Sept 13th, 2018
Last week the hub host team for the Concordia U.lab Social Innovation Hub met to plan and set our intention for this year’s hub. We shared the words and phrases that most spoke to us about the work we are trying to do with and through the hub. Phrases went up on the board – ‘meaningful connections’, ‘strong container’, ‘prototyping something new at the university’. Although each phrase seemed important, they didn’t quite capture our collective intention. What we needed was to connect them – to identify the relationship between the different aspects of the bigger intention.
Seeing the relationship between things came to the forefront of my consciousness this summer, reading the work of biologist and philosopher, Andreas Weber, who surfaces the absolute centrality of relationship to all aspects of life. Writing about the physical world, he sees the relationship between things as reality, rather than the things themselves – a more traditional viewpoint in euro-western culture. Even the atom, he writes, “is a relationship between different likelihoods of energy concentration. Its shape at any given moment is essentially the snapshot of a particular configuration of these relations”.
So what could the configuration of phrases we had on the board tell us about our collective intention if we made the relationship between them explicit? As we talked about the connections between the parts, I drew arrows. A coherent picture emerged:
Our intention for the hub is to prototype something new at the university, and that something is a learning community. Excellent content and a powerful process support us in our intention to create a strong container for hub members where they can develop meaningful connections that support their learning and growth. Remaining in close contact with the evolving collective and collective consciousness is a key aspect of ensuring that the processes we design are aligned with the development of the community and are indeed powerful.
This description of our intention resonated, and yet…
As the arrows (relationships) went up on the board, it became increasingly clear that the learning community was at the centre of our intention. It seemed to make sense to try and describe the nature of that community in more detail. We struggled. Diverse? Yes. Multi-generational? Yes. An innovative learning space? Yes. Yet, once again, none of these descriptions quite captured the thing we aspire to create.
Instead, what surfaced was a question: what are we creating here? Normally, I would find the inability to answer this question satisfactorily to be pretty anxiety-provoking. However, our recent foray into developmental evaluation – an evaluation approach for social innovation – helped to frame the ‘not-knowing’ differently. The fundamental question in developmental evaluation is: what is being developed? This was a lightbulb moment for me.
Holding the space carefully, as described above, and paying close attention to what is being developed and its implication for higher education is an intention that feels deeply right.
The significant learning for me in this process is that it was only when the arrows went up on the board, making visible the relationship between parts, that we were able to create a coherent intention and surface a guiding question for the months ahead.