Simulating the Future of Political and Cultural Forces



Adam Kahane gives a great example of a nine day workshop he gave in the Republic of Columbia between conflicting political groups. He noticed that the same types of tensions and conflicts apparent in the larger country revealed themselves within the microcosm of the nine day workshop. As the workshop progressed, the conflicting sides co-created four different stories as scenarios that might unfold for the future. After sixteen years passed, Adam re-visited Columbia and met with an intellectual from the country. The intellectual pointed out that every one of those stories unfolded in a prophetic nature.

Adam's discussion and example of this group workshop he facilitated reminded me of the type of design that human centered designers are trained to do. This is the same type of facilitation performed by IDEO, the same type of design taught at the d.school at Stanford, and the same design I've learned at MiD at UArts. Part of what I find innovative about the curriculum at MiD is learning how to design and facilitate the experience of a group workshop. Designing group workshops requires a certain experience with human groups and being able to leverage how small and large groups work. These are based on psychological practices developed by Wilfred Bion and experienced through the Tavistock model. One key element about a group's life is that it parallels the life of an individual from birth to death, over the course of a workshop. This means that a group experiences anxiety, fear, tension, conflict, sadness, happiness, and complex emotional states that resemble an individual. As long as the individuals of the group are committed to staying a part of the group, the group will continue to grow. Growing as a group implies emotional maturity, just as individuals become emotionally mature with age. Each individual within the group brings past experiences, various cultures, and thought processes that determines the conflicts the group will face, which at times become representational of larger forces in the culture. For example, these forces can include racial differences, language barriers, gender differences, political differences, etc. Furthermore, these conflicts arise as the group is working towards a common task, which Bion calls the work task. I think this observable phenomenon about group life can be applied to make sense of what Adam Kahane is saying about the national tensions and conflicts reflecting in the microcosm of the nine day workshop.

Since these national tensions and conflicts reside in the individuals at the workshop, it seems that the group became a simulating environment for the different political forces. It's a simulation in the sense that we may  observe how the conflicting political forces may mature together - in another sense, they become as one individual, developing emotionally over time. Those political forces from sixteen years ago played out their growth over a period of nine days because that's how long the group had to mature. By the end of the workshop, the group had completed the task and had completed its developmental cycle. Those nine days simulated the future sixteen years.

Following this train of thought leads to applying facilitation workshops as a tool for simulating the future of organizations, nations, and the global political climate. The purpose would be to simulate an outcome in order to prepare for that outcome, whatever it may be. Preparing for outcomes by means of simulation is something humans naturally do. This is evidenced by the development of mathematical and physical models of the world. If facilitation workshops can be used as simulations of political and cultural forces, then humans should design facilitation workshops to predict certain outcomes for a melting pot of cultural and political forces.