Illustration: Yvonne Hollandy

Dialogic Organizational Development and What Else is Possible
Holding a field for change over time through dialogue and media-making

What are the underlying processes that result in transformational change? In a recent webinar, authors Gervase Bushe and Bob Marshak offer a new way to think about the answer to that question through the lens of dialogic organizational development.

Dialogic organizational development is a label that’s been created to group a wide range of innovations in organizational development over the last 30 years, including Appreciative Inquiry, Art of Hosting and Open Space Technology.

One of the key points Bob and Gervase make is that the “secret sauce” of successful dialogic organizational development consists of the following:

When a disruption in the ongoing social construction of reality is stimulated or engaged in a way that leads to a more complex re-organization.

When there is a change in the main storylines people use to explain and bring coherence to their organizational (or we might add community) lives.

When an image or process is introduced or emerges that allows people to see old things in new ways.

  The role of consultants or hosts in dialogic processes of this kind is to “punctuate, deflect, amplify, nudge things already in flow.”

Though working inside a community rather than an organization, the dialogues that we at Axiom News are now hosting in our home-town clearly include this “sauce.” Called the Peterborough Dialogues, this new effort is centred on a calling question that could be considered a generative image: How Can We Create a Local, Living Oasis in a Global Storm of Shifting Sands?

The entire experience has also been anchored on understanding that transformational change will occur in an emergent way. And an exploration of both the current story of our community and discovering and amplifying a new narrative has also been integral.

Gervase and Bob make a perfect point that the role of consultants or hosts in dialogic processes of this kind is to “punctuate, deflect, amplify, nudge things already in flow.” Axiom News as a host has been experiencing this as well. We are not stepping in with a plan to apply or an agenda to realize — other than the agenda of creating the conditions for transformational change.

A unique twist on the dialogic process as described by Bob and Gervase is that we’re layering on media making based on the same intent and approach. That is, the goal of the media making is not so much to report on or cover but to spark, ignite, amplify, accelerate what’s in flow.

Through this combination of hosting dialogues and media making we see ourselves beginning to hold a field for change over time.

We think that this focus on holding a field for change over time offers a highly promising response to one of the failures of dialogic change processes as outlined by Gervase and Bob, which is that much time and energy goes into a single event but not nearly enough into what happens afterward.

Rather than focusing on organizing a single event, the dialogic and media-making process creates an ongoing experience.

It is in this way that we see ourselves helping our community do what Gervase outlines as the primary work of dialogic organizational development, to “step up to that disruptive edge, that chaos edge where emergence will happen, enrich the networks so that information and energy is flowing as freely as possible and so that people who are motivated and have similar ideas can find each other around those and then make sure there is a system for tracking and supporting the things people are trying.”

To hear the full webinar, click here.

Gervase and Bob also launch a new book this month called Dialogic Organizational Development: The Theory and Practice of Transformational Change.

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