Topic Modules

We pursue a modular approach to our in-person training, which allows us to customize for your people, situation, and learning goals while quickly drawing from our substantial body of materials.

What is a module?

Modules combine short lectures, learn-by-doing activities, and materials packets. They were created over our last seven years of teaching and client work.

Brief descriptions of our current module set appears below. You should know that when we work with you, we may draw parts from different modules to accommodate your goals.


Essentials of human experience

When we work with social systems, we face two gaps in the way most professionals have been trained.

The first gap is in our understanding of people and relationships.
Relationship and human depth are key to understanding situations and producing lasting results, but we don’t take time to understand either, and we aren’t good at working with either.

The second gap is in our lack of systemic approaches.
Many of our challenges are systemic, but our methods are honed to produce “solutions.” We need new practices for intentionally shifting the patterns of complex social situations.

Marc Rettig, How do we work?

Click the module titles to see more details.

This work drops you into a pool of complex relationships where things like privilege, oppression, past trauma, allegiances, approval and powerlessness becomes very real.

This module will help you…

  • See how power and oppression is historically, systemically, institutionally and personally distributed
  • Locate where you carry power & privilege in your own set of identities
  • Delve into the subconscious and understand bias better
  • Experience generative dialogue to learn about the different lived experiences in the room
  • Level the playing field better by surfacing power differentiations, past conflicts, listening to the various needs in the room & create agreements
  • Work with some of the difficulty including guilt and an eroded or overly developed sense of agency.

All situations and people arrive in the present through a complex and abrasive past. Our world is riddled with practices of displacement, systemic oppression, segregation and silence. If our efforts to go forward paves over a painful past, we will not succeed in our work.

This module will help you…

  • Understand the impact of trauma on the human psyche
  • Understand what the healing process look like
  • Explore healing practices on a personal and group level
  • Learn from societal programs and healing practices
We create the world in our image, but we don’t want to re-create the same world/ This module will help you:
  • Understand how beliefs are formed and why they don’t easily change
  • Establish a practice of noticing and shifting your own beliefs
  • Learn how experience and dialogue have the power to shift group’s beliefs
  • Learn how to move yourself or a group from judgement towards empathy and action

Emotions drive us, consciously or subconsciously. If we do not meet someone’s emotions directly, we will meet them in more subtle forms like resistance or dissociation.

This module will help you…

  • Build a vocabulary of emotions
  • Understand the importance of emotions
  • Learn strategies for individual and group work acknowledge, welcome, inquire into and channel strong emotions

Essentials of creativity and complexity

Most of the management approaches we have in place have evolved from order, not from complexity. But most human systems are complex. So we need to rethink the way we research and the way we do decision-making. …A complex adaptive system is not causal, it’s dispositional. There are no foreseeable repeating relationships between cause and effect. You can however make out how the system is disposed to act. It may evolve in this way, it may evolve in that way, but it can’t evolve in that direction. So understanding they are dispositional systems, not causal systems, is key.”

Dave Snowden, Cognitive Edge

If you are new to working in a way where the “design team” is a subset of the community engaged in a process of understanding and then creating their shared future together, this will module will help you:

  • Understand why complex systems made of humans do not bend to our top-down plans
  • Understand how complex systems and humans change and develop
  • Discern between situations best served by recipes, expertise and iterative prototypes, or portfolios of experiments  
  • Get an overview of successful approaches to complex multi-stakeholder situations
  • Try on the mindset of seeing it all as a process of working in uncertainty

This module gives key ideas, methods and practices to people who:

  • Feel disconnected from their own ability to engage in playful creativity and exploration
  • Are unfamiliar with the creative rhythm of "diverging and converging" and its cycles of "observe, reflect, make"
  • Are new to work in a way where the “design team” is a subset of the community or system

Learning goals

  • Acquire practices for reviving and maintaining your innate ability for creative flow
  • Learn and practice the basic creative process: “observe, reflect, make, iterate”
  • Practice navigating the shift from curious, divergent, exploratory mode and focused, convergent, decision mode
  • Learn practices for recovering your ability to stay in “the sandbox,” suspending the impulse to drive for results long enough for surprises to appear

Group Co-Creation

Conversations are very powerful tools of action and change… Conversation as an approach to work is also merciful, as it does not ask us to take on more weight or responsibility; it simply asks us to stay involved, to keep the conversation going. …Trying to get people engaged in a particular task is often impossible through coercion or legislation. Human beings do not often change gladly to do others’ bidding— whether it’s to change their behavior or to increase their productivity or to pursue the many goals of the organization. What we can do, however, is to create a conversation that is invitational to our own and other people’s best powers, that releases imagination, creativity and energy.

David Whyte, Five Conversations on the Frontiers of Leadership

Learn to involve people from many perspectives and levels of power in the work of understanding and creating.

This module will help you…

  • Create a map of your situation
  • Explore difference between self-selected vs. curated convenings  
  • Use listening as the first step of convening
  • Create compelling invitations
  • Think through different types of sponsorships for a long project

Your group holds the answers and questions you need to go forward, it is only a matter of creating the right spaces and set the dialogues in motion to discover it. Learn the basics of generative dialogue.

This module will help you…

  • Understand why dialogue is key to helping us shift our deeply ingrained patterns of beliefs and therefore our better future
  • Understand the different layers of dialogue
  • Experience and understand the arc of a good session
  • Understand how to set the conditions in place for generative dialogue
  • Learn group activities and practices for seeing and making sense of situations together, reflecting together, and exploring possibilities together.

The willingness and wisdom you need to proceed lives in the group, but what methods can we use to bring this out of people? Through experience, quickly learn a rich set of group methods that enliven and deepen alignment and collaboration.

This module will help you…

  • Expand and diversify your kit of group methods to help people listen, talk, think and work in groups.
  • Go beyond the limited palette of meetings, presentations, workshops, happy hours, and arguments.
  • Pack a lot of learning into a short amount of time.

Method-specific facilitation modules

We can give you hands-on experience with a wide range of modules, which range in difficulty from “easy for anyone who has run a meeting” to “significant facilitation experience is advised.” While we don’t claim to provide deep facilitation training, we have given many people their start in confidently planning and conducting many kinds of group sessions. 

We draw from…


Relationships and Communication

She realized that she couldn’t create peace in the world if her inner life was a place of hatred and war. On the other hand, by healing herself, she would become a source of peace in the world.

Martha Beck


The stuff of this work is about standing in community and standing in community requires that we move beyond codependent relationships that burn you out and foster healthy, resilient, reciprocal relationships that build trust. 

This module will help you…

  • Differentiate between healthy relationship patterns and unhealthy relationship patterns
  • Learn what behaviors build trust, what behaviors erode trust
  • Learn skills to cultivate behaviors that build trust
  • Learn ways to repair relationship ruptures

Many of us has been raised in cultures that demand our conformity. This work evokes our creativity and asks of us to weather the ups and downs of the creative process as we move through uncertainty.

This module will help you…

  • Identify communication styles that might feel good and get results, but atrophies the relationship
  • Understand the principles of compassionate communication
  • Beef up your skills to listen and inquire (so you can get to the unspoken dissent and pain)
  • Understand your own habits when it comes to conflict  
  • Practice growing the skills you need to see and be seen inside difficult conversations
  • Practice welcoming conflict into a space

Managing Emergence, and the Long Haul

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, Community: the Structure of Belonging

We live in an amazing time of development and innovation of ways to engage with systemic, organizational, and socially complex challenges. All around the world, people are shifting from a mechanistic model of change, with its historic roots in Western industrial and consumer eras — “research, plan, design, and implement” — to models based on understanding of complex adaptive systems, living systems, and process views of organizations, communities, and human endeavors.

Meanwhile, the challenge of actually using these approaches can be long and difficult. They are fraught with uncertainty, and made of “materials” that are about 80% invisible — human relationships and beliefs, patterns of behavior, cycles of change, and so on.

Because our mission is to equip people and teams with the fundamentals of such work, we are not (yet?) prepared to bring you to full competence in one of these approaches. Others are more qualified to do so, and we will happily connect you with them.

But we can help you through the passage to new ways of seeing, working, and being that these approaches require, and provide you with an overview of the landscape: a set of approaches to complex challenges, when they seem to work and when they don’t, what’s required to get started, case stories, people and resources.

  • We live in amazing times: from cybernetics to a systems view of life 
  • Thought as a system and social autopoiesis
  • The adjacent possible, systemic probes and nudging
  • A process and conversational view of organizations
  • Participation and improvisation as a strategic stance

This module can be compressed or expanded by the number of approaches it covers, and the depth with which we explore and learn.

The approaches we cover may include…

  • Positive Deviance
  • Distributed ethnography and portfolios of probes
  • Facilitated co-creativity
  • When conflict and trauma prevent movement: transformative scenario planning
  • A home for emergence: social labs
  • Dialogic organizational development and working live
  • Visualizing participatory strategy

Others (like the good people at Cognitive Edge) offer courses and consulting that go deeply into the application and practice of these ideas. In this “fundamentals” module, we work through the key ideas and practice their application in an introductory but thorough way, providing an on-ramp for further learning.

  • There's more than one kind of systems thinking
  • Getting acquainted with the Cynefin Framework
  • Moving between complex, complicated, and obvious situations
  • Group methods for applying these ideas

Personal Presence and Transformation

Enabling change has always been the Holy Grail of environmentalists, but it has largely remained frustratingly elusive. …It could be argued that one of the reasons for this is that we have never really understood change, how it happens and what it entails.

Rob Hopkins, The Transition Handbook, p.84


This module will help you understand and practice…

  • The stance of letting go of control and partnering with life
  • Leaning into failure and adopt a mindset of continual learning
  • Suspending your judgement and getting curious
  • Working with your inner critic and cultivating the arrogance of belonging
  • Setting good boundaries, making space for rest
  • Welcoming your fear, resourcing yourself in the present and choosing trust over control