Tag Archives: Community building

Acting in Networks of Influence

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How we can ground our work concretely, by considering multiple stakeholders that may influence project outcomes?

How do we get a handle on who, or what, influences the changes that occur in situations?

What are the formal links that are present? What are the informal links? What are the unknown links?

Stephen Sillett’s workshop takes us from stakeholder inquiry to social network appraisal to network fusion. Starting with an experiential embodied group warm up, we transitioned into a “Calabash” fire exercise (Calabash is an African cooking pot) for awakening collective imaginations.

Stephen will work from and share details of his work with different cultures and environments, and how drama and theatre process can powerfully reveal the differences and commonalities across lived experiences. Stephen has developed these practices in working with the CrossGEN: Connecting Across Age and Culture project, funded by the Ontario Trillium Foundation and developed in the Niagara region. This project laid the foundations for the Network Weaving approaches that Aiding Dramatic Change in Development (ADCiD) has engaged since 2011.

Exploration and coaching in Clean Language inspired deliberation to unpack questions and ideas around the meaning of “influence” and networks of influence.

Idea Convener

ssillettStephen 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.


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.



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


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.

Leading Between the Lines

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How might we as citizens inspire responsive governance in the next term of Toronto’s city leadership and beyond?

As citizens of Toronto we are responsible for the governments we elect to represent us. How can we inspire leadership for a shared, sustainable future? The rapid changes and growth that Toronto is undergoing has both local and broader consequences. As we look towards some of the city’s pressing issues, such as public transit, infrastructure development, child poverty and voting reform, what conversations can we hold now that will shape equitable, desirable civic action?

As we find ourselves at another political juncture with the mayoral election in October, we invite you to explore how we might further democratic dialogue on issues that matter to Toronto citizens. The September DwD hosted an Open Space session to discuss ideas and themes related to city governance and the upcoming mayoral election.

Urban scholar Richard Florida has noted that city governance has more direct impact than national governments on the lives and well-being of people, and that large cities have significant global influence ( What If Mayors Ruled the World? Atlantic CityLab, June 2012):

 “It is of course vital that mayors and their staffs understand not just what they share with other cities, but the challenges they face from a distinctive global environment that include pandemics, climate change, global financial markets, immigration and terrorism.”

Recent initiatives such as Turnout Toronto and Move the GTHA  have created more activist venues for civic engagement. DwD sister group Unify Toronto Dialogues has held nearly two years of ongoing inquiry and experiential dialogues. And over its 6 year history, Design with Dialogue has hosted several sessions for civic conversation – Citizen’s response to the G20 policing, the Occupy movement, the mayoral elections, planning Change Camps, and Arab-Jewish community dialogues.


Sticky: Healing Wicked Problems in Health

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Can rethinking challenges together break through our most compelling health design problems?

February’s DwD held an open session for health and design professionals from across sectors in the community. Paolo Korre, Design Consultant at Mount Sinai Hospital, and Peter Jones hosted about 30 people from a diverse range of roles and sectors attended (starting off with a visual mapping of name tags by place and health intention).  Most of us reported as being external to healthcare (bottom of the grid), but we were lucky enough to get 4 or so closer to the front lines of care and practice.


The engagement was typical DwD :

1) Open circle share and introduction
2) Nominal group technique: Generating one well-framed question (or wicked problem) in health of personal interest
3) Selection for first round Open Space (5 groups)
4) Further selection for larger Cafe sessions (4 groups)
5) Post and share Cafe sketches

+ Hanging around to talk with those who wanted to stay longer

What is the possibility for creating better practices and healthier communities through health and care design? What experience and wisdom might emerge if we had the time and place to share it with a community of committed listeners?

The  following three intentions (at least 1 and 2) were upheld by the end of the evening:

  1. Bringing local participants together with opportunities for connection / collaboration
  2. Presenting authentic issues of concern to our work and communities
  3. Inventing possible avenues for action or engagement to follow

Of 30 or so initial wicked problems (or questions), one each proposed by each person, a first set of 5 were selected and engaged for a round:













  1. How can healthcare tech innovation be reconciled with costs?
  2. Why is healthcare so full of “problems?”
  3. What is health and who cares?
  4. How can we take ownership of our own health records?

A second round of Cafe sessions selected the most compelling themes from the first round of ideas. The final set of problems were taken on by four groups, with these responses sketched, posted (see the picture), and discussed in plenary.

James Caldwell (shown here engaged in the “Participaction” group) reviewed the workshop and discovered deeper insights and connections than we had time to develop at the close to the evening.

“Ideally each group was trying to create better practices that improved communication which would allow for better health. We presented real issues that hamper individuals and communities and tried to devise credible actions for health care engagement.”

The three that I will focus on are:
1. How do we redefine how to be radically inclusive?
2. If physical inactivity is the root of all health evil, why not ban it?
3. How do we create and maintain and own our own comprehensive health records?

“The result of any of these would mean that individuals become the drivers or agents of their own health. Ironically, the impact to the government’s financial system would be positive.”




All three issues have a few things in common:
1. They empower the individual
2. They lesson costs for the government
3. They improve the future health of the individual
4. They make for a more engaged society

“Of course any sane person would be asking why are we undertaking these initiatives today? Common sense would dictate that we would all be happier, healthier and more informed if we did. But I guess that’s why we call them “wicked problems”. Unfortunately too many groups that make too much money from individuals with health problems would lose, and I don’t think they will give up their control anytime soon.”

“I guess this is where designers can speak up and more effectively communicate to everyone why initiatives such as the three mentioned could help better our society. Designers could simplify the problem, the parameters, the solution and the message to a wider audience than the health industry or government could which would be seen as self-serving anyway.”

I agree with James that the 3 (actually all four) final problem areas are interconnected in the solutions. James is considering the outcomes, which show a virtuous cycle of healthy behavior (active lifestyles), inclusive public communication, and monitoring through electronic media. The fourth problem-solution (bottom of the board) was “creating community healing spaces.” I”m not sure this one was as well understood by the other groups, but it seems to me that James’ individual solution space is complemented by a public (or co-citizen-led) system of:

  1. Reframing inclusive healthcare to focus on those that need it most (who are unlikely to take individual initiative)
  2. Creating community centres as temporary (but connected) healing spaces,
  3. Thereby providing many opportunities to get off one’s butt
  4. Supported by personal health tracking in ever-decreasing cost and management, providing incentives to maintain a common health record.





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Citizens as Co-creators of Community Services

The Citizen Engagement to Empowerment workshop was held in Berlin, Saturday Nov 24 4:00 – 7:00 as the inaugural event at the new co-working hub d.collective.
Peter collaborated with Agoras Institute associate Heiner Benking and d.collective facilitator Johannes Milke to facilitate a workshop based on the recent Toronto DwD held a week before. About 30 people (Potsdam d.school students and recent grads), and others from the design community attended and fanned out into several small groups to develop community service concepts.
The primary question was that of “For a community in which you participate, what service could members invent or radically improve? ”

After a brief overview of dialogic design and DwD, the workshop followed the same 4 stages – two visual recorders worked together to create a single composition of the evening’s dialogues:

Dialogue 1: “What are the some stories from here or around the world of community-led local services?”


Dialogue 2: Possibilities   “For your neighbourhood, what service could community members invent or radically improve? ”

Idea Selection

Dialogue 3: Idea Design     For your idea:

  • What personal or community need does this service address?
  • How might this service involve the community to deliver maximum value?
  • What, tools, resources or incentives would community members need to help them initiate and implement this service?
  • What support could government provide to kickstart or sustain this service?

Dialogue 4: Design Harvest

Every dialogue was captured in pictorial detail by the fantastic volunteer recorders.
Each table started with an open brainstorm around their idea and the first of 4 questions.
The “Party Payback” team bodystormed their presentation on the idea of paying their neighbours an incentive gift to allow their flat parties (a pay-it-forward bribe to not call the police!)
The Berlin d.collective crew were great to work with, and we have started discussions about continuing with design dialogue exchange as their design community space grows and takes shape over the next year. Gratitude and thanks to Heiner, Eva and Johannes (shown here), and Lukas, Laura, and all the d.collective members.