the Democrats something about the communication strategies readily employed by the Right. His point is, that it´s not just the organization of a movement that determines its success but also its use of language and in particular its skill with deploying metaphors that mobilize.

A lot of valuable community-building initiatives in this movement are done by dedicated people, as a labor of love, but would often highly benefit from actual financial support. if you were given $10,000 to $50,000 to invest in strengthening the currency movement, how would you invest these funds?

That’s a very difficult question. There are many ways you could easily waste it. My priority would be to invest it in a short film featuring interviews with leading practitioners from around the world to inspire, inform and motivate others to follow in their steps.

What have you learned from working as a currency consultant and trainer first in the UK and, for the last 4 years, in Germany?

Its very difficult to turn talk and enthusiasm into paying work and sustainable systems. Without generalizing too much, what I like about German culture is the thorough and systematic way of analyzing and deconstructing ideas, and the success of systems like in Vorarlberg that benefit from such clarity. But in the end, the core challenges are always the same: governance, management, cost recovery, marketing. Its what I call the 4 wheels on the currency bus.

  1. Analyze the sustainability factors of best practice examples
  2. Better outward communication and marketing
  3. Integration of currencies and other community technologies/projects