The Constellation Model : A TZM Proposal

I first wrote about the Constellation model of Collaborative Social Change back in 2011.

The Constellation Model was initially developed by Mark and Tonya Surman as part of the Canadian Partnership for Children’s Health and the Environment in order to help remove toxins from children’s products. Mark is now the director of Mozilla. I met Tonya at an event in Adelaide as part of their Centre for Social Innovation where she explained the Constellation Model.

But before I explain what it is, I want to explain why I’m proposing TZM take it on as a new, refined structure.

As I’ve pointed out before, TZM is maybe 1-2% the size it was at the height in March 2009.

TZM Google Trends - Until July 2021

If the Zeitgeist Movement was an animal it would be considered an endangered species.


So there’s a few things to check first:

Do we want to save TZM?

I personally do. I think it’s one of the few Post-Scarcity advocating groups that’s got global potential. We want to both tell people about the amazing potential future we could have, but also go through the process of working out what that looks like in a modern way. There’s been a variety of other movements spawned from TZM and from people having watched Zeitgeist Moving Forward / Addendum or the large amounts of other material that’s been produced. A recent example is Koto Coop which aims to create a Post-Scarcity like community and will be buying property in just a few days.

Are there issues with the movement?

Yes of course. Everything from too much emphasis by some members on conspiracy theories instead of action, through to a lack of new content and of course, new members. But those are mostly annoyances, or lack of activity. Too much spinning of wheels and not enough actual movement.

Can we save the movement?

I think we can but we need to make some changes as it’s obvious what we are doing isn’t working.
The TZM 2.0 changes show I’m not the only one, the movement is interested in developing and evolving. Remember when the movement first started YouTube didn’t exist, only Google video.
DVDs were all the rage the iPhone was still new, I don’t think it even had basic copy / paste abilities.
Things have changed a lot since then. It’s time the movement does too.

I think we need to :

  1. Move to the Intelligence quadrant – Do things good for humanity and for the members
  2. Start using money as a necessary tool. One we eventually want to do without, but one we need right now
  3. Setup the movement more in line with the Constellation Model
  4. Create more content and projects
  5. Become better at onboarding new members

I think the last two points will come about somewhat more easily if we do the first 3 points.

Note: I use the term members to refer to people who are doing work for The Zeitgeist Movement. Others prefer the term activist as we aren’t paying dues and there’s no official list of members. Unfortunately I’ve seen too much negative media spin and right wing propaganda that’s tarnished the term activist. But internally rewrite it in your mind if that helps.

Moving from Helpless to Intelligent

With the movement as small as it is we are having troubles even keeping the basic digital assets running. Paying for domains, the running of the TZM community and cloud, these sorts of things are currently a burden. But I’ve been a chapter organiser for over 12 years and running events has almost always cost more money than it made. It’s certainly been a net drain on finances, time and now that I’m a father it’s something that can be keeping me from spending time with my little boy.

This leads us to one of the primary issues. The movement is in the helpless quadrant. Members are expected to do things that are good for others, but it generally comes at a significant cost to themselves. That’s why there’s been such an epic amount of burn out.
Zday events are a great example. The majority of TZM members I know who have run a global Zday event have ended up spending months working tirelessly, ended up adding thousands of dollars of their own money and usually then burn out and leave the movement, or at least drop out for a few years. Older members tried to face off with the old gatekeepers.

Thankfully with TZM 2.0 we’ve removed the old centralised authority. The power is a lot more spread out and in the hands of more competent people.

That said, to really thrive we need to move to the Intelligent quadrant. By doing things that are both good for others and for ourselves.

Helpless quadrant
Movement members are expected to do things good for others, but it comes as a cost for themselves

One of the primary issues at the moment is the movements relationship with money.
My interpretation is that TZMs aim is to help humanity transition to a Post-Scarcity society (what I call an Abundance Centered Society) and get to the point we no longer have a need for money.

We know there’s a variety of issues with our current monetary paradigm. But unfortunately we can’t work without money and also enact a global transition. We are going to need to embrace using money. I’d love to see us use the system in a Judo like way where we can redirect the monetary system into ways that’ll help bring about a transition.

There’s plenty of great projects that are currently stalled because they’ll cost too much in terms of resources. Be it time, 3rd party services, professional help, or sheer manpower. The Zeitgeist Survey project (aka TZM Intelligence Team), a variety of video series and some projects still in early development are all great examples. As I said, right now we can barely afford to keep the domain names.

Using money can be very effective

The usual NGO funding models are donations and grants.
Most NGOs then setup some full time staff and some have the job of simply applying for all the grants they can.
The newer option is systems like Patreon whereby people donate a monthly amount or per content release.
There’s other options like spending 30% – 40% of money on marketing to make the movement bigger and better.

Seriously watch the TED talk by Dan Pallotta about how the way we think about charity is dead wrong.

Revolving Funding model
I’ve also been a board member of CORENA Fund which funds renewable energy projects in a revolving funding model. Giving out interest free loans and using the repayments to cover more loans. Unfortunately this option won’t work well for the current type of admin expenses we are dealing with and the types of projects we want to take on which can’t give a return. But later on when trying to fund large post-scarcity projects, like automated farming solutions or delivery systems which could be rented out, this could be very powerful.

Transparency is key

We should already be having transparency with meetings and decisions. We’ve been recording meeting notes from years of the International meetings.

But when operating with money, we need another level of transparency. We need to be able to see the flow of money in and out of the movement. Who’s donating, what the money is being spent on, what services, who’s getting paid for work. All of that. Whilst a low energy usage crypto ledger like Tezos or NEAR would be great for this, that’s not currently a option. But publicly releasing most accounting information should be a good start.

There’s another issue. The distributed nature of the movement. We have people in all timezones and with various levels of activity. How do you coordinate dealing with money and transparency and all the regulatory requirements whilst also making it easy for members to jump in and out and work on projects they are interested in as needed?
I tried an initial version of a new model with my node based document and a few other ideas developed from that. But now I’m suggesting that the answer is:

The Constellation Model of Collaborative Social Change

In this section I’m mostly adjusting the important parts of the Constellation Model document to be TZM specific and help explain the concept.

In the diagram Partners are what we would consider members who work in a group (a project team or set of members working on an issue). Multiple groups or even whole other organisations (e.g Free World Charter) can be part of a constellation or a single constellation can be a single group. Lead partners are people who represent that constellation in the Stewardship group, which is where the shared vision and long term strategy plans are usually formed. It’s also usually where money flows into and is then distributed to the constellations as needed. The constellations can form, evolve and change quite rapidly and are thus considered more of the chaos side of things compared to the more ordered stewardship group.

Keep reading for a more detailed explanation.

As the diagram shows, the model’s biggest strength is that it is built around the natural energy flows of a group. With the action-focused work residing in the constellations, these clusters become active when a group of TZM members decides to work on a particular project or deal with an issue. When there is low energy or declining opportunity, a constellation can become inactive or disappear altogether without negatively impacting the overall movement.

This emphasis on action teams accommodates the tensions around priorities that naturally exist when several groups come together. If one group wants to prioritise research and another wants to work on public education, they can. They simply start a constellation and other interested members cluster around them. Constellations flow from opportunism, not from a rigid strategic plan. This makes it possible to balance the interests and needs of each group within the broader goal of highly productive collaboration.

The model also helps to preserve the movements’ organisational autonomy. Groups only engage in issues that align with their interests. These benefits flow from three major elements within the constellation model: 

Lightweight Governance – A constellation-based movement is created in response to a need or opportunity, a magnetic attractor. In the case of TZM he magnetic attractor is transitioning to a Post-Scarcity (NL/RBE) society. Multiple organisations or even TZM chapters might be trying to work on these issues individually, but are often competing with each other for scarce resources. Their uncoordinated actions can result in confusion and limited impact.

I’d like to point out here that the Common Heritage org tried to bring many of us together but unfortunately the founder got sick before she could really unite everyone well. I had hoped that Common Heritage would end up acting like the Stewardship group for Post-Scarcity Societies.

An old graphic showing Post-Scarcity advocating groups. I’d add Koto Coop and Game B as new orgs

Stewardship group

Once a group forms around a magnetic attractor, it needs to quickly form a stewardship group whose purpose is to serve the group’s broader collective vision. In small partnerships, this group can comprise representatives from each partner organisation. In larger partnerships and networks, it may comprise trusted members of the broader group who voluntarily step forward. These people are stewards of the community interest and the work that is being undertaken is in relation to the magnetic attractor. They are not representative of their organisation’s interests. But each organisation can pursue its interests through individual constellations.

The stewardship sets strategic direction, monitors the partnership’s overall health and aligns constellations with the partnership’s purpose. It first asks: how and why should the group work together? The answers are then fed into a set of plans. The group then typically turns its energy to the practical matter of supporting constellations: looking for opportunities; assessing the current assets; and listening to ideas.

The stewards, often called the ‘coordinating committee’, should be focused on creating three key documents:

1. The guiding principles – This is the shared vision that the constellations agree with. e.g “Transitioning to a Post-Scarcity Society is the most important thing humanity can do for the long term wellbeing of humans, animals and the ecosystem.”. The document should also lay out the assumptions and as it says, the guiding principles.

2. The governance terms of reference – This focuses on how the groups will work together; the rule is ‘as little process as possible’. It should provide guidelines for decision-making, money flows, secretariat services, conflict resolution and adding new groups. The aim is to keep this agreement was lightweight and short so that most authority and decision making is left with the constellations (project groups / chapters) themselves.

3. A strategic plan. This is about articulating the movements overarching goals. These can include raising awareness of the Post-Scarcity idea, creating content, developing transition plans and models, understanding the current Zeitgeist and working on changing the current intellectual, moral, spiritual and economic sign of the times. Or as recently described by Magni “The spirit of the future“. The focus here is on long-term goals. Individual action plans are left up to whatever constellations (project groups) that emerge within this strategic framework.

Action-focused Work Teams

Within the broader strategic vision of the movement, constellations take the form of clusters of activity in which a subset of the members voluntarily participate. They can be formal projects, opportunistic initiatives, working groups or local / regional chapters. They must however act consistently with the overall vision.

Two elements are needed to create a constellation:

  1. A need or opportunity
  2. Energetic leadership by one or more member

These constellations (groups) can galvanise quickly around an issue or project and once resolved can disband. Others might be supporting long running projects. Existing TZM constellations include some of the remaining chapters (there aren’t many), most of the people oriented around social media platforms including some of the Facebook groups and page as well as the Facebook moderation team, the Discord community and Discord moderation team, Telegram. The and most recently Kees is an example of someone creating the forum and is starting a fledgling constellation as an energetic leader. There’s also a new content creation focused project currently in the works.

Like the stars in the sky, constellations are ‘loosely coupled’ together to create a rough and chaotic whole (this is partly where they get their name). Members come together based on their own interests and assets, which usually ensures that the ‘right’ members are at the table.
This element of self-interest also makes it more likely that there are high levels of contribution and participation. There is something to be gained in making the constellations you care about work.

As constellation based groups exist only through lightweight agreements between members, they are not themselves a legally incorporated entity. Although the Stewardship group and some chapters living in some (mostly European) countries likely need to deal with any legally incorporated entities.

This model intentionally benefits initiative takers. Money and responsibility are spread around. However, leadership goes to those who step up with an idea and move it ahead.

If appropriate, constellations seek funding or other resources to support their work. For example the Canadian Partnership that first developed the constellation model worked with many groups on joint fundraising of over CDN$2.5 million over seven years, with funds flowing through at least half a dozen different groups.

The advantages of this are obvious: resources are spread around in a manner that is relatively fair, but that also builds on the skills and capabilities of all the members. More importantly, because of reduced competition, groups are able to raise considerably more money for transitioning to a Post-Scarcity Society together than they could individually.

Third-party Coordination – The Secretariat

All collaborative projects need some sort of coordination team to manage overall efforts and troubleshoot problems. When non-profits set up collaborative projects, they typically address this need by selecting a member to be the secretariat, often someone who has the most capacity. This is seldom an ideal solution. Placing the coordination function within one of the members permanently alters the power dynamic of the group. One member takes power. The others defer responsibility and lose energy.

With the constellation model, the coordination function resides outside of the core members.

Ideally, it is housed in an intermediary organisation with experience in guiding the planning process, facilitating meetings, supporting new constellations, fundraising for joint projects, mediating conflict, helping information to flow and building the overall capacity of the group to work towards its desired outcome. E.g The Centre for Social Innovation.

At the core of the secretariat is at least one highly skilled, senior person committed to helping the group move along well together. Effectively, this position is the ‘executive director’ of the partnership and supports the content experts who are drawn from the movement. This person must strike a balance between driving the group process forward while nurturing leaders from the movement.

The partnership director supports the members in this work and ensures that all initiatives managed by different groups work as a cohesive whole.
The partnership director also balances power amongst the members. The ‘in-motion’ nature of money and constellation management helps with this, making it less likely that power will pool in one group.
If one or two groups tend to get all of the resources, the collaboration will become unbalanced. The partnership director, working with the stewardship group, has to regularly ensure that all interested members get the chance to lead a constellation. In some cases, this requires actively building the capacity and encouraging the involvement of less active members.

The partnership director also plays a critical role in managing changes and growth. Part of this is orienting new members within the partnership. “This model is constantly having to bring new partners, and even new members from existing groups, up to speed. The old model of distrust is so embedded in the voluntary sector that it is difficult to truly believe in the freedom of collaboration until you have personally experienced it.” Unless the partnership director spends time with new people as they come in, there is a risk that they will act in the zero-sum manner than many nonprofits and activists bring to collaborative work.


The constellation model is based around lightweight governance, action-focused teams and third-party coordination.

You can read the full document here

Anecdotal evidence of this working:

After starting the South Australia Zeitgeist Movement chapter, after a few years we decided to branch out and connect with and help other groups, so I’ve been a part of a few different grass roots orgs, one CLEANSA was small but played a vital role in getting other orgs working together to turn South Australia into a renewables energy hub and it has brought in hundreds of millions of dollars of investment. Beyond Zero Emissions a think tank organisation did the engineering and technical work to say that a coal power plant in Port Augusta (a town providing power to the capital city of Adelaide) could be replaced with Solar Thermal as part of a 10 year plan to transition Australia to 100% renewables. CLEANSA, the Climate Emergency Action Network of South Australia was a small group of maybe 10 members but we organised for BZE to give a presentation to people at Port Augusta about how they can transition from a coal plant based town to one championing renewables. We helped getting the mayor and community on board. Thankfully then the well funded AYCC (Australian Youth Climate Coalition) saw the work and took it to a whole new level, organising the Walk for Solar (the video is about 80% my video footage it was a life changing 2 weeks). Over the next few years a variety of NGOs worked together for years to get the community and political will to get renewable energy being built in a massive scale. Now we have everything from floating Solar PV installations and Wind farms to the Tesla big battery and more recently a Virtual battery system made up of thousands of households.

I’ve been a part of failed attempts too, like Occupy Adelaide. That was a dysfunctional mess that was full of trolls, bad actors and just people who’s mental health issues made them too unstable. I’ve also been a part of tens of startups and plenty of companies. Given my experience: I highly recommend that TZM take on the Constellation model.

That said, the movement is so small that we can’t possibly pay for a 3rd party secretariat, we’ll need to at least start with existing members or maybe a similarly aligned group like someone from Game B.

For discussion about this I suggest using the TZM Discord server or TZM Forum.

Posted by Michael Kubler – 6th July 2021


Teemu a former TZM member created a great document explaining why funding for the movement is so important. He did a much better job explaining the need than I did and compares it to the way funding is used for pure science. I think the Constellation model is a similar but more refined and detailed structure than his proposal, but the reasoning is sound. You can view his document here or on One Drive.!42543&ithint=file%2cdocx&authkey=!ABmNI7nX2qvWQXE

For those wondering about how ineffective a fully flat / leaderless structure is have a read about the toxic culture at Valve software.

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