Systems Convening (Wenger - Trayner)

Given that Etienne Wenger’s original research coming out of the Institute for Research on Learning at Xerox popularized Communities of Practice (mind the subtitle of Learning, Meaning and Identity), I can’t say that I’m surprised at the continuing development of their work.

The focus is on the leadership of the community, the convenors.

The essence of systems convening: a theoretical model
We call them systems conveners, but most of them do not have a background
in systems theory and practice. What they have in common is a certain mindset,
which we articulate as a combination of four dimensions:

  • They are driven by a restless determination to make a difference that
    is meaningful to all involved across boundaries and levels of scale. As a
    result, they are ready to take on a challenge in its full social complexity.
  • They proceed from a keen awareness of the social landscape and its
    complex texture of lived practices, formal systems, and personal
    relationships—with the various perspectives and boundaries this entails.
    For them, challenges are always embedded in that landscape. Rather
    than bring about change from above or outside, they see the need to
    work the landscape from a place within it. They combine a high-level
    landscape view with an appreciation for the lived experience in each
    location in that landscape.
  • They work with people. They place a premium on finding meaningful
    ways to involve people in the work. They avoid perfunctory participation
    but encourage people to act on their perspectives and take initiative.
    Developing this kind of agency while crossing boundaries is complex. It
    challenges existing identities. It requires commitment and the ability to
    navigate personal relationships and demands for accountability. It is hard
    work, but they see the transformative potential and they take it on.
  • They adopt a social learning approach. Systems conveners are driven
    by a vision of what is possible, but they do not come to a situation with
    predefined answers. Rather than driving a specific change, we see them
    developing what we call social learning capability. By convening new
    learning partnerships, they believe that people will develop the ability to
    make a difference—by interacting with each other, learning about each
    other’s perspectives, finding common ground or respecting differences.
    This social learning approach means that systems conveners work with
    people where they are and take them along on a joint learning journey.

The book has been made available on a CC-BY-NC license.

Wenger-Trayner, Etienne, and Beverly Wenger-Trayner. 2021. Systems Convening: A Crucial Form of Leadership for the 21st Century. Social Learning Lab.


Thank you David! I really liked Wenger’s earlier work and have used it several times. Capability to learn and capability to make a difference in practice /reality are so important for change.

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