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An Explorative Conversation: What does it mean to move upstream in conversations? 

Format: Keynotes & Talks, RSD13, RSD13 Programme, RSD13 Speakers, Topic: Methods & Methodology

Patricia Shaw and Karina Solsø

This session unfolds as an explorative conversation, starting with the idea that change and continuity emerge through streams of conversations. Responding to the world’s burning problems requires convening, but what kinds of conversational orientation can fruitfully help us make sense of and respond to our difficulties?

Our time is characterized by an endless preoccupation with control and domination pursued through activities such as analyzing, measuring, planning, standardizing, and implementing—all relying on what Henri Bortoft calls “downstream thinking.” Such a downstream orientation blinds us to the ever-present possibilities for change arising from an active noticing of what’s happening in us and between us in lively moments of embodied interaction. Contrarily, “upstream thinking” is about understanding the world in its becoming through everyday activities and everyday conversations. It emerges through an active practice of noticing shifts and movements in qualities of conversation as they unfold. In this case, we will also notice what happens in ‘hybrid’ conversations that are becoming frequent when one person is present with others at the conference and the other appears on a screen.

We are particularly interested in possibilities for an upstream orientation and responsiveness in conversations in public forums. Hannah Arendt noted that reality reveals itself in the public realm, in the space of appearances. So how do we find ourselves moving upstream in a confluence where many flows intermingle to create experiences of turbulence, of being becalmed, of channelling currents, whirlpools etc? An upstream orientation involves taking an interest in the unique ways in which conversations move through a confluence of streams, and it involves responding in this confluence with a willingness and a skill to make one’s  voice heard in the pursuit of joint inquiries into the collective experience of working together.


Patricia Shaw currently convenes an international research-in-action community. for Schumacher Society. Earlier, she co-founded, with Ralph Stacey and Douglas Griffin, an international research centre and professional doctorate programme for complexity and management at the University of Hertfordshire Business School in the UK. This research group has continued to evolve over some 25 years, producing several major book series with Routledge. In addition, she has worked as a consultant with corporations, communities, public organisations, educational centres and voluntary projects in many different parts of the world, encouraging people to awaken to a livelier sense of reflexive inquiry into what they are doing together, As an organisational practitioner she collaborates across many disciplines and practices—with dancers, theatre groups, managers, artists, activists and scholars, to bring a rounded understanding to the way we experience and participate in human enterprise. 

Karina Solsø is an independent organisational psychologist and a member of the faculty group at the Doctor of Management programme at the University of Hertfordshire. This is where she started her own research by exploring political processes within everyday management. Karina is also associated with Aalborg University as an external lecturer, where she teaches and supervises master’s programs in management and organizational change. In her work as an organisational psychologist, Karina works with leadership development and change processes with a special focus on developing the ability to respond in moments of uncertainty and complexity in mature and reflective ways. Karina is the author of several books, articles and chapters focusing on ways of responding to complexity.




Citation Data

Author(s): Patricia Shaw and Karina Solsø
Year: 2024
Title: An Explorative Conversation: What does it mean to move upstream in conversations? 
Published in: Proceedings of Relating Systems Thinking and Design
Volume: RSD13
Article No.: pre-release
Host: Oslo School of Architecture and Design
Location: Oslo, Norway
Symposium Dates: October 12–26, 2024
First published: 12 July 2024
Last update: no update
Publisher Identification: ISSN 2371-8404