Introducing “Transformative Social Systems” (TSS)

Developing Competencies for the Deep Meeting of Hearts and Minds


Authors: Pascale Mompoint-Gaillard, PhD, MA, & Laureen Golden, MEd, LCSW,

Author’s Note: This article has been years in the making yet continues to be a work in progress. We’re releasing an early version of this concept/white paper as a means to invite more people to gather in conversation around it, so we can learn aloud and together. For information about the authors, please check their websites indicated above


When people gather to tackle today’s pressing challenges, create policies, organize and invent new ways forward, what’s often missing is the deep meeting of hearts and minds that can arise when we engage in dialogue and reflective listening to access deeper, collective sources of knowing. This white paper offers the term “Transformative Social Systems’’ (TSS) to name practices that help us access and be guided by this deeper source of wisdom so we can better address today’s challenges through open conversations and experiments in social contexts.

“Transformative Social Systems” (TSS) include practices, methods, procedures, and techniques that propose a different way of being and working together ~ a return to honoring what is meaningful, connected, life-enriching and joyful. TSS help us improve towards a greater sense of wholeness, well-being and life-affirming ways of being.

“Transformative Social Systems” (TSS) [1] include practices, methods, procedures, and techniques that propose a different way of being and working together ~ a return to honoring what is meaningful, connected, life-enriching and joyful. While this way of operating has always been beneficial, it is now essential to effectively work within the level of complexity and uncertainty facing communities globally. TSS help us improve towards a greater sense of wholeness, well-being and life-affirming ways of being. These improvements only arises within “power-with” relationships and collective “sensitivity to emergence” (what is unfolding in a group, in a context) which enables us to develop the capacity to learn with peers, and under certain conditions, at an exponential rate.

Readers may have encountered TSS practices in their ancient wisdom form such as indigenous epistemologies and practices, martial arts, yoga, Confucianism, Taoism, Vedic traditions; or more modern forms such as “Agile”, “Lean”, “Spiral Dynamics”, “Teal”, “Sociocracy”, “Holacracy”, “Learning Organization” in the business world; or “Montessori”, “Reggio”, “Freire”, “Pestalozzi” in the field of education and pedagogy; or “Non-Violent Communication”, “Theory U”, “Constellations”, in the area of communication, etc. All of these, and many more, are all part of the TSS landscape.

TSS are important today due to the fact that the enormous changes we, as humans, have set in motion externally have currently outpaced our internal capacities to manage them (Golden, 2020). Therefore, there is an urgent need to shift the rate of learning for people of all ages and backgrounds, to ensure that our internal capacity is better matched to the external complexity we’re navigating.

TSS provide the essential means to enable this necessary shift. However, a siloed environment in the TSS movement prevents it from cohering across the fields of social action. Therefore, a fundamental challenge to meeting the need is to help the TSS landscape cohere. With this paper, the authors seek to draw support to help the parts of the system know each other, to more successfully collaborate, and serve the collective cause. Our hope is that by launching a reflection on TSS, we can launch a reflection on what it is that lies at the core of these social technologies while avoiding the traps of unnecessary competition. By doing this, we want to draw public awareness to the immense potential of TSS, link the practices, support the practitioners who use them, and help lots more people learn them by promoting their study.

Since people cannot learn all the parts of all the TSS, our goal is that they may learn their core and transversal elements. We suggest that such work is best accomplished within fertile, un-institutional spaces of peer learning. Creating such spaces is a challenging task that requires us to rethink how we learn as individuals and collectives (Mompoint-Gaillard, 2022).

Identifying as part of the TSS “Movements of Movements,” the authors of this White Paper are committed to:

  • Facilitating self-discovery within the TSS ecosystem, as a means for this system to evolve from scattered fragments of small networks into a system of influence. [2]
  • Helping galvanize the current field of TSS practitioners (the likely audience for this paper) to come together around the TSS concept and play a key role in explaining TSS to a wider audience of people who are not yet as aware or practiced. A desired outcome of such time and effort is that greater awareness and understanding of the benefits and relevance of TSS will create more sustainability within the world while also sustaining the livelihood of practitioners who steward TSS.

What are Transformative Social Systems (TSS)?

Transformative Social Systems (TSS) is a term to illuminate ancient and modern wisdom traditions which center an ethos of collaboration (Golden, 2021). These coherent sets of practices, procedures, methods, technologies, and approaches enhance the way we live and work together. The term has been carefully defined (Fig. 1).

Figure 1: “What are Transformative Social Systems?” The term “Transformative Social Systems” (TSS) was developed by Pascale Mompoint-Gaillard in 2020.

The notion of “Transformative Social Systems” originated when a group of collaborators belonging to varied communities of practice (sociocracy, permaculture, NVC, Theory U, democratic and liberating education, and other fields of social action) began to notice how the variety of approaches we were all drawing from seemed to be based on similar principles. It was challenging for us to recognize each other as belonging to a larger whole, because each of these approaches developed its terminology in isolation from one another. Since then, cycles of conversations and experiments have been conducted, and the commonalities grew clearer. The concept was named and defined, that is, practically and theoretically grounded.

Transversal Elements of TSS…

Embodied: TSS consist of life-affirming practices that support the development of our own wholeness (integrating mind, body and soul). This matters as “practices are linked to values, ethics, care and commitments. We transform and evolve through practices.” [3] Working with and supporting our embodied mind is crucial to meaningfully address the level of threat that is upon us.

Holistic: TSS enable us to transform into more whole, integrated, and vibrant beings capable of managing the dynamics of duality and play the upsides of polarities. This includes our capacity for deeper intra-personal (within ourselves) and inter-personal (between ourselves and another) connection which are conditions for the true belonging that is necessary for the major collective paradigm shift that needs to happen in a short time for life and biodiversity to be sustained on this planet.

Engaging: TSS invite us to shift from a bystander mindset to that of an active participant in our life and the world around us. They enable groups to better harness the power of collective intelligence and create shared ownership of solutions by enabling diverse stakeholders to co-create and design in a context together.

Dialogic: TSS support real conversations around powerful questions which require us to fathom what is going on, in a way that is fully human, embodied, and present.

Aligned: TSS can bring greater coherence to a group by helping people align around clarity in purpose and values.

Intentional: TSS offer a menu of complexity-sensitive ways to learn “what works,” through intentional exploration, imagination, reflection, experimentation and iteration.

Emergent: TSS grow our capacity to think, learn, and work in wholes (ie, “systems thinking) as well as beyond our usual thought, emotion and actions, so we can experiment with new patterns that can produce different outcomes.

Peaceful: TSS enable us to better track and tend to our “neural state” which is crucial for working better together. When humans enter survival mode, it is challenging to be generous, creative, and benevolent.

Figure 2: “TSS Iceberg/Sun.” TSS offer many different “doorways” that all lead towards the development of a cohesive set of values, beliefs, paradigm, and source of being that help us increase our resilience and more effectively navigate complexity. (Concept and image by Laureen Golden.)

Why TSS? Why Now? The “Learning Imperative”

“In the coming decades…the only thing that will matter is how willing we have been to learn.” ~ Nora Bateson, The Bateson Institute

Immense and deep learning is going to have to happen at a fast pace

TSS have always been valuable but in our current context, they’re now critical for our survival because the tipping points at which our systems collapse are around the corner and our institutions are ill-equipped to support the necessary level of learning and development that we need today. If we are to navigate the waters that are rising and the fires that are burning ~ both literally in our environment and metaphorically in our psychological, social, economic, political and workplace landscapes ~ we need to learn fast and fiercely. We refer to the need to support such immense learning for people of all ages and places as “The Learning Imperative.”

What we are confronting as a global society requires us to be different in ways that shift everything. It demands a different level of maturity and nothing short of whole system transformation. The type of learning we’re pointing towards incorporates the academic and intellectual, yet also transcends it to include the evolution of the whole person ~ our head (increasing our capacity to perceive more discerningly, think more complexly, and make wiser decisions), heart (our capacity to digest emotions such as anger, grief, and shame, so we can access our calm, clarity and compassion) and will (our capacity to stoke the inner fire of transformation and conjure the will necessary to heal our addiction to superficial comforts and act from a deeper sense of meaning, purpose and care for the whole).

Local communities around the globe will struggle to surf the seismic shifts ahead. To meaningfully address The Learning Imperative it is urgent that we take into account the (1) Scope of the problem (offering ways for people to meaningfully address today’s complexity and uncertainty), (2) Scope of time (be capable of realization in the next 3–5 years), and (3) Scope of the population (be capable of reaching 7.5 billion people). (See Fig. 2) The criteria of these 3 scopes illustrates why we cannot relegate The Learning Imperative to antiquated institutions of formal education. Aside from their prohibitive costs and gated access to knowledge, the pedagogies and structures they offer are not relevant in a world that demands us to be proficient in navigating complex and novel conditions.

Figure 3: “TSS & 3 Scopes.” Meaningful solutions to The Learning Imperative must address the scope of the Problem, Population, and Time. TSS is such a solution. (Origin of this image is unknown. This TSS version was created by Laureen Golden.)

New spaces of learning are needed for new pedagogies to flourish

To adequately support the developmental leap that is being called for from humans today, we need new spaces of learning that are suited for the 21st Century. Necessity requires us to remember that prior to formal learning in institutions, humanity had survived and thrived for millennia through the rapid transmission of knowledge that occurs in Communities of Conversations and Practice. Therefore, we are advocating for the rapid and widespread cultivation of less formal spaces of peer learning as these are more nimble, accessible, relevant, and capable of adapting to local context and need.

We are calling society’s attention to TSS as we also need a new pedagogy (and andragogy), new curricula, new content and methods. Not only do TSS offer some of the best “fundamentals” and core curriculum for navigating complexity and nurturing resilience in people and groups, but they also provide the learning spaces in which individuals and collectives may practice and grow proficient in these skills. TSS help shift our notion of learning-in-places to learning-in-communities-of-conversations-and-practices. They provide a context of popular education and a scalable pattern for supporting self-organized and facilitated development of our collective intelligence. TSS practices are a revalidation of epistemic diversity, and antidotes to having the-decision-of-a-few imposed on the many. In this way, they are all related to democracy and democratic cultures (Mompoint-Gaillard, 2015, 2018).

Current TSS Limits to Addressing the Learning Imperative

Unfortunately, there are several obstacles that currently limit the ability of TSS to meaningfully address The Learning Imperative.

First, the sheer volume of TSS and the lack of clarity in how they relate to one another currently makes it impossible for people to learn them all in their entirety. The question is, is it even necessary for people to do so? Such work could take a lifetime (it is certainly taking ours)! Another important question is whether and to what extent one must deeply know one (or two or more) TSS before being able to engage with the elements that lie at the core of the TSS constellation. We believe work needs to be done to distill the core teachings of TSS, as well as catalog their distinctions, so that people can ground themselves in the basic TSS competences. (See “The Need” and “The Dream” below).

Second, a siloed TSS landscape limits the coherence and flourishing of this field of knowledge. TSS wisdom is embedded in groups, organizations, and institutions in an environment that is not conducive to cooperation, collaboration, and collective impact [4]. Even with good intentions, movements for social change may in fact compete against each other as a mistaken goal [5], while at the same time having the dream to act collectively. As such, these communities and their practices can be considered as functioning in silos (See Figure 4): each group functioning on and for its own as a resource but groups don’t collectively grow each other’s capacity nor fully cohere. As a result, the parts of the system do not connect as a whole.

Figure 4: “TSS as Siloes.” Vertical towers represent one element of the TSS landscape (i.e., practices, technologies, methods, techniques, models, philosophies, or wisdoms that exists separately, each in their communities and networks). The parts of the system do not connect to the whole. As a result, these communities — and their practices — don’t fully cohere nor collectively grow each other. This model visualizes this state of siloed incoherence of the TSS proposed by Pascale Mompoint-Gaillard (2019) and further developed below (see “Clusters”).

In their current context, TSS communities are functioning as ‘silos’ because the organizations that steward these approaches work mostly in terms of self-promotion and tend fall into the trap of becoming ‘accidental adversaries’[6] rather than partners or allies that carry the same goal and intention. The issue of funding, particularly among TSS organizations compounds this issue.

From Silos to Constellations

Another metaphor that can encourage the capacity of TSS to move beyond the current “siloes,” is that of “constellations.” Constellations are easily recognizable patterns of stars that help people orient (just as TSS wisdom can help orient people navigating the Sea of Change). In the vastness of the sky, individual stars within a constellation are often better perceived when situated in relationship to other stars. Likewise, when the relationships (similarities and complementarities) between the distinct TSS are understood, the brilliance of each is more evident and accessible. And similar to how a constellation gives outlines to a form, there is important work to be done around defining the contours of what is (and is not) a TSS.

Figure 5:“TSS as Constellations” (Golden, 2017): TSS can provide recognizable patterns that can help us orient and navigate rapid change. Note: This image is only a sketch of some of the many and different TSS. Authors acknowledge that this sampling is heavily Euro-centric (see note below).

Note: The image above highlights mostly modern TSS although there is much ancient and indigenous wisdom from around the world that figures into the constellation. There is a plethora of other TSS that exist that are not in this figure, including those that the authors are not yet familiar with. The Euro-centricity we observe in the field highlights systemic oppression and the epistemecide that goes with our long histories of colonization, i.e., the silencing and invisibilizing of other ways of knowing than Euro-leaning. By opening up the conversation with this White Paper, we can (re)invite in the depth and breadth of wisdom of larger communities and learn as we go.

The Need: Helping the TSS Ecosystem to Cohere

“To make a system stronger, we need to create stronger relationships. To bring health to a system, connect it more to itself…to learn more about itself from itself.” ~Margaret Wheatley, Leadership & the New Science

There is a lot at stake today! TSS offer the potential to help humans collectively and harmoniously engage with the rapid and immense changes that are ahead. What is so powerful about TSS is both the similarity between them (there are a majority of elements that can be seen as transversal across the TSS landscape), as well as how their differences enhance each other.

In order for TSS to help our global community to meaningfully respond to The Learning Imperative, we need a group of TSS practitioners, leaders, creators, and researchers who are deeply versed in one TSS, and familiar with several, to come together to (1) collaboratively distill the most important transversals across the fields of TSS, as well as their areas of distinctions, and (2) cultivate the conditions to spread them widely and quickly.

Competency and Activity-Based Clusters

Constellations of TSS seem to cluster around certain competencies and activities. Making these competencies visible can help us more consciously engage with them. Below are two examples (Pascale Mompoint-Gaillard, 2019) of such clusters (or practices that connect between the the siloed communities described above:

  • FEEDBACK: The fact that so many TSS offer feedback as an important developmental process alerts us to the importance of paying specific attention to feedback in our approaches to how we are living, working, and being together. Many TSS offer methods to enhance how we give and receive feedback, learn through feedback, and make good use of the data that feedback gives us. A constellation of TSS clustering around developing feedback skills include Permaculture, Sociocracy, 360°, De Bono’s 6-Hats, Theory U, Learning Organization, Growth mindset, Action Research, etc.
  • BEING and “INTERIOR CONDITIONS”: In addition to the way TSS help us put in place virtuous EXTERNAL structures for groups (governance, decision-making, democratic “power-with’ culture), many TSS also cluster around evolving our INTERNAL ways of being. This is important for addressing The Learning Imperative as “transformation occurs when the being of the person is addressedthe unity of our being…how we organize ourselves towards life (or not).” Thus, to focus on inner development one can draw from all these TSS: Theory U, Nonviolent Communication (NVC), Spiral dynamics, Teal, etc. and a plethora of smaller communities such as Prosocial or Cards for Democracy for example.
Figure 6: “Competency/Activity-Based Clusters.” Making visible the clusters that connect between the siloed TSS communities can help us more consciously engage with such competencies/activities. (Pascale Mompoint-Gaillard, 2019)

Our Theory of Change

We believe there is a “movement of movements” working to restore wholeness and well-being to people and the planet[7] and that TSS practitioners and organizations are an essential part of this movement. However, there is work that needs to be done to unleash the paradigm-shifting potential TSS offer.

In our theory of change…

  • The TSS field is cohering because the core and transversal elements of TSS have been researched and disseminated amongst a great number of motivated social actors.
  • TSS are more easily adopted by many more people.
  • As people learn these methods, they find that they apply to all areas of their life — personal and professional, work, family, and community.
  • TSS support emergence of essential capacities through methods and practices to accomplish the systems-wide changes that are so needed at this time.
  • Policymakers and administrators now include TSS in their decision making processes.
  • Pioneers of TSS become wisdom-keepers for their communities.
  • Past critics who said such an endeavor could not be done see it happening and become eager supporters.

In summary, by focusing on helping the TSS ecosystem to cohere (evolving itself from loose networks, through Communities of Practice, to a System of Influence)[8], large numbers of people (social actors) will be better able to learn TSS quickly so we can all meaningfully improve the way we collectively engage. To actualize this vision, we propose the work described below in “The Dream.”

The Dream

Our dream is that by launching a reflection on TSS, we can launch a reflection on what it is that lies at the core of these practices, methods, and technologies. By doing this, we want to draw public awareness to their immense potential, link the practices, support the practitioners who use them, and help lots of people learn them by promoting their practice and study.

One single method never does it all. What is so powerful about TSS is their similar aspects (elements that can be seen as transversals in the TSS landscape) while their differences offer the potential to enhance each other. If we observe the TSS through the lens of learning outcomes, we encounter common goals among them.

The work of the dream is to engage a group of practitioners, leaders, creators, and researchers who are deeply practiced in at least one, and well versed in a few, TSS to come together to collaboratively distill the most important teachings of TSS and to then set up the conditions to help spread TSS widely and quickly.

Following our Theory of Change, we dream that these practices will become so widespread and mainstream that they will become the new ‘parallel systems’ (‘parallel institutions’) slowly and steadily replacing the old structures. People with shared vision will then have the chance to invent new institutions rooted firmly in the soil of our values and new awarenesses. The institutions will have grown from the seeds of the organizing stage: the alternative institutions, the networks, radical caucuses, and affinity groups[9]. In these new systems (be they organizations, institutions, communities, small and big groups, etc.) people’s learning and development needs can be realized in ways where (1) learning can happen in real time (learning while we work, through thinking, talking and doing, rather than learning that is separate from work) and (2) as needed (“just in time” and “on demand” learning centered on learner’s readiness rather than scheduled offerings).

In our dream, there is a new pedagogy and new content and methods that are suited for the 21st Century, as well as diverse and plentiful spaces for this new kind of learning (such spaces participate in a democratic culture where the fate of all does not depend on the decisions of too few).

“To meaningfully address The Learning Imperative, work must be done to sift through the variety of TSS to glean their key elements and create a coherent approach to spreading the competencies they cultivate.” ~Pascale Mompoint-Gaillard & Laureen Golden

The Call to Action

We, the authors, are calling attention to the overarching movement that we call TSS, to which ancient and modern wisdom traditions belong. We hope that distinguishing TSS will draw public awareness to the immense potential of these practices. Therefore we are proposing to hold a space for actions that:

  1. Galvanize support for further study of the field of Transformative Social Systems to develop criteria and indicators for what is a TSS and what isn’t, and to understand the potential of TSS, as well as the obstacles blocking their flourishing (for example, too many in the TSS field are already spending more of their time than is healthy doing unpaid or badly paid labor);
  2. Promote connections, synergies and interoperability between TSS (as individual systems of communities of practice that are relevant within a larger whole of movements for social change).
  3. Evolve the networks of TSS practitioners from operating as scattered fragments into a powerful system of influence.
  4. Raise public awareness and educate to inspire more people to consider incorporating these practices into their daily lives; educate youth and adults about the practical support TSS provide; learn to facilitate community work with TSS practices, and support “bite-sized” experimentations.

These goals might also inspire specific actions such as:

  • Hosting a community. A non-formal educational space steeped in lifelong and lifewide learning: TSS dissemination from chunks for all to in-depth practice for many.
  • Developing a “new curriculum,” a “new pedagogy” — and andragogy — that includes ethics of care, awareness, interior condition, cooperation, collaboration … and develops a competence-based approach to human learning and development, in practice and reflection, in body, mind and spirit.
  • Finding resources and funding for The Work. Substantial financial backing will be needed to do the work professionally. The TSS publications and other activities may help give us additional elements and proof of concept.


Transformative Social Systems (TSS) are crucial for preparing people to meaningfully navigate today’s complex challenges. They are one of the most powerful ways to meaningfully respond to The Learning Imperative. As a global society we are facing a future of continuous negotiation and decision making that will occur under the pressure of economic, environmental, and climate-related chaos. We, the authors, are sounding the alarm for focused intervention to shift the rate of human and organizational development. Learning in our new world can no longer be relegated to childhood and formal education institutions. Amidst the growing challenges and changing conditions, continuous, lifelong, and lifewide learning is essential for people of all ages to survive and thrive.


We are grateful to all of those with whom we have had the pleasure to be in conversation with during almost a decade of work defining the contours of the TSS concept. This includes mentors such as Chris Corrigan and John Buck as well as members of learning communities we’ve been deeply involved with including the Ohio Montessori Alliance, Pestalozzi Community of Practice, Learn to change (L2C), and Healing Our World (HOW).

Furthermore, this white paper has undergone extensive peer review through two cycles of consultations, with consultants, trainers and researchers from the movement of movements that we describe in the paper. The members of the consultation groups gave us courage and guidance to achieve our goal. Gratitude to… Ted Rau, John Buck, François Knuchel, Stephanie Nestlerode, Brandon Dube, Paula Leigh-Doyle, Tania Bertolone, Bernadette Wesley, Karen Gimnig, Alain Gaillard, Graham Boyd, Jerry Koch Gonzalez, Rodger Matlage, Deborah Chang, Nara Pais, Jacqui Miller, Marie Schuster, Idit Rose, Rhonda Baird, Carol Xu, Meg Buzzi, Katrin Wenzel and Yves Abanda.


[1] Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-SA 4.0)

[2] See Margaret Wheatley & Deborah Frieze’s article, Using Emergence to Take Social Innovation to Scale for more information.

[3] Richard Strozzi-Heckler, The Art of Somatic Coaching.

[4] “What is Collective Impact” is a helpful resource to learning more about this approach.

[5] Funding, for example, can foster incoherence by creating a competitive stance that traps the movement in the scarcity model.

[6] David Peter Stroh, Systems thinking for Social Change.

[7] This idea is beautifully addressed in Paul Hawken’s book, Blessed Unrest: How the Largest Social Movement in History Is Restoring Grace, Justice, and Beauty to the World.

[8] See Margaret Wheatley & Deborah Frieze’s article, Using Emergence to Take Social Innovation to Scale for more information.

[9] George Lakey, Toward a Living Revolution.