Category Archives: Understand

Innovative Learning in Canadian Higher Education

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April’s DwD was convened by an graduate student-led panel, organized by Strategic Innovation Lab and Strategic Foresight & Innovation, responding to the question:

What new ways of learning, particularly in higher education, will Canadians need to thrive in an evolving society and labour market?

The roundtable and dialogue was sponsored by Imagining Canada’s Future, the strategic development of next-generation social science for the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) with the Canadian Association for Graduate Studies (CAGS).

This question was one of their key Future Challenge Areas. The SFI team documented the session and prepared a report for CAGS and SSHRC. This report is now available to the public, linked here and titled Innovating Canada’s Higher Education.

Canada, like many other countries, is at a tipping point in the way its education system, especially higher education, is conceptualized, structured and delivered in light of the knowledge and skills required for the 21st century. The panel discussed and explored the following issues:

  • What knowledge, skills and delivery methods are required in order for the public education system to create an innovative, resilient and culturally rich society?
  • What aspirations and expectations will a diverse and global citizenry bring to the work environments, jobs and labour markets of the future?
  • What conditions are needed for new models of research—particularly, co‑creation of knowledge with the public, private and/or not‑for‑profit sectors—to flourish?
  • What roles will emerging and/or disruptive information and communication technologies play in learning for individuals, institutions and society?
  • What role should individuals, institutions and governments play in promoting and supporting the life cycle of knowledge—including creation, accessibility, retention and mobilization—across sectors, both domestically and internationally?
  • How can we harness Canada’s strength and innovation in the arts, digital media and cultural industries to build social, economic and cultural well‑being?

Panel and workshop photo-documented by SFI student George Wang.



SFI graduate student panelists opening the first part of the event.






Tables were convened by graduate student panelists for each of the main questions.




Responses to each table’s question captured on standing boards.




Graphical recordings by SFI students Maggie Greyson and Ana Matic during panel and in closing plenary.

The final report is now available here, and was delivered to very positive response by CAGS and SSHRC, especially for its vivid capture of the innovative process and the visual approach to communicating the results of the civic dialogue.

The convening team had suggested some related readings for members of the panel and public:

Joseph Wilson on learning: ‘People are envious of what we’re doing in education’ (or any of the Possible Canadas articles)

Democracy Hacks  was recommended as a relevant podcast.

The Governor General David Johnston has been advocating rethinking education, and this may be his legacy for Canada in 2017.

A pan-Canadian joint undergraduate degree is taking shape: Pan-Canadian University

Slow Learning, a site presenting critical visions for self-directed, community learning



Inessa Chapira
Christina Doyle
Maggie Greyson
Conor Holler
Goran Matic
Corey Norman
Adrienne Pacini
Sheldon Pereira
Patrick Robinson
Peter Scott
Jacqueline To
Ryan Voisin
George Wang
with faculty advisor Peter Jones





Building Social Capital for Retirement

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What will it take to care for ourselves, others, and our communities as we age?

How might inter-generational dialogue spark new ways of sharing resources and innovative retirement planning?

Our June session began with a discussion on our hopes and challenges regarding our own retirement and our hopes for the future.


As a point of reference, Christine McMillan, a long term advocate for seniors and people with disabilities spoke of her experience starting a house for elderly people, the Oasis Senior Support Living Inc., a not-for-profit organization that partners with the owners of apartment buildings occupied by seniors to provide affordable onsite services similar to those offered in retirement homes. Christine shared the origin and evolution story of the grassroots Oasis senior home. This stimulated our thinking about the ways we can leverage community resources to improve quality of life for seniors and reduce public costs. She spoke of cooperating with public services such as the VON in order to deliver care that was affordable. It was through working with local government and a progressive housing corporation that services could be delivered and rent could be kept low for the tenants.

We followed Christine’s presentation with several rounds of discussion focused on various elements of retirement. One of the elements was focused on purpose, and the role of community in sustaining ones purpose when they age. A core theme that emerged from the discussion was the need to have more places of community building where generations can interact, share, and learn from each other.  Other discussions were focused on health, social inclusion, and one’s own purpose as you age.  We discussed the importance of having spaces to tell our stories whether we are youth, mid-career or entering retirement.

Here are Mary’s summary notes from the session, and an overview of the Oasis project.


Mary Pickering has 25 years of experience working in the non-profit sector, focused on building multi-stakeholder relationships to address environmental challenges. Mary is an accredited partnership broker through the international Partnership Brokers Association and has a strong interest in learning more about leveraging community resources. She is concerned about the challenges looming for youth and seniors but also confident that drawing on untapped community resources offer exciting possibilities to improve quality of life for all.




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.

Bridging Polar(ized) Perspectives

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Enabling a productive dialogue on climate change

How do we have productive conversations about climate change with people whose views are different from our own? Can conducting the climate change conversation at a local community level help to forward the national dialogue?

For some of us the implications of climate change are so urgent that they demand immediate action. For others of us, global warming produces a wide range of responses including apathy, guilt, fear, boredom or vigorous opposition. How do we restart a conversation that has become so polarized?

February’s session (our third now at The Moment studios) started with an exercise to identify values and principles concerning climate change to discover how our selected language might distance others.  In groups we explored barriers to communication and countering these barriers with questions and bridges. A variety of strategies were explored for effective climate change communication.

The Host: Sheila Murray is a writer, documentary filmmaker and communications specialist.  She has an MA in Immigration and Settlement Studies where her research focused on climate change migrants. Sheila believes that climate change can be a catalyst for significant social and cultural change. Her communications model encourages individuals to engage in small-group dialogue about climate change with people like themselves. As they engage they will connect with others who are already working on numerous climate change issues and solutions and may even become part of a civic community that supports those actions.