Author Archives: Christopher Lee

Cultural Values & Social Change: The Common Cause Framework

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How do cultural values shape environmental and social movements?
How might deepening our understanding of cultural values and frames help us to co-create the solutions for a more equitable, sustainable and democratic society?
May’s DwD was hosted by Aryne Sheppard, who led an inquiry into the Common Cause framework as an instrument for understanding how we are shaped by our culture and the way in which we respond, both as individuals and collectively, to the most pressing problems that we face.

Environmental campaigns tend to fall into two categories:

1. Public engagement and behaviour change; and,
2. Institutional (corporate or government) engagement.

But there is a deeper level we must consider as we move towards a sustainable future: the realm of values. Cultural values influence our behaviours, attitudes and voting decisions. Culture is a key influence in shaping our view of the world and our sense of responsibilities within it. As social change leaders, it is critical to understand the role values play in individual lives and cultural norms. Working to understand and rebalance cultural values is a powerful tool if our goal is to build a more equitable, sustainable and democratic society.











Aryne discussed how power dynamics in society are seldom the subject of public scrutiny and debate. The dialogue explored how fostering intrinsic values—among them self-acceptance, care for others, and concern for the natural world—has real and lasting benefits.













The Common Cause model, with a values mapping resulting from participants selection of supporting values (green) and negating values (red) with respect to societal betterment, based on our individual perspectives.

For more information explore The Common Cause Framework 

About the Host

As an adult educator and facilitator, Aryne Sheppard has worked in the areas of personal growth & wellness, leadership development and community capacity-building for over 12 years. She has have a track record of creating innovative, experientially-based programs in both the non-profit and public sectors.  She believes that valuing the inner life, as individuals and as a society, is one of the most important things we can do to create deep and lasting change. Aryne earned her professional designation as an educator from OISE / UofT, specializing in Transformative Learning, with a Master’s degree in Adult Education & Counseling Psychology (2004). Aryne currently works with the David Suzuki Foundation in Toronto and her consulting practice is called Living Simply.

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.


The Art of Listening: Learning to Harvest a Collective Story

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DwD 05.14.14

How does deep listening create a context for the emergence of meaning? How might our ways of listening inspire a deeper experience and reality of community? 

May’s DwD explored collective and intentional listening as a way to explore how we make sense of the stories we tell about our communities, and where possibilities for new narratives might emerge.

Hosts Kaitlin Almack and Chris Lee were inspired by their recent involvement in the Art of Social Innovation training to share a process called the Collective Story Harvest.

We began by exploring our personal listening styles and looked at Otto Scharmer’s four different ways of talking and listening:

  • Downloading – Speaking and listening to confirm what we already know.
  • Debating – Listening for novel information.
  • Reflective – Listening with empathy. Subjectively and from the heart.
  • Generative – Listening to the whole field and with the possibility that you might be changed by what you hear.

Participants were then invited to pair up engage in a listening exercise centred on the following question: What is an experience that has deepened your understanding and relationship to community?

DwDMay2014 Question

Withindwd may group pairs, each partner took 5 minutes to respond to the question, while their counterpart listened without interrupting.  After each person had her 5 minutes of being in a story-telling role, the pairs were given another 5 minutes to engage in regular dialogue about their experiences. Some questions we explored in the group debrief included,  What did you notice about your own listening? What was it like to be listened to? 


We then learned and practiced the Collective Story Harvest process. This storytelling process builds on our capacity for targeting listening and group learning while offering a gift to the story holding as well as the group as a whole. We broke into four small groups, where intrepid story-tellers shared stories of their experiences in community.  Peter Jones shared about founding of Design with Dialogue; Kelly Nakamura told of her finding inspiration to change the mission of her business; Stephen Sillett told a story about working with immigrant communities in the Niagara-Welland district; and Emma Sobel told of her experiences as a student working in First Nations communities.

dwd may 2014

Within each group there were listeners who were tasked with following specific narrative themes and arcs.  We listened for themes such as the narrative structure, leadership, magic and synchronicity, and the role of listening.  There was also a witness role – someone who held the entire group and the story-teller and listened without any predetermined lens.  After each story, the listeners reflected back to the storyteller the themes they were listening for.  We then broke into a cafe-style conversations, grouped by the themes and roles we had been in, and re-grouped for a final harvest and dialogue about where we might use this process in our own lives.  One of the suggestions was to use this as an-end-of-project review.  Other participants remarked about the rarity it is we have in our lives to simply listen, whether with a specific lens or not, and how bringing that intention can help us to collectively make meaning without immediately jumping into debate about what we are hearing.

dwd may harvest

For more information on the Collective Storytelling Harvest process, here is a video from the Art of Hosting Community.


Kaitlin Almack focuses on multi-stakeholder collaboration and social learning for sustainable development with experience brokering partnerships in Cambodia, Germany and Canada.  She has a M.Sc in Environmental Studies and Sustainability from Lund University.   Kaitlin is a consultant with ICA Associates where she specializes in facilitating and designing change labs, sustainability strategy, community based adaptation and multi-stakeholder engagement.

Chris Lee is a Toronto based facilitator and process designer. He runs Potluck Projects, actively using concepts and participatory methodologies from the Art of Hosting, Asset Based Community Development, and Person-Centred Planning to support groups in achieving collective outcomes that are greater than the sum of its parts.  He also works with the YSI Collaborative, a network and community of practice that accelerates and amplifies the conditions for youth-led organizing and engagement in Ontario.


How do we Design with Dialogue? (Revisiting the MIT Dialogue Project)

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April 2014 DwD – DwD as a core practice: How do we (actually) Design with Dialogue?

Where can we find design in dialogue? How might we design more productive dialogue and how does dialogue shape design?

Donald Officer and Natalie Zend shared with the community a meta-inquiry into the core practices of dialogue as a method for design and design as an orientation guiding dialogue. These questions were explored and experience within the frameworks of William Isaacs’  four fields of conversation — from downloading and debate to reflective and generative dialogue. (See the inset figure for the shift from normative politeness and “expected conflict” of discussion to the practice of reflective and generative dialogue.)


We live in an era of pervasive communications technologies where it seems infinitely easier or smarter to retrieve stored thoughts than to think on our own in real time; to download from a vast image bank than to imagine for ourselves.

Is it possible we might recover the capacity to both think mindfully and envision creatively by rediscovering how to think and feel together?  Don related the possibility of dialogue practice to David Bohm, the quantum physicist who saw how science forces us to perceive the universe as comprising disparate parts and an integrated whole at the same time, we can come to appreciate how much more we know than we think.

William Isaacs, working with colleagues like Otto Scharmer at MIT, translated Bohm’s core insights into the four-field framework and context we will explore together in this reflectively interactive session. We anticipate during this DwD you will appreciate how through dialogue our true connectedness becomes much more than aspirational idealism.









Bringing the four core practices to life: Listening, Respecting, Suspending, Voicing
Natalie and Don used a talking stick to guide the group through the dialogue process. Natalie prepared the group through a short contemplative practice and Donald briefed us on the various components of dialogue. The process was very intentional with the taking stick being passed around the entire circle over a period of an hour. The discussion was prompted by the question, how can we design with dialogue? What is your experience in designing with dialogue towards a common goal? What challenges have you faced?

Several common threads emerged through our own reflection on the role of design in dialogue, and the role of dialogue in design. These included our own experiences as designers, the role of dialogue in our own professional work and how the current design of our political system prohibits dialogue.

In our final reflection we discussed whether reflective or generative dialogue occurred in our circle. We discussed on whether we through the stage of downloading – “talking nice” and debating – before we reached reflective dialogue. We reflected that by one participant contributing a challenging view, it allowed the group to deeper into their own experience and the conversation became more reflective. One participant observed that the quality of her participation was determined by her own awareness of her reactions, and self-reflection.

The challenge with our circle is that we did not have a final goal or problem to solve. Although, we were weren’t sure if generative dialogue occurred, we agreed that the conversation would have become richer with more time or if we were focused on a particular issue or problem to design for. Thanks Natalie and Don for teaching us the core principles of dialogue and illustrating through our collective experience how the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.


Live sketch created by Patricia Kambitsch as visual reflection of contributions in circle dialogue.

 Hosts Bios

Donald Officer, MA, helps organizations, leaders and individuals engage in processes they rely on to work and live effectively to full potential. With his 30 plus years of experience providing education, technology, business and public sector organizations with both strategic and practical support services, he turns to a kit of skills including coaching, facilitation, training and consulting. As a strategic thinking practitioner, Don melds consulting, facilitating, dialogue practice, and emerging research models to cross many disciplines in helping clients anticipate unprecedented scenarios, dilemmas or opportunities.

Natalie Zend, MA, is an international trainer and facilitator with 15 years’ experience in international development, focusing on human rights approaches to programming for children and youth. She facilitates processes and holds space for local and global change-makers working toward a just, sustainable and thriving society, empowering and inspiring them to co-create with each other and with life as it wants to sustain itself through them. She is a co-founder of Unify Toronto, and co-organizer with Peter Jones of the Unify Toronto Dialogues, a monthly gathering to nourish, connect and inspire Toronto change-makers.

Playing to Change the World: The Oasis Game

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How can we play to change the world? How can we, in the process, help a collective socio-cultural, environmental and economic dream materialize?

Returning from Warriors Without Weapons – a 32-days intensive leadership training program in Brasil, Dona Geagea shared the philosophy and magic behind The Oasis Game.

The Oasis is a game and, today, a movement that is emerging out of Brasil, based on the Elos Philosophy that practices 7 disciplines: Gaze, Affection, Dream, Care, Miracle, Celebration, and Re-evolution.

A transformative process that begins with the self and extends to community, the Oasis is designed on the premise that our world is full of “deserts”- areas where social and environmental vitality have been destroyed- and where change can offer hope, stability, and refuge for weary travelers crossing the desert. How can this game open space for personal and collective transformation, effectively, quickly and with the engagement of all players?

Thirty brave souls found us for this session to put their beings into The Oasis Game and experience its underlying philosophy first hand through storytelling and activities to practice the seven disciplines.

Warrior Gaze

Learn more at: Warriors without Weapons

Warrior Circle“On the warrior’s path, it is up to you to discern which threads have been woven by divine hands and which have been woven by human hands.  When you begin to discern the difference, you become a Txucarramae- a warrior without weapons… When you discover what you have been doing with your life and how it is you dance through the world, little by little you let go of your weapons, those creations made to kill creations. Suddenly, you discover that when we stop creating enemies, we extinguish the need for weapons” – Kaka Wera, Guerreiros Sem Armas











Dona opening the circle after bringing all participants in, one by one.










Everyone plays together for 10 minutes, creating a totally new environment in Lambert Lounge .


Dona Geagea is Hub Manager with Waterlution Canada and social entrepreneur behind Beyond the Jar.  As a facilitator and change-maker, Dona pushes her own creativity and innovation through what she offers to the community, and her experience in the Warriors Without Weapons international leadership training program was part of this spectacular and transformative learning journey. With a Master in Globalization Studies and a Graduate Diploma in Water Without Borders from the United Nations University (Institute for Water, Environment and Health), Dona is continuously engaging the water community in multi-stakeholder dialogue, locally and internationally, and hosting inspiring spaces to encourage systems-thinking. Through developing her own capacity at promoting creative disruption, she hopes to motivate others by the power of innovative ideas to change the water space and beyond.  She is thrilled to be able to share with the Design with Dialogue community stories and processes from her transformative journey in Warriors Without Weapons/ Guerreiros Sem Armas.