Category Archives: Retreat

Honouring the Water Keepers

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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.




DWD – The Evolution of a Learning Community

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The seventh year of Design with Dialogue has led to the recognition of our opportunity to convene a series that uniquely mobilizes dialogue as a dynamic community process for social purpose and transformative learning. Several overarching themes evolved from our year-end discussions:

  • To connect the main DwD series with issues and themes to increase their impact and reach
  • To integrate across the 4 DwD communities, to hold events in DwD, Unify and Systems and Visual Thinkers that reinforce and continue common themes via the different practices of each
  • To promote DwD as a learning and development opportunity for grad student leadership
  • Co-produce DwD events with single-sponsor or civic community leaders
  • To explore new venues and partnerships that might connect the DwD learning model to other communities of practice in the GTA and elsewhere

CONTRIBUTIONS from the Retreat  

  • Beginner’s Workshops – Learn convening skills with mentors and develop community of practice in training
  • Integration of Practices – Connect learning and methods from across the four communities
  • Issue-based Dialogues – Civic and global issues, e.g. terrorism, sustainable economy, foreign policy, finance capitalism, educational reform
  • Indigenous movements, Decolonization and post-globalization (JRS or other special guests)
  • Stakeholder driven sessions – Formation of DwD “innovation circles” for specific stakeholder groups
  • Citizen engagement within communities – Affirmative outreach to engaged citizens and groups for specific sessions
  • Connected series of sessions – Connecting sessions across themes & DwD communities of practice.
  • More Community in CoP – Convene spaces for real conviviality
  • Methods and Themes “matrixed” together
  • Action-oriented – Actionable outcomes and follow-up from DwD engagements
  • DwD + OCADU, MaRS, Ontario, Interchange,
  • Spinoff practices from DwD sessions
  • Experimentation – Taking previous sessions and going deeper
  • Connecting communities within each month
  • Partner on community based projects with partners

DwD and Strategic Foresight and Innovation

  • Engage SFI Students directly as session leaders and co-creators
  • Student workshops – Convene training-oriented sessions for SFI students within DwD platform
  • Develop an OCADU SFI “ladder” of facilitation training
  • Engage Foresight program – Hold “Future of” workshops
  • A “Methods taster” – What could this prepare people for?
  • Invite more leading practitioners
  • Policy design and civic innovation
  • New entrepreneurial and business-oriented sessions

We would love to hear from the DwD community, online (remember the DwD LinkedIn group) and in person.

DwD Retreat & Vision for 2015

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December 10, 2014, 5:30 pm. Mostly in clusters of two or three, cheerily recognizing familiar faces, we slipped through the doors of the brightly lit offices of The Moment. The party fare was potluck, a melange of dishes from sushi to Caribbean plum pudding that soon covered the buffet table. The evening’s plan was to hold off on snacking until strategic conversations were done, but the eclectic menu like the more than decent selection of wines, proved irresistible.

So the annual DwD retreat began, a little behind schedule, with an introductory check in. Each of the roughly 40 participants was asked to recall most memorable 2014 moments from DwD or sister groups. The flow moved quickly from personal touch points to broader discussions over universal challenges to all DwD group mandates as imagined and reimagined within or between sessions. A recurring concern appears to be gap bridging, whether between theory and practice, among oppositional ideas, or, as we are hoping to address right here, more writing about what Design for Dialogue is about.

Retreat Circle










A half decade ago the still fledgling Design with Dialogue community substituted group retreats for regular December sessions. Invitees (frequent attendees and curious guests) gathered to reflect on where this community had been and where it might go in the year ahead. Over the months between Decembers we had a chance to see what our ideas looked like in action. Over time DwD spun off interest groups that now include Systems Thinking Ontario, Unify Toronto Dialogues, and Visual Thinkers. (Each is well described on our site).

Later at this year’s retreat we formed breakout discussion groups along interest lines as reflected either by DwD itself or its branches. Within the breakout groups you could hear words of passionate enthusiasm. After all, each participant freely chose to join that particular conversation.

As revealed by multi coloured stickies later positioned on a designated whiteboard, common wishes included the desire to connect with and know more about the other groups. Within conversations participants naturally demonstrated variety in emphasis, some seeing new skill acquisition or procedural approaches as paramount, with others seeking greater clarity on content or aiming for substantive outcomes, a record of followup or research emerging from sessions.

Our convenors expressed their own aims for the new year. More participation from the OCADU student (and undergraduate) community would be welcomed as would be an outreach for social innovation projects & practices. Continuing to explore the wider community building ties to areas of expertise with resonance for Design with Dialogue is another given, as is the strengthening of cohesion within our informal community. Participants by and large appeared to like all these suggestions and expressed approval.

How did this retreat differ from sessions gone by? The deliberate focus on key themes and an overall deeper sense of commitment stood out as distinguished from previous more concrete planning outcomes. This feels more authentic and probably will prove to be – if we do the work.

 Thanks to Donald Officer for authoring this piece, Greg Judelman for the photographs, and Erica Bota for the live sketching.


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