Engaging with Systems and Communities: Catamount November and December Reflections
Posted January 16, 2024 - Cordelia Snowdon-Lawley


Creating our 2023 Catamount Community Conversation Series.


Image: Catamount Cohort Gathering


Four months in the fellowship have flown by, and the Catamount Fellows have been hard at work on their systems scans and designing their community conversations!

Ashley Dion, Map the System Canada Lead, joined us to share not only her vast knowledge of systems mapping, but also the documentary Liminal: Is Charity Designed to Fail?. This film, created by Dion and Jillian Mah, explores the issues of the current charity system in Canada and charts its journey. Many of the wicked problems the Catamount Fellows are digging into are influenced by the challenges inherent in the Canadian charitable model. Liminal prompts us to consider how we might shift our thinking to reflect the wicked problems of today and is a valuable watch for anyone working on social change.

In addition to developing their systems maps, the Fellows also spent November learning about hosting meaningful events and engaging with community. One deliverable of the fellowship is to host a Community Conversation where the fellows will connect with broader audiences in their research area including other scholars, students, practitioners and communities.


The Fellows were also introduced to the Fabulous POP Model, a tool which can change the course of group dynamics. Rather than designing events based on a template or starting with an agenda, this tool focuses on the why before the how. It can help a group planning an event or a team embarking on a research project, and although it was originally intended for professional meetings, we can attest to its value in personal groups and event planning!



Changemakers and facilitators who are tired of cookie-cutter events will also appreciate 3 steps to turn everyday get-togethers into transformative gatherings, a TedTalk by Priya Parker. In the video, Parker shares three steps to transform the way we gather (which would later be expanded into the book The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why It Matters.)

These tools helped us elevate our Catamount holiday party from a standard celebration to a gathering filled with purpose and connection. The potluck with a twist centered around fellows bringing a food they enjoy at this time of year and sharing its story with the group. Rather than leaving conversation up to random chance, a broadly themed World Cafe format for the meal prompted us to set aside research projects and work deadlines and discuss community care, embracing or hiding from the weather, and winter traditions.



We are excited to start to share invites for the unpcoming Community Conversations! We welcome community leaders and aspiring changemakers to join our fellows as they unpack issues including fostering a sense of belonging among newcomers in Calgary,  leveraging online engagement into applied environmental action, empowering Black and Racialized youth at MRU, and more!

Additional details are available on our Catamount 2023 page and will be shared on social media. We hope to see you there!


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Stay tuned to our Happenings Page for updates about the fellowship, event invites, and exploration into their research findings! Missed our October Recap? Check out Leaning into Systems Thinking: Catamount October Reflections



"Systems thinking is, more than anything else, a mindset for understanding how things work. It is a perspective for going beyond events, to look for patterns of behaviour and seeking underlying systemic inter-relationships which are responsible for the patterns of behaviours and the events. Systems thinking embodies a world view that the foundation for understanding lies in interpreting relationships within systems."

- Gene Bellinger, Systems Thinking, an Operational Perspective of the Universe, 2004