Collaboration for Sustainability 3: Who?

May 6, 2010 Leave a comment

collab 4

|Photo by jordigraells||

“In dealing with complex problems, our ability may be bounded, but our diversity is not. Diversity – be it based on identity, training or vocation — may be our best asset.”

– Scott E. Page

In last Thursday’s post, we talked about the importance of developing a shared identity among stakeholders, and doing this early in a collaborative process, as a way of developing greater commitment to collective interests as well as bolstering the inclination to think about and act in accordance with more long-term risks and benefits. Clearly more needs to be said about the WHO that is engaged in this work and how this aligns with sustainability.

Much has been written in the last few years about the surprising “wisdom of crowds.” This wisdom resides in the tapping of diverse (and sometimes dispersed) perspectives. Scott E. Page has spent considerable time focusing on the importance of diversity in solving complex problems. He has noted that people from different backgrounds have varying ways of looking at problems, or what he calls “tools.” Page’s research suggests that the sum of these tools is much more powerful among diverse stakeholders than in situations where everyone thinks alike. For example, there’s data that shows that diverse cities are more productive, diverse communities are more resilient, diverse boards of directors are better at decision-making, and that the most innovative companies are diverse. Page’s explanation is embodied in this quote:

“A perspective creates a landscape where the elevation of each solution equals its value. The better the perspective, the less rugged the landscape.

Just imagine the potential of diverse perspectives coming together to survey that landscape, taking the value of collectively generated solutions to new heights and breadth. The vastness of “ecological intelligence” actually requires this. Acting on this imagination and awarenesss, can we be more intentional about including or even assigning diverse perspectives? Jeanette Armstrong, Okanagan Canadian writer and consultant to the Center for Ecoliteracy, has shared the decision-making framework of her people as a model for acting sustainably. When people come together to discuss a matter, each person is asked to adopt one of four perspectives to speak from: land/place, family/relationships, security/sustenance, and vision/creativity. In considering any decision, all four perspectives must be fully considered and balanced with respect to ultimate impact.

The point is that if we lack the whole or larger picture, it is difficult to imagine meeting current needs without compromising those of future generations. This wholeness, and the promise of collaboration, depend in part upon our ability to include and act upon a variety of systemic perspectives. More on the how next time, and curious to hear your thoughts, reactions, experiences to this point.

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  • Curtis,
    As usual, you are speaking to the heart of the matter! To reforce and expand on your comments, I’ll try to briefly share some involvement I have with with two compelling organizations that speak directly to this.

    First, learning through the Presencing Institute about the transition from ego-driven institutional systems to eco-systems of collective awareness-based action. A key point that Otto Scharmer made today was that as we operate from many dichotomies and we are split off from ourselves, from others and from the environment, it is crucial to create learning forums where all players see their own fingerprints and roles in the system. His Theory U provides a roadmap for dropping into the field, as does much of our consulting/facilitation work at IA. However, when we do that only from a mechanistic or tool based focus, as we have at IA for years, I believe we reinforce the fragmentation and divisions in the field, not unify it. We need a set of collaborative practices that take us beyond process consulting into presence consulting.

    The other organization I’m involved with does precisely this: Matrix Leadership Institute here in Boulder which creates profound shifts in interconnection between people in groups through helping people learn about the territories and practices that divide us and how to drop into a deeper field of awareness. Their work is largely about how to skillfully migrate through and revel in our differences in order to move into the capacity for openness and powerful action.

    Rock on in the inquiry!

  • Curtis says:

    Wow, Susan. I love this idea of moving from process consulting to presence consulting, or integrating the two. That’s I think what I was speaking to in the last post, in referencing the need to build deeply held shared identity and intention. I think moving only into presence, we may cut ourselves off from what actually gets us to implementation. I’m reminded of why there is such as thing as “engaged Buddhism” for example. Perhaps a third path of sorts is to think more about “prototying,” that is experimenting with putting insights into practice, improvising process. Good stuff.

  • Yup Curtis, that is, as I’m sure you know, going up the right side of the U…Crystalliing and Prototyping…what’s so interesting about that for me is the requirement of letting go and letting come, as you presence something together, and then learning how to be in implementation together. I think that’s what IISC is really good at doing and teaching others to do thru Collaborative Social Change.

  • Curtis says:

    And Susan, I wonder how Theory U fits with communities that are already attuned to what it takes to be more sustainable. Is presencing required to get ourselves more in tune with our environment. I’m thinking of the eco-villages around this country, the eco-municipalities in Sweden, the Natural Step communities. I’d be interested in understanding how their processes mapped onto, or did not map onto, the U. Not to say the U isn’t helpful or important. Perhaps they would be in a different place with more integration of presencing. And I’m wondering about the overlay that you, Ash, John, and I have been talking about of “natural systems thinking” and understanding onto the U. That seems a critical addition. How does the Matrix Leadership Institute address this? How does presencing connect with ecological intelligence?

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