Apithological System Dynamics in Strategic Sustainability Conversations


  • Will Varey


systems theory, education, sustainability, generative dialogue,


ABSTRACT When facilitating social learning processes in multi-disciplinary strategic conversation groups for societal sustainability the dynamics of knowledge diversity, identity framing, values conflicts and information inequality will often surface. These can result in both generative and dissipative constructions in the formation of information, collaboration and meaning. This paper records learning experiences in forming two strategic conversation groups involving twenty-six multi-disciplinary participants to examine macro-sustainability issues in ten distinct sustainability impact spheres. After identical and joint initial formation processes, the participants were divided into two groups of equal diversity in gender, age and background disciplines to work on identical programs. One group was selected for its homogeneity in operant levels of consciousness the other for its diversity in cognitive frames and perspectives. Distinctly different results occurred in the processes and outputs of the two groups. The reasons for this apparent divergence highlighted contrasts in individual learning intentions, self-perception of information and the commitment to collaboration. The initial productive performance of the homogeneous group was in contrast to the initial dysfunction of the heterogeneous group. Following intervention and the introduction of a specifically designed inquiry process using principles of integral methodological pluralism, the heterogeneous group learned to become process proficient and highly productive even though the conditions for conflict remained essentially unchanged. The study raises questions about the significance of information paucity, knowledge humility and the perceived value of collaborative inquiry in generating meaningful multi-stakeholder solutions to complex sustainability challenges. The apithological (generative) and non-apithological (non-generative) dynamics of the two groups altered over the ten strategic conversations held. The presence of an emergent trichotomy of formative conditions in the structures of information, communication and intention was concluded as being significant. Various observations are made on the formation of generative conditions to enable successful multi-disciplinary collaborations for sustainability outcomes.

Author Biography

Will Varey

PhD Candidate at the Institute for Sustainability and Technology Policy, Murdoch University, Western Australia.



How to Cite

Varey, W. (2010). Apithological System Dynamics in Strategic Sustainability Conversations. Proceedings of the 54th Annual Meeting of the ISSS - 2010, Waterloo, Canada, 54(1). Retrieved from https://journals.isss.org/index.php/proceedings54th/article/view/1444