Entries in Generative Enagagement (3)


Applying the Generative Engagement model

I had a meeting with a former colleague recently.  She has recently retired from a long and respected career as an educator and is looking for the next place to invest her considerable passion about helping kids, families, and school folks create powerful and productive relationships. I have known her for about five years or so and have known, somehow, that we would work together someday. 

 We talked today about our shared interest in diversity issues and how we know of school districts that are ready for their next steps toward systemic change in this area.  I shared some information about Generative Engagements, and we spent some time talking about its potential for changing how people think about schools' engagement as a part of the greater communities.  What would it mean if we focused--in every moment and every interaction--on creating the patterns of generative engagements in classrooms across the country.

This came on the heels of a conversation I had with Mary and her cousin, who works in higher education training teachers and school administrators.  He had the same reaction to our model--he sees potential for bringing about significant change in public education. What would it mean if we did, in fact, think about learning as a self-organizing process and designed our schools and relationships to support continuous adaptation?

I find these questions to be intriguing and challenging.  What do you think? 


Patterns of reciprocity, authenticity, and justice

Life emerges and evolves as people come and go, as we learn more about ourselves and others, and as our environment changes.  So we could not create patterns once and expect them to continue.  Patterns emerge and exist only as long as the conditions exist to hold them in place.  They wax and wane as the conditions of the environment shift.  The generative engagement model represents one picture of a point in time.  In any given point in time, we can be generating shared patterns of reciprocity, authenticity, and justice.  Then something will shift and the patterns will begin to change. 

To sustain a pattern, we have to be constantly vigilant to continue to generate the right conditions, even as the environment changes.  All we can do is consider them in every action we take and in every decision we make.  In our organizations, communities and families, we create expectations and structures—policies and procedures, rules and laws—that support those considerations in individual and group actions.

How often, how well can we create these patterns in real life?  Can we build a world where this is how people interact?  What Mary and I believe is that it’s a choice we can make.  These are the patterns we want to work toward.  Every moment of interaction has this choice.


Our model for Generative Engagement

One of the first issues Mary and I talked about is our shared desire to understand human relationships and the patterns that characterize those relationships.  It seemed to us that if we could talk about those patterns we wanted to generate, we could then talk about what might contribute to creating them. 

We came to define “generative engagement” as relationships that create a space for openness and honesty.  They create space where each individual is present and whole. In each instant we choose to respond in ways that create generative patterns or in ways that limit possibility.  In any exchange, we have a choice to create possibility by relating to others in generative ways or to close a situation by perpetuating past patterns of bias and privilege.

We took the Eoyang CDE theory that the path, speed, and direction of self-organization is influenced by three conditions.  We began to think about conditions in relationships that would most likely influence patterns to be more generative. 

First, an emergent pattern requires a container to hold the system for the pattern to form.  For generative relationships to emerge, the necessary container is shared identity.  We can remain individuals in our relationships, and we stand in shared space.  We identify together around ideas and principles.  We share geographical location.  We share affinities.  To be in a relationship requires that we share something.  The more strongly we share a common identity, the stronger our relationship is.

The second condition to influence emergent patterns is difference in the system.  In generative relationships the difference that matters most is shared power.  We define power as “the ability to influence."  Who has power to influence and who doesn’t?  How is power assigned or earned?  Is power balanced across time or space? The issue in relationships is about how easily we influence each other.  Do I listen to you with a willingness to be informed?  Do you hold bias and prejudices that prevent you from taking me seriously?  Do my decisions consider your wants, needs, and/or opinions?  Do your decisions consider mine?  That’s what we are talking about when we say that power is balanced.  We each come to a relationship with as much willingness to be influenced as to influence.

The third condition is exchange—how information and other resources are shared.  In generative engagement, we believe the critical nature of these exchanges is how they grant and generate voice.  We engage each other as we speak and listen, act and observe, give and receive.  When we grant voice to others, we listen for meaning, observe without bias, and receive graciously.  When we generate voice, we speak so others can understand, act in ways they can perceive our meaning, and give in ways that are timely and considerate. Generative engagements require that participants are constantly vigilent to grant and generate voice simultaneously.

This is our current thinking about how to influence patterns of discourse and interaction toward more generative outcomes.  This can be applied at the organizational level—establishing a culture of respect and equity, and it can be used to influence patterns in communities, families, and in personal relationships. 

This is an untested theory, except through personal experience and observation.  We look forward to continuing generative conversations as we explore and learn more. Our generative engagement model is shown here.