Posts in Streams
Relationships as the medium for creating change
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by Ian Prinsloo

As a former theatre director, Ian sees systems change as an art and a craft. In this case, the creative medium is neither paint nor scripts, but relationships.

A main focus in the work of creating multi-stakeholder systems change is the quality of our relationships. Without productive, high-trust connections, people and groups can’t make progress on their shared goals.

If we look at the change process through the lens of the arts, we can consider relationships as the medium for creating change, in that relationships both drive and are created through the shared work that change requires. And if we skillfully shape the bonds between people and teams, we go a long way toward ensuring the success of the change effort.

The shift that occurs within the system is fundamentally a shift in the relationships of the diverse people and organizations who have come together to meet a particular challenge. So, what if – as system change artists – we took a step back to consider relationship not as the product of our work but the means by which our work is expressed? What impact would that have on our work? What would it mean for the impact of this work in the world?

To begin with, we’d need to be clear about the types of relationship required at each point in our work, the challenges they are best suited to meet, the conditions in which these relationships flourish, and the practices/structures which bring that relationship forward (and support its development over time). In any project, we can act in a flat, co-creative relationship, a structured, task focused one, or an intimate, sharing one—to name but a few. The question is whether we are clear about when each one is needed, the capacity we have in each, and whether we can fluidly move between them.

I believe that when we build our understanding and practice of relationship as the medium for change, we increase the impact of the work.


Adapted from an article on the Reos Partners website. Read the full article here. Ian will return to THRIVE in June 2019 to lead a stream on how to create systems change by cultivating the type and quality of relationships we need at every stage.

StreamsSusan Szpakowski