Get Lit: A Q&A with Chris Corrigan

Luminare Group is passionate about serving as a platform to elevate diverse forces in our field. In 2019, Luminare Group has selected 10 guest editors for our monthly Be Lumin-Us newsletter, and will also be featuring their work or Q&A’s with them on this blog.


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Our first guest editor of 2019 is Chris Corrigan, a Bowen Island, Canada resident and one half of Harvest Moon Consultants.

Chris is a process artist, a teacher and a facilitator of social technologies for face to face conversation in the service of emergence and supports invitation: the invitation to collaborate, to organize, to find one another and make a difference in our communities, organizations and lives.

To learn more about Chris and his work, please visit: www.chriscorrigan.com.

To read past issues of Be Lumin-Us, head here.


A Q&A with Chris Corrigan

What idea/practice are you most in love with currently? Why?

I’m in love with using the practices of participation to address complex issues.

For me the biggest strategic issue facing our organizations and communities is the lack of tools we have to working with the complex adaptive systems that throw up issues like racism, poverty, marginalization, and inequality.  All of these issues are the emergent results of complex adaptive systems and in turn they become causes for the major socio-economic failings of our societies.

We cannot address complexity with linear predictive strategy tools based on expert advice. If we HAD the answers to racial injustice, we would have solved the problem by now. Instead we need to be good at working in emergent ways, opening up our activism and social change to a myriad of voices, experiments and ways of learning. Participatory planning, action, and evaluation provide the ways forward to communities that are resilient, resourceful and creative.

Going off this question, how/where did you learn about it? How has it influenced your life, thinking, work?

I have worked over the last 30 years working with organizations who are devoted to social change, justice and wellness primarily in the intersection between indigenous nations and organizations, and settler governments and communities in Canada.  Over that time I have come to see that understanding complexity helps us to more deeply understand the nature of these problems and also provides us with tools and perspective that become the source of hope and resilience.

I started life as a facilitator working on policy issues for urban indigenous communities in Canada and very quickly realized that groups of people thinking and acting together are far better at addressing these kinds of issues than a policy geek working alone in his office. In the mid 1990s I started devoting my life to participatory process, facilitating large group strategic work and teaching participatory leadership.   

If you could do one thing for a day (and be good at it), what would it be?

If we’re talking super-hero level, my wish would be able to spend a day building massive amounts of community between people that are naturally divided. I would hope that the relationships that we create there would cause people to rely and depend on one another for the rest of their lives, knowing that their survival is bound up in one another’s creativity, openness and intelligence.  

What makes you smile every time?

When diverse groups of people discover that they are capable of more together than they are alone.  There is nothing more delightful than the surprise that comes from enacting trust across difference.

What do you want to do more of this year? Less of?

This year I am highly focused on bringing together folks from the participatory facilitation world and the leading edge evaluation world to explore the intersections in their practice.  More here.

What was the biggest risk you took last year? Was it worth it?

I’m a pretty risk averse person in general, but last year I went to Germany where a large retail company, Tchibo, handed me the reins for a day to talk about complexity, facilitation and social change in service of a program they have spearheaded which improves the lives of workers in their Asian and African production facilities. I didn’t know the people I was working with and they didn’t know me and they invited me on trust to deliver a good learning day during their celebration of the 10th anniversary of this human rights program. To add to the stakes, they invited a number of their competitors and international human rights NGOs into the learning with them.  It was a huge risk for them, and I think it worked out. I’m heading back there this year to do more, so that’s an indication.

Was it worth it? The facilitators I met are courageous humans who are addressing massive social and economic rights issues in their home countries.  It was an absolute honour to be in service of their work.

What are you going to do this year that you’ve never done before?

Going to Japan to teach complexity theory and participatory leadership to folks working in community and sustainability and also as a way to address the pain and trauma that is pervasive in Japanese corporate life.

What’s something you love and wish people would talk more about?

Their relationship with the local First Nations upon whose lands they live and work. So many of us in Canada have only a passing interest in this, but my own life is deeply enriched by knowing about and working with the Squamish Nation in whose lands I am a permanent resident.  Knowing the ancient names and teaching for the mountains and shorelines of my home deepens my experience of hope and polishes and directs the gratitude I have for the place in which I live.

What’s an unlikely place you turn to when you need inspiration?

Global soccer supporter culture. I am a huge soccer fan and am involved with organized supporters groups here in Vancouver.  Soccer is life, and it’s a true global language. Everywhere I go, if we have nowhere else to start, we can at least talk about the magic of Loonel Messi.

What is an irrational fear you have?

Hard to say.  I think my fears are all pretty rational which makes them fairly real.

If you could make everyone read one thing (book, article, etc.), what would it be? Why?

This assumes that the most impactful knowledge comes from the written word. I’d want North Americans to read books written by the indigenous voices local to their home. And better still, if they can, to find time to be on the land with Elders and knowledge keepers who can give them a deeply historical sense of the place where they live.  Sometimes the most powerful thing you can learn is the 10,000 year old story of your place that you’ve never heard before.

For example, last month, i did some research into the traditional Sḵwx̱wú7mesh sníchim names for the months and seasons in the territory where I live, near Vancouver, Canada.  Here’s what I found.

Do you have a passion project? If so, what is it?

Trying to find ways to develop sustainable support for a fourth division semi-professional all-Canadian soccer team, TSS Rovers, that exists to give young Canadian men and women a shot at professional careers in soccer and a chance to represent our country.  We’re in the process of creating a community investment co-op to support the team.

Lately, what emotion have you felt most strongly?

Frustration. A lot of the time social change feels like a two step forward three step back kind of situation.  I can’t honestly say that we are making progress that is benefiting people, and I’m getting to the age where I am gladly ceding the change making work to the younger generation of activists and leaders who have so much more facility with the tools of connection. I’m encouraging them to continue to learn from their Elders, but not to let us shape their direction.  

And I’m frustrated by all the prevarication and distraction that goes into keeping the toxic status quo in place.  It’s like trying to stop the snow from falling by shoveling where you stand.

What’s a word or name you never want to hear again?

“Solveable,” applied to complex social challenges.

What song can you not stay still to when you hear it?

R-E-S-P-E-C-T by Aretha Franklin and Dancing in the Streets by Martha and the Vandellas.  There is something about Motown of that period that combines the fierceness of calls for social change, delivered with tremendous uncompromising dignity and truth and supported by fabulous danceable beats.  

If people knew this about you, they might be surprised?

That I have a deep contemplative Christian practice.

What animal or landscape from the natural world do you most identify with?

I identify very strongly with deer, salmon and ravens, all of which are ubiquitous where I live and all of whom are tremendous fun to watch and learn from.  

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