While many of these approaches and tools are not directly focused on working in change, we believe they can be very influential in helping to understand and work with people in ongoing uncertainty and change. They range from specific tools that can help locate yourself to approaches and paradigms that provide new ways of thinking.

As noted elsewhere in this site….

‘In other words, as systems theory never fails to point out against positivism, scientism, and reductionism, we must not forget that we are talking about models constructed for the purpose of explanation, not about reality, which has no purpose in explanation, no purpose to explain.’ 

Anthony Wilden, System and Structure

These tools and approaches allow us a place to start and provide reference points in an ongoing process – including our own wisdom together with what we are experiencing in the present moment:

Approach to Learning - How UK AID Learns

This 2019 Independent Commission for Aid Impact update looked at the the challenge of ensuring effective learning given the amount and rate of change that currently faced in the UK ODA system.

Approach to Overall Change in an Organisation

  • Systemic process models of change
  • Elements in change with an organisational, living systems framework
  • Locating ourselves in change (continuums and paradoxes)
  • Providing context for tools and models

Approach to Whole Person Learning

  • As outlined in the Oasis School of Relations website “The human being exists in a network of relationships, interconnecting arrangements and interdependent systems.” This ranges from the individual to organisations, from the planet’s ecology to the cosmos. This perspective clearly influences how we learn and adjust to ongoing change.
  • The booklet “Whole Person Learning” by Bryce Taylor is sponsored by Oasis and the Globally Responsible Leadership Initiative (GRLI). It can be downloaded here.

Approach to Learning Through Improvisation

  • What is improvisation….
    • Improvising is not “just” fantasy and imagination; it is what happens when our intentions meet the real world, with all its unpredictability. We smack into the limitations of materials and our abilities to manipulate those materials, the limitations of our relationships with other people, our collaborators or our opponents. Then what do we do? Who do we pick ourselves up, change our shape, learn to do new or old tricks?”
      (S. Nachmanovitch, The Art of Is, p135)
    • To improvise is to act in accordance with what is happening now, with who you are now, with who your companions are. At the same time we realize that this ‘now’ flows within a long sequence of ‘nows’. To improvise is to find the pattern in these happenings and develop it into something interesting, without expecting that it will turn out a certain way. Notice that pattern, amplify and share it where possible, and let it go when the time comes.
      (S. Nachmanovitch, The Art of Is, p211)

  • The discipline of improvising is being comfortable with being uncomfortable.
    (S. Nachmanovitch, The Art of Is, p59)
    • ‘….many of our institutions have been fine-tuned to present an atmosphere of permanent scarcity. And behind all this fear, deeply ingrained in our collective values, is the idea of a God who punishes our transgression. Students often believe that if they make a mistake it is because they are bad, stupid, or unworthy…..
      (S. Nachmanovitch, The Art of Is, p59)
    • ….we have spoken about the importance of the safe space, the sheltered temenos in which one is free to work and play, teach and learn, laboratories in which one can experiment without fear of judgement or punishment. But safe spaces do not persist forever. Often they are disrupted by circumstances beyond our control. Then what we need is the capacity to be interested in whatever is around us, even if the context is terrible. The ability to become interested in sensory minutiae even in painfull places, to engage the imagination, seems to be a hallmark of those who persist in their creativity.
      (S. Nachmanovitch, The Art of Is, p229)

  • As soon as you teach, in the sense of transmitting information and methods, your are limiting improvisation.
    • Information and methods are important, but they come in at a different level of learning. The only way to enable improvisation is to step back to create an empty space (and at first, a safe space) into which the participants can move of their own free will. To guide improvisation means giving people permission to do what they already know how to do, opening up a space in which it feels safe to take risks.
      (S. Nachmanovitch, The Art of Is, p65)
    • My job as a teacher is not to lead, but to nurture, and to encourage students to have the gumption to do what is theirs to do. Maintaining a nurturing environment in which people feel safe to explore and experiment: that is the essence of education. We try to fill up empty space and time, afraid to let them stay empty……. Sometimes it takes a colossal output of energy to remain calmly quiet and not intervene.
      (S. Nachmanovitch, The Art of Is, p67)
    • As Westerners we’re culturally trained to ask the question, “Why?” – always looking for a purpose or a reason behind things. It’s a peculiar obsession that prevents us from letting a thing, an event, an experience, an emotion, an action exist for what it is. Inherently complete.
      (S. Nachmanovitch, The Art of Is, p82)
    • Interactive learning means speaking together, playing together, experimenting, conversing with friends, or moving and breathing in slow dialogue with a book, with the personality of the dead author, dwelling in the complexity of intermingling cultures. We can do that whether we are in the same room or on opposite sides of the globe. Rhythms of silence and memory wake up our mutual connections. Education should always be interactive, interpersonal, and exploratory. Where it will lead, no one can predict. Merely transmitting information is not teaching.
      (S. Nachmanovitch, The Art of Is, p98)

  • Balancing old and new / knowing and openness / pattern and change
    • Our modern ears hear improvising as creating something all new and of this moment. It might seem contradictory to improvise with prefabricated materials: epithets, formulas, well-known story lines. We like to think of creativity as fresh and new. But it is possible to fresh and old.
      (S. Nachmanovitch, The Art of Is, p90)
    • Improvising is the ability to approach an encounter with knowledge and skill but also to come empty and open – to empty yourself of knowledge and skill to the degree that your expectations do not prevent you from seeing what is in front of you.
      (S. Nachmanovitch, The Art of Is, p137)
    • Ecclesiastes said there is nothing new under the sun, that every event is a part of cycles that have repeated forever. Heraclitus said you can’t step in the same river twice, everything changes, nothing repeats. Both were right. Rub those two perspectives together, like rubbing your hands together. Pattern and change move as a pair, like the foot before and the foot behind in walking.
      (S. Nachmanovitch, The Art of Is, p167)

Dialogic OD

  • Transformative change, dialogue, addressing narratives, emergence
  • Robert Marshak – article
    • Contrasting assumptions of Dialogic OD and Diagnostic OD
    • ‘I find myself more interested in, and most effective, when I am drawing attention to and confronting deeply held conceptual metaphors or storylines that are implicitly framing experience. From a dialogic perspective I am seeking to “disrupt” the prevailing storyline (alter or break the taken-for-granted frame) while creating a context or container that is safe enough for people to explore new possibilities.’

Adaptive Leadership

  • Adaptive leadership is specifically about change that enables the capacity to thrive
  • for wicked challenges – R Heifetz – article

Warm Data

as developed by Nora Bateson

  • The following is a quote from the Bateson Institute website about Warm Data Labs. “The Warm Data Lab process is an exercise for use with groups, who are interested in strengthening and further practicing their collective ability to perceive, discuss, and research complex issues. By shifting perspectives through a transcontextual conversational structure, the Warm Data Lab process increases people’s abilities to respond to difficult or “wicked” issues. Because so many of the challenges that we face now are complex, we need approaches to meeting that complexity.”


Paradoxical Theory of Change – Arnold Beisser, Rick Maurer, etc

  • Can’t force change to happen
  • You can only create the conditions for change to happen
  • Heightening awareness of the current state – ‘what is’ and owning

Models and Tools

  • DREC – Denial, Resistance, Experimentionation, Commitment – Cycles of Change
  • Oasis 7 Stage Model for Effective Working Relationships – free download
  • John Heron’s Six Category Intervention Analysis
  • Crisis Response Measures and Sense Making – RSA
  • Outcome Mapping (OM) -In OM thinking change in complex contexts arises from how, in their context, people and groups of people think, behave and interact. (see blog by Jeph Mathias) There is a focus on:
    • putting outcomes- changes in behaviour, attitude, relationship and policy- right at the centre,
    • defining the ‘system’, as a dynamic construct of key people/organizations’ actions and interrelationships and locating meaningful change as changes in how the system works (not just looking inward at the project and its own activities)
    • mapping and tracking the complex pathways of those key groups towards changes in behavior, attitude, relationship and policy (rather than simply logically planning project activities and measuring linear outputs)
    • deliberately designing ways contribution to outcomes can be monitored and responded to (rather than just tracking activities and “results”).
    • evaluating via outcomes (changes in other people and groups), why they occurred and what they imply (rather than only asking what the project

Cooperative / Collaborative Inquiry – information coming
Action Learning / Research – information coming
Laloux / Teal – details coming