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Convening communities of inquiry

What are our doings doing?

Published onAug 31, 2020
Convening communities of inquiry

I  work with practices of social reflexivity. This is the work of examining together what our words and deeds are shaping, as  people participate in founding and sustaining communities, projects and enterprises intended to foster social change. The kind of social reflexivity I am interested in is essentially phenomenological: it involves attending carefully to striking scenes and experiences as they occur; narrating as precisely and evocatively as possible what appears to be happening there. It involves listening for what such acts of narrating - such saying and showing - discloses to ourselves and others. How it re-configures the meaning of both the scenes we are in and many scenes of our own past and a more collective past - revealing the influence of all we remember and forget, on our current ways of seeing/understanding. How does this open up new moves? And how can we make public the fruits of such inquiring work in ways that strike others in many different circumstances to find also new next moves there?

Examples of this work include:

  • convening the Research in action community at Schumacher Society;

  • joining the ‘conversational life’ of organisations and institutions, as guest/adviser/consultant attempting to take a lead in inviting greater spontaneity, frankness, risk, and improvisation in our sense-making dealings with one another;

  • educating and influencing, through speaking/workshops/writing on working with social change as the emergence of shifting form in the flow of complex processes of relating.

I have had the good fortune to work with inspiring colleagues—Henri Bortoft, John Shotter, Brian Goodwin, Ralph Stacey who have all, sadly, died before me and my constant companion of the mind, Hannah Arendt, who also lived before me. All have influenced me deeply as have the tango dancers, theatre directors, actors, poets and artists who have shared their craft. If I have a favoured approach it has been ‘working live’—working with what is happening right now, often on many levels simultaneously, in the public realm that we open up between us. Here events occur whose exploration can throw a revealing light backwards and forwards on what we like to think we are doing.

Between 2000 and 2017 I was a Visiting Professor at University of Hertfordshire where I co-founded one of the UK’s first professional doctorates in complexity approaches to organisation and leadership. During this same period I was also a Visiting Fellow of Schumacher College in Devon.

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