Category Archives: Reflection

Finding & Building Peace – What’s Possible?

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Design with Dialogue starts each new year with proposals for the upcoming sessions, and we aim for both intentional impacts and resonant emergence. Rather than planning a series of programs, we set themes and look for opportunities to engage those themes with interested hosts or presenters. A recurring and critical inquiry, both intentional and emergent, is that of a peaceful future in Canada, North America and our relationships with the world.

Our January DwD convened a group for a conversational dinner to explore together the possibility of policies and engagements for peace in Canada.  The intent was to start a continuing dialogue across viewpoints and cultures grounded in the unique Canadian experience and expression of “peace, order, and good government.” Rather than moving toward activism, the opportunity was held for discourse and perspectives that might promote peaceful relations to our governments and colleagues.

Throughout the year we’ll be joining other communities of inquiry – with Unify Toronto’s Indigenize or Die series and Interchange for Peace (Stephen Sillett) in particular.  Another fellow treveler is the Science for Peace series at UofT (also held on Wednesdays)

We started with several initial inquiries, that might continue throughout the year as recurrent themes:

  • Why isn’t there a robust peace movement in Canada? Given Canada’s longest participation in wartime in its history (Following Afghanistan, we are in Ukraine in the NATO build-up against Russia) – Why are we complacent? How do we wake up to the moment and realize the societal costs of these engagements?
  • The Doomsday Clock is set to the closest to midnight since the 1950’s nuclear arms race. There’s a good chance it will go closer in 2017 given the promised increase in nuclear weapons support by US presidents Trump and Obama. How might we live with and communicate about this symbol in our civic lives?
  • What ought to be our priorities for peace making in this era? How might we FIND peace?
  • How might we ally and participate with indigenous people to inform peace advocacy? See the Truth and Reconciliation Commission
  • What do we have to reconcile within ourselves and the national culture do become peacemaking a peacekeeping culture?
    (Can we design interventions relevant to Canada’s 150th?)

 

 

2016 Retreat / Visions for 2017

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Every year a group of DwD facilitators and stewards (community volunteers who curate sessions) meet for a year-end retreat. We celebrate and appreciate the learning and accomplishment of the year and have an inquiry toward planning for the next year.  Among the dreams and possibilities we considered for 2017 were:

Dreams from the Retreat

  • The Stoa and the Agora – Creating spaces for emerging challenges received as significant or arising within society as opportunities for deliberative dialogue. Extending DwD to civil society and public engagement.
  • Continuing with Unify’s Indigenize or Die, guiding its continuity toward a community to deepen participation with settlers toward reconciliation and becoming stewards of the original land
  • Rather than singular issues, fostering a commons to reveal connectedness between our programs: Such as Indigenous ways of knowing, Theory U, Listening practices (Bohmian)
  • Integrating an connecting issues or dialogues between the series events.
  • Host indigenous speakers in Systems Thinking ON to inquire into aboriginal systems of thinking
  • Inviting and appreciating the “Mixing of Unlike Minds”
  • DwD can take on specific problem areas: Environmental Defense – break stakeholders out of groupthink Inclusion and flourishing of newcomers with right livelihood
  • Host invitational innovation circles again – such as with Toronto Star
  • Cartography of social issues: Mapping issues and interfaces in collaborative dialogue, boundary crossing and boundary object formation
  • Creating pop-up labs and studios through DwD – Connect with MaRS, Innoweave, Interchange Peace Finding
  • Critically engage the rapidly forming memes of the day: “Fake News,” Russia-bashing, Fake foreign policy, …

Design with Dialogue – 2017

  • January – Can we Reenvision Peace as a Goal Again? Also, Ethics of Autonomy, Information Warfare, Causes and confusions of the Refugee Crisis
  • February – Play to Perform?
  • Invited Workshops
  • SSHRC Imagining Canada’s Future (Canada @150) and social futures

Systems Thinking Ontario – 2017

  • Reframing the purpose of ST-ON: Outreach, Education, Connecting local systems community, Creating contexts for teaching, youth engagement
  • Bringing local and international speakers to the regular sessions: Martin Bunch, Steve Easterbrook, Judith Rosen
  • Exploring classic issues, e.g. The Human Use of Human Beings (Wiener)
  • Entertaining “unlike minds”
  • Exploring mindsets – limited scope of thinking
  • Meditation and mindfulness
  • Invited subject experts who can host a systems conversation about their practice
  • Invite artists and creatives to explore systemic thinking
  • Constructivism
  • The human and natural systems of water

DwD Engagement Model

The Agoras model of staging from “Lab” to the field of stakeholders has relevance in the current proliferation of social innovation labs, as the lab concept has been employed ubiquitously and metaphorically. There’s little evidence of external impact in terms of higher quality programs and stakeholder services that would not have been done without the labs. They are often small developmental teams using facilitative approaches that work with policy or startup organizations. Given that the SFI MDes program trains people for leading in such roles, we need to consider whether there are more or less effective models of “lab work.”
Christakis and Warfield developed an approach 20+ years ago for the developmental evaluation of social science innovations in stakeholder applications, as a reference for SDD. Known as the Domain of Science Model, it shows that the “Lab” is the initial, most tentative stage in a series of four domains that are needed to develop an evidence-based social innovation. The stages are summarized in the following model:

 

      Lab – Building creative Foundations from philosophy, social science, systemics

      Lab – Visualizing Theory & building artefacts to test in Studio

      Studio – Design science, adapting Theory > Methodology

      Studio – Building new methods for application in Arena.

      Arena – Adapting & testing method & evaluating in Arenas with stakeholders

      Agora – Releasing to public in new forms.

 

 


Peter Pennefather shared a sketch of his extension to this model after the retreat, in the following diagram. His contributions adds several new dimensions, such as the dominant logic/reasoning process in each stage, the transformation of public goods (from need to effect) and the inclusion of the design process that’s central to DwD.

 

 

 

The Unintended Power of Silence | Acting in Networks

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By Donald Officer

We have become only too familiar with the overused term “generation gap.” But consider what it might look like if the gap were a chasm with frightful, fatal consequences for those it draws in.

Stephen Sillett primed attendees for that imaginary leap into danger at the March 2016 DwD when he invited us to explore the Networks of Influence model testing dramatizations his team uses in intergenerational communities as distant or diverse as North Eastern South Africa and Ontario’s Niagara Region.

We started with an experiential exercise, a Calabash of constructed fire. During this simulation we were not in real physical danger of course, as we were persuaded to step into the imaginary fire of the “calabash” cauldron, later to stamp out the flames together: An important lesson in trust like many facilitation icebreakers, but also a demonstration of how people become entrapped in collective blind trust in our customary roles.

Several after the fact observations:

  • This ritual brought our attention to how collective activity exerts a magical influence across perceptions of group members.
  • Forgetting the importance of rituals in our own communities, we miss the chance to examine our own customs or beliefs.
  • For instance, as an anthropologist turned Wall Street reporter, Gillian Tett saw the hidden rituals of the finance world tied to mental models and metaphors of how things are and watched how these dominated the risky actions of traders.
  • Culture trumps strategy.

Establishing a positive and workable context for the exploration to occur is key.  After the embodied opening exercise our paired discussions about influence and networks of influence unfolded unfolded more fluidly. Throughout the room you could feel the openness of the conversations – we already shared imagined worlds emerging from a jointly visualized hole in the ground. From that came insights into how we are influenced. Sharing in pairs again, we further reflected on “networks of influence.”

Over the three hours we spent together in OCAD University’s Strategic Innovation Lab (sLab) the roughly two dozen participants learned even more about dramatic enactment and the purpose of “Clean Language.” Clean Language (first presented in a session on Non-Directive Inquiry Stephen and Peter delivered), is a revealing form of unbiased speaking that strips away implicit judgments or unintended critical undertones that function to shut down communications in sensitive situations where pride, unspoken expectation and taboo are subtly, but often dangerously, in play. (Clean Language is a technique that originates from psychotherapy and coaching to help clients discover and develop symbols and metaphors without being influenced by the phrasing of a question.)

As the group began to edge into its own experiential learning circle, Stephen developed the contexts in which the trust fostering tools he was talking about were introduced by his team in the early days of their South African experience. Picture sub Saharan Africa just after the turn of this century. Almost everywhere communities had been hit hard by AIDS. Orphaned children were raised by their grandparents; whole communities were decimated.

Into a rural corner of Northern South Africa the Aiding Dramatic Change in Development group (ADCID) of which Stephen is now co-executive director, with his partner Jennifer Jimenez, humbly offered to help with the CrossGEN: Connecting across Age and Culture project. And humility was appropriate considering the wicked problem they faced. In that particular neighbourhood, young men felt pressure to father a child by 19 in order to be a man, and teenage pregnancy was very high. Marriage would be the focus of the plan except a young man with no cattle to offer the prospective bride’s family would never be groom material. A series of droughts and perpetual poverty meant that bar would stay too high for most of marrying age. Everyone looked the other way as young people routinely had unprotected sex with the aim of creating life even as they ran the risk of premature death.

Shame, guilt, fear and frustration shut down desperately needed intergenerational conversations between parents and adolescents before trust, acceptance and dialogue could be kindled. Why are such discussions avoided when so much is at stake? Ironically, it may be fear of the consequences of conflict.  unfortunately,  positions can’t be changed when they can’t be discussed. To make things worse, the rumor mill started up when suspicions spread that the HIV virus had been secretly inserted by authorities to contaminate the condom supply – one more destructive legacy of the apartheid era.

CrossGen

 

Networks of influence form in communities around the globe. They can be toxic barriers or powerful tools for intergenerational bonding depending on what is spoken or not spoken. How does ADCID bring parties and stakeholders to the point of transformation from negative to positive forces? In Southern Ontario, the problems and issues faced by yet another generational divide also presented gaps and taboos. As in Africa, trust building through multiple arts and dramatic mediums to reimagine community and connection opened eyes and hearts in the Niagara Region. Stephen and Jennifer’s transformation process seems to be transferable and repeatable.

The pictures and diagrams taken from Stephen’s work with ADCID illustrate the ingenuity that can be engaged to weave positive bonds of intergenerational communications while replacing the unspoken obstacles of the silent status quo. Note the mix of tools, institutions and media in the central Canada version of the CrossGEN: Connecting Across Age and Culture project diagram.

As often happens at DwD events, attendees brought their own broad swath of professional backgrounds to the session. Designers, health professionals, facilitators, marketing specialists, strategic foresight students and forecasters counted themselves in. Something about the process is contagious. Conversations energized as three hours flew by. Experiential learning works.

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.

 

Don Officer on Living & Dying through Change & Transformation

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Something about August reminds us of those unseen tipping points that mark the change of seasons in the year, in our lives, in our organizations and ultimately cultures. The fruits of summer need shorter days and colder nights to ripen. All are harbingers of harvests but likewise endings soon enough to come. So it was timely that Vanessa Reid opened up a conversation to the 30 or so DwD participants in the Lambert Room on Wednesday, August 12 around the perpetual mystery and wisdom of transitions.

Such conversations take courage. Everything about our culture is designed to downplay two obvious, but annoying details. First, we all change through our lives and experiences. With the passage of years we can do less or fewer of some things and more of others. These slow but inexorable alterations do not usually comply with expectations. If that weren’t annoying enough, the many parts of the world around us move along on their own cycles and rhythms. Vanessa gave us a framework for that, a systems approach called panarchy.

Panarchy is a philosophical and methodological approach with a history some of you will recognize. In human terms we feel the perpetual tension between stability and disturbance in every aspect of life. This personal aspect was Vanessa’s focus at the DwD session. Relating her own experiences as a daughter, an agent for social change and institutional steward Vanessa illustrated how she came to appreciate panarchy from the inside out. As the invitation explains she has been immersed in creating  (and sometimes extinguishing we discovered) broadly aligned cultures. All this she accomplished while immersing herself in some very extended, old yet highly contended global cultures from India to Jerusalem to Greece.

The evening was designed to be interactive. Conversing as individuals in a circle, sometimes in twos or threes, participants pondered aloud their own cycles of growth, transformation and death or disappearance in their lives. Throughout the session process shifts between expression and reflection were felt and consolidated. Living in our hard driving high-energy compulsorily optimistic culture, we feel a powerful resistance to accepting personal or social decline’s inevitable consequences as we, along with our personal cocoons, are overtaken by the power of change from without as well as within.

Some of these ideas did indeed sink in during our three hours together. Closing thoughts from the circle reminded the whole group of the ambivalences that big changes intermingled with tenacious continuances visit on everyone. Vanessa is a living model for acceptance of panarchy’s swirling curves as it describes its sideways figure eight of infinity. Perpetuity is of course not always a consolation when we must give up something or a person dear and meaningful to us. Consciousness does not always let matters go gently into that good night. Moving on is nonetheless active and dynamic. Awareness of the call to close is step one.

Donald Officer