Photo by Maxwell Ridgewayon Unsplash

Using the Iceberg Model to unpack Power

Boundless Roots
Boundless Roots
Published in
7 min readOct 27, 2020


At Boundless Roots we kicked off in June a new inquiry cycle around the topics of power, meaning, change & contradictions. In this article, we invite you to dive below the surface with us and see how the Iceberg Model can help us to examine systems from different angles, using the example of our inquiry around healthy power.

Current Inquiries

During our last inquiry cycle (read more here), four themes emerged that we will explore together in the next months. These are themes that we felt are key to understanding the challenges we are facing and unlocking more radical change:

  • Healthy power — How are we moving away from dominance and power over in the work we’re doing? How are we contributing to healthy power, becoming more aware of power so that we can work with it more fluidly?
  • Meaningful life — How are we inviting people into an open, evolving conversation about what gives our lives meaning?
  • Cultural waves — How can we work with the momentum of what’s changing culture now and operationalise that in new ways? How do we frame the new narratives?
  • Working with contradictions — How do we work skillfully across polarities? Us as practitioners and the communities we serve. How do we create spaces to connect with what people need in the moment with collective exploration of the potential?

In July 2020, we hosted calls in our four inquiry groups with one team exploring the question: how are we inviting people into an open, evolving conversation about our inquiry topics? Starting with embodiment meditation and community building exercises, we moved into deep dives that allowed us to capture our initial thoughts and points of view and revisited the framing of the questions, closing with integrative journaling.

Kick-off Meaningful Life Group

These initial calls were part of our first “Inhale” phase in which we focused on our current practices. It will be followed by two more Inhales, the second one about the emerging paradigm and the third one about the transition spaces. Inspired by the Presencing Institute Gaia Journey, each “Inhale” call is followed by an “Exhale” in which we invite participants to integrate and experiment with the inputs they received, capturing their thoughts and process through journaling exercises. You can read more about our overall approach here.

Iceberg Model

One of the tools we decided to test in these calls is the iceberg model. It is a tool that helps us to examine systems and structures related to our inquiry topics through different lenses, by looking at what might be happening underneath the surface of the behaviours and the things that we can see and point at.

Iceberg Model — Credit: Forum for the Future

The iceberg makes us look at a system through different lenses and provides a way to talk about the pictures we each hold of what is happening in the system. It forces us to expand our horizon and not limit ourselves to looking at just a single activity [, behaviour] or event, but to step back and identify the different patterns that event is part of, the possible structures that might be causing it to occur, and finally, the thinking that is creating those structures.” — Reos Partners

We wanted to explore what a shared language to talk about how change happens at different levels could look like and see where in the system we are most interested in working. Hosts, Hansika Singh and Daniel Ford, took the data we collected through a member survey around shared challenges, and experimented with plotting some of the outcomes in accordance with the levels of the iceberg model. The aim was to visualise how we as a community are currently diagnosing the system at different levels in relation to our inquiries. In addition, the exercise allowed us to show the commonality across various experiences and practices and solidified the sense of shared struggles. In the following, we show how this looked like in the case of our inquiry group around healthy power.

Screenshot for the Miro Board we used

Climate Crisis & Covid-19

The level of the iceberg that sits above the waterline are the behaviours, events and discussions — the things we can point at and see in the news. Examples could be the Black Lives Matter protests, or other reactions to or manifestations of unhealthy power dynamics playing out today, from racist rhetoric to looking around a room and seeing only white male faces. These are the things we can see and point at, but what are the patterns of behaviour over time that we can notice if we zoom out and look at the trends?

The inquiry group looking at healthy power identified some of these patterns contributing to the behaviours we’re witnessing. It was suggested that we’re living in a distorted, unhealthy ‘power over’ culture that has a fear-based reluctance to share power. We’re noticing that invisible power and privilege is difficult to recognise and address, and that there’ is a lack of availability for non-traditional sources of power to take up roles of governance and responsibility. The current conditions around the COVID-19 and the climate crisis are making it easy to default to patterns of domination, oppression, avoidance and disengagement.

Lack of Transparency & Scarcity Mindset

Sitting underneath these patterns are certain structural forces. By looking at these structures, we can better understand the drivers of some of the behaviours we are noticing. One example of a structural barrier to change is that transparency seems to be disincentivised in the current system which makes open, honest conversations about power incredibly hard.The organisational forms and structures we have created are inherently resistant to change, often leading to barring and discriminatory practices from incumbents. These structural forces also include the roles of the public sector and the private sector in innovation and the contracts that exist between these two centres of power (the ‘revolving door’ between big business and government). As societies, we have created socio-economic structures that constantly put us under time and resource constraints, leading to the patterns of stress and insecurity and reinforcing a scarcity mindset which encourages ‘power over’ responses.

By looking at the structures and at the ways of thinking underpinning some of these behaviours seen in the world today, we can move towards understanding the roots and drivers of some of our dysfunctional, unsustainable and unhealthy patterns of behaviour. This scarcity mindset is an example of the lower (most hidden) level of the iceberg. It is a deeply-rooted shared assumption about how the system works, embedded in and reinforced by the way our structures have been designed. This sense that we do not have enough — enough power, money, resources, time and capacity — is at the root of some of the dysfunctional behaviours we see at the top of the iceberg.

One of our members mentioned traumatised consciousness — the parts of our consciousness that are not held in secure attachment — that underpins many of the unhealthy relationships we have. This too is located at the lower level of the iceberg. It is a consciousness that avoids pain and is in denial about the level of trauma in society, and tends to polarise and ‘other’ because it does not cope well with nuance and complexity. When this traumatised consciousness sits at the bottom of the iceberg, we collectively mirror this internal trauma in our external relationships and behaviours, and start to polarise (and in the dominant culture prioritise) strength and action over love and vulnerability. This raises questions about building capacity for sovereignty while also increasing sensitivity about the topic: “When is it appropriate to expect and rely on sovereignty given the very real and lasting impacts of structural oppression and trauma?

It is important to note that what we carried out here is not a scientific process and the results have been filtered through Hansika and Dan’s perspectives. Our intention was not to build an adequate representation of the system, but to start the conversation about the patterns, structures and mindsets underpinning the work we do in relation to our inquiries. Using the iceberg model, we can begin to ask questions about our underlying thought models and create a shared language. This allows us to speak about where our own practice and projects sit on the levels of the iceberg, while we recognise the need for interventions at all levels.

A start for deep dives

For us, the exercise of applying the iceberg model was a way to create a snapshot of observations and assumptions existing in our community and an attempt at opening deeper conversations. For more information about the iceberg model, you can see the overview from Richard Karash on How to See “Structure” or check out Forum for the Future’s use of the iceberg to talk about the dynamics of change in the civil rights movement in the US (video and webinar).

If you are interested in following our process and engaging in our conversations, we invite you to follow us on Twitter!

Leave us a response — we are keen to hear your thoughts about this article!

If you think this article is interesting, please make an effort to share it with your networks, and show your encouragement with some claps to help us spread the word.

Boundless Roots — Radically Transforming the Way we Live

You can read more about us on our website or reach out directly if you would like to collaborate with us!



Boundless Roots
Boundless Roots

A community looking into how we can change the way we live to meet the scale of the challenge facing us. More on