Beads - Passion for Facilitation

Capacity development, learning, change, poverty/power/progress

Blog about learning/change, facilitation, systems: small groups and large scale processes, and poverty/power/progress.


In my previous blog, I mentioned that the climate change world is filled with attempts to “integrate”, for instance integrating climate change adaptation into ongoing development programs. Big challenges like climate change adaptation require professionals from vary different scientific backgrounds and value systems to overcome their differences and develop joint action and research initiatives. In this context, I launched a search for experiences with bridging professional divides.


Interestingly, this is now bringing me back to leadership development. For those who have not read my 2010 article on Leadership Development Programs in Asia, current findings are that effective leaders:


  • Lead in complex systems
  • Achieve results in the face of unpredictability and uncertainty
  • Continue to learn, and guide others with their ongoing learning
  • Act through others by understanding their values, motives and behaviours
  • Provide vision, meaning and direction


The latest thinking is that leadership does not just reside in individual ‘leaders’, but also in groups, organisations and institutions. One of my interests is in how such leadership can be helped to emerge (note that in systems thinking, emergence means self-organisation). So my question is changing now to how leadership can emerge among organizations?


One lead I received on my quest came from Eric McNulty, who is associated with Harvard
University, and calls himself Leadership and Sustainability Catalyst. He is working on a graduate program in leadership of meta-systems scale challenges, such as Climate Change. You can checkout his paper here.


Eric’s paper elaborates on ‘leading in complex systems’, and uses climate change as to illustrate his points. One eye catching point is that each subsystem tends fall into the trap of advocating rather than inquiring. I very much recognize that, even in my own attempts to promote capacity development as a profession, but that’s for another blog. Somehow we focus on our own convictions, and on convincing the other. Systems thinkers believe that ‘you’ and the ‘other’ are far less important than the relationship, what’s happening between the two of you. This gets more complex the larger the system is. In the climate change adaptation system, the focus would be on the relationships and connections between individuals, organizations, networks etc. What seems to hold them together? What does this mean for the way change can happen?


Drivers of change are many, like setting standards, offering incentives, enabling self-organisation, setting inspiring new goals and, maybe most important, shifting the mindset. In the climate change subsystem that I’m currently working with, it’s maybe not so much about understanding the various professions, but more about understanding the already existing bridges between them (mindsets).


In another article that I contributed to in issue 41 of on facilitating multi-actor change, one of the main insights was that capacity develops in the interaction between people (Eric’s paper delves into that academically). If we facilitate sharing of interests in a way that these can be truly heard and appreciated, then people will find news ways forward. Capacity building is not about working with individuals or organisations, it is about making new and meaningful interactions happen. It is really through appreciating existing relationships and through developing new ones that a system is strengthened and will develop new capacity.


We cannot bridge professional divides, but we can create spaces in which professionals can build or strengthen bridges. It’s like growing natural infrastructure. My climate change adaptation colleagues will love that!

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