Conversations for Possibilities

And my Farewell to Toronto Dialogues.

The November event may be the last DwD, as I will be moving from Toronto in January to join Tecnologico de Monterrey in their Faculty of Excellence. Perhaps Lambert Lounge will continue to be the central place for future workshops, as one of the many possibilities in our conversations for possibility was to continue with a new leader, and coordinators connected to OCADU. A real consensus emerged for people in the Toronto community to take in and reflect on the amazing learning journey since 2008 and to envision what might be possible in the future.

I was unprepared for how moving the introductions were. I knew almost all in the room (except for a new student) but others of course did not. About a third had been with DwD since 2008-2010, and others over the various periods. But just hearing each person say something about their own value and experience was incredibly positive and uplifting. By the time we completed the circle, the sense was taken that the value was meaningful for everyone, in different ways, and that somehow the dialogue community in the big city should continue.

The questions were simple:

What did we learn at DwD over the years? What big lessons we can share about the experience?

What is the essential value of semi-structured dialogue? How else could we bring this to people?

What opportunities and possibilities are available to the community if we were to continue? What actions can be taken to bring this about?

What is the future of dialogue?

Thanks to MJ Braide for the photographs – and the LinkedIn post.

A History of DwD

I started DwD in the summer of 2008 at OCAD University with Greg Judelman, a designer at Bruce Mau at the time, based on the ideas of integrating dialogue into facilitated design practices. We worked with the Art of Hosting practice community, and explored the ways in which the “hosting” style of dialogue enabled steps into social design. Connecting Hosting and World Cafe, and in larger events with Open Space (and the unconference style), this exploratory period became something of a local movement.

Eventually Greg founded The Moment with Mark Kuznicki and Dan Rose – a progression of learning and exciting new practice from a core group of collaborators involved in the ChangeCamp series back in 2010. The Moment is an innovative design studio that drew on what we learned in DwD, the stakeholder facilitation approach to organizational and high-context design. DwD was launched incrementally over a year of experimentation – and this was also building on a prior foundation in Toronto, with two years of a UofT dialogue group. (This was a series of moveable workshops with the late McLuhan scholar Liss Jeffrey, Peter Pennefather, and physics professor Robert Logan). As I joined OCADU in 2008 I set up in the new Strategic Innovation Lab, in our original space in the tabletop building. Since then we have held 15 years of a unique, consistent, hosted space for creative dialogues, an open community for creative innovators, students and activists, and curious consultants.

Design with Dialogue was named to inspire the purpose in the brand image, that of a collective creative design disposition through dialogue, and the relationship between facilitating dialogue and participatory design.  We have learned a lot together, with hundreds of different participants, and maybe fifty core participants that have stayed with the practice from the beginning.

After January 2024, I won’t be able to book, host and coordinate DwD session. I’ll be leaving Toronto in a slow phased exit, similar to the years coming into Toronto from the US, over the year. But unlike living in Dayton, I won’t be able to drive back to the city to host in person every month. And I am not sure that the online community concept will sustain the DwD community. The Nov 28 dialogue will open up this possibility.

The purpose of the November dialogue is to invite the community – mainly the core folks at this stage to be honest – to a conversation for possibility, for future ideation, and for sharing stories and dreams. I don’t have anything special planned for design or facilitation – it’s the end of an era, and perhaps a low-key, easing on out would be appropriate.

Except for the time going online and inside during the Covid lockdowns, Design with Dialogue has been a continuous series with a monthly session (except Decembers) every year since 2008. We have had the incredible support of several co-hosts over the years. Greg Judelman, who brought his Art of Hosting practice together with my dialogic design approach, joined for the exciting and expansive first half of DwD. Chris Lee, Stephen Sillett, and Natalija Vojno have partnered with me, and Patricia Kambitsch has always been there to capture the harvests in live sketching.

From 2011, DwD became a formative inspiration for other long-standing, open creative communities of practice connected to OCAD and other universities in the area: Systems Thinking Ontario, Unify Toronto Dialogues, and the SSBMG (now Community 4 Flourishing Enterprise) held at the Strategic Innovation Lab at OCAD’s 205 Richmond St location.

I’ll keep the DwD website online as a learning resource for facilitators and conveners, and will continue to add historical context to it as well that I never thought to include. There will always be more to learn from the practice. Thanks for being part of the adventure and contributing to a movement, or a process that led to movements. We made a real difference here.