Tag Archives: Dialogic Design

Empowering Civic Dialogue with Aleco Christakis

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Design with Dialogue hosted Alexander “Aleco” Christakis and Maria Kakoulaki for a public workshop on the renewal of civic engagement through place-based dialogues. Aleco, author of “How People Harness their Collective Wisdom” (with Kenneth Bausch, 2006) was in Toronto as one of the keynote speakers at RSD5 Relating Systems Thinking and Design and their availability

Aleco and Maria shared their work from the Demoscopio project established with the mayor of the municipality Heraklion, Crete, which represents an emerging centre of civic innovation co-create and self-organized by citizen collaboration.  His RSD Keynote talk is on Demoscopio Culture: How do we empower and liberate citizen’s voices in designing their own social systems?

The session started with a brief story about the Demoscopio and discussion of the distinctions of  the Agora, the Arena, and the Lab. The dialogue shifted to our communities as committed stakeholders in the co-creation of place-based democratic centres for critical and creative citizen engagement.  Further questions were explored relevant to the RSD keynote, including:

  • How might the Demoscopio paradigm inspire strongly-centred democratic [r]evolutions  for  democratic societal evolution?
  • How  does  the  Demoscopio  design  and  culture  inspire,  connect, empower  and  liberate  citizen’s  voices  in  designing  their  own  social systems?
  • What are the new narratives of cultural innovation we can all undertake to inspire flourishing, democratic communities?


Aleco and Maria explore the harvest mapping while groups developed engagement proposals.

Video presentation of the workshop made by Maria for presentation at their RSD5 keynote talk.

The workshop followed the typical Design with Dialogue process of a circle introduction and discussion, a challenge for small groups working on their preferred ideas, and a harvest and discussion with the plenary to complete the cycle.










The live sketch harvest presents some of the core ideas of the Demoscopio project discussed by Aleco and Maria.  From the left, this starts with the history of social system design and the development of systems of dialogue for engaging people from all walks of life to propose better futures and address their concerns in civil discourse.  Proceeding to the right of the harvest, the story shows the unfolding of the Demoscopio, a proposal to the mayor of Heraklion that has been recently developed as a dedicated civic hub, a place for continuing civic engagement through co-creation. The Demoscopio itself is an evolution of the Social Planetarium as conceived by Harold Laswell, further updated by John Warfield as the Observatorium, and evolved into the societal conference hub proposed by Christakis.






Behind Christakis and Patricia Kambitsch (Playthink, live sketching) we see at the right end of the sketch a drawing of Warfield’s Domain of Science Model is represented (crudely inscribed by Jones) showing the cycle of mutual learning and development from the Corpus (body of theory and scientific observations) to the Practice (the Arena and Agora).  We are changing the Warfield proposition of this cycle in several ways, consistent with systemic design practice. Four contexts identified by place and process are defined:

  • Lab – A place dedicated to research and socially-safe developmental trials and evaluations
  • Studio – A center for creative exploration of new models and configurations of social practices a prototypes with invited particpants
  • Arena – A neutral place convened for invited stakeholders to engage their values, proposals, dreams, and decisions in a facilitated, committed context
  • Agora – A public, accessible open domain available for all interested citizens to encounter and potentially engage in dialogue and “listen toward understanding.”

The cycle of learning is mutually constructed between the scientific base developed in the Lab and developed and published in the Corpus.  Trials, experiments and prototypes of co-creation with invited particpants are held in a Studio setting. Social design work, such as the DwD community of practice, can be developed in the Studio setting in a safe-to-fail environment. The Studio setting is what we might typically think of with the government or social innovation “labs.” In a social science sense, we would reserve the Lab as relevant to a dedicated environment for research and service design by core teams. A university laboratory is not usually a setting for stakeholder co-creation. The design studio setting is a more appropriate fit for creative engagements.

Co-Creating New Demospheres

Each group formed a proposal for convening dialogue engagements based on the DOSM / Lab -> Arena cycle. Several cases are shown, based on the emergent concerns identified in the opening dialogue (essentially, responding to “why are you here for this workshop?”)











Stephen, Goran and Peter Pennefather drew up a model for healthcare organizations, titled “How to Care for Health.” Starting in a Lab (e.g. St. Mike’s Hospital) which is developing competencies, managing risk, focused on internal development. The Studio context (OCAD is shown) enables co-creation of prototypes and design for emergence of new capacities. The Arena(s) are defined as spaces for community health partnership, wherein power and systemic relationships can be reconfigured to support civic dialogue. The Agoras are conceived of as spaces for patient engagement.











Professor Czeslaw Mesjazc (visiting for RSD5 from UEK, Krakow) holds up their group’s model which Dee narrates as a model for democratic dialogue dealing with significant societal issues, such as the local stewardship of a shared future in the Anthropocene (whether “good” per B. Lomborg, or a “bad” Anthropocene per Clive Hamilton). The Lab is viewed as the expert-led context, researching futures and bridging to the Studio with the question: How do we relate between expert knowledges and indigenous wisdom? From Studio to Arena, they ask “how do we make a truly democratic dialogue” and from Arena to Agora, How might environmental stewardship be made relevant to the people?”













Three other groups developed DOSM models such as Peter Rose’s group above, focusing on democratic practices in society and the failure of electoral process to fully represent citizen choices.

About Aleco

Alexander  “Aleco” Christakis  christakishas 40 years experience in developing and testing methods for engaging stakeholders in productive dialogue. In the 1960’s he consulted with Constantinos Doxiadis on the development of Ekistics, the science of settlements, and later conferred with Hasan Özbekhan to advance a methodology for social systems design, associated with the prospectus of the Club of Rome. This process became Interactive Management (as developed with John Warfield) and Structured Dialogic Design.

Aleco is the author of over 100 papers on dialogic design science, stakeholder participation, including How People Harness their Collective Wisdom and Power to Create the Future. He is founder of the Institute for 21st Century Agoras and past President of the International Society for the Systems Sciences (2002). He is member of the Board of the Americans for Indian Opportunity (AIO), Advisor to the AIO and a advisor to the Ambassador’s leadership program for engaging tribal leaders from the USA and internationally. He travels across the globe to facilitate structured dialogues and promote the science of dialogic design.




Facilitating Co-Creation – Design Patterns for Dialogue

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How do we design dialogues?

With 35 participants, July’s DwD explored the patterns for design for dialogue events, for clients, organizations, and communities. We explored the patterns and elements of effective group processes expressed in both theory and our experience, with guidance from emerging process design tools.

  • What patterns and modes of engagement enable committed participation and reflective inquiry?
  • How might deepening our awareness of the essential elements found in our best methods foster successful group outcomes?
  • How might these patterns differ between arenas, whether creative organizational workshops or in civic dialogues?

Based on a workshop taught in the OCADU Strategic Foresight and Innovation program, Peter Jones shared a foundation for workshop design patterns for group dialogues in any setting.   Working with the Group Pattern Language Project as a source of structure and tools the session addressed:

  • What patterns for dialogue structuring might best enable our own, everyday group work situations?
  • How do we select and adapt best-fitting practices and methods to create mindful, evocative learning communities for creative inquiry?
  • How can we learn from these patterns to co-create new methods or group structuring approaches?

The ultimate goal of the workshop was to co-create better workshop designs and deepen competency through collaborating with peers, using the resource of the pattern model and toolkit.   Participants offered 5 of their problems or upcoming opportunities in their current practice, including an urban youth summer camp, a 24-hour intensive retreat, a community  engagement series with underserved immigrants, a new UofT course program and an international workshop in Lisbon.

Participants co-created new workshop plans with the patterns and shared ideas, exercising the pattern language for meaningful workshop design problems.

The group pattern cards can be downloaded and ordered from GroupworksDeck.org.


Creating a kit for learning and teaching Waymaking.


Designing a youth summer camp program.


Designing a sustainable cities retreat workshop.


Designing community engagement for an underserved neighborhood.


The Hosts

Peter Jones and Chris Lee guide this session on group design patterns. Peter is co-founder of Design with Dialogue and associate professor at OCAD University, in the Strategic Foresight and Innovation MDes program. Peter runs the innovation research firm Redesign and has been engaging groups of all sizes and shapes since the mid-1990’s. He is author of the early handbook of facilitation process, Team Design (1998), We Tried to Warn You (2008), and the recent Rosenfeld title Design for Care: Innovating Healthcare Experience. His work can be found at designdialogues.com

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.

Imagining Future Urban Challenges: A Dialogic Design Workshop

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A Collaborative Foresight Workshop for Imagining Urbanization Challenges

In late August, OCADU’s Strategic Innovation Lab engaged 18 academics and thought leaders from around Ontario in an intensive one-day panel on Imagining Canada’s Future, to formulate a short list of distinct future challenges that SSHRC should address through future research programs. The panel research continues with an OCADU-led research team involving York, Ryerson, Windsor and UOIT in developing the findings and report.

Affording an opportunity for public knowledge mobilization, the question DwD with an open panel of innovators and students in the DwD and university communities.

The framing of the panel was centred around the question:

“As Southern Ontario faces the effects of global urbanization, what are the highest priority social and systemic challenges, now through 2030?”

To further develop a public inquiry into the same question, a community design workshop was held on this important foresight perspective.  What are the opportunities and possible outcomes for a design-led approach to social sciences challenges?  With over 20 creative and professional participants, the session rapidly engaged (and experimented with) variations of dialogic design methods for problem framing and collective sensemaking in the “open sandbox” of the DwD community:

  • Framing of the Triggering Question
  • Generating Challenges – Individual, Paired, and Round Robin
  • Concurrent Clarification of Challenges
  • Voting on Challenges
  • Challenges Selection – Group Scenario Creation

A single visual map of the workshop goals, activities and scenarios was sketched in concert by Charlotte Young and regular Patricia Kambitsch.

To preserve time, only one well-defined challenge per participant was selected.

Four breakout groups composed scenarios from selected challenges, assembling both a set of related problems from challenges and the proposed solutions.

Scenarios were designed to highlight salience of relationships over a 20 year timeline, with guidance to show Milestones, Headlines, and Solutions.

The Open Equitable Diverse society showed the  transformation of government and citizen engagement, from top-down governance to bottom-up “poll” or pull governance. The concept of a Social GPS was proposed as an advanced global social network enabling this transition.

Socially engaged ownership and new systems of urban design, resource management, equitable housing arrangements and neighbourhood communities was envisioned.

A combination of challenges in a problematic network was envisioned being addressed by a positive scenario involving social health, participatory engagement,education services and considering the renewal of the family as a unit of planning.

Two diverse society scenarios were developed. The Feeling Canadian scenario expressed the possible scenarios of a deeply values-centred view of a socially-designed approach to enhancing diversity and while managing urbanization pressures, considering the impacts of city governance, neighbourhood management, and the preservation of Canadian history. Mediators of good government, an educational mandate, and community engagement were proposed.


Another team constructed a classical 2×2 matrix defining four quadrants against the problems of food security and income inequality led to a timeline and solution focus on the quadrant of significant income inequality and managed local food sources. This may be seen as a “highly likely” scenario approach inspiring immediate social action to address probable effects, rather than farsighted solutions.

We started the workshop with a presentation of the dialogic design approach and an overview of the SSH-sponsored panel from the Imagining Canada’s Future project.


Peter Jones, DwD Community Convener and OCADU professor is guiding the workshop and the trial of experimental approaches (visual, technical) to complement the dialogic design method. The session was co-convened with the team of Strategic Foresight and Innovation graduate student Uma Maharaj and visual recording from Charlotte Young and Patricia Kambitsch.





The Meta-Design of Dialogues as Inquiring Systems

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About 30 participants attended the first DwD of 2012 (Jan 11). This educational session explored the relationship of systems inquiry to dialogue. Small groups facilitated their own learning to identify knowledge profiles and to design dialogic inquiries that would best address a selected area of concern.

There’s a multitude of ways to conduct dialogues.  Which approach will be most appropriate for attaining desired outcomes among different groups?  This DwD engaged systems thinking for some foundations, with an overview of C. West Churchman’s design of inquiring systems.  With these foundations, participants (dialogue designers) sharpened their appreciation of alternative modes and techniques.  More open dialogic approaches might (or might not) be preferred over more bounded and structured approaches, under different conditions.  Theory was translated into reflective practice through group exercises. The session started by generating a range of concerns and ideas for inquiry. These were selected by groups for further

About the Convener

David Ing is president (2011-2012) of the International Society for the Systems Sciences, an organization with members with interests crossing disciplinary boundaries (e.g. social systems, technological systems, biological systems, ecological systems).  In that role, he is designing the program for the ISSS annual meeting (in San Jose, CA in July 2012), and working with the Systems Science Working Group of the International Council on Systems Engineering (INCOSE).  Over the past year, he developed new courses in systems thinking for the Master’s in Creative Sustainability at Aalto University in Finland.  He is a visiting fellow with University of Hull (UK), an itinerant scholar with the Tokyo Institute of Technology, and previously a cofounder of the Canadian Centre for Marketing Information Technologies (C2MIT) at the University of Toronto.  David has had a continuous 27-year career with IBM, with home base in Toronto.  He can be found on the Internet at http://coevolving.com

Designing Occupation Dialogue

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We invited Occupy Toronto to kick off a DwD session, and continued with the dialogue engagement live at the camp, after it came down mid-week following the session.

Grad students and even president Sara Diamond from OCAD University were involved with sponsorship from the Design Exchange.  Two major community events were held, located (ironically enough) in the deco-era original Toronto Stock Exchange used by the DX.

The goals of these sessions were to evolve a common framing and voice for (meaning “with”) the diffuse and diverse core members of the movement.

What we seem to be missing are the connections between similar events in other Occupy communities. Pay attention to the shift of medium here – Occupy is an emerging and embodied social medium for civil change. It is not like the Arab Spring or other social media narratives. This is embodied (situated in place) and broadcasted (livecast) and not tweeted and FB’d to organize.

People are working things out F2F – not online – its a classic McLuhan media transformation in the making.