by Justine Huxley -
What’s the most exciting experience you’ve had collaborating across differences in faith, culture, and ideology? Have you ever entered into collaborative relationships and been truly surprised by the result? What enabled those experiences to happen?
In a group I facilitate at St Ethelburga’s Centre for Reconciliation and Peace, in London, someone recently asked,
“What’s the difference between collaboration and co-creation?”
Here is the answer I liked the most:
In collaboration, you and your associates work together. You start off with an idea of what you want to achieve and the result is not too dissimilar from your original idea.
In co-creation, you and your collaborators are inviting in an extra element – the ‘field,’ the interrelated system around and within us, the web of life or perhaps God (insert whatever language you use for That which is beyond yourself) – and the result is something new, something none of you could have predicted.
That description echoes my experience of working with what is called Emergent Design.
There is a quality of aliveness, of being in new territory, of holding a space for something beyond ourselves to bring itself into existence, of reorganizing us and our relationships, bestowing results according to a deeper wisdom that we cannot access on our own.
It is a much more exciting way to work. As my fellow co-creator at St Ethelburga, Debbie Warrener says,
“It invites more humility and less attachment to particular outcomes. It's a way of listening to a wider deeper dimension in the creative process.
Consciously bringing this in can be a powerful way to bridge differences and gently sidestep egos, competition, and more personal triggers that can come up when working closely together with others.”
The sanctuary in London, built in the 15th century, hosts a workshop.
Here is a simple story of co-creation. Last year in London, we brought together a vibrant group of around 40 sincere and committed young adults from eight different faith communities in a project called Friends for Change.
A Japanese Buddhist organization initiated the project, wanting to build interreligious relationships and understanding within their younger generation.
We had only the simple idea of creating a container of relationships and trust, then invited the next step to reveal itself. So we held the space in a very flexible, responsive way.
We took care to include everyone deeply as equals, inviting authenticity, mixing in prayer and silence, making it clear that the facilitators were not ‘leading’ the results, just helping to create the space within which the young people could discover what was possible.
Typically with emergent design, once the container is formed, there is a period of chaos while diverse ideas abound but no decisions are made. The group reacts to the apparent lack of hierarchy and decisive leadership, and gradually gains a sense of its own self-responsibility.
As facilitators, it takes trust and patience at this point to let things disintegrate slightly without stepping in and imposing or forcing a decision.
We had one meeting early on which required absorbing a fair amount of frustration and confusion from within the group.
Eventually, two beautiful ideas for interfaith action projects emerged and were taken forward with a sense of shared ownership and deepened relationship. The ideas were definitely different from anything I would have steered the group towards, but we were better for it, more vital and alive.
Contrast that with a story of another interfaith project we were involved with last year. This program was funded by a government department with an interest in improving the governance of minority faith groups and supporting them to better integrate into their local community fabric.
The desired outputs were decided by the government department, who then engaged a key partner, a Muslim-led charity, who designed the program in some depth.
They were then encouraged to locate and engage interfaith collaborators and facilitators. At that point, St Ethelburga was invited into a diverse planning group of truly lovely people with great experience. The Muslim charity guided the process very well, under the guidance of the government department.
Each partner organization contributed its skills and expertise to what seemed like a very valuable 6-month training program. Then we began recruiting participants.