Conversation cohort

Working with participation and emergence

An online community of learners

These are such important times for the work of community, system, and organizational change. And there are such interesting times, with so many making compelling and hopeful experiments on so many fronts.

But it can be tough to do all that reading, listening, sense-making and synthesis on your own. Too much to read, and often a lot of chaff to sift through before you’ve got the wheat you need.

Our idea: make the invitation below, see who shows up, and support one another on this jolly, surprising, and difficult road to working well in complexity and uncertainty, fully embracing the depths of each human’s experience.

The invitation

You are invited to participate in a group of learners who seek to grow as contributors to system- and community-scale change, and who commit to one another’s learning and growth.


To become better able to participate in work that moves us toward equity and sustainability.

We hope to attract people who are motivated by a desire to contribute – somehow, big or small, in whatever corner of life they find themselves – to what Joanna Macy refers to as “The Great Turning.” We’re not really interested in learning for its own sake. We’re looking for a tribe who’s hungry to grow as contributors to systemic shifts.

You cannot predict the outcome of human development. All you can do, like a farmer, is create the conditions under which it will begin to flourish.

Sir Ken Robinson

The challenge is to think broadly enough to have a theory and methodology that have the power to make a difference, and yet be simple and clear enough to be accessible to anyone who wants to make that difference. We need ideas from a variety of places and disciplines to deal with the complexity of community. Then, acting as if these ideas are true, we must translate them into embarrassingly simple and concrete acts.

Peter Block

The ability to shift from reacting against the past to leaning into and presencing an emerging future is probably the single most important leadership capacity today. It is a capacity that is critical in situations of disruptive change, not only for institutions and systems, but also for teams and individuals.

Otto Scharmer

…In order to create a world that works for more people, for more life, we have to collaborate on the process of dreaming and visioning and implementing that world. …The more people who co-create the future, the more people whose concerns will be addressed from the foundational level in this world.

adrienne maree brown

Topics? Seeds of a group learning agenda

During the first two weeks of this gathering, we will get to know each other and collaborate on a lean coffee-style group learning agenda. We’ll keep the agenda updated as we go, and use it to guide the way we use online conversations, invite guests, gather and share resources, and cetera.

But just to give you a feel, here are the kinds of things we hope you’ll feel attracted to learn, discuss, explore, try, teach, play with:

  • Practical approaches to working in/with emergence for long-term system / community shifts (e.g., Social Labs, Positive Deviance, what the Fliplabs people do, the Transition Design stuff, social movements, portfolios of probes, …?)
  • Taking participation seriously: managing and facilitating participation over the long haul
  • Taking power, race, equity, justice, and systemic convening seriously in our work
  • Developmental evaluation
  • Useful models of systemic change
  • The Cynefin Framework and the practices that surround it
  • The vital tangle of scales: self, other, group, community and system
  • Oh my, there’s much more….

How it works

Community as curriculum

Marc Rettig (one of the Fit Associates principals) will act as convener and host, in hope that if this gels into something lasting, such roles will move around through the group. Marc has been digging into these topics for quite a while, but says he also has a lot to learn. He teaches some of these topics, but the idea is that this a group of peer learners, not a class with an instructor.

The idea of “community as curriculum” is that we all learn from each other, we learn from others together, we discover things from our similarities and differences, and we collaborate in ways that all benefit from each person’s learning.

We’re interested in learning as we go how best to host and facilitate this, and willing to make a commitment to a group of people who share similar passion for learning and impact.

Things that are probably so

We’ll charge a membership fee.

  • In part to fund things like honorariums for guests, scholarships for people who need one and who would greatly benefit and/or improve the group’s diversity, and um,… stuff
  • And in part — being honest here — because this is included in the category, “Stuff we do to make a living through work we believe to matter.”

At first we’ll cap the group size.
At say, more than six, less than twenty.

We’ll do it for a fixed period, then decide if we want to continue.
Six to nine months, for starters. Stay tuned.

To be determined

  • The particular online platform(s)
  • Kickoff date (Fall or Winter of 2018, we think)
  • Price (there’s a little survey in the form below)

Next steps

  • We’ll talk it up, circulate it, invite people, and keep going until a quorum forms.
  • Once we see sufficient interest, we’ll give it an online home.
  • We’ll turn on a bit of infrastructure, and ask people to commit time and a little $ — the invitation will be to act as citizens rather than consumers, bringing your gifts, your good questions, and your commitment to one another’s learning and growth.
  • We’ll set a kickoff date, propose a schedule, and off we go!
1 Step 1
Conversation Cohort: Participation and Emergence
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