Aligning Beliefs and Tactics

May 7, 2014 2 Comments

“We see the world not as it is, but as we are.”

-The Talmud

Last week I had the privilege of being part of faculty for the launch of the Presidio Institute’s Cross-Sector Leadership Program in San Francisco.  My role in representing IISC was to lead conversation around core concepts and frameworks related to the design and facilitation of complex multi-stakeholder change processes. The last day I partnered with Jennifer Splansky Juster from the Collective Impact Forum to do a deeper dive around collaborative process design, with Jen offering more guidance around the specifics of taking a “collective impact” approach. During this session, I invited Fellows to step back and take a deeper view of their cross-sector change work by reflecting on the framework above, the essence of which I have inherited from the thinking and work of Carol Sanford.

This framework offers that our chosen change methods are always grounded in an underlying belief system about what we hold to be true about humanity, the world and what constitutes “knowing.”  Not being aware of or transparent about this can get us into difficulty when it leads to mixing and matching techniques/methods that may contradict one another, or when we are not operating from the same system of beliefs as others.  Here are some questions I offered the CSL Fellows in consideration of their cross-sector work:

  • Technology/Methodology – One observation I offered from many complex multi-stakeholder change initiatives is that they can devolve into “tactical sectarianism” – people otherwise aligned around the same big goal fighting over preferred change or problem-solving approach/ technique. Some of this may be resolved by a deeper joint exploration of context (What is the core challenge/opportunity?  What is our desired future?  What influencing factors must we consider?), but also by looking into some other underlying assumptions . . .
  • Ontology – The question at this level has to do with how we understand human “being.”  I was struck during a visit with the Fellows to Google to hear the statement – “We believe that if we give people freedom, they will do amazing things.”  This is a statement about human being, or at least the beings that Google hires.  Our change techniques are often a reflection of what we believe about human nature.  What do we believe about the starting point and potential of people implicated in our change work?  Do we have different beliefs about different people? Why?
  • Cosmology – Underlying or associated with our view of human being is a worldview, a cosmology. It is significant, for example, whether we see the world operating as a machine or as an evolving and dynamic system and how human beings fit into that view.  Are we cogs or dynamic contributors?  What do we believe about the world and the nature of change itself? How are our change methods an expression of this (or not)?
  • Epistemology – Epistemology speaks to how we know what we know.  At various points during the launch in San Francisco, we heard from people referencing “evidence-based” and “data-driven” approaches.  The question that emerges at this level is What do we consider legitimate forms of knowing that yield evidence and data?  Are we only looking at cerebral, analytical, intellectual sources?  Do we believe we can know about the world and humanity in other ways – intuitive, affective, kinetic, “spiritual?”

Curious to hear reactions to this framework and questions and what they inspire as reflections on your change work.


  • christhompson says:


    This is wonderful stuff. You dive much deeper into what l call the need for shared learning that can result in shared understanding and a common agenda. Your observation about tactical sectarianism rings very true. And it’s a reflection of organizations using a “solve the problem” lens vs. a “build on the opportunity” lens. Mostly, your framework reinforces the importance of shared learning — if diverse sectors all see the world through a distinct lens it’s very difficult to get the type of alignment necessary to achieve change.

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