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Brief Encounters with The Taos Institute
This month we welcome Ellen Raboin as she shares a story of Socially Constructing Belonging...

Socially Constructed Belonging

By Ellen Raboin

However the many ways we reconstruct our relationship to our families, we always belong to them. This is not the case in the organizations in which we choose to work. We belong in accordance with the agreements we construct together.  Because belonging is fundamental to both individuals and human systems, enactments of inclusion or exclusion impact the dynamics of an organization at a deep level. We have all seen positive and negative ripples in organizations stemming from the ways of the founders, mergers, layoffs, policies, practices, and new partnerships that change who is included and who is not. Here I focus on a few examples of belonging in care systems as a teaser for the upcoming Relational Practices in Health and Healthcare: Healing through Collaboration.

Part of what health care organizations pay attention to when learning to collaborate can be talked about in terms of belonging. The work is to re-include something that has been excluded, or exclude something that doesn't belong anymore. When we create interprofessional care teams we are in effect, socially re-constructing relational configurations in a human system. The connections between patients and families, professional caregivers, the vision of the care programs, the values, and so on become the focus of our attention. The relational practices enable the flows required to keep the human system alive. I have learned from Family Constellation work (Hellinger, 1998) that in the case of family systems, the flow required is of [biological] life and love. In the case of health care organizations, it is the flow of care, meaningful purpose, responsibility, contribution, joy, information, money, and the like.

The ability to pay attention to connections and experiment with the relational configuration allows us to see if the flows of aliveness are healthy, cut off, or overwhelming. In order to gain insight, "listen" to the system, restore flows, and experiment with reorganization, a growing number of organization development practitioners (see Horn & Brick, 2009; Sparrer, 2007) have adapted a Family Constellations approach often used by family therapists. Participants develop a somatic clarity about the health of relevant connections and a systemic dialogue emerges. The confidence for taking a meaningful step can be improved dramatically through this process of embodied listening combined with visual images of the system.

Following are a few examples to illustrate how belongingness impacts organization systems as seen in systemic constellation sessions.

We need disagreement: Using systemic constellation to look at the health of an interprofessional care team, we were able to notice the dynamics of the energetic representation of medical education, collaborative care, nursing, patient, and various members of the medical teaching team. At one point, the Director of Nursing asked what would happen if "disagreement" entered the picture. As we introduced a representation of "disagreement" into the system, the representation for nursing tried to physically prevent disagreement from coming into the circle of care. At the same time, the resident physician called the specialist (who had been outside the circle) into the conversation. The patient and the representative for disagreement began to make the case that disagreement was an important part of getting all the viewpoints into the collaborative space. The team became more comfortable with the role of disagreement and began to include it as a valid part of the collaborative care process.

Rights and privileges: A hospital system was in high vibration, people fighting and accusing each other. A systemic image showed a patient on the floor shivering in fear. Flow of care had stopped for the patient and for each other. A second rupture revealed special agreements constructed with a privileged set of physicians behind closed doors during a merger. The dynamic was amplified by differences in practices across generations and especially between medical doctors and the midwife practice. Unexpected conversations made it easy to see the consequences of excluding accomplished by special privileges and other values. Establishing new relationships across disciplines created an opening for the flow of caring for each other and shifting relational practices.

This is my patient: While following early adopters of collaboration around during their work together made it easy to "see" people who had not adopted this collaborative way of working. Once I asked a physician why he was so resistance to inviting the full care team into the patient's room.  He painted a clear image for me as he described himself sitting on the edge of the bed in close conversation with the patient, and described this as something that so many patients yearn for with their doctors. He said, "This is MY patient and I will take care of him. Having everyone else there, in the room, is distracting and overwhelming". Excluding others from the bedside conversation was intentional for this physician. The relational practice he created was a great dyad. What he missed was the opportunity for the generative and emergent qualities of collaborative care that includes the full care team. His power in that health care system allowed him to dictate who belonged in the conversation, thus leaving out many important relational opportunities and voices in the care process.

I am humbled by the wisdom of human systems that are given space to try out new ways of relating. Our job is often to create opportunities for these systems to listen to themselves and see the role of inclusion/belonging in what they are (re) constructing together.
  • Hellinger, B., G. Weber, et al. (1998). Love's hidden symmetry: What makes love work in relationships. Phoenix, AZ, Zeig, Tucker & Co.
  • Horn, K. P. and R. Brick (2009). Invisible dynamics: Systemic constellation in organisations and in business. Heidelberg, Carl-Auer.                
  • Sparrer, I. (2007). Miracle, solution, and system. Cheltenham, UK, SolutionBooks.

Taos Institute Events and Gatherings  - The Many Ways to Get Involved.....

November 10-12, 2016
Pre-conference workshops - Nov. 9-10, 2016

Cleveland, Ohio  (Home of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame!) 

At The Global Center for Health Innovation (

A Taos Institute Conference in collaboration with the International Institute for Qualitative Methodology (

This conference will bring together scholars and practitioners to explore, share and develop ideas and practices around health and effective healthcare through relational, appreciative, and collaborative initiatives. We will explore how this fundamentally depends on a vast matrix of relationships. Relationships between and among patients, families, physicians, nurses, administrators, educators, insurance adjustors, attorneys, social workers, mental health practitioners, and clergy, are all included.
Conference themes will include Innovations in Relational, Collaborative, and Appreciative Practices in:
  • Patient, Family, and Professional Relationships
  • Healthcare Organizations, Policies, Practices and Whole System Change
  • Healthcare Education
  • Connecting Community and Healthcare
Who should attend:
  • Healthcare providers and practitioners - All those involved with care giving at all levels of care
  • Healthcare and medical educators
  • Consultants to healthcare organizations
  • Students from all healthcare professions
  • Healthcare Executives, Senior Managers and Other Leaders
  • Insurance companies, lawyers and policy makers
  • Patients and community members
Accepting proposals for breakout sessions, posters, and papers through June 30th. For information click here:  Call for Proposals.


June 29 - July 1, 2016 in Copenhagen, Denmark

Once again Taos Institute will partner AttractorCourses in creating a very special atmosphere were dialogue, learning, relationships and new knowledge are the main purposes of the conference.

We invite you into the dialogues about both well-known and emerging ideas, facilitated by renowned international practitioners and researchers through an open and participative atmosphere. Join us for three days filled with stimulation and inspirational ideas originating from all over the world.



Taos Institute Workshops
  • NEW - Relational Leading: Do we know what it means in practice?  |
    Sept. 28 - Nov. 23, An Online Workshop, with Ginny Belden-Charles and Keith Kinsella
  • Collaborative Inquiry: A Methodological Exploration | Sept. 29-30, with Celiane Camargo-Borges, and Jasmina Sermijn, Belgium
  • Social Construction: Relational Theory and Transformative Practices | October 27-29, with Harlene Anderson and Sheila McNamee, Durham, NH
  • Social Construction: Premises and Practices | Oct. 31 - Dec. 12, An Online Workshop, with Celiane Camargo-Borges and Dawn Dole
For details about these workshops and to register visit:


  • Dialogue and the Arts of Transformative Change Work | June 14 - 17, England, UK, with Dian Marie Hosking and Maggie Shelton
  • Mastering the Academic Article - an online, writing workshop 
    |  July 11 - Aug 12, Online, with Rich Furman
  • Performing the World | Sept. 23 - 25, NY, with the Eastside Institute
  • International Class: Study and Train at Eastside Institute | 10-month class begins Sept 23
  • Discover Development NYC | Sept 26-27, with the Eastside Institute
  • Pharmaceuticals - Risks and Alternatives: International research and evidence based practice regarding alternatives to treatment with pharmaceuticals | Oct. 15, Gothenburg, Sweden
  • For details and more workshops visit: 

FREE Downloadable Books 
We are thrilled to bring you all the WorldShare Books and we hope you will  take a few minutes to download your free copies today.  

New Book: 
INTRODUCTION TO  GROUP DYNAMICS:  Social Construction   Approach to  Organizational  Development and  Community  Revitalization
by Toshio Sugiman - 
See all the WorldShare Books >
Donate to the Peggy Penn WorldShare Books Fund 
This fund helps to cover the expenses of offering these online books free of charge to anyone in the world. 
NEW Positive Aging Website

Positive Aging in Action
Website host: Samuel Mahaffy
Contributors: Ken and Mary Gergen

Come join us online at this interactive website. Share resources, stories and questions around Positive Aging in Action. 

See more at:
International Journal of Collaborative-Dialogic Practice now available!

Issue 6

Relationships and Conversations that Make a Difference

by Harlene Anderson

  The International Journal of Collaborative-Dialogic Practice
brings together members of a growing international community of practitioners, scholars, educators, researchers, and consultants from diverse disciplines who are interested in collaborative-dialogic practice based in postmodern-social construction assumptions. This community responds to important questions in social and human sciences such as:
  • How can our practices have relevance for the people we meet in our fast changing world?
  • What will this relevance accomplish? For whom? And, who determines it?
The Journal provides a bilingual forum for the exchange of ideas and practices from diverse practitioners and scholars around the world. This forum aims to help produce and promote relationally responsive-dialogic processes which generate new opportunities and new futures in our working and living together locally and globally. 

This new Issue 6, available now, features contributions from practitioners and scholars in Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, England, Mexico, Sweden and the United States.

John Shotter leads the issues with his exploration of orienting ourselves to the 'other' and the 'otherness' in our surroundings, suggesting a perspective of so-named mental disturbances out in the world of everyday life, rather than as a dysfunction solely within an individual. Newbury and Hoskins discuss the challenges of teaching/learning that invites learners to experience the transformational potential of collaborative approaches to change. The importance of reflection is also explicated in the article by Losantos and colleagues as they reflect on their research inspired by social construction. premises. Talavera's shares how literature enhances her therapy practice, though what she shares can be applicable to any disciplinary practice. Alcocer and colleagues highlight the importance of reflecting on our practices as they pause to explore an often posed question: what do people from different countries think about the meaning of family.


 The International Journal of Collaborative Practices is available for free, online, in both English and Spanish. Visit:

Relational Leading: Do we know what it means in practice? 

New Online Workshop - Sept. 28 - Nov. 23, with Ginny Belden-Charles and Keith Kinsella

Are you interested in:
  • Exploring the influence of social constructionist thinking in your leadership work?
  • Strengthening your capacity to help your team, organization or clients work together across differences; and in complex, multi-stakeholder and global contexts?
  • Developing new strategies for creating novel and generative solutions to entrenched organizational difficulties?
Relational Leading might offer one answer. By focusing on the conditions and processes for encouraging co-creativity, collective meaning making, fluidity and responsiveness in our action taking, and shared accountability for achieving systemic outcomes, this emerging viewpoint offers promise for thinking afresh about approaches to leading that can work in today's complex, diverse, and uncertain environment. 

In this 8-week online course we will seek to help you improve your practice of leading relationally through an intense focus on experimenting with and reflecting on your actual practice. Applying cycles of action research over the period of the course to your own selected practice challenge, we'll explore relations between intentions, actions and outcomes, and identify both the benefits of, and what creates conditions for, leading to be experienced as relational.

by Emerson F. Rasera
Taos Institute Publications, 2015
ISBN: 978-1-938552-31-1

For more information
70Candles! Women Thriving in their 8th Decade

Recently featured in the 
New York Times and the 
by Jane Giddan and Ellen Cole
Taos Institute Publications, 2015
ISBN: 978-1-938552-35-9

by Glenn E. Boyd
Taos Institute Publications, 2014
ISBN: 978-1-938552-22-9

For more information

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By focusing on the positive aspects of aging, and the availability of resources, skills, and resiliencies, research not only brings useful insights into the realm of practice but creates hope and empowers action among older people. By moving beyond practices of repair and prevention, to emphasize growth-enhancing activities, practitioners also contribute more effectively to the societal reconstruction of aging. 
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and many more at:


Welcome (Bienvenidos) to the International Journal of Collaborative Practices. The Journal brings together members of a growing international community of practitioners, scholars, educators, researchers, and consultants interested in postmodern collaborative practices.

Sponsored by Taos Institute and Houston Galveston Institute

I ssue 6- Available Now in English and Spanish - 
Donate to the Jane Magruder Watkins Scholarship Fund 

The Taos Institute's mission is to bring together scholars and practitioners concerned with the social processes essential for the construction of reason, knowledge, and human value.

We are committed to exploring, developing and disseminating ideas and practices that promote creative, appreciative and collaborative processes in families, communities and organizations around the world through a social constructionist lens.

We look forward to your participation in the dialogue.  Keep up with our updates!

Dawn Dole, Executive Director
The Taos Institute
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