The team in London
The team in London

Enacting Systemic Change, Retreat in London

In August 2018, the Enacting Systemic Change team organized a retreat to critically reflect on their leadership skills and practices and look if and how those contribute to systemic change.


From 23-26th August 2018, five members of CitizensLab (CLab) Gerry Proctor (Engage Liverpool), Martin Pairet (European Alternatives, Berlin) , Alice Priori (MitOst, Berlin) , Chiara Organtini (Indisciplinarte, Terni) and Louise Armstrong (Peckham Coal Line & Forum for the Future, London) gathered in London for a 4-day retreat, as part of the prototype Enacting Systemic Change.

The goal of the retreat was to critically reflect on our leadership skills and practices and look if and how those contribute to systemic change. As a group, we felt there was a strong need to understand to what extent the CLab can be a space to experiment participatory leadership, that enables its members to tackle the challenges of the 21st century.

To do this, not only did we aim to research and reframe the existing literature on systemic change to adapt it to the reality of our experiences of leadership within the CLab. We wanted to start with ourselves, by looking into our own leadership practices and how they are rooted in system change theory. We then used the opportunity to think how this could be the backbone of a training concept to cultivate new forms of participatory leadership within the CLab, and become more autonomous and self-organised.

A retreat is the perfect format to open up the space for reflection, and to enact and experience a moment of full disconnection and intimacy with the group. For this, we managed to get a 3-floor house in Stoke Newington for us to experience self-organization and share as much as possible in a safe space, not in an office environment.


The idea of this Prototype was to cultivate within the CLab a systemic approach to the challenges we face. Acknowledging our agency and role as change makers, we affirm that change must start with us, as individuals, and the way we organize ourselves and promote change in our different daily actions, organisations, societies and environments. This is what the Prototype is exploring.

We began to do this by exploring our own leadership styles through different methodologies such as “action learning” and “stuck social presences”. We self critiqued and shared our personal stories and attitudes and learnt some key lessons that gave us ideas on how we could improve so as to be more focused on how we contribute to systemic change.

Brainstorming in London
Brainstorming in London

We opened up the space for inspiring encounters and guests, such as Zahra Davidson from Enrol Yourself, who helped us to move from own practices to a wider vision, also putting into perspective how we can secure a long term development to the prototype’s investigation and impact on the C-Lab as a whole.

In only 4 days we shared our stories, liberated our structures and unlocked possibilities for the future of the network as a space to unleash alternative forms of leadership and act systemically, challenging multiple levels of our state, from the personal to the organizational and social sphere.

Brainstorming, part 2
Brainstorming, part 2

Drawing from our experiences, we realised that we operate on many different levels, sometimes at the same time, creating a complexity that isn’t always open to simple and easy solutions. The whole system is interconnected and complex – from the personal and individual to the groups or organisations we belong to and then the society in which we operate and finally the wider universe or living system that encompasses every human being. Why is that important to navigate these different levels for leaders?

As a network organization CLab connects us with others in the system, as system that we believe does not give enough space for going deeply into the root causes of its dysfunctionments. We are all personally different and are operating to different degrees at different levels throughout the system. A systemic leader will be aware of and be able to move between the different levels, work with the inevitable tensions that emerge and be able to toggle between working with both the visible and invisible forces that are at play.

Critical Feedback

The retreat was well organized and impactful. We used a variety of methodologies during the Workshop and gained in many different ways from each. Discussion and debate was always respectful and honest and much time was spent deepening our understanding of how we operate and how societies function. We had to cater for ourselves and that worked well also as we became more sensitive to each other and how important it was to be able to work alongside one another. We invited an outside speaker to come and share her experiences with us and that proved very useful. We also had a Zoom call with Maria Scordialos from Art of Hosting in Greece which was extremely powerful and helpful.

What Emerged?

A key insight was what we learned about our worldviews and how they affect how we approach all aspects of life alone and together. We took a worldview test to be able to discover how each one thought and what impact our perhaps unconscious reactions had on how we approached our work and our time together in CLab. We would like everyone to become more aware at this level. This awareness grew out of the process we had followed during the Workshop and seemed to be a logical and rational conclusion to some of the more theoretical discussions in which we had taken part.


On the final day of the Workshop we reviewed everything we had done and learnt and turned our attention towards CLab to ground our reflections in the organization that we all belong to and to which we are committed. We spent some time describing how the CLab system is currently functioning. Then we agreed some shared aims:

– To raise awareness of the worldviews we are holding when meeting and how this affects our capacity to change (as well as raise awareness how unbalanced power relations develop and how they can affect the CLab)
– To name CLab as a space for experimenting participatory and systemic leadership and to practice how to navigate the complexity of the different levels of a system
– To reframe the CLab as a space for free association and self-organising as it moves towards (semi-)independence from MitOst

As next steps we decided that we would like to:

– Translate how we used our time together and what we experimented during the Workshop into a process that other CLab members can also experience
– Hold a session at the CLab meeting in Toulouse where participants can be encouraged to experience the “need” of a mindset shift to deal with today’s complexity and hopefully moving towards a living systems worldview.
– Take the World-View Test: and share results and experiences with each other and use it to facilitate a greater understanding of how we can work together to bring about systemic change in our different countries and societies.

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