Category Archives: Act

Dialogues on current issues and civic engagement

The Possibility of Creating Community

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What’s the potential for Design with Dialogue as a true Community of Inquiry? How could we all co-create this together this year?

The first DwD of 2016 was convened by Peter Jones (dialogue) and Patricia Kambitsch (visual), held with a group of 20 new and continuing participants drawn to the shared inquiry into the possibility of community. The session was guided by several questions about the meaning of and stake in community.

The dialogue opened with acknowledgement and mapping of the communities we participate in, as shown in the sketched map, people placed notes in the spaces for Business, Religion, Regional, Neighborhood, Health & Fitness, Arts, Civic, Academic, and new communities such as “Value” and “Place”. Discussion in the circle revealed the differences in views of community and the level of engagement that counts to be considered a “community.”

CommunityMap.smThe dialogue dived into the meaning of the Design with Dialogue community to its ongoing stakeholders. DwD has evolved from 2008 to today into a deeply connected, ongoing Community of Practice for learning and facilitating with tools for social and organizational transformation. Our central question for the evening was essentially, who are we a community and why are we? Do we only support and engage with these communities outside of DwD, or is there a centre of life and practice here, a community that continues in its own purpose, even if undeclared by most of us?

What’s the potential for Design with Dialogue as a true Community of Inquiry? 

A visual mapping of the dialogue was sketched live during the conversation, as people responded to the question of community as:

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  • Place for the power of dialogue
  • Bringing groups (stakeholders) in to DwD to dialogue on an issue
  • Finding meaning in discourse
  • Seeds for new stories
  • Getting unstuck, and “dialogue as therapy”
  • Listening beyond these walls
  • Developing a common language and different perspectives

The group inquiry process adapted Peter Block’s six conversations on community.Variations of the questions asked each particpants to inquire and share their experience with:

  • What’s your story? What’s your commitment to the group or its purpose?
  • What gift do you bring? How do you lead or form the community?
  • What have you been unwilling to commit to?
  • What refusal have you withheld in your community?

These expressions were shared in the whole group and mapped (to the right) in the mural.

The final process developed a core set of responsibilities that lend group wisdom toward the DwD 2016 plan for co-creation and community engagement.

Together we the potential to engage and influence thinking and action in the crucial concerns of our time. Given this potential, how might we most effectively contribute to the civic issues and policy thinking in our larger communities?

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Economies that Work for All of Us (Unify Toronto Dialogues)

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The Spiral Comes Full Circle: How Nation-to-Nation Relations with First Nations Can Lead to Economies that Work for All of Us

  • What would it be like for our human economy to be in harmony with the Earth’s economy?
  • What would our communities be like if we put energy into personalized and localized resources that benefit everyone around us?

In these times of accelerating crises – climate change, religious extremism, cyclic economic collapse – it has never been more important to think how to address their common underlying causes, many of which we have been the subjects of our dialogues over the past year.

This final Unify Toronto Dialogue of 2015 deepened a year long enquiry into money and meaning inspired by the learnings from our Remaking a Living dialogue series. What have we learned from the practices of community stewardship, reciprocal caring economies, and transformation (e.g., Theory U) that we’ve explored that might guide our design of enlivening, human-scale economic systems?

Guided by Kevin Best, we grounded the session again in the indigenous world views that laid the foundation for our series with our January dialogue inspired by Idle No More: A Love Story.  Almost a year after that January dialogue, our new government has promised ‘nation-to-nation relations’ with First Nations in Canada, committed to adopt all the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and pledged to implement the UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The following points were revealed in the dialogue:

  • Flow is key.  Learn from the future as it emerges.
  • Come together with the people you love.
  • The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) report and the United Nations Declarations and Treaties are a basis for moving forward together.
    Well-meaning settlers need to go beyond tokenism to address injustice.
  • A nation-to-nation relationship between the First Nations, Métis and Inuit and the Canadian Government will be profoundly important.

The TRC grew out of the Canadian Government’s apology for residential schools.

  • Led to 94 recommendations, and Prime Minister Trudeau has committed to implementing them all.
  • Need curriculum of identity restoration.
  • The TRC report provides an entry point into the conversation.
  • The full report will be released on Dec 15 and presented to Canada in Ottawa at noon, Shaw Convention Centre.

Kevin Best: We need to implement as clans, as communities, and come together at a small level – in clan groups of like-minded people.

  • The indigenous view is individualistic for all that does not affect the group
  • Reference the film: Schooling the World
  • Focus on the manageable connections – housesharing, shared space and land, make local economies work for all
  • Tribing up frees energy and resources

 Group discussion

  • The TRC used non-Indigenous ways to deal with Indigenous issues
  • We need to shift toward a reciprocal relationship
  • The disconnect from self is core
  • Each action contributes to a shift in consciousness
    • This process is slow, but it reaches a tipping point
  • Change requires us to use new concepts
    • We need someone else’s ideas
    • Few are willing to be transformed
  • We need to see with both Indigenous (grounded, emotional) and Western (materialistic, intellectual) eyes
  • Structure and individual feed and support each other

Action outcomes

  • When you’re ready, you’ll be able to hear and change
    • You will reach a threshold – keep working toward it
  • Need to create a space within ourselves, between agreement and disagreement
  • Also need to create shared meaning across generations
  • Focus on building relationship
  • Be present to hold the space for the future generatively
  • The community provides the context for action
    • Personal change can happen within that and can in turn influence the community.
  • Openness allows for the unexpected

We explored how fulfilling these commitments in the fullest sense would also mean realizing the promise of regenerative, just and caring economies that we have been dreaming into being through this year’s dialogues. Read the Leap manifesto and discussion at Unify Toronto.

About the Host 

Kevin Best has focused on how to create a sustainable world through activism, innovative business and restoring Indigenous society for over four decades. He has worked with Indigenous people throughout Turtle Island, consulted to Greenpeace and pioneered green energy in Ontario. He is currently working on a start-up called Odenaansan (Village or “the little places where my heart is”), an integrated, culturally-based approach to restoring Minobimadzin (the good life) through sustainable food, energy, housing and water in Anishinabe communities. Ceremonially adopted into Bkejwanong (Walpole Island) in the late 1990’s, Kevin is a member of the Martin clan and is Neegunneechgun (the one who goes before the people). He is passionate about decolonization and re-indigenization and committed to spreading understanding of these life-giving possibilities.

 

Improvising Breakthroughs in Difficult Conversations

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How can we engage in difficult conversations in a way that is productive, satisfying, and even FUN?

How can we open ourselves to learn something new about the other person’s perspective?

What is the difference between a response and a reaction?

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Lauren Stein presented an interactive, experiential exploration of “difficult conversations” at November’s DwD, engaging about 30 people in playful ways to approach these conversations – expressed as speaking and listening to concerns about criticism, personal emotions, relationships, money, and fears. Using the tools and experiences of improvisational theatre, Lauren showed us how to slow down conversations to separate reactions from responses. The goal of experiential learning was to identify and use internal information, both intellectual and emotional, to construct respectful responses rather than triggered or knee-jerk reactions.

Lauren emphasized the  philosophy of “Yes/And” as a relational tool, a way to stay on the same side of the other person, even if we disagree about a particular issue.  The exercises – from opening circle to improvisational conversation theatre – all reinforced the importance of an open and curious attitude.

From the very start, the OCADU Auditorium was buzzing with discussions, from the introductions, to paired exchanges into questions, to exercises exhausting the imaginative space of asking questions.

Some participants were asked deep questions and discovered things they did not know about themselves. People learned and took home new games for conversational exploration, such as the Curiosity Game and the Questions Game (based on the idea of asking your partner about anything you’re curious about). One couple even reportedly resolved a personal dispute just by using the improv principle of “Yes, And.”

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The final exercise involved volunteer demonstrations of improvised conversations between participants acting out scenes drawn from their own feeling states.

Here two DwD participants, Hobeen and Peter improvise an emotional exchange between a worn-out boxer and his coach, both struggling with the will to win and the meaning of the match. Lauren skillfully set up the pair to adopt postures and positions, wait for the impulse, and to create the context and conversation as it emerged.

Lauren reminds us that sometimes the highest we can achieve from a difficult conversation is to understand the other person’s point of view and remain respectful.

 

About the Host

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Lauren Stein is director of Laurentina’s Improv Club, where she performs and facilitates improvisational theatre experiences. She has taught and performed all over the world, including Hawaii, Australia, New Zealand, Belgium, Ireland, and Switzerland. With a Master’s in Expressive Arts Therapy from European Graduate School, she helps people awaken their creativity and overcome life’s hurdles through play.

Action Methods and Dramatic Expression: Finding your Role in Community Engagement

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November 2014 DwD hosted over 25 participants. After introductions, Stephen Sillett cleared the space and everyone got on their feet and we positioned ourselves on a simple Spectrogram, an highly versatile Action Sociometry method. Think of the Spectrogram as a graph on the floor, in this case, one end represented being very comfortable participating in the session and the other end representing, not at all comfortable. We were invited to stand in the position that best represented how we felt at that moment. We then starting a drama activity, with the whole group milling around the room, shifting our attention from the spaces opening up on the floor and stepping into them, to the other bodies in the room, and finally to greeting other participants as they moved around the room. We continued milling, and started to follow 2 people in the room, we then attempted to place ourselves equidistant between the 2 people we were following, then slowed down until the group came to a stable arrangement. This was a interesting activity, with shifting in dynamics. After the activity, all the participants reflected on the experience by again positioning themselves on the Spectrogram and then observing any personal or collective shifts regards comfort levels.

We next experienced some exercises from the world of physical theatre, looking at how personal and social space relates to perceptions of power, and how we interact with that in non-verbal ways. While exploring these activities, participants were asked to stay alive to the experience, and reflect on how it may relate to engaging people in community conversations.

Part 1. Shared inquiry: How can we involve people more fully in Community Dialogue?

Participants split into break-out groups, and a shared inquiry into what it might mean to bring the “whole person” into community dialogue began. The inquiry raised questions about definitions of the “whole person”. Does this refer to the physical and mental aspects of a person? What other aspects, could/should be included?

We then formed a large circle, and shared some points raised in the shared inquiry. Here are a few:

  • How cultural aspects of the person always exist during our engagement – either visibly or invisibly.
  • Values are always present at some level during our community engagement.
  • Challenges exist in online communications, as this limits how much the “whole person” can be engaged in group conversations.
  • We always marginalise certain aspects of ourselves when we engage, and this changes in different contexts.
  • A state in which the “whole person” is engaged, can never be fully attained.
  • Body scanning and meditation practice, can help bring the body into the space, and deepen engagement.

We ended this part of the session creating a Locogram, another Action Sociometry exercise (see The Living Stage for more info.). Participants engaged the exercise by reflecting on a particular situation, during which they were trying to deepen conversations. They then positioned themselves relative to a central point in the room, having done this we created body images to convey our thoughts and emotions from recounting that experience. This exercise was not unpacked, as we needed to take a break and prepare for part 2 of the session.

Summary: Part 1 of session helped participants experience:

  • Approaches that build community trust and release communication barriers.
  • Multiple perspectives regards how we engage with each other.
  •  Two simple yet powerful, Action Sociometry methods

Part 2. Strategic Action Fields

While the first part of the session worked through established methods, the 2nd involved Interactive Scenography, an innovation that Stephen and ADCID have been working on in their InFusion Lab sessions. For this part, participants were invited to take a performative journey, into a single Strategic Action Field (SAF) of their choosing. This was a personal journey, with others present and simultaneously creating their SAF at the same time. There was no external audience for this performative act, everyone was participating in the creation and exploration process. Participants created their field, explored it, and looked to discover what this may mean to them. Photo elicitation and fabric was used to help each participant to individually enter into a dialogue with the space, and generate a landscape of understanding. This was a shallow dive into what would normally be a longer, even multi-day process.

The goals for this final activity was more open. One outcome was that the activity provided an experimental insight into working with this emerging process. Another was to give a sense of ADCID’s approach to complex work across Fields of Strategic Action, and spark insights among those present. Stephen would like to thank all those who took the plunge into this activity, and appreciates all the feedback received after the session from members of the DwD community.

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Background: Through his years of practice in international development and collaborating with local community-based organizations, Stephen and ADCID  have found these processes very useful. They have been used to shift the relationships and dynamics that local Community-Based Organisations (CBOs) have with marginalised populations they serve. When working on projects in Africa and Canada, Stephen finds this depth of group inquiry to be particularly relevant to long-term, capacity focussed projects..

About the Host

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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 through:

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

ADCID has also been focussing on 2 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. Supported by Ontario Trillium Foundation.
  • Imagining Possibilities a 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. Supported by Canada Council for the Arts, Ontario Arts Council and Toronto Arts Council.

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.

 

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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

 

THE HOST

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.

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