Whilst our work at the Indigenous Knowledge Systems Lab is just beginning, it’s already vibrant, complex and startlingly productive.

This week our team of Indigenous thinkers shared Lore from the Blue Mountains, Bunya Mountains, Cape York and the Murray-Darling Basin; ancestral stories of entities that grew to monstrous proportions and violated natural laws of growth and consumption. Stories that always end with the entities being broken down into smaller, diverse systems distributed over large areas. There are Mimburi, places of flow and increase for these stories, and we track these flows in our landscapes of knowledge, using them as a basis for modelling some of the more complicated problems in the world.

So we’re not sharing the Lore or traditional knowledge. We’re applying it to solve contemporary problems, and then sharing the innovative ideas we find.
The Lab has guest Thinkers and Residents, Senior and Honorary Fellows, Students and Adjuncts – all working with this Knowledge to make sense of things.

This month’s focus has been Economies of Scale. Nobody really chose this theme, it was emergent in our ‘yarns’. We’ve been examining the way economies of scale in nature and contemporary economic systems have different power laws when it comes to efficiency.
We’re considering how economies, businesses and institutions may be upgraded through biomimicry and Indigenous Knowledge systems to harness the natural power law for improved efficiency and sustainability. We’re beginning to map the logic of optimal scaling (and the limits of scale) in Indigenous Knowledge systems, and seek ways to translate this into understandings that can be applied in multiple contexts.

We’ve been building on these ideas in dialogue and podcasts with amazing
thinkers and diverse experts: a thought-leader in ethical investing in the USA; a Torres Strait Islander thinker from CSIRO; a Bundjalung non-academic knowledge keeper who is doing interesting things with predictive modelling and natural experiments; and a corporate consultant who is into block-chain and Decentralised Autonomous Organisations. As usual, we find insights emerge from this open inquiry process that inform some of our other projects. There’s the Aboriginal kinship algorithm we’re applying to try and solve intractable problems in genetic computing, and the digital economy we’re designing with Honorary Fellow Jack Manning Bancroft. There are the research projects on Aboriginal memorisation techniques, which began after our initial experimental study paper went viral a couple of months ago. Oh yeah, there’s also the commissioned book on climate change, and even the governance and methodology frameworks of our own Lab, which are still works in progress. The most important thing is that we share our innovative thinking. We believe research translation must be transparent, accessible, entertaining and occurring through every stage of research – from conceptualisation through to post-publication. We believe a knowledge economy only thrives with sharing and dialogue. We protect Traditional Ecological Knowledge and cultural knowledges by ensuring that our research is not reporting on these things, but that we use the thinking processes behind them to innovate and to seek new insights into the complex crises that threaten our earth and our communities. We know the time is short for this work, and so we are getting it done. We’re really excited to go further and deeper with your help. That’s it.

Can Indigenous thinking save the world?

Our world is experiencing a meta-crisis, in a stack that is incomprehensible and unsolvable through the lens of any single discipline, culture or theoretical perspective. This turmoil sees us consuming finite resources at an alarming rate, peoples divided by populist leaders, whilst our planet burns. Environmental chaos is driving the emergence of climate refugees and the greatest species extinction event in millennia. We are experiencing a growing mistrust of institutions and government, alongside an exponential increase in disruptive innovations and social unrest. Rapacious economic growth is the mantra for progress. Meanwhile, in humanity’s unquenchable thirst for continued growth, the knowledges and processes of global First Nations Peoples – communities who have balanced the health between humans and earth for thousands of generations – have become completely marginalised. We believe that these two crises are clearly connected. And we also imagine a very different future for our children and our planet. We believe it’s not too late to do something to change our shared future. This is why at Deakin University – a research-intensive, global top 300 university based in Melbourne, Australia – we have established the Indigenous Knowledges Systems Lab (IKS Lab). We are passionate about elevating and activating Indigenous thinking and processes – applying Indigenous Knowledge and systems thinking to address wicked, complex challenges and to offer new leadership, insight and new ways of being for our contemporary world. Tyson Yunkaporta – the founder of the IKS Lab – and the IKS Lab team are playing a vital role in helping us to apply an indigenous lens to see global crises in a more actionable and inclusive way. We’re impatient to start having a long-lasting impact on the biggest, most complex and important issues of our time. And we need your help to make the difference…

What is the IKS Lab?
Why does it matter?

The IKS Lab was established in early 2021 by Dr Tyson Yunkaporta, author of Sand Talk: How Indigenous Thinking Can Save the World. The IKS Lab is an activist, public-facing think-tank, rooted in a strong evidence base of research. It uses Indigenous Knowledges as a prompt and provocateur for seeing, thinking, and doing things differently.

It leads with the insight that Indigenous Knowledge carries the patterns, systems, methods and protocols to make regenerative models of production, trade, economics, governance and technology function sustainably at scale. It is a place where Indigenous thinking is applied to the issues that complexity scientists are working on across economics, design, leadership, governance, evolutionary dynamics, environment, cognition and consciousness.
For example, in addressing climate change, how can we look beyond limiting emissions and address the biological feedback loops that will continue to escalate global warming, even at zero carbon output? Indigenous knowledge systems that understand the complexities of these loops may be most effective at proposing the right interventions to disrupt them.

Or how can we gain an understanding of systems interdependencies – such as fish die-offs in the Murray-Darling Basin leading to bushfires on Kangaroo Island – and apply this to the analysis of many kinds of systems that currently inspire uncertainty about the future?

And what if traditional Indigenous models of mapping the potential spread of fires, diseases and even gossip were applied to everything from emergency responses, to better models of communication to address health and political issues – like a global pandemic… in ways that could last forever?

What is the IKS Lab? Why does it matter?

By making research and research translation public and transparent through very regular and open communication of activities and yarns, the IKS Lab seeks to be an open source, agent for change for our world.

It is not a traditional, closeted university research laboratory. It champions an open model for engagement, translation, sharing ideas, and sparking new conversations. This could be in the form of more traditional discussion and research papers, through to sharing ideas and provocations via yarns, podcasts, public events and social media.

The IKS Lab is a vital, unique initiative. Start-up funding is supporting an initial group of thinkers and change-makers to get going. It is fiercely ambitious to scale and sustain through new partnerships that focus on addressing major issues of climate, leadership, diversity, sustainability and technology that are confronting us right now.

Its impact and success will be defined by its role in helping to accelerate the application of Indigenous Knowledges, building a more positive future for people, communities, industries, environment, and economies across the globe.

What next?

Right now, the IKS Lab is a seed that is taking root and is growing at Deakin University, thanks to initial but limited start-up funding. This seed needs to be nurtured to become a full forest of trees, whose branches reach out, and provide fuel that ignites important sparks of change for our world.

So, our aim is for the IKS Lab – over the next five years – to become a fully-funded team of IKS Fellows who collaborate across and beyond the Lab to apply Indigenous Knowledge and systems to make a difference to wicked, complex challenges.

In line with the IKS Lab’s approach to complexity science, no theme or issue will ever be approached as a discrete problem to be solved directly. Rather, each item of research and engagement will overlap and feed into each other, creating new ways of tackling meta-crises facing our world. Their work will be will be based upon traditionally grounded Indigenous methods of inquiry, exchange, protocols and knowledge production processes.

To create greater potential and possibility, the IKS Lab will build connection and exchange with core research strengths of Deakin – for instance across systems thinking, climate science, artificial intelligence, and education.
It will also partner with sister institutions across the world, which address global issues from the perspective of European, Asian, African and American indigeneity.

We are excited to seek partnership with supporters who share our passion for developing Indigenous Knowledge and processes that will offer new leadership, insight and ways of being for our modern world.

Director of the Indigenous

Knowledge Systems Lab
The Director of the IKS Lab will be a key IKS Fellow- vital to providing leadership and public positioning of the IKS Lab. They will build its public profile and partnerships, advocating and ensuring the IKS Lab delivers on its ambition to change the world through bringing Indigenous Knowledge systems and processes to bear on the deep, complex challenges facing humanity.

Investment sought: $250K per year, for 5 years

Indigenous Knowledge Systems

We aim to welcome and support at least five IKS Fellows to build the Lab’s impact, between now and the end of 2026. The IKS Lab takes a deliberately collaborative approach to its work, so while each IKS Fellow may have their own dedicated research theme to focus on (such as climate change, technology, design, or leadership) – as a team they will actively leverage their collective knowledge and strength to contribute across the whole suite of IKS programs and think tank activities.

Investment sought: $180K per year for each IKS Fellow, for at least 3 years

Indigenous Knowledge Systems

PhD candidates
Each IKS Fellow will seek to build the next generation of IKS change-makers through the leadership and supervision of PhD candidates who focus on global issues of importance and interest, through an Indigenous perspective. Scholarships to support these journey of discovery and change will be critical to support the emergence of this future generation of Indigenous leaders and change-makers.

Investment sought: $30K per year per PhD Candidate, for 3.5 years ($105K total)

Indigenous Knowledge Keepers in Residence
We seek to welcome leading Indigenous advocates, researchers, educators and change-makers from across Australia and beyond for month long-residencies with the IKS Lab. These Indigenous Knowledge Keepers will create new sparks with the IKS Lab, generating ideas, provocations, and opportunities to take the Fellows’ work in new, and unexpected directions. We aim to deliver six month-long IK Keepers in Residence each year, focused on issues such as climate crisis, leadership, education, artificial intelligence and design.

Investment sought: $15K per Residency, with a total of six per year to be delivered ($90K total per year)

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