Action needs to be built on relationships

Nicole Barling-Luke
4 min readFeb 22, 2021

Earlier in February Thea and I hosted a second session designed to bring together actors in the ‘reimagining government’ ecosystem. You can read about the background of where this idea came from here.

Originally we had planned to follow a similar format to the first session, mapping our 2021 activities onto a collective framework. However, following the discussion last year while it was clear there was interest in seeing our system from more perspectives, we needed more purpose around our group first. Therefore we came into this session with the framing question: what are we useful for together?

PART 1: Mapping the [partial] ecosystem

To begin, we returned to the miro board of the Geels Transition Framework which we populated last time. For people new to the group we asked them to add to the board, for those returning we asked them to observe any emerging patterns.

As a big group we then looked at the board together and discussed the following questions: What did you notice? What surprised you? What comforted you? What does this suggest about this mini-system of reimagining gov? What are some good questions to ask of the board?

What we heard

  • Synthesising this level of information in this format on miro is very difficult without understanding the context and relationships that went into populating the board.
  • There’s comfort in seeing an even split of activity across different levels of the board. Particularly in the grassroots level, it’s encouraging to see the personal deep work that goes into this systems work
  • It was heartening to see how well populated the board was, and how positive the input was, but this may be a reflection of the fact that those who have opted into this process are likely to be already fairly values-aligned.
  • Looking across all the levels, we wondered whether the unifying factor in the activities is that they are offering, and that they need, a new way of working?
  • The contributions on the board could be clustered into a set of themes (image below) though we didn’t really investigate these further as the shared contextual knowledge of the activities doesn’t yet exist. This makes it difficult for them to be actioned or developed.

PART 2: What are we useful for together?

For the second part of the session Thea and I shared some ideas we’d prepared previously on potential directions for the group.

Sensemaking — Use this group as an opportunity to share, reflect, learn and adapt both as individuals, orgs and a collective

Action oriented — convene around particular projects or practice for collaborative development

Portfolio building — use it as a way to support a portfolio approach to systems change

Network — building a group of practitioners who we can draw on and share ideas with (eg project hacks)

As anticipated from a group with such deep experiences, the discussion was rich and immediately reminded us that the original purpose of gathering was building relationality and that needed to stay at the heart of how we proceed.

We discussed that common-ground for productive action is built from relationships. Any decision on direction is too soon until we know what we’re all doing in more depth. There was interest in finding out what these commonalities are, and more small group conversations and mapping exercises were suggested to facilitate this.

There was interest in a portfolio-like approach with a suggestion to keep it grounded with place-based initiatives, recognising the need to have a clear focus for portfolio approaches to be effective.

The distinction between set boundaries and open boundaries was offered as a useful way forward to provide focus and direction. Might it be geography, our definition of re-imagining government, something else? And what are the terms of inclusion and exclusion in the initial stages of building trust across an ecosystem?

We left with a really clear sense that what is needed is space and time to build relationships before we leap into conversations about portfolios or collaborative projects.

I found it humbling how quickly the desire for action and visible outputs of value distracted me. And this was even in the context of relationality being the primarily objective of our gatherings. In the discussion, someone suggested that maybe the purpose of our meetings is simply to remind each other of the important things that we still forget. That feels like a good aspiration to me.

Where to now

Our next steps are to define some clearer boundaries for ‘what’ and ‘who’ we are and refocus on getting to know each other for the first few months this year before we leap into action.