17 November 2008

SusCamp '08: Lina Srivastava and Sean Howard

Although they may not realize it themselves, Lina Srivastava and Sean Howard are organization development practitioners working in the realm of social change - the sort of stuff that OISE's new Collaborative Program in Workplace Learning and Social Change focuses on. They facilitated an example exercise that addressed a real problem in the emerging world, that of waste pickers in Delhi losing their livelihood due to commercialization of waste disposal. The situation was simplified for the purpose of the session, and relatively little guidance was provided to the individual break-out groups at the outset. We were challenged to seek to understand how individual perspectives could be changed that would change behaviours, and subsequently lead to systemic change in a societal setting. (Howard is a marketer by background - his method was more-or-less OD; his vocabulary was marketing).

Having an OD guy in our group (me) enabled us to navigate the problem using a systems change approach. We asked "who's perspective are we talking about," and that led us to identify the various stakeholders and their particular interests. We then observed the complex interconnections among the interests - themes that would undoubtedly be problematic, through which feedback and feedforward loops would be created, causing ripple effects throughout the system. We then realized that the only way this complex issue would be resolved is by creating a space of engagement, in which all parties concerns would be heard and respected, and that the interrelationship polarities and tensions could be explored.

There's that "space of engagement" notion again - the basic principle of ba. In dealing with situations as complex as those that arise in an organization, or throughout the larger community, it is vitally important to be able to create a common space in which all parties can engage. Effectively, we are creating the conditions for a valence organization to emerge from among a group of individual constituencies, each with their own interest. Identifying and exploring the nature of the potential valence relationships becomes a means through which dialogue can be facilitated, and that, in turn, creates the ba space from which resolution can emerge.

Thanks to Lina and Sean for inspiring what has turned out to be an interesting line of thinking for me, taking Valence Theory from philosophy and theory, to praxis.

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Anonymous said...

Hey Mark,

Thank you SO much for the kind words AND your participation. We had some wonderful takeaways from the day at SusCamp and are looking forward to running the full day version of the workshop.

We both also really enjoyed your talk in the morning. The visualization of the cell structures and the shared electrons is stuck in my brain and we are working to implement it into our work.


Lina Srivastava said...

Thanks so much for your participation in our session. Your particular breakout group was interesting to me (a newcomer to the design thinking world) in that you demonstrated directly and rapidly the possibilities that arise when you bring together disparate viewpoints and organize them around a specific question. This is one of the concepts that led me to partner with Sean on this exploration of models for systemic change in the first place.

Sean and I have great hopes that we will get even more results like your breakout group's when we run the 8-hour version of this workshop. (A 50-minute session was challenging, but we were gratified by the number of the participants who brought and took so much value from the exercise.)

I also saw your presentation earlier in the day-- and am still playing with your idea of a tactility statement-- very interesting!

Thanks again, Lina