Reflecting on 2014 at the Blurred Boundary of Personal and Academic Experiences

It’s mid-December; a summer day in Melbourne, beginning of the final week before the holidays. 2014 has been a challenging year for me more than it was rewarding. The challenges mostly stemmed from steep learning curves I encountered associated with the “newness”; adapting to life in a new city, adapting to a “research only” academic position after three years of juggling lecturing, research and program leadership, finding my own feet (or not) in a new project in a new area (the urban) focusing on a new context (Australia). Time for a reflective account at the blurry boundary of personal and academic life in 2014.

A New City

I have completed one year living in Melbourne in August. This city where I came knowing absolutely no one has treated me very nicely by offering many creative and intellectual stimuli which kept me and my mind occupied and content despite the difficulties associated with the absence of an established social network. Being born into a city is an entirely different experience than acquiring it as home later in life as a mature person, even if temporarily but for an extended period of time. Currently I know many things about Melbourne that born-here Melbournians do not such as the mysterious Cave Clan thanks to Sophie Cunningham’s delectable book “Melbourne” which enabled me to bond with this city as a result of developing a historical and contextual understanding of it. The stories of how different migrant communities came here are full of fascinating details as well as the early colonial history of the city. Melbourne has never been boring for me in this year and there’re still many to discover about its history, culture, architecture and diverse communities. Nevertheless, experience of place is closely associated with experience with the people of the place. I have been lucky to meet with some people through my Turkish and New Zealand networks so now I have a few people to hang out with and enjoy several attractions the city has to offer. Nevertheless, I still have not build deep enough relationships with anyone. Whenever I think of a potential emergency, I cannot think of a person whom I’d call for help. An unsettling and a first ever occurrence in my life. Relationships take time to mature and require a lot of mutual effort. I know this is not a unique experience of mine but many others, some of whom being close friends scattered across the world by choosing to be mobile members of the global labour force for we follow positions that suit our unique expertise, financial expectations and lifestyle choices rather than choosing a place to settle and making the most of what’s available there for our ever insatiable intellectual and emotional needs. What we rejoice in and suffer from have a lot of commonalities no matter where we are in the world: missing family, friends, connections that are in fact sustained offline, in cinemas, cafes, beaches, museums, and around our own dinner table instead of on Skype or on Viber. We are an emerging sociological phenomenon: rootless white collars of the global urban. In an internet connected world where traditional office space is becoming redundant for many professions this is a contradiction. Just like Buckminster Fuller had to stop being a polyphasic sleeper because his business partners found his work patterns disruptive, we are expected to be “working” at the same time as our immediate colleagues. Although displays the importance and influence of local economic interactions in individuals’ lives, I find this requirement archaic and I’m dreaming of a time when I can work from anywhere I please for anyone in the world who’d like to receive my services. As much as I love living in Melbourne, if I could do the work I’m doing from anywhere I wouldn’t choose to live here. This has been one of the revelations of this year. The following question is of course revolves around the relative importance of the work I’m doing in the big picture of my life. This is something I’ll reflect on in 2015. One thing that clearly occurred to me is that I don’t want to move to yet another new city, ever again. My wanderlust has settled, at least seems to be for the time being.

Here’s a piece of research related reflection stemming from my experience of having recently moved to a new city: In envisioning futures of cities, we mostly assume those futures are for permanent inhabitants. How would a desirable, sustainable, resilient city look like, feel like, be like if more than half of its population were temporarily but for extended periods of time residing there. System innovation work involves strategising for the transformation of socio-technical systems meeting societal needs or “functions”. We assume the need to be met in similar ways or function to be fulfilled to carry the same characteristics, but what if it all changed? For example the need for shelter is met by housing development although property ownership is not anymore merely for meeting a basic need but also for investing. So some people own more than one residential property while increasingly more (but not yet many) people in big cities opt out from the option of buying a house and commit to renting throughout their life for this or that reason one of which is “being mobile” like myself. What are the economic, cultural and social implications of a potential mass movement of not buying but renting in cities? What institutional, organisational, social innovations would be needed to make a city functional, desirable and liveable in such a scenario?

A “Research Only” Position

One thing I can say: I miss teaching. I miss teaching not only because I see teaching as a great way of intervening in the systems I’d like to see change but also because managing time and measuring performance is much easier when there’re set short-term commitments to fulfil. I thoroughly enjoyed the few experiences of guest lecturing this year. In teaching you know that you touched someone’s intellectual buttons almost immediately but in research your influence is spread over longer term and is indirect most of the times. I think I am a short-term interventionist although my research is about the long-term changes. This personal characteristic, which seems like a dilemma in the first place, is resolved through my research ambition-i.e. linking micro-level changes with macro-level transformation. Nevertheless, my work in this has remained dormant throughout this year. I’ve been feeling that I’ve been fulfilling project tasks without any creative license so I took the initiative to start developing two small projects I can do with project partners which I can frame, design and run. I need to be strategic in how I manage these as the only way I will be green light by my manager is if I demonstrate direct relevance and importance of these projects to the main project I’m employed for. The whole phenomenon of having a “manager” has been challenging for one I chose to be an academic in order not to have a manager as such. I miss being my own research boss. In this process, I also reflected on what I’d like to achieve with my work and many questions arose if academic career is still the best option for this. These questions gave birth to other questions on the most suitable base for my academic work and a potential of mixing of academic work with consultancy. I don’t yet feel ready to make any major changes in my current set-up. All I can conclude from this year is that transdisciplinary research doesn’t go down well in traditional research universities no matter how niche the immediate base of the researcher is; same performance criteria applies to all researchers at central level and disciplinary researchers always have the advantage in an institutional set-up that is still predominantly disciplinary. But all of this is irrelevant if I don’t aspire a faculty position where I’m currently working at the end of my contract.

A New Area of Research in a New Context

I find the urban as a research area fascinating for it is a highly complex system and increasingly a focus in sustainability transitions and system innovations research as a key intervention context. On the other hand, I was hired for the project I’m working on because of my expertise integrating sustainability science, system innovation/transitions theories and design research, at least this was my understanding. When I pointed out at the time when I was offered the position that I don’t have in-depth knowledge of urban theories, I was reassured that there were other researchers in the project with this expertise and so my shortcoming in this area was not an issue. My hope was to continue developing my expertise in integrating design research with system innovations/transitions and sustainability science. However, this hasn’t been the case so far. The first year of the project passed by fuzzy front end work involving engaging with stakeholders, organising workshops, writing foreground papers with no academic novelty, and trying to adapt to being a member of a collaborative team which, after fifteen months still struggling to collaborate effectively. The roles and how we will bring in knowledge and expertise from our respective domains has not been clarified. I struggled with finding my feet, framing my own contribution and positioning design research in the project. I cannot say that I have succeeded in this yet. It is unclear to me how design research fits into the project as it is mostly focusing on policy. Although there are several opportunities to bring in design research into the project, including policy making, design research focuses on the micro level and the project focus remains very large-scale. The kind of design research I’m interested in is about people and practices more than it is about artefacts and technologies; the project focuses more on the technologies and physical elements of the urban. Although there is emphasis on the requirement of socio-cultural change and organisational transformation, and that design research can offer a lot in this regard, as a result of running a highly ambitious project, in a politically challenging time of Australian history in relation to climate change, with a small team with only one member having an interest in and knowledge of design research and a relatively small budget compared to similar projects undertaken elsewhere I am not sure if there will be opportunities for me to use my expertise effectively and build on it through this project. This is also another reason why I started developing small side projects with partners; so that I can directly work with the “users” of the project to make project learnings immediately relevant for their organisation through different methods of design research. This is also aligned with my desire to build on my specific research interest of linking micro level with macro level in system innovations and transitions. But as I stated above, I am uncertain if my time allocated to these small projects will be seen justified. I am learning to negotiate my way to meet my needs as a researcher while meeting the needs of the overall project.

Besides navigating my way through these challenges, I managed to squeeze in trips to New Zealand and Turkey in June and September respectively. I wrote about my New Zealand trip in the previous post but I didn’t get a chance to report on my Turkey trip. Although it was officially a holiday, I met with very interesting people who are working in sustainability, futures and social entrepreneurship fields which gave me the insight that the discourse and practice in sustainability, strategic design, futures inquiry and entrepreneurship has come a long way since I left the country in 2005. I could observe this in my annual visits looking at the steadily increasing number of people attending the lectures I gave and workshops I held. Nevertheless, during the time I spent in Istanbul this year, I had the chance to interact with professionals in addition to academics and became aware of a few exciting initiatives including Studio X Istanbul (Istanbul base of global urban think tank), Gelecekhane (futures think tank), Kadikoy Council’s design thinking initiative and S360 (an international sustainable business consultancy). One of the highlights of my time in Istanbul was having to -thanks to a sweet-talking friend- give a “lecture” about my experiences of Gezi Park protests to Danish sociology students right in the heart of Gezi Park with only two hours notice. I tried to frame this on-the-spot-spontaneous-lecture in the context of global urban based social movements focusing on the right to environment to make it somewhat academically relevant to my work although the students were more interested in hearing about first hand anecdotes about the events.

I think Turkey is currently a very interesting context to look at through system innovations / transitions lens. On one hand policies and practices that are completely counter any understanding of social, cultural, environmental sustainability at the central government level, on the other hand, a wide variety of niche innovations initiated by some local governments and a young urban entrepreneurial population which is no less informed, knowledgable, creative than its global counterparts but perhaps with fewer resources and less empowerment than some.

 

 

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Convergent Conversations – Transformational Grief, “The Infinite Game” and Love

I spent the past week in Auckland on off-site academic duty commissioned by the New Zealand Qualifications Authority (NZQA) to evaluate two interconnected degree programs on game development. I also gave a public lecture on Visions and Pathways 2040 project at Transforming Cities Research Cluster of University of Auckland. NZQA duty was full-on yet straightforward; a great first experience which gave me insights on how the big machine of academic institution works from an evaluator’s perspective. Around thirty people attended the public lecture from universities and the Auckland Council. Besides being a fruitful exercise of academic networking, it did not yield to anything spectacular worthy to report apart from an observation that systemic research approaches like VP2040 is still rare and disciplinary conservatism mostly prevails across the board.

Besides these “business”, I also had a chance to catch-up and have conversations with several people who are both parts of my professional network but also friends and inspirers of my work on the general topic of sustainability transitions. What made my trip worthwhile were these one-to-one, over-the-coffee/food/beer conversations which touched upon several themes that I’ve been mulling over for a while. Some of the conversations were continuation of previous conversations I had with these people both online and offline over the past few years. Some also echoed conversations I’ve been independently having with people I recently met here in Melbourne as well as with members of my international network indicating an increasingly converging grand narrative underlying the emerging sustainability transitions.

Following the news by NASA a few weeks ago which confirmed the decline of the Western Antarctic Ice Sheet as irreversible, my friend Maya posted a Facebook status update stating her desire to weep accompanied by other signs of despair and asked her friends “how will we live on this world?”. I met Maya through a common friend seven years ago. She has a consultancy called Mind Balance where she offers, among other services, workshops on mindfulness meditation. During my PhD years Maya and I used to catch up over coffee and have long, fascinating conversations about what’s happening to the world and what should be done to create change. My head-heavy contributions about system innovation at technological, organisational, institutional and socio-cultural levels were complemented by her insights and knowledge on becoming and staying present, being self-aware and mindful and how spirituality connects with systemic transformations. I always found conversing with her very refreshing; they unlocked the shackle of my analytical brain. Maya has always represented calmness and groundedness for me, therefore, seeing her in such despair was very unusual. For that reason, my contribution to responses given to her was a call to overcome grief and despair to be able to think and strategise: “Although I fully understand the need for grief, we cannot let ourselves get lost in despair. This is a time for big change and the question is how we will prepare for what’s likely to unfold from now. Adaptation comes with a whole new set of questions on “how” which needs to be articulated in all of its dimensions; ethical, political, spiritual, technological and organisational.” In retrospect, I realised my response on that day to Maya wasn’t empathic enough.

Not long after this interaction with Maya, Gary, one of the executives of the Auckland Permaculture Workshop sent the other APW executives and collaborators including me an email asking our opinions on including models of the grieving process in APW course material with references to dealing with the idea of and getting prepared for potential unavoidable collapse. He particularly referred to the Kübler-Ross model which explains grief as a five stage process of passing through phases of denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Gary and I, as well as another APW executive Finn met in Auckland last Friday. Among other topics of common interest –Gary is now teaching the Design and Innovation for Sustainability paper I used to teach at AUT- we touched upon the topic of grief. I expressed my concern with Kübler-Ross model based on its linear conception of grief and lack of a transformational element following “acceptance” phase, which, in my opinion, is necessary for linking grief to empowering oneself as well mobilizing action. Kübler-Ross model is developed for terminally ill people or for people who lost something dear to them such as a loved one; therefore it is understandable that “acceptance” is the final phase as such a loss cannot be remedied. Other models complement this model by offering models for “healing” which is relevant to dealing with societal collapse, nevertheless insufficient as they focus on the individual while we need to work with models focusing on groups of people. We concluded that our search for appropriate models of transformational grief would continue. I told Gary and Finn that I didn’t find the task uplifting and I wasn’t sure if my best fit was facilitating grief as my work focused on transformation of an undesirable unsustainable state. I told them that I saw collapse as only one possible –yet increasingly more probable- mechanism and that I chose, for the time being, to remain somewhat hopeful that we might find the creative resources within ourselves to avoid a complete collapse.

Gary and Finn along with many sensible others have been busy for several years putting their adaptation measures in place. A couple of months ago I had a Skype conversation with two of my friends –a couple, Tuna and Pinar- from Turkey who are strategic consultants for sustainability. They’re based in Istanbul; a city in social and ecological decline of accelerating pace. Being worried for not focusing on assuring my own resilience for what is likely to unfold during my lifetime I asked Tuna and Pinar if they had any strategic direction for themselves such as moving from Istanbul and establishing a base with fertile land and reliable community. Their response was heartbreaking yet honourable: “We don’t have any hope that things will get better here but we’re not going to leave the city. We will keep on doing what we believe needs to be done until the time when we cannot anymore. We don’t have a strategy for ourselves, we don’t need one, we don’t want one. Wherever everyone else ends up, so will we end up there too. We don’t think we can allow ourselves to have privileges.” Had this relieve my anxiety about not having proofed my future? Not really. Nevertheless, it resonated with my reasoning for not being “proactive”. It also amused me by reassuring how spot on Nietzsche was in defining the concept of “Turkish fatalism”. I cannot help but wonder though if the difference between the Gary-Finn-and-alike approach and the Tuna-Pinar-Idil-and-alike approach stems from the different cultures of individualism versus community-orientedness or differences in risk perception and risk management approaches.

Before meeting with Gary and Finn on Friday, I spent close to three hours with Niki Harré who is an Associate Professor at the University of Auckland in the School of Psychology. She is the author of Psychology for a Better World: Strategies to Inspire Sustainability and she is currently busy designing a game inspired by James Carse’s book “Finite and Infinite Games”. The game aims to identify what is of finite (extrinsic) and what is of infinite (intrinsic) value for people as a means to gain insight into how we can live well together (a question echoing Maya’s cry). Another aim of the game is to help people identify the finite games they have to play to keep playing The Infinite Game. As a community psychologist Niki is interested to understand motivational approaches to facilitate sustainability transitions. This created an immediate connection between her and I a couple of years ago and I helped Niki at very early stages of the development of the game. If I didn’t end up moving to Melbourne I would be her “design coach” (an opportunity I’m deeply saddened to have missed). Since the first prototype, Niki has run several workshops throughout New Zealand with groups of individuals as well as with organisations. She told me that the consistency of people’s deepest or infinite values is what has been most obvious from these workshops. While the natural world appears in the workshops as of intrinsic value, it is weaker than human qualities and emotions. She suggests this shows that people put people first. I questioned whether this could be proved true cross-culturally. She referred to her father’s statement (he was a cultural anthropologist) that indigenous communities use the natural world for their own purposes and that “living in harmony with nature” was a myth. She has since investigated this and found, for example, that fishing prohibitions in Pacific peoples are not because they cared for the fish but because this created opportunities for others to utilize the resource. To the extent that they understood nature and how to work with it, this was not because they wanted to live in harmony with nature but because they wanted to live well together as a human society. What does this tell us? Unfortunately one can never have sufficient time with people like Niki.

On Saturday I went to Maya’s place; we had lunch together and then went out for a walk on the beach. We did not follow up on topics of collapse or grief. It was mostly a conversation on happenings of our respective lives since we last saw each other in July 2013. We articulated the changes that have taken place in our views of people, places and ourselves including what we think our work is and should be. Then we sat on a bench and remained in silence for a while admiring the Rangitoto Island right across from the beach. Maya broke the silence, “Look, we don’t know what will happen even the next minute. We don’t know when Rangitoto will erupt but we know it will sooner or later, maybe even while we’re seated here, or long after we died. Nothing is certain and everything ever changes. Don’t paralyse yourself by getting lost in detail. You need to hold onto your truth and act from a place of integrity at any given time. That’s what matters.” I wondered what prompted Maya to make these remarks but didn’t ask for they fell in their places within me.

On that evening I went to a party to celebrate the long-awaited completion of my close friend Dan’s PhD. His topic was about issues faced in a contaminated site clean-up process in Mapua, New Zealand. Initially a technical research, Dan’s discovery on why an effective clean-up could not be achieved indicated reasons less to do with technical aspects and more with appropriate community engagement. Trained as an ecologist and an environmental engineer, facing the requirement to address his research question from a social science perspective resulted in Dan embarking onto a nine years long ordeal of undoing and redoing his project. In earlier years, Dan had several conversations with the local community several members of which fell sick due to contamination. He identified with the community members and lost track of his research for a while. Although I was one of the closest witnesses to his ordeal, I’ve never seen even a small piece of writing; he never felt ready to disclose his work. He changed it a lot, restarted few times, had to take time-off to recover from emotional fatigue the project caused him. Echoing his experience of identifying with the community while acknowledging the other difficulties associated with complex contaminated site clean-ups, finally he developed a new, very sophisticated psychosocial framework. The core elements of the framework include development of presence; self-empathy and empathy with community participants; rational and systematic understanding of the contamination problem from multiple perspectives; and empowerment of community as well as environmental manager perspectives. It was great to finally witness his completion which also meant uncovering of an age long mystery for our friends circle: what is Dan’s thesis?

To celebrate his completion and catch up on a one-to-one basis, I took him out for dinner a few evenings before the party. We talked about many topics as we have several common professional interests as well as a long personal relationship. While we were waiting for our desserts the conversation found its way to the topic of “love” with references to the “empathy” theme in his thesis. This reminded of my recent revisit of Dennis Meadows’ chapter on tools for transitions to sustainability in the book entitled “The Future of Sustainability”. Meadows counts love as one of the tools; the others are visioning, networking, truth telling, and learning. I recently had a brief interaction about this with a colleague in Melbourne who argued that love is not a tool but the fundamental basis. I disagreed although didn’t get a chance to voice and articulate this disagreement. I understood why he thought love was the fundamental basis, but for me there is one thing more fundamental than love which is fearlessness (distinct from courage) as it enables love; fear is a constant disabler for love to emerge. Also fundamental doesn’t mean absolute or self-manifesting. One has to work continuously to become fearless, or to act from a position of love. On top of this, love is an elusive concept and English language is not helpful either because of its “poverty” having only one word for love. This has always caused me a lot of struggle as I could never articulate the differences of several concepts that exist in my language all of which can only be translated as “love” as a result of this poverty. Therefore I always found the English word love iffy and unsatisfactory for explaining such a grand and rich human feeling. While I was reciting these thoughts to Dan he stopped me and said: “Don’t refer to love as a feeling, it is not”. I became perplexed and thought we were maybe having a language problem and asked “then what is it?”. He said “It is a state of existence when there is nothing else, I mean nothing else getting in the way”. I responded: “Oh, I loooove this dessert, don’t get in the way please” as a way of hiding a huge defeat, a lightning strike kind of check-mate behind my spoiled nature. Dan, knowing me very well that I revert to demagogy when I accept that I lost an argument, chuckled.

Before I caught my plane back to Melbourne, I popped into the newsagent at the airport. Among a poor selection of magazines (more magazines on “men’s interest” than “current affairs”), I picked New Zealand Geographic’s May-June issue because it had a special feature on climate. The piece must have been written before the breaking news on West Antarctic Ice Sheet as one article stated “there are signs of instability” rather than mentioning irreversible decline. The feature covered articles on findings of ANDRILL (which looked at ice cores to understand past climate and implications of current projections on stability of ice sheets and concluded that previous projections were conservative) and retreat of New Zealand glaciers especially of Franz Josef. From what I read I realized that Franz Josef, which, when I visited in 2008, left me in awe with its mass, beauty and vulnerability, retracted steadily that now tourists have to walk three kilometres to reach the terminal face and it is not safe anymore to climb the glacier as its front is very unstable so you have to be dropped from a helicopter to the top if you desire to do a walking tour. I obviously was being slack in practicing my “spiritual aikido” which I use to deal with the type of information I’m exposed to on a daily basis; a self-desensitisation routine. All of a sudden I felt like stabbed in the heart by the fact that no piece of land or place I felt connected to, developed a deep love towards, or dared to call home, would remain unaffected, that we single-handedly managed to alter the surface of the world to a point of no return. The child in me wept with full tears for several minutes while my adult self felt lucky for not having anyone seated next to me.

Right after I arrived in Melbourne on Sunday, I went to the closing night of the Melbourne International Jazz Festival to listen to Chick Corea and Gary Burton. It was full house; several hundred people had come to enjoy what I (metaphorically ?) think to be an emergent property of the slavery system. I wondered if any beauty would eventually emerge from the corrupt systems of our society too, nevertheless, neither the jazz nor this thought helped me yet to recover from the shadowland I sank into. Maybe it’s time to add grieving to Meadows’ list; if we’re going to experience it increasingly more, it makes sense to at least frame it in an empowering way, i.e. as a tool.

 

“Self-centred” strategies to facilitate collaboration in research groups

I am a little bit drained as a result of having to go through several learning curves some of which have been steep and “lonely” since I started to work on a new project at a new workplace in a new country. Therefore I decided to stop; stop and reflect on my thoughts and feelings about this “initiation” process. I have three other blog posts I’m working on but this seems to be the most pressing one to “blurt out”.

System innovation, if not reduced to new technologies and organisational models which will accommodate them, is closely related to the “self”. Self both as “collective self” of humanity and how it relates to whatever is not perceived as humanity but also as individual self which is essentially the most important “operational level” for intervention. Us academics, those who’re most abundant in quantity at least, don’t talk about “self” much, in fact we don’t talk about it ever. If we have a “voice”, it’s raised in the passive form in writing, or referred to as “we” even if “I” is the sole author.

I reject this “delegitimisation”. I am is I am (although at times and for poetical reasons “I is an other” too) and I do bring values, a worldview, a vision and a knowledge base into my work which is bound and limited by my intellectual depth. As I explicitly state in some of my online profiles, “I am a researcher with a change agenda”. On the other hand, I am not solely a researcher; I am also a person proudly “owning” other identity signifiers such as “photographer”, “facilitator”, “friend”, “wanna be potter”, etc. When I do work, it’s the work of my life; there’s a continuum of but not a seperation between the distinguishable signifiers of my identity, which is ever evolving, developing, transforming. When I “friend” someone (I use friend in the grammatically non-existing verb form) it is from a position of “I want to make this world a better place by my thoughts, feelings and actions”. When I research I operate from the exact same position. Techne and telos have never been mutually exclusive although treated increasingly as such throughout Western intellectual and technological development. If a day came in which I acted from a different values set in my personal life than I did in my professional life (boundaries of which are obscure but “forced upon” me) I wouldn’t be able to find reasons to continue the work I do; for me “the work” is a whole.

In this regard, I find the culture of academia and government especially excruciating as they enforce “politics” onto people that they don’t necessarily own themselves in rather disempowering ways. For example, I am being forced to “compete” against my colleagues so that when the day of promotion applications come, I can be the one who gets it, or, in the next round of funding my application is the “winner”. I find this to be a patriarchal model for acknowledging accomplishment; my feminine instincts know that collaboration is in fact more effective and beneficial for the whole community but especially for those “emergent” elements; i.e. children, young researchers, niche innovations, etc., which are essentially “the future”.

In order to address the challenge that is created by traditional, harshly competitive academic culture in a project that requires radical collaboration both academically but also with a wide spectrum of present -i.e. those who will make decisions and create new systems- and future -i.e. those who will be influenced by those decisions and created systems- stakeholders, I am trying to tap into my facilitation skills. Facilitation is all about helping groups to achieve their goals. The keyword here is “group”; for facilitation to work, there needs to be a “group”, even if in “draft” form; i.e. a willingness of individuals involved to become part of a “group”, to collaborate, to co-create. In trying to do so, I hit my head against walls of personalities and hierarchies that are all created in an old paradigm that we’re in fact trying to replace in “system innovation” in broadest sense. Nevertheless, one of the fundamental learnings of my facilitation training was that “facilitating self” before even attempting to facilitate others is essential for generating fruitful collaboration and designing powerful, generative conversations. A facilitator who’s not “present” to the group for this or that reason is an ineffective facilitator. What will I do to facilitate myself, i.e. to become and remain present to myself then?

Here’re some quick mid-course resolutions:

1. I will stay true to myself – I will protect my values regardless of what the systems I have to operate in impose upon me. This involves modelling the behaviour I’d like to see emerge in my research team: never compete, never social-poach, never blame, never scapegoat, help others achieve their individual goals and demonstrate how this can be done by holding “running a successful project” as a group purpose. I will always empathise and exercise compassion when I relate to members of my research team, my colleagues, and everyone else who participate in the project in some capacity;

2. I will question – Regardless of the hierarchies forced upon me I will question the integrity of behaviour demonstrated and validity of theoretical/methodological frameworks “imposed” by those who’re in power positions. In short, I will have no fear of being seen as “apolitical” at times and “loud” at others;

3. I will transform – I will remain open to challenges to the project, its epistemological/political/theoretical/methodological groundings as a means of carrying the project “forward” in intellectual depth as well as practical relevance;

4. I will mentor and seek for mentoring – I will keep on sharing my experiences, knowledge, insights with researchers/colleagues/peers without fear of losing “ownership”; I do not own anything I know or am capable of. I owe all my knowledge, skills as well as “unique” ideas to everyone else who intellectually “touched” me including my students. I will also keep on seeking mentoring in places that are available for me. I will not pretend that I know everything and can be anything. This will also help me being patient with and kind to myself.

In order to achieve these, here’re some practical things I will do:

1. I will design and facilitate processes to form, develop and perform a collaborative research team. I’ll be ever inviting but not forcing upon “participation”. I will seek for alternative structures, systems, platforms to achieve collaboration and will not assume validity of only one form. This will also enable me to learn and develop as a facilitator. I may assign for next level of my facilitation training; i.e. get into a one-to-one coaching contract with my trainers (I need to think about this more);

2. I will stop not expressing myself due to any kind of fear rising from “professional” worries including impostor syndrome and losing “intellectual property”. I will write in my blog more often as a way of sharing and interacting without furious editing of content. I will also publish academically all those papers waiting in my folder because they’re just not yet “perfect”. There’s a need for scholarly dialogue now more than ever.

3. I will exercise good communication skills; listen attentively and respond to every point. Just because majority of people have poor listening/conversational skills does not create an excuse for me to follow suit;

4. I will meditate and create opportunities to connect with nature despite access is not as readily available as it was in New Zealand. There’s nothing more grounding for me than interacting with the elements in their pure(st possible) form. I will also reflect on nature of “nature” and what it means in regards to “system innovation”. I will change my views if any refreshing insight emerges. I will actively try to hold conversations about this.

5. I will reengage with photography or find another creative outlet which feels right to shift from my mind to my whole body; best is if I make something with my hands and find “flow” in such engagement. Mind is an important asset for a researcher, nevertheless, is also a trap for the spirit.

6. I will put more effort in developing my social circle in Melbourne. I will “set myself on fire and find those who fan my flames”. People are crucial for intellectual and creative development but also for “feeling at home”.

7. I will also put more effort in maintaining and developing my international research network. I will try to collaborate with those whose work influence mine.

8. I will know who to let to go of and when to let go. Not all seeds will flower and sometimes a rock drowns all “potential” of a seed. I will accept when I fail and I’ll try to “fail better” next time. 🙂

9. I will bring “lightness” into my interactions and I will not take myself too seriously.