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Since a year Veronique and I are involved in SALT processes within the City of Vilvoorde in Belgium, next to Brussels (Vilvoorde has 44.000 habitants, it is the fastest growing city in Flanders, with 51% of the population with a migration background, 108 nationalities in total, 25% of the population is younger than 18).

So far we have been starting SALT processes in the different communities (7 in total) with a lot of success. We had about 15-20 sessions. Every community succeeded to agree upon a common dream and make their first steps, to learn from their actions through the SALT CLPC process. BUT … despite the early successes our next challenge will be to make these early seeds grow, build resilience and make them sustainable.  

Our challenges concretely are:

·        Forming the core team within each community (rooted leadership)

·        Grow the maturity of the collectives that emerge (group dynamics, diversity, personal transformation)

·        Bring the different individual communities together (transversal best practices)

·        Redefine the relationship with the City Council and create a new space for collaboration between the system and the collective and let it mature (democracy).

Last November there were elections here which makes that a new city council is in place since Jan 2019 for the next 6 years. And we are invited by the policy makers to support them in defining their Participation Policy for this period. Although there is a clear intention, it is also clear that they do not know how to navigate this. And the political system can be quite opportunistic. ;-) 

Veronique and I both feel that we need to work with a maturity model and a roadmap. Mutual trust is something that grows. Both ends have to make their steps to be able to climb higher. Intermediate anchoring will be necessary. We intend to take a blended approach that  is rooted in the SALT cycle but makes use of a more extensive toolkit. Our aim is to build a case out of our experience which can be applied to other citizen participation tracks. No guarantees for now, but it is in the experience that we learn and that the next steps will emerge.

In the meantime, we do want to tap into the collective wisdom of this community. So this is a call for:  

1.       Similar cases, their learnings and best practices. You can also share articles you might have read. (We are in contact with Grez-Doiceau but we do not have a Jean-Louis who lives in Vilvoorde ;-))

2.       Anyone interested in this initiative and who thinks he/she could contribute to the development of best practices around citizen participation is more than welcome to reach out to us. The focus will be on implementation as we are working hand’s on. We tend to do some collective intelligence work around this.   

With gratitude for any input!

Warmly, Tom

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A little update: we had an excellent meeting with the City of Vilvoorde and their technology partner for Participation yesterday The technology partner is CitizenLab ( CitizenLab could clearly see how we are the missing link for their approach to market to anchor adoption. Our reflections around a maturity model as a growth (road) map for citizen participation got very much appreciated.  We will take our collaboration in Vilvoorde as a prototype and see where we can join forces later with CitizenLab.

But first we need to prove our impact in Vilvoorde and show our ability to guide them to the next level. This is a test case. And we are totally not there yet. It was already a bumpy road, and there are still many challenges ahead. 

Any reflections/resources that could support us to grow the impact of SALT within a city ecosystem with challenging stakeholders are welcome! We meet our stakeholders where they are. So we try to be agile and adaptive, while we work upon the acupuncture points of the ecosystem and connect the dots. It is a big opportunity to expose policy makers and business communities to the potential of SALT. 

Thanks, Tom 

  • Forming the core team within each community 

Our experience suggest that core team emerges as people in the villages/communities begin to ‘nibble’ SALT approach. You see that certain people in the community show interest in the way learning takes and how people relate to each other. This is for us an indication that these particular individuals are best fit to form a core team. But finding nibblers is a great challenge but hard is to sustain such a group of individuals. A lot depends on continuity of engagement with the core team.

  • Grow the maturity of the collectives that emerge (group dynamics, diversity, personal transformation)

This is a bit tricky for me personally. It is our responsibility to create space for co-learning and co-creation, and growth but how individuals are going to digest and absorb in not always in our hands. Key perhaps is to be persistent with holding space for people and introducing new tools and techniques. There is no better arsenal than trust and constant connection. Sometimes people only need time. You cannot predict ‘when’.

On a flip side, it has happened that sometime people in communities show more maturiry and sometimes we as facilitators lose opportunity: D: D in my experience hahahah.

Engaging in deep listening and generative conversation (read Otto Sharmar) helps.  

  • Bring the different individual communities together 

This is quite generic. There can be different reasons behind people are not coming together. In my experience during storytelling with communities, there common issues brought them together. In another experience of mine when I was working with a fisherfolk community and I wanted a core group to emerge. I asked them what are qualities of a good volunteer to all social groups residing in the areas. They came up with certain responses. Then I asked them to identify in your locality who embodies all these qualities and the identified. Henceforth, people from different social groups got together.

  • Redefine the relationship with the City Council and create a new space for collaboration between the system and the collective and let it mature (democracy).

Need to know what kind of relationship exist at present.

I don’t feel I am competent enough to answer your question since I lack experiences like this but let me try.

Do you know somebody from city council who is willing to support you? If yes, invite them to core group’s meeting. Allow deep listening, deep listening, deep listening to occur...There is nothing better tool than deep listening as I have witnessed (again read Otto Sharmar for this). In addition, also check exercise Joanna Macy’s ‘Work that Connect’. It has exercises and tools for this issue.

Though I have never been in a situation like this you mentioned. But intuitively underneath every soar relationship lies emotions like hurt, betrayal, indifference etc. encourage people to be vulnerable and acknowledge it. Even those in the city council without personally attacking.

Thanks Sohail! 

Some feedback: 

  • Core Team: I agree that the core team needs to emerge. We are still in the very early stages though and as facilitators on a low budget and limited intervention capacity. We touched upon the potential through three 2-4h sessions within each community (Session 1 - Who are We/What is our dream, Session 2 - From Dream to Action, Session 3 - What do we learn). We noticed that the collectives need to invest more time in low barrier activities to get to know each other and to grow diversity/capacity. We proposed the city council to give incentives for that. Challenge here is that we do see that the different initiatives bump into the challenges of group dynamics, conflict management, leadership issues, … SALT does not address these currently. Veronique and I have tools in our toolkit to work on these things. Unfortunately we will need to be creative within the current budget to deal with this in the most creative way. 
  • Maturity (& bringing communities together): bringing all the initiatives on the official citizen participation platform will be the next step here to anchor the engagement and communication. We discussed a templated approach here with the Citizen council to maximize the leverage. We hope this can create a new dynamic between the different communities to make a next step in their growth. We proposed the City Council to use the remaining budget assigned to us to work transversal in the next sessions to leverage the learning capacity and build best practices across the communities. In this phase we will also look into the recognition criteria for a citizen participation group. We do want to differentiate them from an association. 
  • City Council Relationship: this is to be build, there are intentions but not a structured approach yet. We got this project via the Prevention department. Currently the city council works in silos though, citizen participation is ad hoc and fragmented, more talking than doing. I do sense a lack of imagination and also a fear at the City Council level. There is an opportunity to connect the dots though if we can weave it together for them. Our best move for now is to anchor what is done so far within the platform (CitizenLab) which is put in place by the city council, to make the potential visible/tangible for them.  But like you say we are doing a stakeholder analysis and hopefully we can get some collective intelligence in as well. Within the system you have to be more careful. And we will need to be credible. 

So we are following a track of our own, we have created some fertile soil,  but like I said there is no guarantee and the road ahead is still bumpy. To allow the City Council to take the next step some case material from the Constellation network or other sources could help to further build our case. We do not have a budget for this yet. But we hope that transcending the silos within the Citizen Council and bringing them together in a collective intelligence session could help. And the momentum is there now with the new participation policy plan to be written in the next months.  

And yes our toolkit goes beyond SALT:  

- I'm an integral coach (based upon the AQAL framework by Ken Wilber) - 

- We use techniques out of Art of Hosting (

- The work of Otto Sharmer is always at hand. 

- I started to read and work with Joanna Macy's legacy and she is amazing! 

- Re-authoring from Chené Swart is also an inspiration 

  • Forming the core team within each community

Members for each core team, should come s suggestions from members of each community. Core team members would be people that community members trust. The number depends on size of each community. Members could be gate-keepers, church leaders, teachers or just people with natural leadership qualities. Members of each community will know them. A conversation could identify both who and numbers for each community.

Core group conversation: [1] What does US working as a core group mean for our community. A level with principles, values that the members of the community when reflecting will say we are proud of our core team. [2] What actions do we need to take to meet that proud level and how do we stay connected to our community members.

  • Grow the maturity of the collectives that emerge (group dynamics, diversity, personal transformation)

Would like to know more about the sessions completed:” We had about 15-20 sessions. Every community succeeded to agree upon a common dream and make their first steps, to learn from their actions through the SALT CLPC process.” The composition of the communities is diverse: “with 51% of the population with a migration background, 108 nationalities in total, 25% of the population is younger than 18).” There will be lots of strengths and at different levels. You mentioned each community having a common dream, that’s a good starting point for ‘Growing to maturity in a dynamic manner but with personal flare.” Have you identified what are the ‘BIG Steps’ to achieve the common dreams? These could be [1] Youth [focused] development, [2] Integration, Roadmap to citizenship; [3] Education; [4]  Relationship with the municipality; and so on. A description of each BIG step when it is operating normal, satisfactory to us would suffice. The specific or SMART actions to achieve each outcome will engage everyone collectively and personally. Note that when you achieve normalcy / satisfactory outcome of each BIG step, that will be like achieving the dream.

  • Bring the different individual communities together

Learning Festivals can achieve this. What are we learning and what are we willing to share, with other communities. Could be achieved in one or more days event. One community could be host to other communities, neighbors probably. Let them decide how much communities. The outcome should be [1[ what can we do differently or EVEN better, from this experience? [2] How can we stay connected?

  • Redefine the relationship with the City Council and create a new space for collaboration between the system and the collective and let it mature (democracy).

A relationship with municipality should be one of the BIG steps. From your narrative, the municipality seems willing to engage. This is a good sign. Could be ticklish though. Depends on who is doing the engaging with the communities. Would be nice to have a candid conversation between municipality and community members, on [1] what are we most proud of, between community members and municipality. Our relationship? [2]  What are we most concerned about?  [3] What can we do differently or EVEN better moving forward. The roadmap to redefining the relationship with the municipality.

Hi Autry, thanks for your feedback! 

Some comments: 

  • Core Team: by focusing on low barrier activities around connection and growing diversity we do hope they spend more time on the exploration Who they are to grow more potential here. A way to anchor this is also by letting them connect to the soil of the local community. We often disconnect from the beauty of our community. Together they see more though. The Agora concept Jean-Louis launched in Grez-Doiceau inspired us here. In Grez-Doiceau they recently started to work with a charter. I like that approach. Moving on they need to build the identity of the community council and anchor what they agree upon. 
  • Maturity & bringing communities together: we are really in the early stages, planting the seeds, we are not reaching yet the full diversity/potential of the community. A maturity model comes in for me here: level 0 - current phase (invitation), level 1 - recognition matured participation initiatives triggers new level in relationship with City Council (use of digital platform, communication flow, voice in participation policy next years, etc), level 2 - criteria to be defined but based upon engagement, reached diversity etc, new level in relationship with city council (e.g. budget voting, …). Any good maturity model that could help us to shape this would be welcome.  The learning festivals are a great idea. Unfortunately we do not have the budget to go for several days. At this moment. We agreed though to use the existing budget to support some transversal meetings where we can focus on learning & best practices development. We will also leverage this within the platform which is put in place. 
  • Relationship City Council: there is a will, but for the moment they are fragmented, working in silos and we are not yet in the right position. So our focus at the moment is to bring the silos together, connect the dots, and leverage the work we have been doing so far to hopefully convince them of the potential of a sustained effort here for their citizen participation approach for the next 5 years. But I fully agree with you that reinventing the relationship between the City Council and the citizens through the different community councils is what we most aim for. Through a staged approach though to deal with the fears we encounter as well at both sides. 

In response to your query, here is a resource shared by Dee Brooks, Australia on twitter

Great! Thanks Rituu! 

I'm always excited to see blends in action! This is the way ahead in my opinion. 

We do need to blend our practices to hold space for and navigate complexity. Most people fear the chaos but it is the only way to get to the wholeness of a living system. From complicated (most organizational systems today) to complex. This needs strong (TEAL?) facilitation skills though. ;-)  

Hi Tom

Several people brought this thread to my attention in different ways recently.  A couple of additions.  

First, I and a number of people are working on the next edition of what was formerly The Change Handbook.  It has blossomed into a virtual and printed knowledge eco-system which is on a while ride.  Carol Gorelick <> is probably the most reliable route into this system.

Also my book:  AfterNow: When We Cannot See the Future, Where Do We Begin? (published in Japan in 2015 and in the US in 2017 is my own take on how we go about building community these days.  It is a compilation of stories and learning from my work over a five year period in Japan after the Triple Disasters of March 11, 2011.  More on it at http://www.AfterNow.Today where the eBook can be purchased.  For international readers, Amazon has much better shipping rates that we can do as a small nonprofit.  There are a number of resources that can be downloaded from the AfterNow site, including  little primer of powerful questions and on methodologies for hosting conversations.

Hi Bob, thanks for answering! 

You have an excellent website out there! And I can relate to the resources you share. Amazing tools that are needed to address complexity.  I'm an integral theory coach, circle practitioner, art of hosting facilitator, mankind project initiate … I'm still blending it to together to bring it to the systemic field in a more embodied way. You are never done! :-) And it needs strong holding space capacities to navigate complexity with an open heart, mind, gut.

And this is the tricky part in this project. I'm a subcontractor for The Constellation/Belcompetence in this project. Within the project scope we were only asked to run the DREAM sessions and start up the groups. I notice that it will be impossible to make this initiative sustainable based upon the 2-3 session we have per community and the CLPC cycle only.  SALT facilitates to help the group to build the SALT attitude, see who they are, why they are there, take first actions,  the cycle is a feedback loop to get there … which is great and plants the seed … but you clearly need additional tools to make it sustainable and navigate the complexity. Initiating for me does create a responsibility to guide them further. This can be touchy since some will see the consultant appear here. :-) I'm not in the traditional sense but I will need to move up as a collective intelligence facilitator and work upon some acupuncture points within the collective. And bottom up will have to meet top down. 

So we are blending our approach and changing the scope and the approach from the initial project contract to hopefully create a more sustainable approach. This is on track but within the constraints of the existing contract. My big challenge now will be to influence the participation policy plan for the next 5 years and convince the policy makers of a vision on this (to connect the dots and build a coherent living system so that these early seeds can further grow). We are not yet recognized in this role, but we can use the credibility we build in the first assignments. It is my first citizen participation track (so I'm learning a lot about this specific ecosystem :-)). As the contract is signed with The Constellation/Belcompetence I'm looking for the leverage of the network. I have limited space to research.  I'm looking for cases which could be model/inspire the way ahead for Vilvoorde to pioneer in this. For sure we need more prototypes in cities to experiment with this. Personally I do think cities are the future. They have often a longer history than nations. And the diversity/humanity 'battle' is played there. This will be a camino for them, so they can only take one step at a time but with a clear direction. I do want to help them with a roadmap which is not fixed in stone which could help them to manifest. Would you have any idea whether a participation maturity model could work (I'm just following my gut on this)? If so any case where something similar gets applied? 

Many thanks! 

An update.

We had a community event yesterday in one of the communities of Vilvoorde that is called Kassei. It was their first self organized activity after the 2 initiatory sessions lead by Belcompetence/The Constellation. And it was a success! A potluck is an amazing way to connect people. Everyone brought something to share. Different cultures, different dishes. The energy was sparkling. Some politicians came as a citizen and could feel the vibration and potential. It is key to bring people in the experience to move forward. We agreed that the participation ladder needs to be climbed though and that this was just one step. A promising one though. A representative of the city council told me that civilian budgets will be important for them going forward. Their Why and How was not yet fully clear. But at least there is a thread. We will weave this in to connect the bottom up with the top down. Any cases/best practices on civilian budgets are welcome. ;-) 

Fyi - to share with those that are interested. This is the current participation policy 2015-2019 in Vilvoorde . I translated it in 1 minute with Deep L. :-)  An amazing tool which allows you to translate any document in a very acceptable way. This is the policy document we need to rewrite/update/inspire/empower/... for the next 5 years.  CitizenParticipationVilvoorde2015_2019_EN.pdf

Thanks for the document. We can add more academic resources to it.


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