How well can collective self-reflexivity scale?
I woke up this morning 4 o’clock and not only because the jetlag. Yesterday was the first day of the first World Café Research Conference. Due to the delay of the flight from New York, I arrived late and when I entered the room, I stepped into a conversation about the reflexive nature of knowing and research. It was strangely familiar and excitingly new, at the same time.
It was familiar because a central theme of my thesis, 30-something years ago, was a critique of the objectivist sociology and its claim that its interview methods are neutral. (I suggested that interviewer and interviewee interact and their relationship constructs the meaning of their exchange as much as the words uttered by the second.)
It was also new because the context, the implied assessment that the quality of new knowledge developed in a typical World Café setting is a reflection of the quality of relationship between participants, as well as, the attention they give to the inner space, from which they are listening and speaking. (Bow to Otto Scharmer’s concept of the “blindspot.”)
At the dinner table, I happened to sit next to Fred Steier of the Fielding Graduate Institute and editor of a series of books on reflexivity in research. Fred is a gentle man with deep caring to squeeze out every once of learning from a conversation, with the power of second order self-reflection. In my exchange with him and the others around the table, I discovered this:
If people in conversation are observing and reflecting on both the source and the direction of their attention (the inner and the inter-subjective space), and sharing those reflections, a spontaneous combustion of consciousness can occur. If so, collective self-reflexivity can lead to deeper, more fine-tuned sensing of reality, thus to wiser action.
How well can collective self-reflexivity scale? What does it depend on whether it will grow into a system of influence or wither away, unfulfilled its potential? I feel those questions deserve a focused and rigorous research. My first thought about it is this:
For conversations that matter to grow into communities of practice and social systems at increasing scale, they have to be able to absorb the increased complexity involved with those systems. What does it depend on whether a community or a network of communities is capable to do that? One of the factors seems to be the trust and appreciation that flow among the participants in the conversation, besides their capacity for double loop learning in real-time, on the spot…
That’s what I got out from the bed with. Now, I go to get a breakfast, and continue the conversation, in the 2nd day of the conference.