dialogueThis week could be summed up by the words ‘philosophically challenged.’ It seems that all CanCERN staff have been involved in conversations with others that have challenged thinking. And although the specific content of the conversations has been different, the overall message has been the same. Perhaps the planet is trying to tell us something.

Some staff had the opportunity to have a breakfast conversation with Milenko Matanovic this morning and his thinking both challenged and inspired. Milenko is the Founder and Executive Director of the Pomegranate Centre. His bio describes him as a thinker, educator and artist who strives to help communities become wiser by working together and uncovering new ways to push good ideas into action. His words below explain the challenge we are grappling with:

Every time true dialogue occurs (that is, an exchange of ideas or opinions on a particular issue), different worlds meet. This exchange is possible only because the participants jointly create a neutral field of discovery that allows for listening and learning. If this field is not honored then conversations easily digress into a series of monologues where each party only waits for their turn to speak, like two billiard balls pushing each other around.

Over the years, I’ve conducted many planning meetings for projects with common community benefit. By and large, the people who attend are thoughtful, offering their own ideas while considering the ideas of others, assuming that together we know more. They are respectful of the field of discovery, allowing many to step into the space temporarily, offer a contribution, and then step away to make it available to others. This is basic civility at work.

However, these meetings also attract individuals who will not listen. Minds already made up, mouths cocked to shout, they argue only for their idea, attempting to invade and occupy the common space for the duration, making it their own private property. These individuals have given up on the idea of collective discovery. …  Too many gatherings are processions of fixed ideas, marching inexorably forward, with no learning, no discovery. We leave unchanged.

The time has surely come to see such conduct as the last gasp of a dysfunctional system. It’s time to stop pretending that multidimensional problems can be solved from one-dimensional perspectives. The question is what can be done to protect the field of discovery so that democratic creativity can flourish? I would answer: fierce facilitation.

In a world of many agendas, ideologies and approaches, a facilitator’s work is to ensure that different insights contribute to, rather than extinguish, each other. Every community needs dedicated and fierce facilitators to uphold the standards of conversation that enable a collaborative culture capable of multiple victories, solutions that meet many different goals at the same time.

There have been too many monologues in the residential recovery. The residents often sit on one side, waiting for an opportunity to tell it how it is. The agencies sit on the other, waiting for the opportunity to tell the residents it isn’t like that at all. Two billiard balls pushing each other around; no neutral field of discovery.

CanCERN can talk until the cows come home about what has gone wrong for residents. We can also try really hard to convince those same residents that there is actually some good thinking and planning happening within the recovery agencies. In short, we can fill space with the words of the residents and the words of the agencies – “processions of fixed ideas, marching inexorably forward, with no learning, no discovery. We leave unchanged.”

Our privileged position is that we can skip across all sectors – community, government, commercial. We have met people in each one who are “thoughtful, offering their own ideas while considering the ideas of others, assuming that together we know more.”

We’re in the business of wanting recovery to “enable a collaborative culture capable of multiple victories, solutions that meet many different goals at the same time.” We’re not sitting alone in that space as we bring together collaborations like Let’s Find & Fix and the In the Know Hub. And although we have hammered EQC for failing to get a lot of things right, we also have to recognise that they also are bringing together important collaborations like the (much improved) Community Advisory Group to try to improve things for the resident. We hammer the insurers but we also have to recognise that the Insurance Council is working right alongside us to ensure that the best resources are in place to meet the resident need.

The resident voice is hugely important and needs to be heard. This week we have been challenged to think very carefully about whether we represent it in situations that embrace the monologue or the dialogue. We hope it’s the latter.

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