Running an Art of Hosting workshop this week for employees of the City of Edmonton. We are about 30 people all together looking at the art of hosting participatory process, convening and leading in complex environments where certainty is an artifact of the past.
Naturally because these people work for a municipal government, the conversations we are having tend to be about systems. We are working at the level of what it takes a system to shift itself as well as what it takes of an individual to lead when the answers are unclear.
For me, lots of good insights are coming up. A few that cracked in a cafe conversation this morning included these three:
- The fundamental question facing governments is not why or what or who, but HOW. How can we deliver services differently? How do we change to include more public voice in our work without losing our mandate? How do we cope with the scale of change, chaos, interconnection and complexity that is upon us? These questions are powerful because they invite a fundamental shift in how things are done – the same question is being asked of the Aboriginal child welfare system at the moment in British Columbia, which is looking to create a new system from the ground up. Shifting foundations requires the convening of diversity and integrating diverse worldviews and ideas.
- New systems cannot be born with old systems without power struggle. As old ways of dong things die, new ways of doing things arise to take their place. But there isn’t a linear progression between the death of one system and the birth of the new: the new arises within the old. Transformation happens when the new system uses the old to get things done and then stands up to hold work when the old system dies. While old systems are dying, they cling to the outdated ways of doing things, and as long as old systems continue to control the resources and positions of power and privilege, transformation takes place within a struggle between the new and the old. Ignoring power is naive.
- A fundamental leadership capacity is the ability to connect people. This is especially true of people who long for something new but who are disconnected and working alone in the ambiguity and messy confusion of not knowing the answer.
Its just clear to me now that holding a new conversation in a different way with the same people is not itself enough for transformation to occur. That alone is not innovation. The answers to our most perplexing problems come from levels of knowing that are outside of our current level. The answers for a city may come from global voices or may come from the voices of families. Our work in the child welfare system was about bringing the wisdom of how families traditionally organized to create a new framework for child welfare policy and practice, and that work continues. Without a strategic framework for action, for transforming process itself, mere reorganization is not enough.