Sacred Hospitality

Sometimes we human beings seem to be remarkable at bringing people together to achieve something, and many times we are not remarkable.  Sometimes we are very clear on what we want to do together, on why we need each other, and how we will interact to have the impact we desire.  Most people describe these experiences as highly engaging.  Whether an afternoon in the country with some friends or landing a robot on Mars, we are capable of uniting our efforts in beautiful ways.  I have been sitting for years with the question of why these uniting, high impact resilience, energizing moments are less frequent than most people want.  If we prefer this experience, then why don’t we do this all of the time?  If we need to collaborate to achieve some of our larger societal goals, why don’t we more often?  One answer I have found has to do with how we treat ourselves and others.

Everyone I have met over the last two decades, in over a dozen countries, has told me that they have had the experience of being highly engaged, energized in human interactions.  As I ask about their experience, it seems that in all of their stories, they experience being well hosted.  They experience higher vibrancy in how they are hosting their own self, in their being hosted by and hosting of the other, of the group, by a creative process, where they experience being connected to a creative flow.  Eventually, my colleagues and I saw that they were expressing the experience of vibrancy in five primary relationships (self, other, group, nature, spirit).  What we also began to notice was the level of co-hosting in each of these relationships, the recognition that other people were also hosting with them and with the processes of nature and spirit.  A whole lot was happening in the interaction–it was being hosted simultaneously by many different people, processes, and structures.  We started calling this co-hosting.

Recently my colleagues and I have become more aware of the deeper capacities in excellent co-hosting, where people more consistently are able to co-host higher levels of vibrancy experienced in the five primary relationships.  We are experimenting with this “sacred hospitality,” co-hosting with greater intention and attention, with the clarity that one is inviting a harmonic.

As we put the art of sacred hospitality into practice in our fieldwork at the Institute for Strategic Clarity and at Vibrancy, we are learning more and more about what people do and experience in this deeper practice of co-hosting, as well as learning more about the much higher levels of impact resilience available through deeper co-hosting.  So far we have found the following practices to work reliably:

  1. Nature and Spirit — your experience of the creative process and source
    • Ask yourself, “What do I experience when I connect in the creative process?”  Since this exercise is with you by yourself, I invite you to be honest with what you actually experience.  This is where the learning comes.  Looking at what you actually experience, comparing that actual experience with what you want, and adjusting what you do, repeatedly.  This is also the art of resilience, the ability to learn and adjust.
    • Ask others what they experience.  Share with them what you experience.  Ask them about what they experience. Do you see any similarities? Any unique differences?
  2. Self — your experience of your sacred hospitality of your own self
    • Ask yourself, “How do I experience my own sacred hospitality of myself?”
    • Share with someone else.  Share what you see, with someone you trust.  In this sharing, look for: (1) what you see in yourself, when you hear yourself sharing; (2) what you see in yourself, when you look at the other person you are talking with; and (3) what they see in what you share.
  3. Other — your experience of your sacred hospitality of another.
    • Ask yourself, “How do I experience my sacred hospitality of another person?  Of the capacities they already bring, right now?  Of the potential I can see in them?”
    • Share with someone else.  What do you see about your co-hosting of another?  What do you see about how the other person co-hosts another?  When we see it in another person, we are seeing own selves in them, in capacities we also already have or in emergent capacities that we could develop further.
  4. Group — your experience of your sacred hospitality of a group, of a we
    • Ask yourself, “How do I experience my sacred hospitality of a group?”
    • Share with someone else.  What do you see in common with their experiences?

These practices seem to work everywhere, and they are very efficient.  The questions for yourself can start with 5-minute reflections.  The sharing with someone else can start with 20-minute conversations.  We find that starting this simply often leads to great insights.  That is a high return on co-investment, a few minutes of reflection and conversation leading to transformative insights.  These practices are part of a toolkit of collaboration basics that we are developing through our observations and fieldwork.

In essence, we start by getting clear that those of us involved in the process want better experiences and better outcomes, and that there is a deeper shared purpose that brings us together.  We then agree that the process starts with the self, with how I co-host myself.  I can only invite the levels of experience with others that I am willing to invite with myself first.  We then agree that we prefer the experience of abundance to that of scarcity, that we have choices in our agreements, and that we want to experience more deeply the co-hosting of the vibrancy available in each of the five primary relationships, at the same time.  Through a process of reflection, sharing, inquiry, and feedback, we are able to see what we want, what we actually experience, the difference between the two, adjust what we do, and repeat.  This is the process of tangibilizing the potential we see, through specific pathways to outcomes, which provides evidence about the potential and pathways we saw, adjusting, learning, and evolving.

Sacred hospitality.  Sacred comes from the PIE root *sak “to sanctify” to make holy, and holy comes from the PIE *kailo“whole, uninjured” or health.  Hospitality comes from the Latin hospitalitem for friendliness to guests.  So, sacred hospitality is how we invite greater health–better experiences and outcomes–through relationships, to the self, other, group, nature, and spirit.

We all want better experiences and results than we usually achieve, on a more consistent basis.  We like being well hosted, and we enjoy hosting others.  Whether or not people have been consciously capable of consistent sacred hospitality in the past, my colleagues and I find, across the world, the emerging capacity and desire in everyone to experience deeper levels of co-hosting.  It starts with each individual, taking on the sacred hospitality of their own creative expression, doing the same with others, and consciously choosing in the groups where they interact to co-host each other and the group.  The experience is far better, as are the results and the resilience of the impacts.  If we can do it, and if we prefer it, then maybe it is time to starting doing it.

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Collaboration Basics: Essential Agreements

posted with Ruth Rominger, CHOICE Fellow and Garfield Foundation’s Director of Information and Network Design–Collaborative Networks

Those of us in the social sector hear a lot of talk about the value of collaboration. Why do so few actually do it? Because it is hard?  Because it takes too much time?  Or is it because we are operating out of old mindsets and assumptions?

Our research over the past three decades suggests that most people know how to collaborate and yet, they don’t. The evidence points to some common assumptions that get in the way, and a handful of key behaviors that show up in most authentic, effective collaborations. It is our observation that when you become aware of these assumptions and behaviors, you are poised for productive collaboration.  

What We See

People who collaborate effectively are actively engaged with others to co-create the time, space, and purpose for working together.  They share responsibility for hosting explicit processes to achieve desired outcomes. These include:  co-investment, integrated conversations, deep shared purpose, and uniting design.  We call this collaborative co-hosting. Here is a brief description of what these ideas mean:

Co-investment. People in effective collaboration come to the table with the attitude of a co-investor. Co-investors who take responsibility for process and outcomes, and want to bring all their available resources to the table. Collaborative co-investors look for opportunities to learn and grow, share their capacities, and see greater potential. It is possible to increase the effectiveness of any collaborative group by recognizing evidence of co-investment and reinforcing it.

Integrated Conversations. Collaboration is strongest if people who don’t typically interact with people in different sectors of a given system have small-group conversations that overlap with other small group conversations that build to whole group conversations, and continuously engage with each other through all phases of work. The behavior seems to maintain the flow of information throughout the system, which helps inform decisions at the core, in nodes (small groups), and at the periphery (with those people loosely involved, on the front lines, or highly impacted). And it makes it possible for decisions to be made at the most appropriate level, by informed and trusted individuals, pairs, or groups.  

Deep(er) Shared Purpose. There is nothing that motivates a diverse groups and individuals to collaborate more than identifying a deep shared purpose. Co-hosts create the opportunity to find and name a deeper shared purpose.  They welcome others who connect with that purpose.  They invite the contribution of each individual’s own purpose to the shared purpose, and the contribution of their unique capacities to the collaboration.

Uniting Design. Co-hosts design interactions and activities to unite, connect, reinforce, and reciprocate contributions of others sharing the deep shared purpose. They create the space to build trust, and see, with others, who their efforts can benefit. The collaboration focuses on learning together by seeing possibilities, testing them, and learning from the successes and failures.  More than looking for the one right answer to all of the problems, the focus is on continuously exploring the next step to generate common understanding of the subject.  And they contribute to others, to create a “whole greater than the sum of the parts.”

What We Do Instead

Even though most of us know how to co-host collaboration, we tend to overlook the potential, learning and growth, and unique capacities in ourselves, in others, and in whole groups.  Instead we focus on outcomes, attributing direct cause and claiming credit. What results did the work produce? Who gets acknowledged? The common practice—to directly associate an action to its outcome—tries to isolate one dimension, or one data point, at a time. At best, the use of logic models, good strategic planning, assessment, and evaluation of isolated data falls far short of what is needed to effectively change a complex system, and often lead to unintended consequences.

Instead of making explicit the group’s deep shared purpose and core values, we tend to focus on the values of one or a few key stakeholders, subordinating all others, often unconsciously.  We too often attribute value to a single success factor, a preferred group, or ultra-individualism in the name of freedom, to the exclusion of seeing and valuing the rest.

Why We Do This

Research shows two dominant reasons for why we continue to do this. We do not recognize scarcity-based assumptions that are embedded in the system and limit our ability to see other possibilities. We unconsciously accept that our world has scarce resources, and thus see scarcity in our life, at work, with strangers, friends, and family. This is just the way it is: there is not enough to go around, and we have to compete with others for what little there is.  Our research, based on an Agreements Health Check survey (http://instituteforstrategicclarity.org/take-the-survey/) with responses from 124 countries, shows that people unconsciously accept and selectively see scarcity.

We also tend to accept that most of our environments are energy depleting. Research in sociology shows us that underlying agreements of how we treat each other are deeply embedded in our social systems, which makes them very hard to see.  For example, we tend to design our companies hierarchically for efficiency. We measure efficiency by the value of outputs earned from the cost of inputs. We seek efficiency to maximize profitability for shareholders.  And we accept maximizing shareholder values over other stakeholders, because the current system is designed for shareholders to decide who has access to their capital. We have accepted an agreement that capital is the most important resource, over all else. Most of us are not aware that these are only agreements, and these agreements and their consequences are embedded in the current system. They exist only because we have unconsciously accepted that this is the way it is, and by doing so, we miss the opportunity to create something different.  While most agreements that exist today simplified reality to so that we could achieve the great contributions to society of the past two centuries, these same, simplifying  agreements now limit the capacity of our society to make the next step many collaborative efforts seek.  With gratitude we acknowledge where we have been and step towards where we need to be.

We Can Build Other Agreements

We have the ability to shift our reality.  When we recognize the agreements underpinning current reality, we can shift them. For example, we can build new agreements about what types of resource and collective potential are available to work with. We can choose who makes decisions. We can choose what values we base our decisions on and how we enforce them.  We can choose how we interact with others.  

We can choose the benefits of co-hosting collaboration.  We can shift from old agreements to collaborative agreements.  Following is a guide we have developed, based on our experience to date, to  assess and strengthen strategic, systems-changing collaboration.

Assessing Collaborative Strength

Collaborators’ Basics

Value Is there evidence that collaborators… Evidence
1 Co-investment
  • Bring a variety of resources  to the table
  • Invest in their own development
  • Tap into their full potential
  • All collaborators co-invest
  • Co-investors bring full complement of their resources: their capacities, their learning, and their potential
  • Clear model of Return on co-investment, from greater impact and resilience, for each co-investor
2 Integrated conversations
  • Integrate the parts of the system through overlapping conversations, where representatives from one conversation are part of another
  • In and across the parts and phases of work
  • Information flows through their system, intentionally and fluidly informing decisions
  • Decisions are made at appropriate levels, by trusted individuals, pairs of individuals, or groups
  • Structure of integrated conversations directly related to the deeper shared purpose
  • Clear structures and processes for continuous information flow through integrated conversations
  • Clarity of what perspectives need to be in each conversation
  • Participants demonstrate 100% responsibility for being prepared and engaging in each conversation
  • Rapid learning and adaptation within and across integrated conversations
3 Deeper shared purpose
  • Identify the deeper purpose that motivates action
  • Invite others motivated by the purpose to contribute what is unique and specific for that purpose
  • Statement of deeper shared purpose that deeply motivates co-investors
  • Direct connection of each integrated conversation to the deeper shared purpose
  • Clarity in each integrated conversation of how it is connected to and furthering the deeper shared purpose
4 Uniting design
  • Design interactions and activities to unite
  • Design to reinforce unique contributions of each person towards the purpose
  • Clarity of specific, unique contributions needed for each integrated conversation
  • Each integrated conversation inquires into and brings out the best of needed  perspectives

e3 (eCubed) = Everyone Everywhere Everyday

Almost every form of wellbeing measured today finds success for some people in some places some of the time.  Income, happiness, health.  Some have it, some of the time, and most do not, most of the time.

In all of our work in the past ten years, my colleagues and I hear over and over again the desire to shift the experience and outcomes in systems for everyone everywhere everyday, throughout whatever system it is.  The energy sovereignty of Vermont, a cancer-free economy in the USA, retrofitting the building stock of Europe, healthy communities in Mexico, generative building in South Africa.  We start with the knowing that we have to figure out how to achieve resilient impact for everyone everywhere in the system everyday.  And, we usually end up settling for most people in most places in the system most of the time.
While mostly successful in these earlier efforts, it is time we take on the bigger challenges of reaching everyone everywhere everyday, where E * E * E = 1.0.  It is time.  This means that to reach 100% overall, we have to reach 100% resilient impact, which requires that we reach everyone (E1 = 100%) everywhere (E2 = 100%) everyday (E3 = 100%).  E^3 or eCubed = 100% = 1.0.
To reach E^3 = 1.0, we have to evolve in our practice and in our understanding of the human being.  We have to learn what works and what does not.  We have to inquire into what it is, what causes it, and what its consequences are.
  • Desired consequences. What are the impacts we desire?  To determine this, we already have tools to explore the impact we want to have and how to achieve resilience in that impact. We can start with: (1) impact resilience measurement; and (2) the Vibrancy Move Process, which uses the reference behavior pattern and O Process tools to determine the gap between what we know is available and what we are currently experiencing.
  • Specification. What is E^3?  How is it different from the current solutions that satisfy many people in many places much of the time?  What does this expanded specification require us to understand?  We already have examples around the globe of people who are beginning to figure out E^3=1.0 solutions.  We are also learning how to learn from their abundance-based solutions.
  • Antecedents. What are the drivers of E^3=1.0?  We have some insights into the differences in agreements fields between solutions that work for some, those that work for many, and those that work for everyone.  Agreements Fields Mapping (pactoecography) helps us describe and understand what resilient impacts we want as humanity, why we want them for everyone everywhere everyday, and how to find the groups that are beginning to figure out the how, how to learn from and with them, and how to see what is next, to achieve E^3 = 1.0.

Figuring this out requires a movement, a global effort to understand how to reach globally local solutions that work for everyone everywhere everyday.  The next frontier. Several efforts are being made with different expressions, from isolated efforts to flocking networks.  Our own efforts in this emerging movement are supported by the Global Pactoecographic Covenant through the Global Initiative to Map Ecosynomic Deviance and Impact Resilience.  As humanity we have the resources, the tools, the knowhow to make the shift, from E^3<<1.0 to E^3=1.0.  We owe it to ourselves and to the resilience of our future.  We owe it to you, and we need you to engage, to bring what you see and what you learn about how to achieve resilient impacts for everyone, everywhere, everyday.  Join our covenant to serve this purpose, to make eCubed = 100%.

You Are Different AND Relevant: That Is Why I Need You

“In a community of knowledge, what matters more than having knowledge is having access to knowledge”…”The different bits of knowledge that different members of the community have must be compatible” (Sloman, S, and P. Fernbach. 2017. The Knowledge Illusion, New York: Riverhead Books, pp.124, 126).

To know what I need to know, I can either input everything I need to know into my brain and remember it, or I can know that it exists and where to access it when needed.  It turns out that our brains are leaky.  We forget most things that we see, and we remember wrong many things we think we remember.  And we are relatively good at finding out where to access knowledge, according to Professors Sloman and Fernabch, who I quoted above.

From the perspective of collaboration and co-hosting, the need to include others’ perspectives is the second step of the O Process for collaborative co-hosting.  The first step is to identify the deeper shared purpose that brings everyone together, uniting their will towards a common future.  The second step is to include those voices, those unique perspectives, that are required to generate the possibility of this deeper shared purpose.  Most things that bring people together, like K-12 education, medical care, or food systems require many different perspectives to come together, in a specific way.  The second step of the O Process invites in those different perspectives that we need.  We need them because they are different, because they see the world differently, and they contribute a different perspective.

While this second step seems obvious to everyone I work with–the need for differently-minded people–most do not act as if it were obvious.  Most who say they get this, then fill the room with like-minded people, not differently-minded people.  I also observe that most people in most meetings are not clear why their specific perspective is needed in the room, nor are they clear on why the voices or perspectives of the other people in the room are needed.  Not being clear on why I or others are in the room leads most people to not listen carefully, to not listen intently, and to not inquire into the differences someone else is seeing.  Conversely, when we are clear that we need other specific perspectives, then we are intent on understanding what they are seeing, what they are uniquely bringing to what we are seeing together.  Completely different processes, experiences, and outcomes.

When I combine this observation with the three levels of collaboration I have described before, I see three ways people relate to their own knowledge and accessing that of others.

  1. When the group process is designed for segregation, I am clear that “I need” something.  I am paying attention to what I need to give and get from any given situation, at most looking to see what I can get from others, if they are aligned with giving me what I need.
  2. When the group process is designed for flocking, I know that “I need others.”  I pay attention to what I need and what others need, as we move in the same space, sometimes working on our own and sometimes cooperating.
  3. When the group process is designed for uniting, I see that “I need specific others.”  I am clear about what we are collectively trying to achieve together, our deeper shared purpose, and the need for very specific perspectives to achieve that deeper shared purpose.  I pay attention to the deeper shared purpose, to each person’s perspective, and to how these perspectives shine light on what we want to achieve.  I need each person to be different, united in a deeper shared purpose, and committed to collaborating with each other on that purpose.

I need you, because you are different, and because you are relevant, like I am, to what we want to give our will to, to the future we want to achieve.

How to SCALE 1.0 — Strategic Clarity to Accelerate Large-system Evolution

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY.  The challenge is always there.  Our experience tells us that our current reality is not working.  It is not achieving the outcomes our deeper values tell us it should.  While we know that, in some way or another, we have agreed to the system that we have today, it is hard to see what will fundamentally change it.  This is true for our experience of health care, education, work, money, environment–many of the large systems that we live in and that directly influence our lives every day.  We therefore live with the questions of how can these systems evolve, how can we accelerate and scale that evolution?

Fortunately, many people are trying to figure this out.  And they have come up with many frameworks and processes that seem to work.  To find one that works for you, I suggest two guiding principles: SCALE and CRISP.  One principle for the what and one for the how.

  1. SCALE. The SCALE principle shows what the process needs to help you do.
  2. CRISP.  The CRISP principle shows how it needs to do it.

 

NOW, A LITTLE DETAIL

THE WHAT — What does the process you use to change large systems need to enable you to do?  Scale.  SCALE stands for strategic clarity to accelerate large-system evolution.

Strategic Clarity — To have strategic clarity is to understand what the system is and how to move it, and how to communicate that understanding.

What is.  You need to understand what system you actually have.  Approaches to describing the system follow 4 basic steps.

First, they start by defining the system of interest, which is bounded by the dynamics generating the experience you are having.

Second, they then take a macro-systems look to understand how the dynamics of the relevant parts generate the experience.  The method guides you to see which experience, behavior over time, parts, and dynamics are relevant.

Third, the approach then takes a micro-systems perspective to understand how each relevant stakeholder in the system makes sense out of the world, from their own perspective.

Fourth, the approach then provides a meso-systems perspective to show how the micro perspectives interact to generate the macro perspective, and how changes in the micro-level perspectives or meso-level interactions can generate a different macro-level behavior.

These four basic steps describe the system you actually have–what is.  It might also help you to think of the system as an agreements field, a field of agreements we have consciously chosen and unconsciously accepted that determines our interactions, and the subsequent experiences and outcomes.

Barriers to understanding what is.  Exhaustive research over the past 70 years has proven that we humans are strong in knowing what outcomes we want and what we experience, and we are weak in understanding the systems and dynamics that generate those experiences and outcomes.  Popularized in the past decade through behavioral economics, cognitive psychology, and the decision sciences, this scientific research shows that people tend to be quite poor processors of the types of complexity required for understanding systems.  This research has also found stellar examples of where people are able to overcome these barriers.  Three basic barriers to understand how to SCALE and methods for overcoming them include finding a deeper share purpose, seeing each perspective and its contribution, and holding it all together.

Defining a deeper shared purpose–people come together to achieve a deeper purpose that they cannot achieve on their own. While many say they have a shared purpose, they do not.  The approach should clarify what this is for the group, usually through inquiry, asking people why they care about the experiences and outcomes in the first place.

Seeing each perspective–most people think two things.  (1) They know what everyone else is thinking, or should be thinking, about any given topic, and (2) nobody else understands the richness of what they are thinking.  And, if I don’t know what I think myself, until I ask myself, until I think about it, how can anyone else know what I think?  Since most people do this, we all have mistaken pictures in our heads of other people’s realities.  The amazing technological breakthrough to crush this ubiquitous phenomenon?  The question.  Ask.  Inquiry-based approaches ask each perspective to describe their reality and then provide some form for validating it–confirming that the picture describes their reality, as they perceive it.

Holding it all together–most people are not able to hold more than a couple of moving thoughts in their head at a time.  Many graphically oriented processes, as described by the Strategic Clarity steps above, support people in building up a systemic understanding piece by piece, putting all of the pieces together graphically, so that they can all be held in the same space together.

Strategic decision making.  Once you overcome the barriers to strategic clarity, you have an understanding of what the system is.  The approach now guides you to decide (1) where to support what exists, and (2) where to start what does not exist.  Most of the existing parts of the system need to continue doing what they are doing–they are the basic infrastructure of the whole system–and some new things need to start, to shift the behavior of the whole system.  Support for on-going activities and initiation of new activities both require a process for all of the relevant stakeholders to decide how they will take on their respective roles.

Accelerating large-system evolution.  With this strategic clarity, the approaches now focus on how to accelerate the evolution of the large system.  Leading approaches draw from rigorous methodologies for collaborative tangibilization.

Collaboration.  To achieve the outcomes and experiences we all want, the approach is designed to unite us in going through a process to see what is, overcome the barriers, and achieve what we want for each of us and the whole.  Supported by the technical rigor of the strategic clarity steps described above, people are able to ask of each other, in these approaches, what do we know?  This is where human experience, intuition, and reflection excel.  Collaborative approaches interweave processes for accessing the individual and collective wisdom and the knowledge gained from the strategic clarity synthesis.

Tangibilization.  To tangibilize is to make tangible, to see a possibility, to see a pathway to manifest that possibility, to see an outcome along that pathway, and to adjust once one has witnessed what tangibilizes in the process.  This is evolution–learning along the way.  It  is about how to see what we want, a pathway to that outcome, while learning and adjusting as we evolve towards that outcome.  Tangibilization approaches build in evolutionary learning into the process, witnessing at each step along the way, what is being seen in possibilities, pathways, and outcomes, evolving as those in the system learn.  This is what we thought might happen, this is how we chose to test it, and this is what we learned, so now we will adjust what we think might happen.  Over and over again, by design.

The approach you take on should guide you to greater (1) strategic clarity and (2) accelerating large-system evolution.  For an example of a strategic systems-decision synthesis process my colleagues and I have developed in over a hundred change efforts over the past two dozen years, see Strategic Clarity 2.0.

THE HOW — How do the framework and process help you get SCALE?  CRISP stands for comprehensive, rigorous, integrative, simple, and purposeful.  As I did elsewhere, here I present the five CRISP criteria in a slightly different order.

Purposeful — The purposeful criterion of CRISP requires that the strategic process be clear why we are doing this process–the organizing essence of what we are trying to realize together. This is also known as the essential property of the system–the reason for which it exists, for which it self-organizes.

Comprehensive — The comprehensive criterion of CRISP requires that the strategic process provide a clear understanding of the boundaries of what is included as relevant and what is not included.

Integrative — The integrative criterion of CRISP requires that the strategic process make explicit the relationships among the different dimensions, perspectives, elements, and processes.

Rigorous — The rigorous criterion of CRISP requires that the strategic process be observable in reality, and reproducible.

Simple — The simple criterion of CRISP requires that the strategic process be simple enough to be understood.  This means that it must align with the rich complexity the human being is capable of understanding, not under or overwhelming them by dumbing down, oversimplifying, or overcomplicating the strategic process.

The CRISP criteria assess the degree to which a strategic framework and process support you, the strategist, in understanding what the system intends to achieve and how it works.

As you face daunting challenges, the SCALE and CRISP principles can guide your search for practitioners who provide large-scale-change frameworks and processes that can work with you to achieve the experiences and outcomes you believe are possible.

How Co-hosting Influenced My Leadership Approach — 14 European Leaders Share Their Experiences

My colleagues Ana Claudia, Christoph, and I recently shared, in a series of 4 blogposts, what we at Vibrancy and the Institute for Strategic Clarity learned, as co-investors with BUILD UPON and the European Climate Foundation, about: (1) co-hosting collaboration; (2) realizing the deeper shared purpose; (3) measuring impact resilience; and (4) scaling impact.

In this blogpost we want to share what leaders of the BUILD UPON team, from across Europe, learned on how to effectively ‘co-host’ large-scale cross-sector collaboration,  In the following set of video interviews, we explored how their application of the co-hosting principles over six months in their own specific contexts had changed their leadership approaches.

Watch the 3 – 4 minute videos here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FqKLcbOXltc&list=UUba8q8uz9c3e1r7Fm5eXc7A

We Don’t Collaborate Because It Is A “Nice” Thing To Do, Rather Because We Have To–What Science Tells Us

“The most important implication[s] of the complexity of social-environmental systems is that you can’t do just one thing (p 63) […and] fitting the pieces together..requires an ability to understand how changes in one..asset..are likely to interact with the other assets…Doing this perfectly is not within our reach.  But the revolutionary advances of the last decades understanding the dynamics of social-environmental systems provide a solid foundation on which to do it better” (p 51), according to Stanford’s Professor Matson, Harvard’s Clark, and UC Boulder’s Andersson in their recent framing of the emerging science and practices of social-environmental system resilience, in their book Pursuing Sustainability: A Guide to the Science and Practice (2016 Princeton Univ Press).

To do more than “merely one thing” is to realize that everything is connected to something else, and that each of those “something elses” belongs to someone, someone who makes decisions about it.  This level of understanding of how parts of the system interact, and how local decision structures influence them focuses on systemic decision structures.

While the complexity of dealing with many moving parts, which are each influenced by multiple, different stakeholders, can seem overwhelming at first glance, many of us in the fields of decision and systems sciences have spent many years finding efficient ways to integrate the best of human understanding and wisdom with robust technologies, increasing the strategic clarity a group of individuals can achieve together.  You can find many examples of strategic systems mappings of large-scale, complex systemic decision structures (here), as well as examples of groups mapping the underlying systemic agreement structures that influence the decisions made in the system (here).

“Without an integrated appreciation and understanding of the social-environmental systems in which decisions are being made, unintended and negative consequences will too often result” (p 53).

What People Mean By “We Are Systems Thinkers”

I have been meeting lots of people lately who talk about being “systems thinkers.”  As a person who has played in the field of system dynamics and systems thinking for two dozen years, I get excited when people self-describe as playing in the same space.  To me “systems thinking” refers to classical definitions of a system and of systems thinking, such as:

System.  “A system is a set of interrelated elements.” — Russell Ackoff, 1971

Systems Thinking.  “The ability to see the world as a complex system.” — John Sterman, 2000

I have also started to listen more carefully to what people mean about what they say and what evidence they use to show what they mean.  With this listening, it seems to me that people are actually saying very different things about themselves, often with the same terms.  I have heard three very different things that people mean when they say, “systems thinking.”

Focus on systemic structures.  By systems thinking, some people mean that they focus on systemic structures.  They primarily focus on their own node, their own system, within a larger system.  They use processes like causal diagrams, rich pictures, and systems archetypes to describe their part of the system, its causes, and what they can do about it.  You can find hundreds of examples here, where I too have published.  This focus on systemic structures that are very close to their own node in the larger system seems to correlate with what I have observed to be segregating design, where everyone in the larger system tends to focus on their own local dynamics, irrespective of what others in the system are thinking or doing.

Focus on systemic decision structures.  By systems thinking, other people mean that they focus on a set of interrelated decision structures.  They primarily focus on how the decisions influencing their own node are influenced by multiple stakeholders who are each making decisions about their own nodes.  They use quantitative modeling processes like system dynamics (see my dengue modeling) and qualitative strategic modeling processes like my own GRASP and Strategic Clarity  processes, often coupled with the “systemic structures” processes described above.  With these processes, they try to see the whole, how each stakeholder contributes to causes of the problem, and how to partner around what each stakeholder could do to shift the behavior of the whole system.  This focus on systemic decision structures around their own nodes and those of related stakeholders seems to correlate with what I see as flocking design, where people and groups within a larger system pay attention to each other, reacting to each other’s movements, with the focus still primarily on one’s own resilience.

Focus on systemic agreement structures.  By systems thinking, yet other people mean that they focus on both the underlying and surface-level structures of agreements that determine the systemic decision structures.  They primarily focus on how deeper structures of embedded agreements influence the system of decisions that each stakeholder consciously or unconsciously accepts in their interactions within a system.  They use processes of co-hosting collaboration to decide together what their deeper shared purpose is within the stakeholders of a larger system, seeing what the requisite unique contributions are from each stakeholder, and together developing creative possibilities that they then leverage and tangibilize together, using processes like the Harmonic Vibrancy Move Process.  This focus on systemic agreement structures seems to correlate with what I observe to be uniting design, where people come together to redefine the underlying agreements that shape their system, the experience they have, the outcomes they achieve, and the resilience of the impacts they achieve.

So, the next time someone tells you they are a systems thinker, I invite you to perk up your ears, listen a little closer, and ask questions.  Look for the evidence of what they actually mean.  Are they focusing on (1) systemic structures to improve segregating designs, (2) systemic decision structures to support flocking designs, or (3) systemic agreement structures to co-develop uniting designs?  Those few moments of extra inquiry and evidence gathering might tell you a lot about what they actually mean.

Reading Agreements Evidence Maps

What we want to see

Our daily experiences, outcomes, and the impact resilience of our efforts are deeply influenced by a set of deep, underlying agreements that we rarely see and usually accept unconsciously—a vast array of interwoven, socially embedded, economic, political, cultural and social assumptions.  If we want more engaging experiences, better outcomes, and more resilient impacts, we need to see these agreements, so that we can choose the ones we want.  These agreements are usually hard to see and unknot.  We have been developing the Agreements Evidence Map to help.

What the AEMap is

The Agreements Evidence Map (AEMap) provides four classic “lenses” on one experience—questions humanity has asked for many, many years—the economic, political, cultural, and social.  The AEMap focuses these four very different lenses on the same experience, highlighting very different aspects of that experience—how much is perceived to be available of what resources, who decides and enforces how those resources are allocated, what criteria are used to decide, and how everyone interacts.  The AEMap also distinguishes three “levels” of an experience: the possibility, development, and outcomes levels.  The AEMap process maps the “evidence” of the agreements in any given situation, as seen through these four lenses and these three levels.

What the AEMap shows us

When filled with the “evidence” of the agreements in any given situation, the AEMap gives one a deeper sense of what is possible in a specific set of agreements and what is still possible to gain from shifting the agreements.  Our research and practice over the past decade, applied in a dozen countries, coupled with survey results from 98 countries, shows that the agreements underlying groups that are disengaging versus engaging, attacking versus cooperative versus collaborative are completely different.

How to read the AEMap

In the AEMap we can also see, which agreements are well codified and in everyone’s awareness (colored green), which are frequently experienced often beacuse of specific people or processes (colored yellow), which are rare (colored red), and which ones have never been experienced (colored white).

By highlighting what agreements are evidenced in one’s experience, the agreements that would lead to a more engaging, more collaborative experience become obvious.  You can see many examples here.

Scaling Impact — What We Are Learning from BUILD UPON Cambridge, Madrid, and Brussels

In this 4th of a series of 4 blogposts, we share what we are learning, as co-investors with BUILD UPON and the European Climate Foundation, about: (1) co-hosting collaboration; (2) realizing the deeper shared purpose; (3) measuring impact resilience; and (4) scaling impact.

SCALING IMPACT

In BUILD UPON, we are working regionally, as Europe, across 28 member states, and within each member state.  We have spent the last two years working with thousands of stakeholder groups who influence the building renovation, renewable energy, and energy efficiency industries, across geographic, economic, political, cultural, and social diversities.  To scale the impact of all of this local, national, and regional work, we saw that six steps were necessary.  

“What it means to renovate the entire building stock. It means comfort.  It means better housing, more energy security. It means engagement.  We need to get industry stakeholders, policy makers, finance, all together, and that needs to be sustained over time.”

Celine Carre, Saint-Gobain

First, we need to identify the one, unifying deeper shared purpose that would bring us together to collaborate across all of these diversities.  We achieved a next step towards this with our Common Vision, developed with 100+ stakeholder representatives in Madrid, described in the earlier blogpost “Realizing the Deeper Shared Purpose.”

BUILD UPON social network analysis, EU member states

Second, we need to gather the people together, around this deeper shared purpose.  People who are committed to shifting the economic, environmental, health, and social impacts of energy and buildings in Europe.  We have a critical mass of those people engaged in BUILD UPON, ready to move forward together.

Third, thousands of positive deviants are figuring out many of the parts of this, within their own specific cultures.  We need to identify them, study them, and showcase them, so that others at the local, national, and regional levels can learn from and with them about their technical and social innovations.

Fourth, we need to gather with each other and learn from each other, taking advantage of the many platforms for learning with and from each other that already exist, are gaining broad support, and are evolving and maturing.

Fifth, we are now clear that through collaboration, we can achieve far more together than we can alone or through simple cooperation—more, in the same places, at the same time, regionally, nationally, and locally.

Sixth, we have already begun to experience the very tangible impacts and greater resilience of co-hosting this collaboration together.

So, now we are focusing simultaneously on regional, national, and local-level efforts, highlighting what we are learning about (1) our best efforts everywhere, (2) local positive deviants, (3) how to share insights across professional, industrial, geographic, and linguistic cultures, and (4) coming across with a simple and effective measurement system that allows us to focus on the impacts we want to generate and to track the collective effort at the same time we capture feedback to improve local and national initiatives.  We have to, because we agree that it is important to achieve our social impacts, and to achieve them we see clearly that we must collaborate.

We thank our colleagues at the European Climate Foundation (ECF), the BUILD UPON team, the co-hosts (link to previous blog in series on “co-hosting collaboration), the Madrid participants, the Institute for Strategic Clarity, and Vibrancy—all co-investors in this process together.