Increasingly we find people taking leadership in enabling learning across complex social landscapes, with multiple practices, institutions, interests, and significant boundaries. We call them systems conveners. This leadership can happen at any level of scale from organizing an encounter across a boundary to bringing together multiple players across a complex system to address a challenge that no single player can address. The role and practice of these systems conveners is still often invisible and misunderstood. Organizations often fail to recognize and support this kind of work even though most significant problems today call for bringing multiple players to the table to be able to address them in creative and sustainable ways.
A systems convener or systems convening team:
- Sets up spaces for new types of conversations between people who often live on different sides of a boundary (e.g. geographic, cultural, disciplinary, political, class, social boundaries). These conveners see a social landscape with all its separate and related practices through a wide-angle lens: they spot opportunities for creating new learning spaces and partnerships that will bring different and often unlikely people together to engage in learning across boundaries.
- Takes a “landscape view” of wherever they are and what they need to do to increase the learning capability of that entire landscape – rather than simply the capability of the space they are standing in.
- Is someone who has enough legitimacy in different worlds to be able to convene people in those different worlds into a joint conversation
- An environmental scientist brings together scientific communities, government agencies, and community organisations to learn how to translate knowledge about climate change into practice
- A Secretary of State sets up conversations between heads of states who don’t normally talk to each other to solve an ongoing geo-political problem
- A teacher sets up spaces for teachers, students and parents to see how to handle misinformation on the internet
- A social worker brings together all the different service providers (who normally don’t communicate) to address a client’s issues
- A hospital surgeon creates spaces for conversations and processes across different departments to develop a more rapid response to cancer diagnosis and care
By a “landscape view” we mean:
- They are knowledgeable about the various constituencies – (people in different departments, sectors, or cultures who have different identities, cultures and interests) – in the solving of a problem or in the addressing of an issue
- They are not outsiders to the issue; they have legitimacy among different constituents
- They try to change the way people on different sides of a boundary interact with each other
- A lot of their work is “identity work”: getting people to identify with an issue in a new way i.e. to identify with a larger or less homogeneous group of people.
- They maintain a deep awareness of their own location in the landscape and the situatedness of their work