Commentary about the 3rd International Training School for SDD

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Cyprus Training

The 3rd International SDDP Facilitators Training School was hosted by the Future Worlds Center in collaboration with the Institute for 21st Century Agoras and was held in Nicosia, Cyprus, July 25-27, 2011. The program focused on the theoretical foundations of the science and included use of "The Dialogue Game", an experiential learning tool for introducing the Science of Dialogic Design. The applied sessions utilize role playing and gave participants the opportunity to practice as well as to see others performing the various roles. Webinars were used to link to the Agoras' Tom Flanagan and Ken Bausch.


Farah Lenser and Heiner Benking have written a special comentary Dialogues beyond Aphrodite and Ares, Venus and Mars.

On July 11 this year large fields of military ammunition - confiscated years ago on their way to Gaza - blew-up in a gigantic explosion on the Mari Naval base in southern Cyprus. The neighbouring recently built power-plant blew up as well, thus leaving Southern Cyprus with power-cuts for weeks and water-supply problems as transportation of water and the desalination plants are highly energy dependent.

The People and even the local Military were not heard protesting for years against the dumping of explosive materials easily inflamed by occasional bush-fires. Besides the tragic human death toll of thirteen soldiers, financial damages were immense and will inflict the country's economy, infrastructure, society and culture for years in a country at the crossroads.

Arriving July 19 on the island of Aphrodite, we saw the inner city of Nicosia filled with protesters requesting their responsible leaders to step down. Even now, three months later, the President of the Republic of Cyprus has to testify for the first time ever in history at an investigative committee.

These were hot political times in a country where we have already temperatures of 40 to 45oC in the summer. Times, when we woke up in our second night, July 20 by the hooting of sirens remembering the invasion of the Turkish army 1974 as a response to the coup of the Greek military junta in Cyprus. Commemorations of an invasion celebrated as liberation on the northern side of Cyprus.

The Gathering

In such crucial times we gathered with the men and women who have conducted hundreds of bi-communal dialogues, as covered in the new book of our conference organiser Yiannis Laouris: Masks of Demons, a Journey into the Discovering and Breaking of Stereotypes in a Society in Conflict". Most of these peace dialogues took place in the formerly famous Ledra Hotel, nowadays in the UN Buffer Zone between North and South Cyprus and home of the UN-troops. We were right there on that estate in the Cyprus Community Media Center, situated in a kind of container complex.

Participants were not only students fresh to the subject or representatives from industry and academia but also experienced bi-communal practitioners. Among them the famous singer Kate Economidou who has convened hundreds of dialogues between Greek and Turkish Cypriots same as Yiannis Laouris and Chrystalla Tsoutsouki or Turkish Cypriot Idil Seytanoglu from the picturesque harbour town Kyrenia, now Turkish Girne.

Since 1993 these members of the Cyprus Conflict Resolution Trainers Group (CRTG) were using the method of Structured Dialogic Design (SDD) which was introduced to them by Benjamin Broome, an old collaborator of Alexander Christakis. With us were also Laura Harris and Kate Cherrington who are working with SDD in native communities in USA and New Zealand.

Alexander Christakis who started his collaboration with the Advancement of Indian Opportunities (AIO) and the Advancement of Maori Opportunities (AMO) years ago always stated how amazed he was that native peoples were also original system thinkers. "I guess this is the way they are raised up, they are growing up. They are amazing - when I met them we got connected immediately because we are offering them a contemporary tool to help them in their system thinking" (more in the interviews with Christakis).

Systems Thinking

For Christakis systemic thinking is the essence of the Structured Dialogic Design Process (SDDP). It is close to the embodied, holistic appreciative inquiry in indigenous traditions, where common patterns, values and assumptions are jointly explored, stakeholders "connect the dots" in shared frames of references.

Christakis affirmed: "We want to make system science popular. Everybody is talking about systems and systemic thinking these days but it should not only be a discipline of system science but people science to enable people from different walks of life to be system thinkers." SDDP today is not only applied in local projects but used in multi-lingual peace-making projects for example in the Pacific Region as initiated by Jacqueline Wasilewski and presented by Paul Hays at our seminar.

Another topic was brought in virtually by Ken Bausch, Tom Flanagan and Gayle Underwood from USA in their power point presentation titled "The Phenomenon of Body Wisdom in the Context of Dialogue". Unfortunately the presentation was disrupted by one of the power-cuts we were experiencing every day for some hours. Because of this electricity break-down the planned webinar with the authors was unfortunately cancelled. And "our" body wisdom reminded us that we need certain preconditions to function as human beings. Our heads fell down like flowers without water when the air conditioning stopped in these artificial container "tin-cans". This seemed to be a mirror for us, reflecting our interconnectedness with the web of life and reminding us how much we depend on certain technologies in artificial environments.


Altogether what a unique program for such a small circle in such limited time! The spirit of the process as manifested by the requisite variety in the room was very impressing. We experienced "Aleco" Christakis as being not only the moderator but also the "harmonizer" between different mindsets, sharing his rich experience and dancing the talk like Zorbas the dance.

For us as facilitators of self-organizing groups using methods like OpenSpace or Magic Round Table we focus like the SDD Process on empowering people to find their own solutions and regard themselves as experts in their own fields. We were very much inspired by the discipline and authenticity of the deliberation process and how it is supported by the Cogniscope Software which helps focussing on connecting people's thoughts and identifying shared patterns of meaning.

One point of the discussion remained open: Should we sit in a circle?" This is the accustomed design in all native traditions and highly recommended by Laura and Kate who are always working in this format. This goes along with our own experience in small and larger groups. As Harrison Owen, the originator of Open Space Technologies, pointed out: "The shapes that we assume really become very important preconditions for communication. There are times where you need to develop new information and new ways of doing things and as far as I am concerned anything except the circle doesn't work."

Well, Aleco already agreed that he would sit in a circle by putting his stuff beside him on a bench, and has done so many times with the natives. Maybe next time we come together under the big tree at Aphrodite's Bath!!

Farah Lenser and Heiner Benking attended the first Structured Dialogic Design sessions at the ISSS in Crete in 2003 and participated in the AGORA sessions in Fuschl. Farah is a social scientist, moderator and journalist, Heiner is an independent consultant and writer and leads the 21st Century Agora in Germany. Together they founded the Open-Forum and invite people to meet in Berlin in the Anna-Lindh-Salon, an occasional gathering created for civic and cultural meetings following Anna Lindh's discernment, who declared: "Dialogues are not enough, Encounters matter". The idea behind the concept and format of this kind of "salon" is to combine dialogues and encounters, deliberations and reflections and to reconcile positions, co-create new answers and learn from differences that matter.