One of the most powerful things that art can do is help us to make sense of the complexity of the world around us. For over 30 years, I’ve been helping diverse groups of people think together. I help them to explore important questions, collaboratively. I enable large groups to be in dialogue; allow for all to share their perspectives, experience and expertise; and work together to come to a shared understanding of the complex challenges and opportunities they’re dealing with. I see this process of collaborative sense-making as an important art form for our times.
I work at the intersection of collaborative technology and group systems dynamics all in service of facilitating positive change toward addressing the complex issues that we face.
While getting my master’s degree in interdisciplinary art in 1989, I had the realization that the problems we face in communities and organizations are complex and can’t be solved by any one individual, department or discipline. For my thesis project, I set up an early online bulletin board system on the San Francisco State University campus and promoted cross-campus interdisciplinary dialogue around challenges of the day.
In the mid 1990’s, I joined with Lenny Lind to bring the Covision groupware system to important large group meetings around the world. This pioneering use of technology to support collaborative decision-making in large groups has been used in thousands of meetings for a variety of government, corporate, non-profit, and community organizations. As a partner at Covision, I contributed to the creation of AmericaSpeaks’ “21st Century Town Hall Meeting” model in collaboration with Carolyn Lukensmeyer and others. This large-scale deliberation methodology combined technology and skilled facilitation to engage thousands of citizens in thoughtful and productive public decision-making processes. Over nearly two decades, I partnered with AmericaSpeaks on projects like: Listening to the City, where we helped link citizens’ voices and priorities to the rebuilding of lower Manhattan after 9/11; establishing essential plans for the future of New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina; and energizing regional planning processes in metro areas around the country.
In 2008, I was asked by The Grand Victoria Foundation to help launch the Vital Lands Illinois Network. This would become a growing collaboration of individuals from organizations around the state who were all working toward a shared vision of “an interconnected system of land and water of sufficient scale and ecological health to allow habitat, wildlife, and people to thrive”.
Over 12 years, I worked together with the Institute for Conservation Leadership to support this group to connect, tell their stories, find areas of shared concern and take action together. Through annual summits, online events, leadership retreats and other network-wide engagement activities, we created a platform for statewide collaborative action and changed the culture of conservation.
Throughout all of my work I see that collaboration is the key. I don’t just help others to collaborate, I often collaborate with others on projects. I’m a team player who values the skills, expertise and experience of others. Together we can take on the challenges of the day and co-create the world we want to thrive in.