The Change Exploratory :

- is at the leading edge of conversational leadership practice in Ireland
- is exceptionally well networked nationally and globally with leading change and leadership development practitioners
- is committed to forming new partnerships and networks that make a sustainable difference

How can we best help people come together to create the future they want ?

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Questioning Chris (QC): What did you do in the old days ?

Answering Chris (AC) : I used to help people have difficult conversations, or at least conversations that they thought might be difficult.

QC: What do you mean ‘difficult’ ?

AC: Well, some of them felt difficult, because they had the potential to leave people in positions of authority exposed or vulnerable to attack (i.e. how comes they hadn’t dealt with this thing better before ?….)

And some might feel difficult because they really needed to involve people who hadn’t been involved before (and that might feel a bit scary, difficult to do or embarrassing – who knows what they might say !)

And some were difficult because they just were. Complex, wicked, wading through treacle, herding cats – that kind of thing ….

QC: So, what happened ?

AC: This virus thing, and having to do things online, meant things felt more difficult again:

  • difficult for everyone to be heard and understood and to feel it
  • difficult to include everyone (digital divide etc)
  • difficult to run some of the processes that we had come to rely on

QC: I’m bored with you telling me what’s difficult, what’s easy ?

AC: Well, it’s easy to put off difficult conversations……And, it’s easy to gather with people like us, who pretty much agree with us and to forget about other voices…… And, it’s easy to give up and give in……

QC: Bored again. Stop doing lists of three things and tell me about what’s really important !

AC: If we are serious about inclusive communities and serious about sustainability, then we’ve got to find creative ways to face difficult realities, ways to make sure everyone is heard and understood, to have places where ideas can be tested and trust and relationships grown.

QC: Dangerously like another list of three, but I’ll let that go. How do we do that ?

AC: Online – We are learning. We are getting better at establishing cultures of safety and authenticity. We are surprising ourselves at what is actually possible. Some of us are having amazing experiences talking with people from all over the world and sharing and learning together, forming focused communities of practice etc.

Offline – We are going to have to be creative here too. Get togethers are going to be physically distanced for a while yet. But, let’s imagine what could be possible……

  • consultation about town centres done in the town centre itself – maybe a town consultation trail around a series of ‘exhibits’ with questions and interactions in each place – maybe different exhibits designed by different groups of people, maybe ….
  • walking consultations – small groups of people who would never normally spend time together going for walks together and feeding back what becomes clearer

Hybrid approaches – e.g. inviting small groups to make films that help set up targeted discussions etc etc

QC – So what will make the difference now ?

AC: It’s up to us. It is genuinely difficult crisis for many people, but also, as many people have remarked it is a crisis with opportunities.

Will enough of us be able to give enough attention to the difficult questions that lie beyond keeping the show on the road ?

Are we actually committed to including and growing relationships with people who have tended to not be included well in the past ?

Are we willing to take risks and try stuff, when we don’t completely know what we are doing ?

QC: That’s three questions you have asked. I thought that was my role. I’m not sure this talking to yourself thing is healthy anymore – maybe its time to get out more and hear what other people are thinking ?

Image result for spreading islands of sanity

(with credit and thanks to Meg Wheatley – author of ‘Who do we choose to be? – Facing Reality, Claiming Leadership and Restoring Sanity’ and also Bob Stilger – author of ‘After Now – When we cannot see the future where do we begin’)

“It is possible to find a path of contribution and meaning, if we turn our attention away from issues beyond our own control and focus on the people around us, who are yearning for good leadership and engage them in work that is within reach.  It is possible to use our influence and power to create islands of sanity in the midst of a raging destructive sea.”

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“Nearly all people desire to do good work in good relationships with their colleagues”

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There are many, many people doing good things already, all around us.

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The strange situation we find ourselves in seems to invite people out of the trance of their lives and into questions about what’s important………

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Is the path we now find ourselves on going to be a path to community transformation (a new and better normal?) or a blip before we revert to same old, same old ?  We get to decide the path we take.

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Invitations to open up some spaces ….

  1. Do you want a space just to talk, share experience, possibly discuss fears that may be difficult to discuss ?  I am happy to offer to be there.
  2. Are there specific things to do with helping people to work together well that you could do with a bit of help with ?  You are very welcome to ask for help.
  3. When the time is right, would you like a quality space to reflect with others on the learning that you want to carry forward from these strange times ?  The quality of the space will determine the quality and sustainability of the learning.
  4. Do you want to convene people to plan and take action together ?  The people who convene are critically important in making things happen and will usually benefit from a bit of experienced support.
  5. Do you want to set up a translocal learning network / community ?  People all over the world are facing similar challenges – let’s learn together.

It’s important that we feel able to ask for help.

Consultation can be really frustrating for all involved.

The vast majority of public servants want to do a good job and understand that effective consultation can help. And, the vast majority of public stakeholders want to be consulted. So, why do we so often end up feeling frustrated and what could be another way forward ?

I think the key question is often who gets to set the agenda ? Is consultation something that gets done to people or is it a genuine attempt to understand better the real world of what’s going on for people, what matters for them and to work out between us how best we can make progress together ?

I have been helping with consultation lately on a lot of big things, including National Building Renovation Strategy, a National Architectural Policy and Wellbeing in Education and I feel something is shifting (at least with the people I am working with!). I am meeting more public servants who are more open (less defensive) and more people in civil society who want to work in partnership with government (less attacking) – the consequence is more trust, more possibilities and more and better solutions.

The current ‘jewel in the crown’ of my work on consultation is BEACONS (Bringing Education Alive for our Communities On a National Scale) – watch the video !!

“A trusting safe space to have a conversation about what’s important to them”

Working with the Teaching Council and the Burren College of Arts and others, we have pretty much dropped agendas altogether and opened up to listen and pay attention to where the potential for positive change lies.

The approach seems to be catching on. Stakeholders love being heard and understood. Policy people love hearing first hand experiences and being able to test ideas safely.

Critical ingredients include:

  • listening to whatever people want to say
  • positively welcoming diversity, as helping us get better at what we need to do
  • valuing that lots of people are doing lots of good things already
  • making sure that conversations visibly link to action wherever possible

We have a lot further to go. If you are finding consultation frustrating / otherwise challenging, maybe get in touch and join us on the path ?

Delighted to have had the opportunity to pioneer this innovative work with Social Innovation Fund Ireland and the inspiring Education Projects that they support.

This represented a brave departure for a philanthropic organisation to look not just at growing the effectiveness of projects as service deliverers, but also growing their potential to influence the entire education system.

Great thanks to Michael Barron for the Report, Valerie Jackman and Ali Warner for being on the team and Mary, Martin and all at the Burren College of Art for providing the best venue, resources and support for such work that anyone could wish for.

Honoured to have been asked to host / facilitate 200 or so people at the SDG Forum at Dublin Castle last week, along with a great team – Eimear McNally, Martin Hawkes and Davie Philip.

The SDG agenda is enormously complex and challenging, and particularly challenging for governments to engage with meaningfully. It is great that so many stakeholders want to play a role in a ‘just transition’. Let’s hope that we can find ways to work together really, really well !

Last week was a good step along the path.

Reviewing 2018

Hi – very happy to say that 2018 was a great year for the Change Exploratory working with great colleagues and great clients on increasingly complex, but also critically important projects, the largest of which was the Creative Education Symposium at the Burren College of Art, looking to help shift the entire education system in a more creative direction – have a look at the video below to get a taste of what we did and the impact it had (and get in touch if you’d like to know more !!)

During 2018, we also worked with Ahead (moving towards Universal Design for Learning at 3rd Level), ALIA Europe (Authentic Leadership in Action – co-hosting a leadership retreat in Lithuania), CRNI – Community Re-use Network of Ireland, Cloughjordan Ecovillage and Cultivate, DCCAE (Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment on GPP – Green Public Procurement), GEAI (Good Energies Alliance Ireland), Genio (training and facilitating at the intersection between philanthropy and care services), ICI (Immigrant Council of Ireland – on involvement of migrants with the political system), IGBC – Irish Green Building Council (Environmental Certification for Building Professionals), IWEA (Irish Wind Energy Association on community engagement with wind energy), SEAI (Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland), Southern Region Waste Management Office, SIFI (Social Innovation Fund Ireland), Teacht Aniar (on the future of Gaeltachts), Visual (contemporary art gallery and theatre in Carlow) and Xavier Dubuisson Consultants (supporting Sustainable Energy Communities in Cork and Kerry).

Busy out and happy out. Very appreciative to all to be helping move such important work in a good direction.

For a very long time, I have held a desire to update and improve my website to reflect and honour the wonderful people that I have been privileged to work with and to tell some stories that help make more visible some of that work….. and for a very long time, it hasn’t quite happened.

There are a lot of reasons why I think that is the case, that I think shed light on the nature of the work.  Here’s three to start with:


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First things first, I am delighted to be working on this with Susan Coughlan, an experienced changemaker of great integrity and playfulness.

I’ve been around this block a few times, trying to sense (or work out) what would be the most effective thing that would boost the capacity of changemakers (particularly, but not exclusively) in Ireland to bring about positive change and within that what is the best contribution I can make……


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(Sometimes there is merit in trying to keep things as simple as possible ! After years of doing this type of thing, here’s an attempt !)

1. Design and host engaging events and processes that enable the whole community to see itself in all its glorious diversity – assets, warts and all.

2. Support and encourage diverse people with diverse ideas.

3. Develop the systemic leadership abilities of leaders (i.e. start leading from a wider and more collaborative perspective)

4. Celebrate and connect

5. Repeat

Increasingly, people get that it’s all connected, that we can’t do one thing in one place without producing effects in other places (and often producing effects that we don’t mean to).

Most of my work is as a Whole Systems Facilitator, trying to do good and create the conditions where more good can be done, but you never know …..
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