Constellating change: a real time inquiry


This is a piece that documents stages in a relational inquiry journey — in near time reflections on a real time / live inquiry. We’ve chosen to share some of the inconsequential details as it gives insight into some of the tensions and live challenges changemakers have in choosing how, where and who to organise and learn with.

Co-written by Sean Andrew, Anna Birney and Louise Armstrong (we’re still annoyed Medium doesn’t let you co-author things…)

It’s been a year since Sean, Anna and I crafted and shared some thinking and practice around governance. We’ve been surprised at the resonance and how people have picked this up. And that we’re coming across a lot of “governance” oriented learning communities that are focused on transformative systems change outcomes and impact.

Top: Systemic governance figure of eight, Below: governance fly wheel

And each of us have been applying these ideas and practices to different places. Louise has been part of stewarding plans for a transformational governance and using the figure of 8 model as a guide to collaborative activity she’s been facilitating and supporting.

Sean’s been finding that in every project he’s been working on questions around governance seem to be the constant blocker (moving from thinking about collaborating to actually doing it) and has been bringing in what he sees as the critical yeast governance ingredients (a term borrowed from John Lederach) into these endeavours (e.g. cultural agreements/principles, clear roles, rhythms of convening, mutli-method decision-making and tight feedback loops grounded in relational accountability and working with conflict). He’s also committed to a deep dive into Sociocracy as a way of going back to some of the roots that much of the new ways of organising movement has been built on.

Anna has been applying it to the transitional model of the School of System Change, working out how to design the network model for its next phase of evolution.

What’s changed: our individual positionally

Over the last year, our individual positionality has shifted. We were once all employees at the same organisation and team where we were exploring this topic and bound by a shared culture and set of practices. Now, Louise has transitioned out of the organisation (Forum for the Future) they all met in, dabbling in freelance life without an organisational home but as a pollinator in an ecosystem of freelancers. Anna is in the process of transitioning the School to a sister organisation working out the organising form of both. Sean is playing an enabling and accompaniment role as a learning and practice partner at Forum and the School, by paying most attention to the inner and relational dimensions and structures that he sees as an essential orientation to bridge our internal way of organising with our external aspirations.

What’s remains: a shared inquiry and shared intention

With the change in positioning — so has the frequency of our meeting and relating — no longer left to inevitability of the next meeting, but something more deliberate (and landed on a montly coworkingspace). Making an active choice to have a relationship together, with people who share a curiosity and commitment to these big questions that matter to each us.

The relationships and shared inquiry about how we organise remains. The ties are perhaps less formal, and looser — more open to interpretation — but they are powerful and real as well. In some cases more enduring than an organisational obligations, boundary or affiliation. They can better span personal and professional identities. In a time when things are less fixed and defined — perhaps it is time we got used to more flexible and porous boundaries of association. Still, we’re finding that having a clear cadence of when we meet, which Richard Bartlett calls “rhythmic encounters”, is helping us keep momentum and stay connected.

A unifying practice of living change — seeing all the layers of lives as places where experiments of how we organise can be enacted, experimented with and explored. A recognition of the fractal nature of this that sees a traversing personal and intimate, relational, collective and societal — and the messy, marshy space in between each of these. Allowing our relationships to become entangled in each other’s lives.

How we’ve organised over the last year

Over the last year we’ve been doing two things in parallel. Spotting and responding to opportunities to work together that continue the exploration of how we organise and what enabling governance looks like.

While simultaneously, trying out different ways of organising ourselves, informally and more intensely over the summer, we’d been sensing there might be something more to be done — a desire to be recalibrating where we put our time and energy. Over three month — there was a micro experiment in a temporary organising structure that brings a boundary and accountability to move ideas. That’s looked like:

  • Many dense WhatsApp threads
  • 8 weeks of shared questions through Jun — July
  • Scheduled time to chat and see what is emerging
  • 36hours under canvas / in the wilds weaving the threads together and forming the many nascent ideas into something more

Opportunities bubbling up

From this more concerted time — we’ve identified a series of activities we’re committing to proactively developing together — some in train, others more nacent. We’re sharing these openly — as we know there are many others for whom they will have relevance or resonance with, you may have complementary practices, ideas or perhaps want to be part of how these things evolve:

  • Shared writing / sense making of our experience (blogs like these) and we’ve set up a publication Constellating Change: exploring patterns of organising for others to share musings of the same topic
  • Constellating Change: Organising for change program for collaborations — we’ll be hosting an event on the 20th January to share more, or see our exploratory blog with the intentions of this program
  • Ongoing dialogue and inquiry — more whatsapp chats I guess
  • Codifying and defining systems change coaching / learning and practice partner offerings
  • Supporting change maker writing — some reflections form Anna and experiments from Louise and intentions to host writing retreats in 2023
  • 33 Days: Systemic Reflections writing experiment early in 2023 and a change maker writing retreats in 2023
  • Supporting weaving and consolidation through action research. Supporting those who are creating change in the world, but want to consolidate their learning in a more quality process of action inquiry. We are prototyping this with Sean through monthly weaving sessions (building on Louise doing this last year) supporting him to write up and find clarity of eight years of work and exploring how we might create an infrastructure to help others do the same — perhaps connected to (radical!) academic institution or just coaching through retreats and peer-learning.
  • Opening up a conversation about Boards as a leverage point for change
  • Knowing there is a need to expand the realm of where application of new organising forms ‘ applies and that there is a separate need to look at how that applies to the scale of government where it is desperately needed. Or at the level of how people live their lives and constant constellating of relationships within that.

But we also know this is a long list of things for people with already busy schedules, so being comfortable knowing some of these things will come to life — and others might not, but being ok with that.

Naming the organising form

What’s in a name? It may seem insignificant, but it also matters in terms of who feels ownership and how able we feel we can engage. Over the last year it’s been useful to talk and organise under the term Systems Change Coaching Collective. But we’ve evolved that- realised coaching is just one of the many approaches that binds us and we’re weaving into tour work — for now, Constellation Change feels like a useful term for now. And reflecting on the fact that any organising form, needs to have the inbuilt capacity to evolve as it is useful.

What we’re learning

  • That this way of organising can be really energising and life giving — that mixing purpose with connecting with people you are inquiring with can feel very meaningful
  • There is no one perfect organising place or form
  • We’ve realised there is a need to to think about the activity or interventions first and then work out what is appropriate for that in this moment
  • These things might be so obvious, but somehow, we kept finding ourselves trapped in the assumptions and power dynamic the defaults to needing an organisation to give legitimacy and home to ideas and work.
  • That we are still coming up against more formal organisational issues — finance, how much people get paid and the value of time when in different contracts.