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Off to New Shores! Sailing towards common ground

Format: Workshops, RSD10, Topic: Methods & Methodology

Maria Belén Buckenmayer, Milene Gonçalves, and Ingrid Mulder

“Off to new shores!” is a two-hour, interactive online workshop, participants will sail together to common ground and co-create a shared understanding of central concepts regarding a provided case. Participants learn and apply the concept of fruitful friction and use the metaphor of sailing. Fruitful friction is a concept that deliberately triggers people to express their implicit perspectives to create openness and awareness about different aspects that are usually not put on the table.

In the workshop, the metaphor of ‘Sailing towards new shores’ allows participants to use metaphorical language and express their implicit perspectives more easily. The metaphor creates an engaging, playful and immersive experience.

As shown in the workshop agenda, facilitators guide the participants through three main activities where the focus moves from the individuals’ ways of thinking towards a collective perspective.

  1. First, we will uncover indiviual ways of thinking to trigger friction and awareness about the different mindsets.
  2. Second, participants will express their perspectives regarding a given project to reveal similarities and differences in participants viewpoints.
  3. Third, we will capture a shared understanding of the project to build a productive and effective collaboration foundation.

Sailing towards common ground

“Off to new shores” complements the theoretical elaboration of the RSD10 paper, Fruitful Friction as a Strategy to Scale Social Innovations. Further, the workshop is the practical application of a framework outlined in the paper. We developed the workshop to help social innovators and their stakeholders reach common ground. The concept of fruitful friction is applied to overcome misunderstandings in multi-stakeholders projects due to peoples’ different mindsets, implicit frames and values.

We offer one way to deliberately use tension to deal with conflicting values of different stakeholders and understand the benefits this can have for collaborations. In alignment with the conference theme of tension, deals this contribution with friction as a catalyst for change. The workshop is about individuals perspectives while at the same time considering the bigger picture and common understanding and goals of a project. As this workshop enriches multi-stakeholder collaboration, we see it as a valuable contribution to the systemic design field where various stakeholders are involved in tackling today’s wicked problems.

An interesting point of discussion at the end of the workshop could be how a seemingly small change in a person’s mindset impacts the system and enables its transformation.

“There’s nothing physical or expensive or even slow in the process of paradigm change. In a single individual, it can happen in a millisecond. All it takes is a click in the mind, a falling of scales from the eyes, a new way of seeing.“ – Donella Meadows (2008, pp.163-164)

Further research could study the correlation and impact of an individual and collective mindset shift on a system.

Fruitful friction and common ground

The workshop offers a fruitful and practical approach to dealing with friction, leading to the emergence of common ground. The online workshop aims to let conference participants experience how friction can be used to make people aware of their own and others’ ways of thinking to identify similarities and differences in perspectives and co-create a common vision and project path. Participants get to know a tool to connect and communicate with stakeholders on a deeper level, leading to meaningful relationships and impacting each individual’s understanding of a project.

By playing with friction in a fruitful way during the workshop, participants experience the productive side of tension.


As this workshop is usually for project teams of multiple stakeholders, it will be adapted to the RSD10 audience. We will use a multi-stakeholder, multi-sector real case to facilitate the workshop to guide the participants through the three activities. Roles with small persona cards will be offered (like municipality, business owner, tenant, construction company, etc.) to ease participants into the case. The roles are diverse in ‘needs and wants’, creating friction in perspectives that participants can relate to.

Participants do not need any pre-knowledge or specific skills to participate in this workshop. The workshop uses visual elements participants can play around with to stimulate their creativity and increase engagement, making it easy for people who do not have a design background to engage in the workshop. The workshop team is experienced in facilitating online and offline creative sessions with multiple stakeholders. Some pilot workshops will be held to optimise the workshop for the RSD and secure a smooth session. This particular workshop has been conducted in the context of DESIGNSCAPES, a capacity building program that uses design for system change in the urban context.

Workshop format

2 hours | online | 40 participants | using Miro

Three main activities in workshop

Figure 1: The three main activities in the workshop are woven into a story of sailing from one island towards another one.

Workshop Agenda: Sailing towards common ground

For the workshop, a Miro board will be prepared like the one shown in Figure 2.

Introduction (15 min, whole group)

The facilitator introduces the workshop agenda, the case, roles and the background of the workshop.

Getting ready (15 min, breakout rooms)

The first activity focuses on uncovering general mental constructs and perceiving certain aspects of each individual, for example, their perception of challenges or the success of others. It is an individual exercise to trigger people to become aware of their and others’ internal frames. The objective of the trigger is to nudge people out of their comfort zone into the “learning zone” to make them open to change (Senninger, 2000).

Explaining next activity (5 min, whole group)

Preparing the mission (30 min, breakout rooms)

This is an individual activity to give people time to reflect on their stand and role regarding the case. E.g. How they would see their role in the project, how they envision the outcome, what they consider the best route to get there. This step allows, in particular, to make explicit similarities and differences in the participants’ perspectives on the case. Additionally, this grants all opinions and points of view to be heard in the group.

Explaining next activity (5 min, whole group)

Exploring the new world (20 min, breakout rooms)

The last activity entails the co-creation of a common mission. Each group works on one board, and together they define their shared understanding of how they would proceed with the project together. This activity is similar to the second one; however, the focus is on the joint journey. Aspects articulated on the previous board are taken back to negotiate a common understanding, such as the common values or a joint-future vision. Engaging together in this collective sense-making activity helps to create acceptance and ownership of the project.

Discussion, Q&A, Feedback (30 min, whole group)

Time for discussion, questions and feedback.

Workshop Miro board example
Figure 2: Workshop Miro board providing an impression of the visuals and activities of the session.


RSD10 Paper: Fruitful Friction as a Strategy to Scale Social Innovations

Full Report


Meadows, D. H. (2008). Leverage Points— Places to Intervene in a System. Thinking in systems: A primer (pp. 163–164). Chelsea Green Publishing.

Senninger, T. (2000). Abenteuer leiten-in Abenteuern lernen: Methodenset zur Planung und Leitung kooperativer Lerngemeinschaften für Training und Teamentwicklung in Schule, Ju-gendarbeit und Betrieb. Ökotopia Verlag.




Citation Data

Author(s): Maria Belén Buckenmayer, Milene Gonçalves and Ingrid Mulder
Title: Off to New Shores! Sailing towards common ground
Published in: Proceedings of Relating Systems Thinking and Design
Article No.:
Symposium Dates:
First published: 10 September 2021
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