Produced by Julius Khamati Kuya
On Wednesday, July 27, 2022, a group of systems change practitioners gathered for the twelfth peer learning session of the Thought Leadership for Systems Transformation program to discuss their reflections on the work and teachings of Chris Corrigan and Kelly Foxcroft-Poirier.
Participants’ reflections were recorded and processed according to the Collective Narrative Methodology to create a balanced summary of key ideas that showed up in group discussions using participants' own words and giving every participant an opportunity to ensure that their ideas are included.
Here is the recording of the group call with Chris Corrigan and Kelly Foxcroft-Poirier based on this collective narrative:
Appreciating Chris and Kelly’s spaces and looking for a balance between nourishment and healthy disruption
In our lively conversations, some of us appreciated Chris and Kelly’s complementarity and expressed an understanding of why they paired up while others saw a lot of overlaps and similarities in their style and the way they hold space. We also talked about the partnership between Chris and Kelly in the context of synergies between indigenous ways of knowing and Western science that is related to complexity, group dynamics, and the capacity to embrace chaos. We discussed the video with Kelly hosting a conversation on cultural appropriation that we watched before our peer learning session and recognized Kelly's great ability to work at the qualitative level, in the emotional human interaction dimension which is so much needed to be strengthened at this time.
In our discussions, we shared appreciation for the way that Chris and Kelly hold space for conversations that can be difficult: the way they hold it feels so enriching, so loving and inclusive, which really leads to healing of the damage and exploration of new possibilities that emerge from this healing. It is really wonderful to see these spaces blooming and, at the same time, there are also all the difficulties that come from the domination of colonial practices and mindsets in our global institutions and in a lot of work that is guided or controlled by these institutions, so how do they find a balance between nourishing human connections and disrupting the oppressive systems of influence?
Some of us brought up the concept of friendship-based organizations that we learned from Chris: it is good to start organizations with friends because ‘complexity work’ is relational. It is good to have somebody by our side whom we know very well, whom we trust, and then host spaces with them together. Just like diversity is important, trust and relationships are important as well. So the question is how do we find that grounding in a situation where there are power struggles, institutions are oppressive, where there is a need for conversations that are confrontational, that are disrupting the status quo or triggering people?
Evoking unique gifts of grassroots voices and dealing with power structures that suppress them
So what advice could Kelly and Chris give us, especially those of us who are working in environments where these oppressive structures are super powerful and super overwhelming for people, where people feel isolated and even attempts to build those relationships that are needed for handling complexity are punished by the dominating system? How do we navigate that? And even in less extreme contexts, how do we bring grassroots voices to “big halls”? How do we hear people with passion who are not doing it for a career, but because of just personal compulsion and for the joy of the work itself?
Some of us who are working with local communities shared plans for an unconference as a space for women and children in the local community to discuss the same questions that are being discussed in the “big halls”. Their perspectives are so valuable and it is really important for them to be heard: they are probably in a much better position to solve these problems because they know them from their own lived experience. However, there are really big entrenched systems that have their own agenda. How do we disrupt that and get the power for grassroots voices to be heard and to be taken seriously?
Also, each person comes with their own area of expertise, and sometimes the problem at hand might not fit so neatly or might be in a completely different area than someone’s expertise, so some of us wonder how we can evoke the unique gifts of everyone who is participating and ensure that everyone's gift is being put to the best use. And how do we know that we have achieved optimal participation or good participation? How can we reflect on or measure the effectiveness of these gatherings?
Exploring the Art of Hosting and alternative ideas about process and emergence
Some of us with experience working in organizational contexts reflected on all the processes that seem to be geared toward corporate settings where participants are employees of one entity and noted that life mostly is not like that, especially when we talk about communities, farms, etc. So should not we then rather be thinking in terms of having a set of principles, so that if all we did was learn those five or seven principles about co-learning and co-development of ideas, that should be sufficient? For example, one of those principles would be to listen, to be able to have a state where we listen without forming conclusions, just absorbing ideas, allowing them to sit within us, and using our intuitive capability so that they form a picture. This methodology would be unique to each individual so when they form and propose the picture, that would be the optimal contribution of each individual within the bigger thing.
Talking about specific processes and approaches, some of us who had experienced Art of Hosting shared that we saw how great it is for working with complexity and creating spaces for generative dialogue and emergence while some others who had not gone through it but read about it had a question about the structure of the process that starts with purpose. This might be a very naive question, but if the intention of the process is to cause emergence—the emergence of innovation, new ideas and solutions—then, if we start with purpose, aren’t we creating a box within which we are asking people's thoughts to be?
If we really want emergence, some of us think that it needs to be more open—not an open space with nothing in it, but more of the guardrails that we see in the music world—not a box, not a goal, not a purpose, but guardrails: “Here are some guardrails for us to hold on to see where we get.” So what Chris and Kelly can share about that and what is the role of hosts or facilitators versus the role of culture or shared principles in organizations and communities?
Propagating the work and training new facilitators
We also talked about propagation: how can learning experiences that Kelly and Chris create be transplanted into many more communities? Chris and Kelly have a unique body of work and talent: how transferable is it? Some of us who have not gone through any of Kelly and Chris’ processes ourselves are curious whether it is possible to pull one off without having experienced it. Is there any guidance or advice on that?
We spent a lot of time talking about the dichotomy between the art and science of facilitation and the individual qualities of the facilitator in a successful participatory process. Specifically, we talked about people who are just starting facilitating and how important it is to know some structures, frameworks, and concepts versus developing the capacity to hold space and how this is working for different people.
There are some situations that we discussed where learning a lot of concepts and frameworks was not enough to be able to hold space. However, there were some situations in which learning a very limited number of frameworks and processes got people stuck with them which limited their self-development as facilitators and their capacity to hold space. So it would be interesting to hear how Chris and Kelly approach that in their work. When is someone ready to facilitate? Based on what Kelly and Chris have observed in their practice, what do some typical patterns in a facilitator’s journey look like?
Motivation, passion, and practices to ‘stay in the fight’ and do our work sustainably
Some of us also had questions about motivation. We had a great big conversation about our personal motivations and passions. It was very inspiring to get to know people’s 'why' and it was lovely to meet such great people who are not doing this work for the financial aspect of it. So similarly to how we discussed each other’s motivations, we are curious to hear more about what motivates Kelly and Chris to do the work that they do.
Another important question is how do we sustain ourselves as the smallest part of the system in systems change? At least for some of us, this work is a ‘fight’ and it is hard, so how can we go beyond frustrations and stay passionate, ‘stay in the fight’, and do sustainable work? What practices can help us become the people who can do the work, hold the space, and make the change personally? Are there personal practices that Kelly and Chris do on a daily basis that they find very integral in continuing their work sustainably over time? What are some best practices that we can apply in a community context?
Emerging issues in human civilization and relationships
With all the existential threats and systemic dysfunction that we see now on a global scale, what do Chris and Kelly think about the future potential of the human civilization, and what are some of the most promising, beautiful, or surprising responses to our global crisis that they have seen in their practice? What is the cutting edge of Chris and Kelly’s work as individual practitioners and as colleagues who work together? What are some of the most meaningful ways to keep learning from them, explore their spaces, and invite them to contribute? Finally, when they read our reflections on their work, what are they noticing in our thought processes or in their reactions that could add additional depth to our understanding of systems transformation?