seeds of change==>challenges of institutionalization

Friday, November 27th, 2009 | Uncategorized

Last week we convened the Presencing-In-Action Lab in Boston. The meeting gathered 26 change makers across many cultures and continents. It was striking to see how all the small the seed projects of the last years are beginning to blossom and grow together into a rapidly evolving field of change. I wrote some of this story up in a paper that I presented yesterday in a meeting with senior leaders of the South African government in Joberg. Eary this week, visiting the Namibian Health Systems project, I saw some great examples of prototyping in the area of maternal health. In my own learning process I am wrestling more and more with the question of how to move from prototyping to institutionalizing. That’s the challenge in Namibia and in South Africa. And also in other projects I am currently involved in. Looking at the larger landscape of Theory U inspired change initiatives and related movements, you also wonder what type of institutional embodiment would lend the best support structure going forward. What is it? A community of practice? A movement? A global action research school in the making? All the above? How to institutionalize a “” –- a green global action leadership school — for pioneering society 3.0, either on campus at MIT or in some other form?

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6 Comments to seeds of change==>challenges of institutionalization

November 29, 2009

Hi Otto,

At the organization I am part of, Kaivalya in India, we are grappling with the same question of the most relevant institutional format for large scale personal transformation. We run personal change based leadership program for government education administrators in rural and urban districts in India. ‘Transformation University’, movement, community are the formats we have been mulling over as well, but without any obvious answers. University with the ethos of a community of practice and as in our case, a community committed to the collective wellbeing of its members, is the format we are probably exploring most closely at the moment. Advantage of a university format is, in our view, the ability to get traction and emerge as a hub for the best people and ideas. Action is another critical element in our experience, in the personal transformation process and social change; something else we are looking to integrate in building this new university institutional model.

Look forward to hearing more about your views and experience on this and of others in the Presencing community.


December 1, 2009

The question marks an meaningful milestone.

My bias: I am not sure that our legacy notion of institutions is an adequate container for a new approach to new challenges.

My first thoughts are that the best solution would reflect a cornerstone of the TU thinking: cross-sector and cross-disciplinary, multi-dimensional. In this way, the “institutionalization” comes into being through many points of origin at all levels, within existing institutions, and in organizations that would arise to meet this calling–both formal and informal… ( I think I have seen some of this in the various aspects of Otto’s work– cross sector (ELIAS); cross disciplinary (the theory the theater); academic and action; and the global classroom as just a few examples) I almost see a change in the definition of what I have taken the word “institutionalize” to mean.

I agree with Stuti above that the University setting is a powerful “hub.” This is perhaps how the examples I cite have worked thus far at MIT. But Otto”s “all of the above” seems to embody best the ecological calling as I understand it and the most possibility for a better fit between what is being done, who is empowered to do it, and how it is done.

As a practical matter, building on existing infrastructure at a university (or other entity) is useful. Yet where there is momentum for change, there are many individuals interested in these various projects whose natural habitat may be far from the university halls– and this is a great strength. How do we envision an “institutionalization” that encompasses a movement? Or How do we establish a powerful but neutral structure that can support the evolution of how society (in all its various elements) moves toward the future(s)?

What about a network of University hubs? Say one on each of six continents, acting as (relatively) local centers of gravity for support and experimentation (prototyping) of institutional support for research, action projects, individuals, groups, governments and organizations? Something more coherent than a loose affiliation of like minds, but less uniform than a single institution. A network could be built by layers over this skeleton offering a framework for all kinds of participants: local, global, regional, individual, organizational, etc…

Marco Valente
December 3, 2009

Dear Otto,
Thanks for your post. I work for the masters programme in Strategic Leadership Towards Sustainability here at the BTH in Karlksrona, Sweden. As an elective course we teach Advanced Societal Leadership and today a group of students presented Theory U as a topic. The presentation was very engaging and interactive and clearly gave a sense of the great potential of your work. Reminded me once more about the power of deep questions. I would love to ask more in the near future about how Theory U can be more closely related to a change towards a sustainable society. Until soon.
All the best,

Ralf Lippold
December 3, 2009


You have brought a relevant question on the table. I would like to reframe your question a bit:

In which structure will the “new” learning grow and evolve?

Institutionalize for me is a bit “old world view” style, as the evolving networks on the internet interconnecting with real-life communities will be probably one fertile ground for the change. We only have to tip into these new waters to explore whether and what it can contribute to the larger idea.

January 4, 2010

stuti, james, marco, ralf — i truly loved reading through this great thread. yes, james, we need something more coherent than a loose affiliation of minds — and something less conservative than a single institution. that captures our challenge very well…
to be continued…

Ralf Lippold
January 7, 2010

Good morning everybody,

as Otto mentioned in his last post we need something “more coherent than a loose affiliation”. The loose structure of the virtual connections we now here mostly have, leads to engagement when people have spare time or the topic is so hot on get caught like iron by a magnet. Once the time is a constraint people draw back into their own business (or caves one could say).

From my perspective and experience two (interconnected) things could be the leverage points:

– reducing personal time constraints (dealing with project, clients, business-family)
– slowly moving into using web 2.0 tools that facilitate the ability to lower the workload and time constraints – which is not easy, because in the very beginning it could lead to using some more time (worse before better phenomenom)

Both joined together can (not necessarily) lead to what we would like to see: action and change through groups of people in a network structure.

All our actions in life are an outcome of our intentions on what to fullfill!

What has been your true intentions and being the person you are?

Best, Ralf

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