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Engaging People in Complex Issues

Posted on May 07 2014

Martin Luther King did not say I have a problem. He engaged people in the dream of a different future. Yet, with so many different perspectives processes often focus on the problem. It is increasingly difficult to find common ground on complex issues. How do we find a way forward together?

One of the ways of creating shared value is to bridge the gap between the ideal state (what we hope for) and the current practice (what we are doing). This begins by building understanding about the diversity of interests. When we understand interests then we can begin to understand individual and community values (what matters to people).

It is seemingly simple to use questions to clarify values and facts. Yet, these discussions can quickly get muddy and bogged down. Having the presence to hold the space while people share their stories about what they value, provides the foundation to explore options and alternatives in the face of uncertainty. When individuals explore trade offs and consequences the conversation can get heated as they hold tightly to beliefs, expectations, and opinions about outcomes. This emotional intensity can polarize individuals and communities.

If we are to support the adaptive capability of individuals and communities to respond to change, then we need to build understanding about their interests, concerns and aspirations. This provides a process for balancing our competing economic, social, environmental, and cultural objectives. 

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