A series of conversations on ideas, approaches, methods and stance

We enjoyed a collaboration with the generous and inquisitive Burgert Kirsten and his Liminal Podcast, which is also available on iTunes and SoundCloud. Our conversations resulted in a series of interviews about the work of shifting social patterns in communities and organizations.

The topics range across the landscape of ideas and work that some are calling “social innovation.”

The topics  are among those covered in our courses at the MFA in Design for Social Innovation at the School of Visual Arts in New York, and in short courses in the Carnegie Mellon University School of Design. You can get a feel for how these topics play out in class by looking at the syllabus site for one of our courses: socialdesignfoundations.com.

Interested in bringing these methods and skills to your team? Contact us.
We are in the process of packaging our materials for community and in-house organizational and corporate workshops. Contact us to learn more.

Episode 1: The Great Turning

We introduce Joanna Macy’s notion of “The Great Turning” — a third great shift in human society, in which we all are participating. The conversation leads into other models of systemic change, shifts in power structures, and the profound sense of participation we can draw from these ideas.

Links and resources mentioned in this episode

Joanna Macy and The Great Turning

Blessed Unrest – Paul Hawken

Berkana Model


HBR, Understanding “New Power”

Episode 2: Social Complexity and Human Depth — the Materials of Social Innovation

Working in social situations is different than other kinds of creative work, because the “material” is mostly invisible, and we cannot change it directly. In this episode we discuss the nature of social complexity — the web of relationships and conversations that make up any community, from a single family to a school, government, or global food system. We also explore the internal complexity of each human life, and discuss the implications of all this for our work.

Episode 3: Approaches to Social Innovation

Because social situations (from global systems to organizations to families) are so complex, we need ways to work other than “business as usual.” In this episode, Marc, Hannah and Burgert tell stories about systemic, participatory, emergent approaches to shifting the patterns of a community, organization, or system.

Links and resources mentioned in this episode

Fliplabs and Future of Fish

Positive Deviance

Social Labs

Transformative Scenario Planning

Grassroots community efforts
There are many examples we could give, but here are a few of our favorites:

Episode 4: Working conversationally — what happens in the room?

Eventually it comes down to groups of people in the room together. We see small groups as the “unit of work” of social pattern-shifting, and have benefitted so greatly from people across many fields who have developed the tools, methods and craft of hosting such groups.

In this episode, we use two stories — one from a neighborhood and one from the corporate world — to talk a bit about “what happens in the room.” Links to resources follow.

Links and resources mentioned in this episode


Dialogue facilitation resources

A two-part post on the lost practice of reflection in organizations

Reflection: the pause that gives insight
Part 1: Diagram hypnosis and analysis paralysis
Part 2: Methods and difficulties

Episode 5: From conversations that control to conversations that connect

Conversations can be tools to keep the status quo in place or the means with which we intend to control an outcome. Conversations can also be acts of collective meaning-making where participants engage in a process of learning and discovery, where they stay connected to each other as they embark on a creative endeavor.

In this episode, we explore how five aspects of a conversation — worldview, story, emotion, power and connection — can be used to control or connect across our differences and create new understanding.  Links to resources follow.

Links and resources mentioned in this episode

Nonviolent Communication 

  • The Nonviolent Communication site is chock full of resources.
  • Here is a 27-minute talk Hannah gave as an introduction to nonviolent communication and the necessary soft skills we need to use it.
  • This is a three-hour long workshop with Marshal Rosenberg, the founder of NVC, and worth watching!
  • Listen to a lovely interview Burgert did with Jo McHale on NVC

Active listening  

  • Start your search here and follow the links on the page for similar methods

Working with emotion

  • Difficult Conversations is an excellent book to help you understand the nuances of conversations better and offers tips on how to converse in a way that welcomes and works with emotions.
  • Tara Brach’s “RAIN” framework and meditation is a helpful framework to work with emotions in the moment.
  • Seeing emotions from a family systems perspective is helpful. Here is a short piece on emotional interdependence.

Staying connected 

  • Everything is Workable” is a book on conflict resolution written by mediator and meditator Diana Musho Hamilton. It has practical exercises on how to maintain connection to both self and other in difficult situations.


  • Two people who have helped me see this more clearly are Marshal Rosenberg, in his book “Nonviolent Communication,” and activist-writer  Charles EisensteinHere is an article and talk Hannah did on the worldview of control (oppression) and connection (“Sue”).

Episode 6: Diving into complexity

Social situations aren’t just complicated, they are truly complex. A family isn’t like a machine that you can diagnose and repair, and neither is a school, neighborhood, government, or any other social system.

We can (and must!) learn to discern between situations we can address with planning, research, expertise and design, and those whose complexity requires a different approach.

In this episode, Marc and Burgert talk about these ideas in as plain-spoken language as they can, and discuss the implications of embracing new ways of working for social outcomes.

Links and resources mentioned in this episode

Dave Snowden and the Cynefin Framework

Other stuff

Episode 7: White privilege

We cannot build a shiny future on a broken past. What if our generation can honestly engage with and transform the past pain and trauma we have inherited and heal the ruptures that exists inside and among us? In this podcast Hannah tells about her journey of becoming aware of her white privilege and the implicit pain and guilt that accompanies it.

Links and resources mentioned in this episode

Some resources to follow

  • If you are hungry for a deeper understanding of racism, here is the reading list from a anti-racism study group arranged by topic. It is put together by a group of people in the Pittsburgh area who are committed to helping white folks heal from racism and abolish white supremacy all together.
  • On Being is a podcast series that has several great conversations about where we find ourselves in relationship to race. Listen to Patrisse Cullors, co-founder of Black Lives Matter as she explores the possibility this painful moment in history holds; listen to Ruby Sales as she ponders a key question: “How do we raise people up from disposability to essentiality?” Or enjoy the wise words of John A Powell as he points out that being human means standing in relationship, and whitness keeps us from connecting to all people and belonging fully to the human experience.
  • Here is the Trauma Map mentioned in the podcast. It makes a great case for why is it important for us to have the difficult, but repairing conversations and not stay in our white neighborhoods or talk only about what is comfortable.

Part 8: Uncertainty as source

[In Marc’s opinion, this one gets off to a bit of a slow start, then gets into some good stuff. If the first few minutes aren’t working for you, he suggests you jump forward by clicking at about 14:58 into the program.]

Marc and Burgert have a good conversation about the question, “How does one take pleasure and have confidence in the work, when everything is so terrifically uncertain?” In talking about this, Marc reaches into some of his favorite poems to find language for why he sees uncertainty as a source of creativity, a source of the future, rather than a source of discomfort.

Links and resources mentioned in this episode

David Whyte

Poetry mentioned in this podcast

Part 9: Acceptance as core competency

When you make something in the physical world and meet something unwanted, say a rusted steel beam or fraying piece of fabric, you can remove it. You can dig it out, cut it away, demolish it. When we work in social innovation and we meet something unwanted or uncomfortable, like fear, anger, disapproval or pain, well… you can’t just hit the delete button. This podcast explores how acceptance of “what is” helps us do this work.

Mentioned in this podcast…


  • We talked about life coach Martha Beck. She is a great resource for people who are actively seeking to migrate from living a socially scripted life to “create your right life.”
  • Lewis Mehl-Madrona marries traditional Lakota wisdom with that of western medicine.
  • Pema Chödrön talks beautifully about the groundlessness of being we experience in life. Her “Tonglen Meditation” is helpful to use when you want to stay open to the pain in the world.

Poetry and prose