Facilitating Transformation in Living Systems

I-P-K typically adopts a whole system approach, which seeks to gather a broad diversity of actors around an issue. Each of these “view holders” has a particular perspective on a matter, which results from her/ his particular experiences, socialisation, wisdom as well as needs and interests. Any individual by him/ herself cannot have a holistic view of a matter – this applies even more if the matter at stake is complex in nature. It is only through interaction, mutual sharing and simultaneous learning that view holders can start understanding a complex matter in its entirety.

This leads us to two significant conclusions: (external) experts, whatever their degree of skills, experience and wisdom may be, can never come up with solutions that do justice to complex systems – their view by default will always remain particular and limited. The approach of enforcing such “expert solutions” to a “problem situation” will more often than not provoke (legitimate) resistance by the system. Only the entire system itself, can engage in a process from which possible ways forward of dealing with challenges and potential emerge/ are co-created.

Secondly, since systemic/ holistic views only emerge when different actors of a system interact, a fragmentary generation of perspectives and solutions (even if gained by a sequence of individual interactions) will always be piecemeal and thus insufficient. It is therefore essential to learn about a complex system as a whole by recreating it in one room with as many members as possible present at a given moment in time (collective and synchronous approach).

Some of the traditional management and facilitation paradigms lead to fruitless planning and strategy processes, as they do not take into account the nature of complex adaptive systems. Processes that are designed to control inputs and outputs, thereby presumably serving efficiency and effectiveness, in fact often undermine these desired objectives. We must distinguish between what we can and cannot control if we want to understand a complex system and pursue a holistic approach that creates ownership, which in turn leads to action that sustains itself and has a lasting impact. Factors such as motivation, attitude, and behaviour of people cannot be controlled – the same is true for creativity, content and outcome. What can be controlled and influenced though are structure and process.

I-P-K aims at creating conditions that encourage people to perform in a self-determined and self-organised way. We design and facilitate events, in which participants jointly discover where they come from and what is possible, i.e. which are the options in terms of the way forward they can choose from together. Participants create a shared vision and design an action plan geared towards putting their vision into reality. We draw on insights of recent system research, which suggest that the transformative processes and projects should build on three elements, namely boundaries/ limits, rules (that encourage favourable behaviour whilst discouraging undesirable behaviour patterns) and attractors, i.e. aims and values that attract the attention, the desire as well as the creativity and energy of involved actors/ participants.

Methodology

I-P-K applies techniques that belong to the genre of conversation or dialogue-oriented methods, often referred to as “whole system approaches”. They include methods such as Open Space Technology, Future Search Conferences, Real Time Strategic Change, Appreciative Inquiry, World Café, Theory U to name but a few.

These different techniques share similar assumptions and concepts whilst serving different purposes. They can be combined, altered and fusioned, according to the particular situations, conditions, and requirements. Factors such as the degree of conflict and tension within an organisation; levels of motivation, experience and knowledge of participants; size of the system; time frames; and resource availability, all influence the choice of methodology.

To gain a short impression of how these methods work in real life, have a brief look at this video. It shows six methods that I-P-K used and facilitated at the Interagency Conference on Local Economic Development, which took place in October 2008 in Turin, Italy.


Acknowledgement

Our approach builds on a variety of works and resources by: Harrison Owen (Open Space), Marvin Weisbord and Sandra Janoff (Future Search and Minimal Facilitation), David Cooperrider (Appreciative Inquiry), Adam Kahane (Facilitation in Complex Situations, Architecture of Processes), Otto Scharmer (Theory U/ Presencing), Juanita Brown (World Café), Margaret Wheatley (Complexity), Dave Snowden (Complexity) and many more. The I-P-K approach is in no way unique or of our origin and we would like to acknowledge the masterminds for their inspiration and guidance.

In our download section, you can find more information and detailed descriptions on the approach as well as several of these methods.