In this article, Guest Blogger and Integral City Lead Constellator, Diana Claire Douglas provides an overview of Systemic Constellation Work (SCW), an approach that enables stakeholders to effectively engage in systems change.  Douglas explores opportunities where SCW can be used to enhance Collective Impact efforts and highlights examples of community change to illustrate this possibility.

After attending Tamarack’s Collective Impact 3.0 conference in May, as a systemic facilitator, coach and consultant, I began to wonder if there might be something I could offer that could be integrated into the processes already used by Tamarack? My answer is yes! I facilitate a process, tool and methodology called Systemic Constellation Work (SCW)1 that offers a way for individuals, organizations, institutions, communities, and cities to experience and engage collectively in systems change.

As a participant and “newbie” to the Collective Impact, the Tamarack Institute and the Ontario Trillium Foundation (OTF), I appreciated learning about the different aspects of the CI framework, making new connections, and participating in small group dialogues. As a facilitator, host and participant of conferences, workshops and retreats for 35 years, I enjoyed feeling into this collective field.  Here’s what enlivens me the most:

  • It’s time for systemic change;
  • Lifelong learning is a core value;
  • Imagination and creativity are vital for transformation — including new ways of thinking –as experienced with the introduction to Human-Centred Design); and,
  • There is an openness to change in this field. OTF (the funders), Tamarack (the manifestors) and CI (the process) are each contributors to the process of making systemic change.

So, what is Systemic Constellation Work (SCW)? It is a systemic approach to design, inquiry, research, mapping, testing, seeing the whole system, leadership development and community building. For example, one of the tools is 4D mapping: the system is mapped in 3D space (a room, a tabletop, on the internet) through the use of markers (people, paper, foam mats). This 3D map becomes a 4D living dimensional map of the system as time, space, direction, movement and (often hidden) dynamics are expressed. The purpose of SCW is to inform the members of the system by showing the relationship between and amongst the elements of the system as well as the system as a whole. The 4D, co-created map shows the system as it is, making it easier to envision possible next steps or resolutions. For example, Integral City Community of Practise has discovered the power of SCW to make visible the invisible dynamics alive in the city. This enables practitioners to align strategies with the histories, cultures, relationships and intentions to release energies leading to impactful resolutions.

SCW involves people bringing their whole selves — gut, heart, spirit as well as intellect — to participate in learning together. It involves tapping into the Knowing Field, which invites participants to engage with not-knowing as well as knowing, and trust that we can access wisdom, intelligence and information way beyond what our intellects allow. It allows us to access the emerging future as well as the emerging past.

In sharing a desire to offer ways to create healthy, dynamic communities within rapidly changing complex environments, Systemic Constellation Work could add value to Tamarack’s community development programs, projects and purposes.  Based on our experiences with colleagues such as Integral City Meshworks, here’s (some of) what Systemic Constellation Work offers change-makers:

  • Engage the issues and questions they have about the theme, their community, their city with their whole selves;
  • Together be able to see their system as a whole system;
  • Access the hidden dynamics that may be blocking a pathway forward; and,
  • Co-design and co-create processes and products that align with visions and values and test the prototypes.

Knowing Field Designs would like to acknowledge Kara Stonehouse and Tucker House in Ottawa for introducing us to Collective Impact and looks forward to sharing Systemic Constellation Work with the members of Tamarack’s learning community.