The Five Ways of the Slow Lane

The Five Ways of the Slow Lane

After studying more than a hundred Slow Lane movements over the past decade, I found that what really unifies the Slow Lane is not what they do, but how these movements go about changing things. To avoid the kind of negative effects of the Fast Lane, the slow-laners adhere to a set of principles that guide their actions. My research led me to five Slow Lane Principles that stood as both universal and timeless. You will recognize them throughout the examples in this book. They are simple, but practiced in sophisticated ways by people, movements, organizations and even governments.

Slow Lane Principle #1: Listen.

Acting with the humility to know the limitation of our knowledge, but also with the humility to accept the impact of power, judgement and trust on our ability to listen (User Voice broke the toxic power dynamics in the probation system by recruiting ex-offenders to do the listening – see Story #1). Listening here is not a tool to impose our ideas, but essential to build the kind of trust that can change hearts and minds, allow something new to emerge and keep people involved for the long haul. See all stories about Listening.

Slow Lane Principle #2: Hold the urgency.

Not sacrificing inclusion, participation or sustainability for the sake of speed. The Slow Lane strives to find solutions for everyone, in keeping with the ancient slogan “Nothing about us, without us”, brought to life by disability activists around the world in the 1990s. Iceland did just that, when during the financial crisis it resisted the impulse to restore the old order and instead invited citizens to rewrite the constitution (see Story #3). Holding the urgency is to know that rushing to action won't get us there faster. See all stories about Holding the Urgency.

Slow Lane Principle #3: Share the agency.

Creating an environment for even the least prepared or informed people to have the capacity, capability and power to choose freely if they wish to join, contribute and exert their power. User Voice heard, trained and empowered prisoners in a new way that gives them agency in their rehabilitation journey (see Story#1). In the Slow Lane, this empowerment is practiced with patience and care, meaning that this invitation to lead meets people where they are, and remains open to anyone, at all times. See all stories about Sharing the Agency.

Slow Lane Principle #4: Heal democracy.

Strengthening participation and building bridges, instead of deepening divides. User Voice chose not to mobilize against the prison governor, but win him over. Protesters in Barcelona built a camp for people to deliberate what they want (see Story #3). Since Slow Lane movements organize mostly around needs overlooked by the Fast Lane, it keeps lifting marginalized people into participation, enriching our democracy. Building bridges helps lay the ground for these new voices to heard. See all stories about Healing Democracy.

Slow Lane Principle #5: Curiosity.

Curiosity makes the Slow Lane more inclusive and allows its audacious visions to emerge. Curiosity has three elements. First, movements unlearn preconceptions to open up to new ideas and collaborators. Second, communities seek inspiration from outside their immediate reality, for example in science or other movements. Third, communities maintain the space for their members to let their vision for change emerge. Without curiosity, User Voice might have become an activist prison rights movement against prisons, feeding on frustrated prisoners (see Story #1). Instead, their lived experience and research revealed opportunities to work with prison leaders to improve outcomes for all. Curiosity helps movements retain the flexibility to find common ground, instead of getting caught up on a single solution. See all stories about Curiosity.


Many communities have extended the Slow Lane Principles to fit their needs. You will find these principles tailored to the use of data and technology, public service delivery, community development or waste management.

These Slow Lane Principles have been adopted so widely because they give communities a lot of freedom to pursue whatever mission they have. They allow for diversity of thought and mission whilst maintaining some shared principles that allow us to collaborate. They also create the kind of human dynamics we naturally enjoy, and empower us to change things whilst minimizing harm to others. Also, they have proven to make the Slow Lane resilient in the face of countless challenges and tempting opportunities. As we dive into the stories in this book, we will discover the beauty and sophistication by which these principles have been applied. The Slow Lane is all the more remarkable because it has no prescribed ideology, manifesto, law or regulation. The Slow Lane has evolved as a practice because this is what works and comes natural to so many.

Click here to see all Stories that relate to the Slow Lane Principles.


These Principles are a work in progress, far from cast in stone, and I welcome your ideas for additions, or better definitions. I would love to hear from your experiences in applying any of these principles.