Holding the Question

For how long might we allow ourselves to hold a question, and what could it create?

holding the question pic.png


"As we enter an era in which systemic issues often lie at the root of critical challenges, in which diverse perspectives are required for sustainable solutions, and in which cause-and-effect relationships are not immediately apparent, the capacity to raise penetrating questions that challenge current operating assumptions will be key to creating positive futures.”
- the art of powerful questions.

In our lives today questions and answers does not have the same weight or value. This partly has to do with the influence of our educational environments. Since the beginning of our educational entry point, we learn that when there is a question it means that there is an answer, and that your success as a student is tied to with which speed and accuracy you can find this answer. We do not get educated in asking questions but in answering questions.

In our everyday life we all know the experience of having a question and the assiduous tickling need of wanting (so badly) to find the answer or the solution. The mechanism is as natural and familiar as making coffee after waking up is for many. The bigger and more important the question in front of us seems to be, the more energy we put into finding the answer and the solution as fast as possible. Unless you function as a researcher, you will most likely go about this answer-finding-process by occupying your own mind. Potentially you might bring your question(s) to some friend or family members whom you feel familiar with and close, too. Or you might not even have to because right at our fingertips, google might already offer us all the answers you need.This is an completely normative process of how to deal with questions, that we all know about and use.

Holding the question is about bringing the focus away from the answer and back to the question. It is about putting as much thought into the question as we have traditionally given to answers. Holding the question is a method of opening the mind and asking life to respond. 


  1. First becoming aware of the present condition (of yourself or your group), to sit with the needs that are surfaced, and from there it is about crafting a powerful question. Without giving in to any creeping urge to answer it right away, it is instead about appreciating the quality of the question in itself and to notice all the new possibilities it brings.
    1. a. powerful questions are usually made with Why, How, or What prepositions, they possibility-focused and not problem-oriented, they are open and they often evokes more questions. A powerful question invites and challenges you to reflect on a deeper level — to find the knowledge or wisdom that’s already there beneath the surface. Using a powerful question usually adds more value to the process than one that is not.
  2. When the question is there and presents itself to you, you want to decide for how long you are going to hold it.
  3. Then you will go about your life as usual, but you will be holding a question, and you will ask life to respond to give you clues and signals. Being aware of the question and not trying to consciously answer it, but rather inviting a state of mind that allows a natural flow, thoughts, ideas and images related to the question will flow into the mind. It is especially helpful to take a walk in nature when holding a question.
  4. Do not expect to find any answer before the time of the holding is coming to an end, just collect undeterred what comes and trust that it will make sense later. (Use the metaphor of a basket that you fill up with clues)
  5. When the time of holding the question is over, you sit with your question again, and you might wanna try to conduct and define an answer. However what is most likely to happen is that the entire process of holding the question long enough dismantles or changes the reason for holding the question. The process often allows the arrival of a non-dual state and meaning creation, which resolve tensions we had and helps us shift the thinking we had when we made the question. This allows us to understand the question we asked from a new depth, to find more profound answers and to penetrate and rejuvenate our assumptions. Holding the question opens the door to dialogue and discovery.
“If I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on the solution, I would spend the first 55 minutes determining the proper question to ask, for once I know the proper question, I could solve the problem in less than five minutes.”
—Albert Einstein


Holding the question can last from hours, days, weeks and even months. It depends on the question and the context. A person might hold a question that pops up over the lunch-break, a couple might hold a question for some weeks about where they would like to travel to in summer, a team or a group might hold a question together for a longer period about which direction their project or work should take.

The question(s) that are held need(s) to be put somewhere into writing, and there needs to be an agreement with the self or with the people, on the timeframe of how long the question will be hold and when it needs to be re-visited.

Although groups can easily use this method, we recommend to use it mostly as an individual practice.



Further literature to the topic:

  • Peter Block (2008): Community.

What is the Call of Our Times?

This blogpost shares the story of how I came to find my own calling and how I found a new work approach within collaboratio helvetica allowing me to do things differently and more aligned with a deeper intention of who I want to be in the midst of all these big societal challenges we face.

 Sidsel holding a Dialogue facilitation training.

Sidsel holding a Dialogue facilitation training.

Some time ago I came across a characteristic and impressive quote that reflects for me with what kind of work I would love to support this world.  

“What is the call of our times? I believe it is to realise that the future is already here. All the seeds, all the living examples, all the partners we need to pull this off are already here. But we need to attend to and connect with them, and nurture the deeper eco-systems of collaboration and co-creation.”

(Otto Scharmer, senior lecturer at MIT, founder of theory U)

I think it happens to every human being, that at some point in our life we are faced with the same question “What is my calling?”  I personally believe that this realisation initiates from the moment we dare to admit to ourselves that we might not know (at all) why we are doing what we are doing. And might also not be sure why it matters.

For me this realisation happened some years ago when I was a student at the university, and sitting in the study hall in Copenhagen. This day as I happened to look around, I saw people being deeply into their minds and papers, I was looking at the paper I was writing, and started to imagine how many papers like these were actually going through the KU (Københavns Universitet) education machine. So much knowledge and so little connection. Such an empty feeling and sadness for all the waste of human potential I saw in that moment entered my body. Where and how do we learn and practice real collaboration and co-creation? Where do we learn about attitudes and not only about knowledge? I could not see it (at all)?

I realized that my education has the power to influence me and change my values. In ways that goes beyond the knowledge I am taught, in ways that I am in fact blind to. As soon as I had this realization I could not deviate from it anymore. It was like a gate that had been opened, and as I continued to pay attention, it was not possible to close that gate again. In fact, it just became more open. I left the traditional education system, I went out into the world (and into the unknown) and decided on a path that I really wanted and felt I had truly chosen myself.

What are the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) beyond an abstract framework?

The limitation I experienced within my education surely instigated a big shift in my own life, but the message that I want to share from my story is that this was also a personal experience with SDG no. 4. I realized my own personal dis-connection and tension towards an educational problem or lack of real quality as I perceived it.

The problematiques represented in the SDGs are in fact present and reflected in many of our everyday lives and experiences. As soon as we open our eyes and ask ourselves how we would love our (local) everyday world and life to look like, we can see the connection to the SDGs present in the way we experience issues in our environment. Unfortunately complex issues such as poverty, climate change or gender discrimination are often discussed only in the political arena, between "important" actors and much of civil society does not feel personally connected to the SDGs.

Making the connection to our personal and local experiences are the first place to source energy and intention towards change and engagement. Luckily many people do act on these experiences. Especially in Switzerland I see (and know) so many individuals and also organisations who care, who do outstanding work and try to shape the future of this country and of their own environments.

At the same time it often seems like we do not really change things fast enough. In fact all of the solutions are there, they are in our hands, but the solutions are not always taking root as we would like them to, or the implementation of solutions do not always turn out like we imagined. So what can we do besides running faster or try harder?

What are the real problems?

The answer seems to nest in the deeper understanding of the nature of these major problems. In their nature these societal problems are systemic, which makes them counter-intuitive, complex and deeply connected to each other. And we do not fully understand how to deal with that, often we try but we do not solve anything because we do not realise that we are dealing with the consequences of problems not with the root causes, which at times makes the problems repeat themselves.

This is complicated. It is challenging for all of us to implement such complex awareness into our daily action and doings, where many of us already feel stressed from pushing, pushing and pushing for making things better. In the pursuit of making a change, sometimes the consequences might be a burn out or we simply reach a point of despair and stop caring. No wonder we leave it to the politicians and to the leaders to make the change.

How do we deal with the real problems?

“What is the call of our times? I believe it is to realise that the future is already here. All the seeds, all the living examples, all the partners we need to pull this off are already here. But we need to attend to and connect with them, and nurture the deeper eco-systems of collaboration and co-creation.”

(Otto Scharmer)

These phrases happen to also be the heartbeat that perpetuates the vision behind collaboratio helvetica. collaboratio helvetica believes that in order to address the world's biggest challenges and to elevate our collective contribution to the SDGs, we need to collaborate and to come together all of us across sectors… neighbours, friends, politicians, corporations, NGO etc. We believe that only together we can tackle the real root causes of our problems. Because only in collaboration we have the power and the capacity to work in a systemic way, to see our own role in the problem, and to solve societal problems.

We also believe that developing the skills to engage in true dialogue, understood as way of conversation that is different from the one we usually have, one that has the power to change everyone involved, is an important - maybe even crucial - element for the challenges we face. Dialogue helps us to learn more about how the world looks like from other points of views and to develop agency on topics we often feel we’re unequipped to think about, because of their complex and ambiguous nature.

This is why collaboratio helvetica creates spaces for open dialogue, experimentation and collaboration for the SDGs. During our work I have been touched and fascinated about the potential and authentic energy for change that seems to emerge when traditional debate and factual inquiry is replaced with a safe space, human connection, and a focus on our personal experiences and on the questions we hold.

My own calling

It makes me convey to the idea that the future might already be here, and if so maybe all we need is to pay attention to the quality of our connections and the conversation we have with each other. I am delighted every time I realize that the quote from Otto Scharmer IS reflecting my work. I am proud everytime I realise that I am part of an initiative that sees societal challenges and our contribution to the global implementation of the Agenda 2030 happening through dialogue-focused, collaborative and experimental approaches.


The author:


Sidsel Andersen is from Denmark and has been connected to Switzerland every since she entered the kaospilot education. She is an experienced process leader and facilitator, and in collaboratio helvetica she works with the Dialogue Evenings and the methodology, practice and community for dialogue.

Design For Wiser Action

From the Art of Hosting

 Impressions from the  collaboratio helvetica Community Forum  where this method was applied. 

Impressions from the collaboratio helvetica Community Forum where this method was applied. 

What is the purpose of this method?

The Design for Wiser Action is a great way to co-create a project or a piece of work with the help of diverse perspectives. The process enables all participants to put their learnings and experiences in service of new creative projects. On the one hand, the process enables the project-giver to get support and advice and on the other hand it allows for the collective intelligence to unfold.

Briefly explained, a person is asked to share a project or piece of work they are responsible for (“project caller”) and invite a group of people to contribute to the thinking and design of actions that will bring it to life. Through the exploration of questions like “what is the need or purpose”, “who is the group” or “what methods will most support a wise action”, insights and solutions for the implementation of the project will be found.

The Art of Hosting community created a canvas (“harvesting template”) which outlines several prescriptions which form the building blocks for the planning activities. Everything that emerges during the group conversations is written down into the assigned blocks.

 Our example of the harvesting template. 

Our example of the harvesting template. 

How does the process look like?

  1. Invite persons to bring a project or a piece of work (a fews days in advance)

  2. Explain the method to all the participants (10min)

  3. Introduce the chosen projects (2-3min per project)

  4. Explain the empty canvases and go through the questions the participants will be working with (10min)

  5. Project design/Group work (75min)

    • The participants form groups and circle around a project canvas (5min)

    • Each project-giver briefly introduces his/her project (10min)

    • The groups ask questions and the project-givers answer (10min)

    • Co-creation: Fill in the canvas blocks with ideas that come up during the sharing of experiences and learnings (20min)

    • Peer-Coaching: The participants turn into coaches who start a discussion about the project. The project-giver steps out of the circle and just listens to the conversations of the “coaches” (15min)

    • The project-giver returns to the group and continues with the conversation based on what he/she have learnt while being out of the circle (15min)

  6. Return to the full group with all the participants and report back on the different outcomes (10-20min)

If there is more time available, the participants can shift tables and do the whole procedure for another project.

Tools, materials, Time, Roles

  • Questions that guide the conversation (“what is the need” etc.)
  • The harvesting template
  • A good work space/ good working atmosphere
  • Optimal timing 2-4 hours (depending on whether the participants work on only one or several projects)


  • One or two Hosts: They introduce the process to the group and invite and instruct the project-givers, hosting the full group processes
  • Project-giver (“caller”): This is the person who wants helps on becoming clear and crafting focus, design and practice in action, applied to a particular event or events
  • Co-designers: Are the people who help to co-create design. 

Sustainable Consumption - Awareness shouldn’t paralyze you and it shouldn’t frustrate you

How a Dialogue Evening on Sustainable Consumption helped leading change actors to let go of frustration and anger and become more positive towards their actions.

Why do many people who try to make a difference often feel frustrated or angered because the world isn’t changing fast enough for them or that some people do not share their awareness about an issue? In this story, leading activists for more sustainable human behaviour feel that they carry the weight of the consumption patterns of 8 billion people on their backs. But this negativity only hinders their contributions for a more sustainable future. In this blog article I share with you my insights from a Dialogue Evening on Sustainable Consumption, and how it offered us some solutions.


On the evening of April 5th 2018 a group of 9 people gathered in the Impact Hub Lausanne for a Dialogue Evening (see footer) on the topic of Sustainable Consumption, the focus of Sustainable Development Goal 12. It is a topic broadly debated in society. Can we consume sustainably? What does it mean to consume sustainably? How much can we consume now whilst sustaining our planet for future generations? During this Dialogue Evening we were asked to exchange views on our own relationship towards the consumption of food, relationships, money and more. We approached the topic from different angles: How our backgrounds and families shaped our consumption patterns, when in our lives we realized that our consumption comes with consequences or what actually keeps us from changing our behaviour.

What struck me during this evening were the negative emotions that some of the people in this group – myself included – expressed during the conversations. Anger, frustration and guilt are often connected to the topic of Sustainable Consumption. It is the feeling of guilt that comes with the consumption of certain goods and the feeling of anger or frustration that leading actors pushing for a change in this topic carry.

Negative feelings around Sustainable Consumption

Let us focus a bit more on the second group of emotions: Anger and Frustration. Many activists and leader for a change to a more sustainable society are people who bring all of themselves, all of their best intentions and loads of innovative ideas to guide the way forward for a better world. They put an enormous amount of energy into their convictions and want to share their awareness on the topic with the rest of society. However, observing the way that the world and its resources are currently still exploited by the world’s population, one participant commented that this role was challenging:

“Activists are translators of knowledge and hold the weight of the behaviour of 8 billion people.”

(Participant Dialogue Evening, Impact Hub Lausanne, 5th April 2018)

Consumption is first and foremost a personal matter. It is to some extend about consuming right or wrongly, and this is where our emotions towards the outside gets activated. Living with a permanent sense of frustration with the situation, and anger against those who are perceived not to be changing things despite clearly understood issues and solutions is exhausting and depressing for those trying to drive social change or be socially responsible. What can be done about this? Persistent negativity is not attractive, and activists run the risk of giving up, succumbing to depression or becoming passive.

Dialogue provides a way forwards

To a certain degree this Dialogue Evening was a first step for a change. While talking and connecting on a deeper level with each other, the group became aware of the anger and frustration in the room. The people present became aware of their emotions and started to question their attitude. Other persons offered support as they saw them struggle to let go of the negativity.

“Activists really struggle with anxiety. I want to contribute to make them feel better.”

(Participant Dialogue Evening, Impact Hub Lausanne, 5th April 2018)

Another participant said: “Awareness shouldn’t paralyze you and it shouldn’t frustrate you”. This sentence made quite an impression on me. I often catch myself in situations where I observe other people’s unsustainable behaviour which angers me. Or another moment where I eat something that my sustainable consciousness wouldn’t actually allow – which produces guilt. But these reactions don’t really change anything: It only frustrates me and if I show this feeling against the other person he or her might get upset.

What do we take away from the Dialogue Evening?

Everybody left this Dialogue Evening with a good feeling. There was no frustration, anger or guilt produced. We listened carefully to each other’s perspectives and experiences. All the people taking part had the chance to reflect on their own behaviour and the feelings coming with it. Everyone took something with her or him and left the evening either motivated, felt understood or maybe just a tiny bit more aware of themselves and their surroundings.

“I want to support the emergence of a more sustainable future but with a positive feeling and attitude!”

(Participant Dialogue Evening, Impact Hub Lausanne, 5th April 2018)

Where do we go from here?

We decided to make another Dialogue Evening on June 12th where everybody in the room agreed on taking someone with them that wouldn’t have come her-/himself. Either because they do not care much about the topic or are just not attracted by the format. We will see if and how different the conversations will be. But I am sure that if we approach the new people in the group with the same openness and positivity, a similar positive atmosphere like on this last evening in Lausanne will occur.


Intrigued? Join one of the #cohe Dialogue Evenings or contact Sidsel if you want to organise a Dialogue Evening around a specific topic in your community or municipality.


On Dialogue Evenings:

A Dialogue Evening is a format that allows a group to exchange on personal and local experiences of a societal challenge. It is all about the quality of listening and speaking. And therein lies the way we can change relationships between us when we dare to deeply listen to others perspectives, ideas and experiences.

The author:


Isabelle Ruckli is communication manager at collaboratio helvetica. She is highly interested in the nexus of human behaviour, sustainable development, democracy and governance. She wrote this blog article after visiting a Dialogue Evening in Lausanne on the topic of Sustainable Consumption. 

Prototyping the future of job searches and hiring: get to know the person before deciding to hire them

In December 2017, collaboratio helvetica (cohe) began to recruit some new team members to join its core team. The process was unusual: Over one month, around 25 people were brought together in different spaces, from whom 2-3 were subsequently selected to join the team. Why would cohe do this? Cohe is an organisation dedicated to creating spaces for open dialogue, experimentation and collaboration to create the Switzerland we want to live in. It is an organisation that tries to lead by example: trying new methods and approaches, and learning as it does so. It is also a very small organisation, juggling many commitments, projects, contacts and trying to do big, complex things on a small budget. Therefore, the right team members are crucial.

hiring process_blog_foto.png

So what did we actually do?

Consider the usual hiring process: everyone sends in their CV and a cover letter, trying with tiny differences to stand out from the crowd. You then meet the interviewing team for an hour, maybe longer, and they will meet everyone across one to two gruelling days. Maybe there is some follow-up interviewing, maybe not, but at the end of the day, the decision will be made in a short time based on a couple of hours and some bits of paper. When the person actually starts, there is then an onboarding process, and that is when the character, style and overall compatibility begins to become clear. Sometimes (often) it works out, other times it does not - that is why contracts typically include a ‘probation’ period.  

cohe started their hiring process with a week-long ‘coworkation’, or residential week of thinking, dreaming, planning, cooking, hiking and interacting. At the end of that, the soft skills (i.e. those that are hard to pin down on a written CV) of each person were much more visible, everyone had built both work and social relationships, and the team were able to see who would fit with their needs and characters. The potential team members had also acquired a good sense of the organisation and the people they might work with, and could decide if the match was suitable from their side.

Was the time invested worth it?

The team and applicants took a whole week together to find their new person. The outcome is a small, dynamic group of people who already feel like friends (helpful for working together), and within a month, three team members left and 3 new ones joined, in a relatively smooth process.
For the team members who led the process, it was very powerful to hear people share about why they chose to apply for collaboratio helvetica and to realise that we all have so much more in common than what separates us. Already this set the stage to not only be present in a situation of concurrence, but in a situation of conscious selection - which to us is part of real collaboration. 
For those who joined, it was a fun hiring process: a chance to network with similar people (whilst eyeing them sideways as competition!), to learn and think a bit, to appreciate new ways of hiring which make one feel valued even if you do not get selected (rather than feeling rejected). 

Would cohe do it again?  

Very likely - it has brought together a new team quickly and (relatively) efficiently in terms of the personal interactions - often one of the hardest aspects of joining a new team.  However, it did not solve the usual challenges of joining a new organisation with its own ways of communicating, working and doing things which takes time to become familiar with.

What would they change about the process? For the new team members, a longer overlap with the outgoing team members would have been useful to facilitate the hand-over process of technical and organisational knowledge. The cohe team also acknowledge that there were issues with the process: asking jobseekers to take a whole week in the hope of getting a job is not always easy, and clearer communication about the process and expectations would have been valued.

Overall, is it superior to other hiring methods? Everyone involved enjoyed it - we all met inspiring new people and had some great conversations.  In terms of developing the personal relationships vital to working in a small team, the method is brilliant - everyone quickly felt at home, able to ask for support or whatever was needed.  In terms of the technical and practical aspects of joining a new organisation (filing systems, communication systems, etc) - it did not really make a difference. But we will probably use it again in the future!

What do we take away from this?

collaboratio helvetica wants to drive social transformation - and in doing so, we try to live the future now. The future of work, the values and the well-being of people are the topics of our “Work-Money-Wellbeing Lab” - and by trying out novel methods such as a different way of hiring people, cohe endeavours to show that doing things differently is possible, that the system we live in can be altered.

We prototype - and hope that others feel inspired to try out new ideas too!  

Gender Equality: expert tips from the top

Interview With Director Sylvie Durrer Of The Eidgenössisches Büro Für Die Gleichstellung Von Frau Und Mann (EBG)

We, the Explorers from the newly minted Gender Lab (GL), are embarking on a mission-focused journey. We have the audacity to think that by bringing together a diverse group of voices into a judgment-free (well at least we try to be) space using the latest collaboration modalities and social intervention methodologies we might trigger systemic change to realize gender equality. This journey is meant to take us from our inner selves and the biases we hold and the emotions we harbor outward to our families, friends and communities in Switzerland. We are only at the beginning of this quest and there will be generations of explorers who we will pass on the baton gifting them our findings, our curiosity, our unwavering support and our faint inklings of what our shared future might hold. On any given day we waver between unbridled optimism and overwhelming doubt.

 The Gender Lab Explorers during their Interview with EBG director Sylvie Durrer (at the top of the table). 

The Gender Lab Explorers during their Interview with EBG director Sylvie Durrer (at the top of the table). 

We know there already exists great wisdom on sustainable change programs. We wanted to connect with the current state of affairs, find out what is working, and avoid dead-ends and past patterns of fixed thinking. On February 20th in Bern at the understated headquarters of the Eidgenössisches Büro für die Gleichstellung von Frau und Mann (EBG), we found a gleaming ray of hope. Director Sylvie Durrer has led the charge here for 7 years prior to her cantonal work on gender equality and her light burns brightly.

GL: For the uninitiated, what are the priorities of the EBG?

Director Durrer: Our mandate stems from Article 8 of the Federal Constitution; gender equality is a target in the fields of work, family, and education. More specifically, issuing from the Gender Equality Act of 1995, we focus on gender equality in worklife and in adherence with several international conventions of law, CEDAW and the Istanbul Convention, we address domestic violence. We take our direction from the legislative program and as an office within the Federal Department of Home Affairs we work closely with Federal Council President Alain Berset.

GL: You point out efficiency as a defining characteristic of the work of the EBG. Can you share an example of a small action rippling into a big effect?

Director Durrer: I want to call attention to two actions. First, an equal pay measurement tool, Logib. It is simple to use and makes use of already reported data. As it is voluntary, companies willing to self-examine their practices and address discrepancies and the root cause ultimately enhance their reputation. It is indeed possible to be both profitable and fair. This self-analysis tool has moved the dialog forward on equal pay. We are still striving to close the gap. My mantra, in German, French and English, is always Equal Pay!
This brings me to my second secret to calling attention to inequities: statistics!  We need to make the numbers relatable. When we say that there remains an unexplained 7% gap, that translates into 7.7 bn CHF per year. When we communicate on this at an individual level, our audience thinks, ”Yes, indeed, we have made good progress”. But when we generalize that to the cost for society, we communicate the urgency and magnitude of the problem. And the only reason women do not have these billions is solely because they are women. It is no longer an individual issue, it has become a public issue.

GL: The EBG has many broad reaching initiatives which need the full continuum of support. What is your advice on creating collaborations and including more diverse voices in the cause?  

Director Durrer: We are not going to reach all people. We start with what is possible. You can lose energy and resources by trying to engage those at the far ends of the poles. Look for where there is an opening to take a step further. Gender equality was for far too long in the domain of women. When I came to EBG in 2011, there was not a single man; now we have 30% representation. We must lead by example. We need more men working on this to make our programs balanced and credible.  
Perhaps the next wave could involve the older generation. Grandfathers are interesting to engage. Personal experience often dictates the level of interest. Until those unfamiliar with discrimination have lived it themselves they don’t relate to the issue. But now many have highly educated granddaughters and are surprised to hear of difficulty/discrimination in finding good job placement and advancement opportunities.

GL: Where do you face the most resistance?What can we learn from you first-hand experience?

Director Durrer: I’d like to share some guidance on stark resistance: if there is a brick wall, do not keep banging up against it but rather move on to where you see an open door. The time will come again when it is ready to open. Here is where we encounter resistance: Gender equality and language. It is so tiny but it is incredible how it strikes an emotional chord. Language belongs to all people and are an intimate part of your upbringing.  We have found that symbols are more difficult to move than the materiality. 
Gender quotas in politics. Gender quotas have been hotly debated and strongly rejected by the population. For a while it wasn’t possible to even speak about quotas, but now we are discussing quotas on boards indicating forward movement. If you come up too quickly with a certain theme, you will not only fail but you will encounter difficulty addressing this theme for quite a few years. Sometimes there are surprises. Now for board quotas the time is nearly ripe and when it is, we will only have to push the door a bit and it will open.

GL: How do you sustain your momentum and where do you find hope?

Director Durrer: We are going in the right direction albeit not fast enough. We see progress because there is a great concerted effort to bring change. We are marching uphill so if we don’t go forwards we will quickly fall backward. Equal pay is where I find hope. It is an issue for women, for families, for couples, for divorced couples, for offspring in both the short- and long-term (income now and pensions later). The unexplained gap is the hands of the companies. It is about justice for women but it is also about fair competition. Part of the explained gap is attributed to child care availability which is the work of the federal government. I am working for the betterment of society today and for coming generations. My work is about opening up more freedom of choice across gender. When individuals have the power to choose, they are more content with their choices and they can contribute to the community more fully.   


This interview was held and written by three Explorers of the current Gender Lab: Anne Murray, Anna Krebs and Adrian Ott. 

collaboratio helvetica at SDSN launch Switzerland!

We partnered up with SDSN and supported the design of their launch conference. In particular, we designed flow and are co-facilitating the break-out session. Nora and Osi, together with a facilitator crew of 10 people, will take the participants through a process including storytelling as the main methodology.

If you want to know how we plan to collectively learn from stories and take action towards the SDGs, check out this video.

"We can’t wait to see what will come out of this unique space for dialogue and collaboration that we are opening together with SDSN" - Nora Wilhelm

SDSN Switzerland's official launch conference

Some 250 decision makers will meet in Bern on 15 February in order to drive forward implementation by Switzerland of the global Sustainable Development Goals. They convene under the theme "Where Society, Science and Politics create solutions".

Swiss politics, business, science and society are challenged: The Federal Council shall submit a report by July 2018, indicating where and how Switzerland can deliver its contribution to the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that are the central plank of the UN’s Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development.

Implementation of the SDGs will require concrete and practical solutions that set Switzerland on the road to sustainability. The Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) Switzerland has, therefore, convened a conference in Bern on 15 February that will be attended by representatives from the scientific and research communities, think-tanks, politicians and government officials, civil society, industry as well as international organisations. The aim is to establish a broad basis for implementing the SDGs in Switzerland.

Gender Lab: first learnings

We had the second Gender Lab retreat and it was an intense and profound exploration where we touched upon the deep systemic forces shaping our current reality. Here we would like to share our first learnings:

Our amazingly diverse cohort of explorers are from:


Learnings so far

There are many different perspectives on this topic, and different ways to look at an ideal future. Language is important, and we need to be aware of our own blind spots when falling into the binary man/woman. It’s a topic that’s inherently systemic but never not personal. The four clusters that were formed so far: inclusive language, power dynamics, entry points/dialogue and parenting/education



Participants speak:

"The first retreat had a powerful impact on me. Through sharing openly our diverse experiences and perceptions with each other I learned more about gender equality than I ever could have through studying. Being out of our comfort zones and experiencing an unconventional and fresh way of approaching this topic has already given me new energy, curiosity and motivation - I am excited to continue this exploration and to see what solutions we will come up with!” - Anna Krebs, institutional project coordinator at Tdh

Methodologies in use:

Diving into discussions without formal introductions on who we are and what we do was very appreciated. The four levels of listening (Theory U) are a powerful tool. It’s important to take it slow when introducing embodiment practices and for example do another warm-up exercise before the stuck exercise. Less is more, and everything takes a little more time than expected. Our agreements (rules of engagement) help hold a safe space. People struggle or have resistance with different aspects of the methodology at different times. The theories we use are sometimes abstract and difficult to grasp, especially when it’s something we culturally are resistant towards, so clear explanations are important. To do this work we must start with ourselves. 


Participants speak:

“Gender equality is a big issue for our society and it is crucial to achieve more for marginalised and discriminated groups. The gender lab is a great opportunity to raise awareness, create visibility and develop solutions to change the system. With people from very different backgrounds, this project is very intersectional and diverse. Through it, I got in touch with people I would never have worked with otherwise, my boundaries got pushed and my horizon was enlarged. Thank you for these new perspectives, it is helpful and insightful.” - Pascal Pajic, Member of the National Board of JUSO Schweiz and medical student in Fribourg

Questions we hold

  • What does gender equality even mean?
  • Whose voices are we missing? 
  • How can we transform ourselves and shed our biases?
  • How can we avoid repeating patterns in our own efforts to change the system?
  • What’s our contribution to the system?
  • Where do we find power dynamics at play, what is their root cause, and how can we disrupt them?
  • Do we need to get rid of the genders and labels completely or can there be a spectrum with a healthy masculine and healthy feminine?
  • How do we talk about this with those not interested?

-> More information to the Gender Lab here
-> Gender Equality events




Das Eidgenössische Büro für die Gleichstellung von Frau und Mann unterstützt das Projekt mit Finanzhilfen nach dem Gleichstellungsgesetz.

Coworkation: Can a mix of working and holidays be restorative?

To work during holidays or go on holidays and work at the same time sounded very counterintuitive to me. I thought no way could this mix be productive or regenerative, specially not both at the same time, right? A great experience with my new colleagues taught me otherwise.

There are probably a million different ways to do a coworkation, but the basic idea is to go on a retreat with a team or group of people with whom you want to achieve something: work on concrete projects; gather ideas and inspiration; or work on strategies and concepts. In my case, there were twenty of us in a big farmhouse in the canton of Appenzell, deep in the Swiss countryside. The building had room for thirty people, leaving ample space for each of us, and was set in large but charming grounds, with plenty of space for recreation. We were surrounded – by nature, cows (lots of them, we were in Switzerland, after all) and abundant possibilities for walks.


On a sunny day I was one of the first to arrive at this secluded location, and was warmly greeted. I left my belongings in my small but cosy room, where a little note with my name and a flower were waiting for me; I was then shown around the house and introduced to the “concept of the week”. The location gradually filled up with all the participants. I was especially struck by the concept used for the wall with the program and structure for the week. Each day was split into early morning, breakfast, morning, lunch, afternoon, dinner and evening. Anyone could suggest program points for work or nonwork related activities. For example, people who had projects for which they wanted input suggested a day and a time to present it, and how long it would take. The same approach applied to leisure activities, with someone proposing yoga before breakfast, or going for a walk to the nearby river amid the sunshine. None of the program was set in stone, and the group decided at the beginning of each day whether the structure still made sense, setting the priorities for the day together. We always agreed the day before which two people would prepare breakfast, lunch or dinner. It was striking how easily and smoothly this process worked, with everybody working together to create a good and memorable experience.

I am convinced that there is no better way to get to know people, how they work, how they behave in groups, how much they are willing to contribute to the greater good. The work sessions were extremely efficient and inspiring, as they were well “timeboxed” with deadlines and deliverables for each slot. As a result, we knew we wouldn’t have to spend the whole day working, and there would also be time for recreation and relaxation. I firmly believe that the combination of well-timed working sessions and free time helped me to be focused and inspired at the right time. Even when I had to prepare a meal with someone, I got to discuss all manner of topics with a different person, which was always a fruitful experience. As someone who needs their personal time, I also appreciated being able to retreat if I felt the need to do so and regenerate at my own rhythm.

I experienced the coworkation as a very powerful opportunity for exchange, inspiration and getting to know one another in a very natural way. I would describe it as neither working nor holidays, but a whole new way of collaboration and doing things together. The experience was an uplifting mixture of efficient and regenerative. I returned home with a mind teeming with new ideas, a heart filled with memorable encounters and a body bursting with energy to take over the world!

by Daphne Bucher Info-Flow responsible at Collaboratio Helvetica

Read more about how coworkation works

Case Clinic - A Theory U tool

Description of the method

Case Clinics guide a team or a group of peers through a process in which a case giver presents a case, and a group of 3-4 peers or team members help as consultants based on the principles of the U- Process and process consultation. Case Clinics allow participants to generate new ways to look at a challenge or question and develop new approaches for responding to the challenge or question. 

To access the wisdom and experience of peers and to help a peer respond to an important and immediate leadership challenge in a better and more innovative way.

The case should be a leadership challenge that is current and concrete.
The case giver needs to be a key player in the case.
The participants in the case clinics are peers, so there is no hierarchical relationship among them.
Don’t give advice; instead listen deeply.

Uses and outcomes:
Concrete and innovative ideas for how to respond to a pressing leadership challenge      
High level of trust and positive energy among the peer group
Use with: Mindfulness and listening practices

An example:
Participants of a master class program form peer learning groups. They do their first case clinic while they are in the program, and then use the process for monthly phone calls that allow each participant to present a case.

How to prepare?

  • Duration: Minimum of 70 minutes
  • Materials needed: Chairs or pillows to sit in a circle, optionally around a table, handout of the process
  • How many people?: 4-5 people: 1 case giver, 3-4 peers



  • Case giver: Share your personal aspiration and leadership challenge that is current, concrete, and important, and that you happen to be a key player in. You should be able to present the case in 15 min and the case should stand to benefit from the feedback of your peers. Include your personal learning threshold (what you need to let- go of and learn).
  • Coaches: Listen deeply—do not try to “fix” the problem, but listen deeply to the case giver while also attending to the images, metaphors, feelings and gestures that the story evokes in you.
  • Timekeeper: One of the coaches manages the time.  


Step 1 (2min): Select case giver and time keeper

Step 2 (15min): Intention statement by case giver
Take a moment to reflect on your sense of calling. Then clarify these questions:
Current situation: What key challenge or question are you up against?
Stakeholders: How might others view this situation?
Intention: What future are you trying to create?
Learning threshold: What do you need to let-go of – and what do you need to learn
Help: Where do you need input or help?
Coaches listen deeply and may ask clarifying questions (don’t give advice!)

Step 3 (3min): Stillness
Listen to your heart: Connect with your heart to what you’re hearing.
Listen to what resonates: What images, metaphors, feelings and gestures come up for you that capture the essence of what you heard?

Step 4 (10min): Mirroring: Images (Open Mind), Feelings (Open Heart), Gestures (Open Will)
Each coach shares the images/metaphors, feelings and gestures that came up in the silence or while listening to the case story.
Having listened to all coaches, the case giver reflects back on what s/he heard.

Step 5 (20min): Generative dialogue
All reflect on remarks by the case giver and move into a generative dialogue on how these observations can offer new perspectives on the case giver’s situation and journey.
Go with the flow of the dialogue. Build on each other’s ideas. Stay in service of the case giver without pressure to fix or resolve his/her challenge.

Step 6 (8min): Closing remarks by coaches

Step 7 (2min): By case giver: How do I now see my situation and way forward?
Thanks & acknowledgment: An expression of genuine appreciation to each other.

Step 8 (follow-up): Individual journaling to capture the learning points.


Sources and further literature

How to use case clinic to pick your peers’ brains and hearts for your leadership challenges

Every now and again we bump up against a personal learning threshold, be it more or less consciously, sometimes for what feels like the gazillionth time. At times we’re hungry to find and face the next one to level up self-awareness, other times it can leave us feeling vulnerable to share what can touch upon deep confusion, self doubt, frustration or alike.

The case clinics can be a powerful tool to access the wisdom and experience of peers and to help a peer respond to an important and immediate leadership challenge in a better and more innovative way. I would like to share what felt like the most important factors for case giver and peer coaches to come out with fresh perspectives in the case clinics I’ve experienced - and why the power of vulnerability famously coined by Brenée Brown holds true for me in this case.

In the u.lab 1x MOOC Otto Scharmer as a preparation for the case clinic reminds us of important things to keep in mind, which in retrospective they hold true for me.

The more the case giver shared in their vulnerability and let go of controlling feelings with the mind but instead really let them surface, the more powerful and intuitive images emerged from the coaches in the mirroring process. These again had high resonance with the case giver on different levels: sometimes clarifying a rational question, sometimes moving something on the layer of feelings which the thinking mind could not yet grasp. I would even say that if we do not touch upon that which also brings up resistance to share, we do not really come out new after the process. Such delicate sharing presupposes a deep level of trust in the peers. However, “strangers” can bring even more revelations as they look at you new in your present version without any preconceptions. I suggest forming what I call a conscious alliance at the beginning of the first session where points like confidentiality are clarified in order to freely let go and let come. The thinking mind at times feels like an overprotective mother and these are processes that seem to relax it and let intuition grow into its independence.

For peer coaches the case clinic offers to be just as interesting an exercise in self-awareness and can be enhanced through checking consciously upon a couple of elements during the process, namely the voice of judgment (VOJ), voice of cynicism (VOC) and the urge to give recommendations and fix the challenge at hand. I find in Switzerland these three factors to be collective super-blockers to let deeper knowing emerge from open mind, open heart and open will - which again I would relate back to the topic of vulnerability. While the case giver shares, check in and be present with yourself, what comes up in your bodymind while also relating to the other and the social field. Pay attention to your attention and where it is easily drawn to. Judgment, cynicism and the urge to fix a problem are but a mirror to what you are comfortable to sit with and confront. It is surprising what comes up when the space is cleared for images, feelings and gestures to just emerge. To share two examples in which case givers shared about work challenges:
In one session I saw the case giver in a vacation house with her friends making plans on what to experience during the holidays but then never seeing them fulfilled, in another situation I saw the case giver as a flying half-bird seeing different things when looking up or down. Even though my thinking mind found these to be banal (VOJ), I shared them anyhow and both times they strongly resonated with the case giver and moved something.

Intuition feels like a muscle that just needs to be flexed with trust to grow stronger - have fun with experimenting and remember to celebrate at the end of the session!

To add the experience from one member of my coaching circle, Gys du Toit:

“It is amazing how total strangers can meet-up for a common cause and be connected on a deeper level in a few minutes.  There is a gift in giving - it was so refreshing to meet for our first case and experience all so eager to sincerely reflect / share.  The moment of silence in the beginning and celebration dance at the end in Michela's apartment just strengthened the memory, making the time to travel to meet worth the effort, it was actually not effort at all!  My case presented during the coaching circle went into an unstuck exercise, which was not expected and it really left vivid imprints on me. Each and every input was helpful, the different angles you took really gave me food for thought, some subconsciously which are still shaping my experiences. So, I definitely look at life through new eyes after my coaching circle experience. If the coaching circle can be experienced like this on a personal level, just imagine what can be done for a shared intent.”

By Michela Güttinger our U.Lab catalyst

Read more about how the Case Clinics works

The 3 “openings” needed to transform systems

"In their book Leading from the Emerging Future, Otto Scharmer and Katrin Kaufer describe three “openings” needed to transform systems: opening the mind (to challenge our assumptions), opening the heart (to be vulnerable and to truly hear one another), and opening the will (to let go of pre-set goals and agendas and see what is really needed and possible). These three openings match the blind spots of most change efforts, which are often based on rigid assumptions and agendas and fail to see that transforming systems is ultimately about transforming relationships among people who shape those systems. Many otherwise well-intentioned change efforts fail because their leaders are unable or unwilling to embrace this simple truth.“

by Peter Senge, Hal Hamilton, & John Kania

The Dawn of System Leadership

Collaboratio Helvetica @ 10th UNESCO Youth Forum


Nora was amongst the young change-makers from across the world invited to the 10th UNESCO Youth Forum to discuss the challenges and opportunities of youth engagement with UNESCO, with a vision for change led by the youth for the youth. We explored options for UNESCO to engage with youth as partners in co-shaping and co-delivering UNESCO's work to take youth engagement beyond mere consultation. Further, we developed recommendations on how UNESCO could support young change-makers in their work and help scale outstanding youth-led actions. We're looking forward to the next steps!