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In thinking about the Ottawa we may want, we invariably come to the point of having to transform the way we do things and the relationships that underpin the way we do things. Whether we talk about economic reform (recently popularized by the Occupy Wall Street movement), health care reform (as has been recently championed by the Canadian Medical Association), climate change, reforming our energy supply system, (as the Ontario provincial government has tepidly tried to do), the justice system (as the Canadian federal government is doing in amongst their monster omnibus bill), or education reform, the focus of reform must transform the local conversations which shape the values, assumptions, patterns and worldviews which are themselves the basis of what is collectively held as possible or not possible in the community.

In a recent article for Engage magazine, Peter Block has identified four conditions that need to exist that can change local conversations so that serious reform can take place. They include :

  1. "Serious reform means that there is a fundamental shift in the nature of relationships among the players.

For example there would be a change in the relationship between teacher and student in education, doctor and patient in health care, politician and citizen in government, farmer and family in the food world.

  1. This shift in relationship begins with a shift in who is authorized to speak: whose voice counts.
    If the voice of the educator, medical professional or elected official drives the reform and the voice of the student, patient or citizen is not amplified, then nothing has really changed.
  2. When we re-authorize whose voice counts, there is a shift in where control resides.
    This means that real transformation calls forth from the student and patient and citizen more power than they had before, whether they want it or not. Power is distributed, not centralized. Consistency and efficiency are sacrificed for local ownership.
  3. Shifting control leads to new forms of engagement.

The players whom the system is designed to serve (students, patients and citizens) are now the center of the action. We pay close attention to how they come together. They meet to create relationships with one another. They value one another's speaking. They realize they have the real power to create the future they have in mind for themselves. These effects are determined by the way we come together, not by new policy, program or expert design."

It should be obvious, but rarely is, that transformation means doing things differently. But how do you get people to change their ways? How do you get governments and corporations to behave differently? Oddly, the most frequent knee jerk response is usually to find a better leader or expert who can compell or negotiate (a softer way of imposing) the people involved to do differently. But with a little reflection, it should be just as obvious that this kind of relational violence is precisely how we have been left with a legacy of chronic issues so dysfunctional that we feel an urgent need to reform them.

What Block's four conditions imply is a need to change the tenor of our collective conversation by changing the way in which we are together. Instead of advocating, we need to listen more. Instead of win-lose trade-offs, we need shared possibilities that we all want to live into and can become personally commited to bringing into existence. Instead of submitting to experts, we need to exert our own ownership in our communities and become partners in creating the future we want. Instead of relying on mythical leadership, we need more stewardship to support our working together through the giving of tools and skills and facilitation of dialogue.

Our conversation together needs to exemplify our interdependence and our acceptance of the differences we embody both as community members and as elements in this process of co-creation. If we can't change the way we are together and the conversations we hold together, then we will not change the conditions or the artifacts that arise from them. No amount of shuffling of chairs or centralizing of control will amount to more than incremental change at best.

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