I was introduced to the work of Joanna Macy during a memorable exercise facilitated by Chris Seeley at one of the Narrative Leadership gatherings I attended in Stroud.

I bought the book, full title ‘Coming Back to Life – The updated guide to the work that reconnects’ and discovered an amazing parallel world of explaining complex systems, emergence, attractors but without any of the ‘difficult language’. It also includes dozens of practical exercise for workshops that can be used separately or as a longer sequence.

Given my recent interest and connections with Robin Lincoln Wood who has written an entire book called ‘Synergise’ (more on that in a later post) I was most interested in her definition of ‘synergy’ very early on in the book.

Synergy – The first property of living systems. As parts self organise into a larger whole, capacities emerge that could never have been predicted and that the individual parts did not possess. The weaving of new connections brings new responses and new possibilities into play. In the process, we can feel sustained – and are sustained – by currents of power arising from our solidarity.

In her 12 guidelines, on page 60, for a ‘good’ workshop I particularly empathise with the following four, and will reference these in later posts as I describe a few of my workshops.

1. Attune to common intention

2. Welcome diversity

7. Believe no-one who claims to have the final answer

11. You do not need to see the results of your work

My last quote from this amazing book is directly about a ‘good workshop’.

A good workshop is a highly participative venture. One of the greatest gifts that a guide (facilitator) can offer to participants is the opportunity to listen to themselves and others.

Always take the pulse of the group to find out what is happening. This act of checking in helps people feel more engaged and responsible.


Narrative Fragments


Having recently stepped over the threshold of three score years on the planet I am beginning to reflect upon the influences, stories and turning points that have inspired and changed me through the years.

I really don’t have the patience, attitude or necessary skills to write a book or make a series of videos. This blog has been allowed to dry up and become overgrown.

I will therefore initially, begin this journey in a form, suggested by Dave Snowden of Cognitive Edge, all those years ago, that of ’narrative fragments’. These will be in no particular order and may take the form of quotes, reflections, photographs etc. My intention is to provide a collection of sign posts, gateways or pathways for others to explore.

My intention is to reflect and revisit many of the stories, books and experiences that have had the greatest influence on me over the years and have shaped my approach to facilitation, sharing and indeed how I live my life.

Feedback, in the form of comments, additional resources etc, as always, is very welcome.

TRIZ Inventive Principle 26: Copying

I saw this in a car park in Knaresborough, Yorkshire on Monday. What a great way to deter people from parking in an area that needs to be kept clear, by way of copying a real garage.

TRIZ Inventive principle 26: Copying
A. Replace unavailable, expensive, fragile object with inexpensive copies
B. Replace an object, or process with optical copies.

If you would like to learn more about TRIZ we run regular courses for both engineers and our brand new course of ‘TRIZ for Dummies’. More information here.

ecology of knowledge – this year’s model

I am quite pleased with this overall concept model of my ecosystem based approach.

Each hexagon contains a separate aspect/force, the size and importance of which depends upon the situation.

The cycle begins with Participatory and progresses clockwise.

The green hexagons are those most coherent with Ecology and are inherently emergent.

The blue ones are more knowledge based and lean more towards things that can be learned.

A sustainable, resilient, adaptable, living, refreshing and exciting ecosystem, in my view requires all eight of the above and my workshops and master-classes go some way to bringing each of these essential forces to bear, whatever the problem or situation.

Applicable to new initiatives, business issues, idea generation, knowledge management, change, innovation, learning, reviewing …

RIPPLE Video – patient experiences

Hot off the press, here is a twenty minute video of the University Hospital Coventry and Warwickshire NHS Trust RIPPLE Project, introduced by Colin Gelder (who specialises in Asthma, COPD and other Airway Diseases. He also runs the new Community COPD Team.) and nurse Charlotte.

I was lucky enough to be invited to facilitate the early workshops from which emerged the ideas for this project.

The RIPPLE Project is a study we have put together looking at the effects of using Asset based Community Development to address anxiety and social isolation in chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases (COPD). – Dr Colin Gelder – Consultant

RIPPLE is an acronym meaning



Promoting a



Experience for COPD patients

After the first five minutes of the video you will hear, first-hand, the personal experiences of some of the community members.

While you watch these amazing accounts of just what the project has done for them, imagine each short story as a narrative fragment, signified (indexed against an appropriate set of parameters) by the teller and plotted on a sensemaker narrative landscape so that you could see the patterns across the community/county/society and drop in on any aspect that attracts your interest.

At the Heart of Health


I was very excited to hear that the RIPPLE Project, which emerged from a couple of workshops I facilitated in 2014 for the University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire NHS Trust (in partnership with Coventry University, the British Lung Foundation and local voluntary sector groups in Coventry), is beginning to gain momentum as a prime example of a “Person- and Community-centred approach for Health and Wellbeing.

Yesterday I facilitated a similar workshop in Wolverhampton of 45 patients, matrons, GPS, Hospice workers, Chaplaincy, fire service, community trust, Age UK & voluntary sector to bring together a community (and their assets) as part of a bid to become part of a second tier of six further similar projects in the West Midlands.

Anyway we found out that on Tuesday NESTA, the independent charity that works to increase the innovation capacity of the UK, had published its latest report entitled At the Heart of Health – Realising the value of people and communities, and that the RIPPLE Project was being held as a great example of enabling group activities that can be beneficial to support health and wellbeing.

What they highlight about the RIPPLE Project is:

Group activities in practice: RIPPLE – Respiratory innovation: Promoting a Positive Life Experience

People with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) experience chronic ill health and are at risk of early death. The symptoms of COPD, including breathlessness and coughing, can lead to and amplify anxiety, low self-esteem and social isolation. These in turn lower mental wellbeing and can result in both poor self-management and a lack of engagement with key treatments, such as smoking cessation and pulmonary rehabilitation. People can become trapped in a negative cycle where poor self-management leads to worsening symptoms.

As part of the Health Foundation 2014 Shine Programme, University Hospital Coventry and Warwickshire NHS Trust took a whole systems approach to this challenge. A broad partnership was set up involving local patients and carers, primary and secondary care clinicians, academics, public health professionals, and third sector organisations to discuss and develop innovative solutions to the social isolation and anxiety observed in individuals with COPD.

After consultation with people living with COPD, the partners decided that an informal community-based clinic would act as a catalyst for increased involvement. This evolved into a group model which blended informal clinic and education sessions with social activities such as bingo, quizzes, singing and seated yoga every Monday afternoon in a community centre.

Results included:

  • Reduced social isolation and anxiety.
  • Increased mental wellbeing.
  • Improved confidence in ability to self-manage.

Preliminary evidence – involving a small number of patients – suggests that attending the RIPPLE programme regularly may reduce the number of unplanned hospital admissions. The patients involved in RIPPLE are chronically ill and as such, you would normally expect their condition to deteriorate, leading to an increase rather than a decrease in hospital admissions. The RIPPLE team has secured additional funding through the Health Foundation’s Spreading Improvement programme which will allow these findings to be further explored.

“Coming here, well, it’s given me a social life I didn’t have before…I feel like a fraud coming here now because I feel so good.”

A couple of other quotes from the report which is probably obvious why they appeal to me are:

In essence, asset-based approaches for health and wellbeing seek to create approaches that are participatory, enabling people to lead action for health, and are underpinned by a focus on what makes us healthy.

As with many community-centred approaches, this is an area where practice on the ground is ahead of the academic research. There is a lack of systematic or review-level academic evidence about asset-based approaches for health and wellbeing.

To date, evidence of effectiveness on asset-based approaches in the UK is limited to a few local, emergent solutions within particular contexts, with little practical guidance on how to put them into practice at scale.

The entire NESTA report can be accessed and downloaded here and is highly recommended.

Storytelling For Problem Solving & Better Decision Making

I have just been confirmed as speaker and seminar facilitator at the next NETIKX event in London on Tuesday afternoon 22nd March 2016. My challenge for the day is to demonstrate just what Participatory Narrative Inquiry methods can bring to resolving issues and problems and improving decision making.


If you have never heard of them before NetIKX is the Network for Information and Knowledge Exchange and with a membership fee of only £60 per annum which includes free admission to this and another five similar events over the year, you would be a fool not to join immediately. At London prices the wine alone is worth it.