Action Sociometry: Finding your role in community engagement

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Our Shared Inquiry: How might action methods and dramatic expression be applied to help groups build relationships, gain understanding and develop trust?

One of the more pressing demands of civic engagement and community building is to provide ways for members to personally relate and commit to deeper conversations. Where this is possible, we can move beyond engagement and toward building systemic insights that can support behavior change, community-driven innovative and development.

Based on the approaches used by Aiding Dramatic Change in Development (ADCID) in their development community work, this workshop engaged embodiment and performance as modes of experiencing the emergent nature of strategic action in a field of community commitment.  The goals included discovering:

  • How group drama approaches can build community trust and release communication barriers.
  • Experience the co-creation of narratives that help gain understanding of different perspectives and social landscapes.
  • Experience making meaning using a simple, yet powerful, Action Sociometry process
  • How to express ideas and explore themes of interest using dramatic methods
  • Gain a brief overview of how ADCID works with these types of approaches within larger, complex, multi-disciplinary project configurations.

Through years of practice in international development and collaborating with local community-based organizations, Stephen Sillett of ADCID has been working with these aims in mind. Through long-term projects, Stephen has helped shift the relationships and dynamics that local community-based organisations have with the marginalised communities they serve, in Africa and Canada.

Stephen presented the Action Sociometry methods and dramatic approaches where individuals and groups engage in non-verbal reflective inquiry. For this session participants will explore a field of strategic action that they can connect to personally.

















Working silently with the Strategic Action Field.










Artifacts of meaning, group construction of the field.

For more information – see the innovative use of mood drawings to unpack body images (PDF)

A video of drama activity being worked on by members of the Zisize Drama Group around the theme of Love and Protection, This shows some deep, silent, engagement by the local team around an emotional image.

About the Host

Stephen Sillett is co-executive director of Aiding Dramatic Change in Development (ADCID), and helps the organization research, facilitate and direct dialogue, drama and art processes for healing and community development. Through ADCID projects and in partnership with other social actors, he is exploring approaches that engage community members in conversations, consciously orientated to maturing visions of the future. Research interests include the facilitation of non-verbal and spatial meaning-making practices within group workshop and the creation of interactive performance. He directs InFusion Labs where theatre artists, therapists, scientists and social practitioners explore spatial approaches to exploration and discovery.


ADCID’s community-driven approach, has evolved over 10 years in rural South Africa, where we have 2 focus areas:

  • Peer Influence workshops in Schools across Ingwavuma, South Africa – developed process through funding from Health Canada
  • Water and Sanitation project in rural South Africa funded by Oxfam Australia . Large-Group community dialogue and reflective Inquiry process using Socio-Drama Topography.

ADCID has also been focussing on 2 project areas of engagement with communities in Canada.

  • CrossGEN: Connecting across Age and Culture. Connecting newcomers with long-term residents to form networks that can inform service provision and innovate ways to deepen interactions in our public spaces. Funded by the Trillium Foundation.
  • Imagining Possibilities Project with communities with communication and complex physical disabilities to participate in a community arts journey and engage with others through story creation and performance. Funded by Canada Council for the Arts, Ontario Arts Council and Toronto Arts Council.

Register on Eventbrite

INTERSECTION: Entrepreneurship & Indigenous Art Conference

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intersection FINAL


INTERSECTION is a unique gathering of indigenous artists, entrepreneurs, academics and students held at OCAD University the weekend of November 15 & 16, 9:00 – 5:00.

Keynote speaker Dr. Jessica Metcalfe will speak about how applied entrepreneurship as a platform to address local and global social issues.

Three distinct panels will expand discussions on emerging business ideas and social innovation approaches. A series of practical workshops using design thinking and our new flourishing
business model innovation workshop will allow attendees to practice and test their ideas for scaling up and sustainability.

The conference will:

  • Highlight successful examples of Triple bottom line (Financial, Social, Environmental) enterprises
  • Provide practical tools and workshops for students and aspiring entrepreneurs
  • Provide success stories of income generation for organizations looking for ways to replace government funding
  • Address intersections and breakdown barriers between creative and business types

See the Conference website for more information.

Free admission to all – Please register at Eventbrite


Working Families Finding Community Solutions

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We know it takes a village – but how does that work?

Working families finding community solutions

The issues facing working parents are most often posed at either the individual level (“How can I achieve better work-life balance?”) or at the level of society at large (“Should Canada have a national child-care strategy?).

Jane Thompson led to October DwD centred on the question “How can community-level change help working families?”

Can local initiatives like babysitting co-ops, community kitchens and pedestrian school-buses transform the lives of working parents?

Jane introduced the session with an overview of the issues facing working moms and dads, and how reframing our understanding, at both the individual and the family level, can help us navigate our way to greater resilience. She presented some common assumptions we have about the role of the individual in households and gendered differences in work. Jane defined resilience as the ability to adapt and reorganize without loosing your essential self.



While these family issues are played out against the backdrop of broad social policies (including paid parental leave, child-care subsidies, and full-day kindergarten), this session focused on how we can address the challenges of working families at a community level. One of the themes that emerged was the important of having public spaces and the role of the public school in being a multi-functional space to build community on a neighbourhood level.

Photos by Cameron Applegath

Photos by Cameron Applegath



Jane Thompson is the author of Resilient Woman: Weaving Together Work, Family, and Self. She writes and speaks on the challenges and opportunities faced by working families. A working mother herself, Jane has a PhD in women’s history, as well as a business degree, and a certification as a life coach. As part of her broad commitment to helping people live their best lives, she also works as the executive director of a national scholarship program, granting $1.4 million in undergraduate funding each year.


Leading Between the Lines

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How might we as citizens inspire responsive governance in the next term of Toronto’s city leadership and beyond?

As citizens of Toronto we are responsible for the governments we elect to represent us. How can we inspire leadership for a shared, sustainable future? The rapid changes and growth that Toronto is undergoing has both local and broader consequences. As we look towards some of the city’s pressing issues, such as public transit, infrastructure development, child poverty and voting reform, what conversations can we hold now that will shape equitable, desirable civic action?

As we find ourselves at another political juncture with the mayoral election in October, we invite you to explore how we might further democratic dialogue on issues that matter to Toronto citizens. The September DwD hosted an Open Space session to discuss ideas and themes related to city governance and the upcoming mayoral election.

Urban scholar Richard Florida has noted that city governance has more direct impact than national governments on the lives and well-being of people, and that large cities have significant global influence ( What If Mayors Ruled the World? Atlantic CityLab, June 2012):

 “It is of course vital that mayors and their staffs understand not just what they share with other cities, but the challenges they face from a distinctive global environment that include pandemics, climate change, global financial markets, immigration and terrorism.”

Recent initiatives such as Turnout Toronto and Move the GTHA  have created more activist venues for civic engagement. DwD sister group Unify Toronto Dialogues has held nearly two years of ongoing inquiry and experiential dialogues. And over its 6 year history, Design with Dialogue has hosted several sessions for civic conversation – Citizen’s response to the G20 policing, the Occupy movement, the mayoral elections, planning Change Camps, and Arab-Jewish community dialogues.


Michael Jones: Re-generating the Soul of the City

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Placemaking Toronto with Michael Jones

August’s DwD was led by Michael Jones with an exploration of placemaking in Toronto. Ideas from his latest book, The Soul of PlaceReimagining Leadership through Nature, Art and Community, was shared in the context of an active dialogue and workshops around the themes of the book. Prominent themes in the dialogue were the experience of beauty in place, how the soul of a place is discovered, how and whether Toronto has an ethic or soul. Rather than “answer” these as questions, the group of about 25 shared everyday, yet extraordinary perspectives that helped each discover new value, wonder and hope within the experience of the city itself. From the book:

“The dessouligner is like and anthropologist who listens to what the community wants from its public spaces. As such, design literacy is rooted not only in academic or design school environments, but in living environments, neighborhoods, and communities – any place where the integration of our mythic life is common to all and where the integration of art, beauty and functionality serve as our “schools for life.”

Re-generating the Commons.  How might we move beyond mid-stream strategic and tactical conversations? Too often they simply involve rearranging business as usual, and don’t get to the heart or the ethos of what really matters and so nothing fundamental changes in how we uniquely see and experience our world.

To see and to truly make visible the hidden potential involves gathering together in ways that may bring about shifts of mind. We can achieve this through asking questions about destiny and divine purpose, about roots and legacy and about how the seeds of our future can be found nested in the historic significance of the stories from our past.

Conversations regarding destiny and regenerating the commons and health of the whole naturally involve thinking like artists, designers and storytellers or ecologists. It is through the evocative power of a living language that we can shift the predominant paradigm from problem solving to pattern thinking and our predominant focus from a sustainable to a thrivable city.   Seeing the soul of the city as an energy system and a space not only for commerce but as a communion of gifts and a space for life will be our new paradigm for the future.



Jones touches on the four archetypes for leadership conversations about place, which all have roles in “designing place:”

  • Sovereign – telling the story of destiny
  • The Weaver – stories of magic, truth, and possibility
  • The Enchanter – stories of beauty, gifts, appreciation, and inner seeing.
  • The Steward – stories of our history, legacy, traditions, and care.


Patricia’s sketch of the plenary circle revealed the themes raised in reflective dialogue:


These include, among others:

  • Experiencing the city as not busy and confronting, but a place of gardens, art, culture, trust, connection
  • Natural beauty, the canopies of trees, water spaces, sunshowers and wild patches of meadow and forest
  • Giving us the ability to “grow down” into the soil and become rooted and grounded
  • Constant change, and the problem of missing histories (and no agreed future) in the glass towers dominating our skyline
  • The possibility of Toronto’s soul or ethos being caught in the transition between economic regimes and the domination of ecology
  • Making this city a place of true homecoming

We have an ongoing need for conversations about restoring the health of the polis and commons,of place and place-making, and in so doing regenerating the soul of the city. To be regenerative is to make the invisible visible – this includes making visible the places of the heart and the ethos defining character or tone of the city including its sense of self, its transformative potential and its special uniqueness. The conversation has been continuing with other participants, such as Marsha Skain’s post on her website: Place-making: Where do we see Beauty in the city?

The Soul of Place websiteBuy the book ($15) at Friesen Press.

 About the Host
Michael is a leadership educator, dialogue facilitator, writer and Juno-nominated pianist/composer.  His most recent book, The Soul of Place, is the third in a series on Re-imagining Leadership.  Others in the series include Artful Leadership and the award-winning Creating an Imaginative Life.


Michael has also been a thought leader with the MIT Dialogue Project and Dialogos and other prominent leading edge universities and centres. He has co-chaired several place-based initiatives and spoken on the leader’s emerging role as placemaker in a variety of forums including The Authentic Leadership in Action Conferences (ALIA), The Society for Organizational  Learning (SoL) and many others.

As a pianist/composer Michael has composed and recorded fifteen CD’s of his original piano compositions and performed as a solo pianist across North America  as well as Korea and Japan.  He has been integrating his music in his leadership and dialogue work for over twenty years. See to learn more about Michael and his work.