Dougald Hine

The Institute for Collapsonomics

How do we make a good job of living through difficult times? That's the basic question behind "collapsonomics", a term with which my work has been associated since early 2009.

It all started in a squat in Mayfair, in January that year. Through a serendipitous sequence of events, Vinay Gupta and I met for the first time at the Temporary School of Thought, a "free university" in a palatial townhouse under occupation by a group of young artists. (It's a story I tell in Black Elephants & Skull Jackets.)

Over the following three weeks, we picked up some fellow travellers: Kalam Ali, a banker and man-about-town; Mamading Ceesay, a systems engineer and aphorist; and Mike Bennett, the founder of the company which built the original NHS Direct.

We had all, for one reason or another, spent an unusual amount of time thinking about what continues to work when the systems we take for granted start to fail us.

The other thing that united us was a sense of the absurd - and the word "collapsonomics", followed by the idea of an Institute for Collapsonomics, began as a kind of joke. Yet even as we laughed, it was clear that we had found a name for the common ground on which we had arrived from directions as different as philosophy and engineering.

Over the next few months, we found ourselves in meetings with policy-makers and government officials. It seemed they could neither tolerate nor entirely ignore us.

In June 2009, for example, we made a proposal to NESTA for a piece of work on how to minimise the damage in the event of 20% cuts across UK government departments. They told us it wasn't a plausible scenario and, anyway, we were past that point in the economic cycle. A year later, George Osborne announced plans for... 20% cuts across UK government departments.

The IfC continues to operate as a loose collective of friends and collaborators, making occasional media appearances, and offering courses and events.

>>   Book a collapsonomics course at Schumacher College (May 2012)
>>   Check out the Collapsonomics panel at Uncivilisation 2011
>>   Read my blog about Collapsonomics & Culture