Andrea Rodericks ART in Bangladesh

Andrea Rodericks writes “In my workshop within our coLAB on transformative learning spaces, I presented a case from my work in Bangladesh. The session was facilitated by Susanna Carman and deepened our inquiry into a familiar challenge, namely how to hold the integrity of a collaborative learning space as emergent dynamics arise among stakeholders…


Each day in Bangladesh, 30-40 children under the age of 5 die from drowning (Bangladesh Health and Injury Survey, 2016). While community-based childcare centres had been successfully tested as a promising solution to this problem, it was challenging to set up centres at the scale required.

In 2018, my client (an international NGO) had been invited by a donor that had tested the efficacy of childcare centres to explore how they may be scaled up in a sustainable way. This led to the NGO convening an alliance around the issue of early childhood care, development and protection (ECCD) – by broadening the focus they were able to bring together many diverse actors (from drowning prevention, nutrition, early childhood development sectors) to design a program for the government to scale community based childcare centres across the country. As a design and partnership consultant for my client, my role at this stage was to offer conceptual and technical guidance and facilitation support for the alliance to co-create this multi-disciplinary design.

In 2022, the government of Bangladesh approved the project toward phase 1 of an Integrated ECCD services program with a budget of US$32 million – an impressive commitment. The approved government project embeds a vision of collaboration across several ministries and sectors. The role of my client shifted from convening and connecting the alliance to that of a Technical Service Provider for the government project, to support its start-up and to build a strategy for coordination and collaboration. My role consulting to their team also shifted, becoming more focused on facilitating coordination, collaboration and leadership, and shaping and holding spaces for diverse stakeholders to collectively imagine and commit to a more collaborative way of working.


For the coLAB, I presented a case from my recent experience of a 2-day workshop with senior government officials across ministries, implementing NGOs and technical partners. After an enormous effort, the project office and my client had been able to gather this diverse group of stakeholders to attend a 2-day residential workshop to explore how they may collaborate across sectors to provide integrated ECCD services to children and their families and to reflect on the nature of leadership this would entail. This group had never before come together.

The workshop was explicitly designed to be different to traditional meetings and ways of interacting, inviting the group of participants to engage with their heads, hearts and hands, and to keep children at the centre of their deliberations and decisions. The metaphor of a jazz band seemed helpful in describing our invitation to workshop participants – To overcome the constraints of their organizational silos and hierarchies in pursuit of a shared purpose, to innovate and improvise to create something extraordinary in their country, and in doing so, to draw on their own personal inner strength, aspirations, and creativity [The jazz band metaphor was inspired by a conversation with Susanna Carman who facilitated this coLAB session].

The space and methods used for the workshop were unusual for most participants, drawing extensively on AR principles and U-theory methods drawn from the Presencing Institute, embedding a reflective and reflexive approach, 1st, 2nd and 3rd person inquiry, inner work, and exercises to collectively sense the system and work with emergence. Realizing this would bring some disruption and discomfort, we attempted to balance methods and design spaces in ways that allowed us to strike a balance between pushing boundaries and returning to more familiar ground.

On the second day, as the workshop progressed, many in the group were clearly at their developmental edge, which was a valuable space for mobilizing commitment. But it was also an increasingly uncomfortable space for some. In addition, several participants began receiving calls and requests from their offices as it was the start of the work week. A few of the usual fault lines (around hierarchy, gender, age, type of knowledge held, busy-ness, traditional meeting culture) began to surface with some of the more senior members needing greater control on the process and putting pressure on my client and some of their partners to meet their individual needs. This gave rise to multiple instructions from my client and others to our two-person facilitation team to respond to the demands of senior officials that were being communicated behind the scenes. As facilitators, we wanted to honor the space, leverage its potential and be trustworthy by being accountable to all participants – there were many in the group who remained deeply present and engaged in the process.

As a facilitator in that space, I asked myself, “How do I hold the integrity of the space?”

How do I honor all participants equally and remain a trustworthy holder of this space? In this moment, am I primarily the client’s agent, or a facilitator holding space, or a hybrid of these roles? What value could I bring from being able to shape-shift between these roles? I recognized the need to define some boundary between my role as my client’s agent and that of a facilitator. I spoke with my client with whom I have a deep and trusting relationship, assuring them that I understood the challenge and the pressure they faced and would address it with the whole group. But I also made it clear that I needed to remain in a facilitator role, trustworthy to all participants. I asked for their trust to be able to play that role. In the end we were able to direct these energies, negotiate agreement with the large group on how we would proceed. This opened the space to create a powerful close, with participants making clear personal commitments around their leadership for collaboration for the benefit of the children of Bangladesh.


Following the 2-day workshop, I continued to reflect on my role, its fluidity and the value of role boundaries at critical stages in cultivating a regenerative space. At the coLAB session, the question I posed to the participants was:

How may we sculpt role boundaries in cultivating and holding regenerative spaces for transformative change?


As developmental friends, I was eager to hear about the kinds of role boundary questions others may have faced and any reflections from their navigation of these challenges. The group responded with energy. They acknowledged the powerful opportunity that had been created by the government of Bangladesh taking ownership and committing resources toward the care, development and protection of young children. They generously shared reflections and insights from their own experience:

It’s a familiar challenge | The challenge struck a chord with several coLAB participants. Many resonated with the challenge of being in the middle with insider-outsider roles that are not easy to navigate. While our fluid insider-outsider roles offer opportunity to influence transformation, they can be complex to navigate. One participant reflected that sometimes we believe that being part of an institution makes it easier to navigate these challenges, but that it is not always the case. Another participant reflected on the vital importance of understanding the relational, institutional, cultural/ social context to navigate through it.

Nature of power | Several participants commented on the nature of power imbalance. In many of the contexts of our work, despite all of the beauty and possibility around, we encounter frozen institutional power axes that keep “Power over” as the dominant form of power. How do we unfreeze this over time to open spaces for different kinds of power – “power with” each other. She appreciated the work done in the case to embed inner work in systems thinking. In a context where the language, logic and ethos of “power with” is not yet shared, she wondered how much inner work it would take to begin to embody these other forms of power. Several others reflected on the patience and time that changing mindsets demands.

Noticing our roles | Some participants were struck by the attention to role that the presentation invited – noticing when our roles shift and the possibilities that creates. One participant reflected, “How often are we aware of the role being asked of me now? What opportunities may this awareness open?” She also appreciated the reflection on my own destabilization during workshop that I described, and encouraged me to continue to learn from it, to be able to more quickly transition from breakdown to breakthrough the next time.

Other concepts and ideas that may help | Participants in the group offered various concepts and approaches from their experience that they thought may be helpful in navigating these role boundaries. They included:

Soft resistance – which helps be thoughtful about when to maintain connection and when to break; When to push harder and when to yield (recognizing that being on a consultant contract or labor agreement may sometimes make this challenging)

Proximal development – which may be helpful in navigating collaboration by thinking about the parts of work that can be done individually without assistance and those that demand collaboration

Developmental lens – Inviting attention to our own adult developmental journey, which may help us navigate shifting roles and better understand and direct our own responses, rather than just react. Here participants were invited to consider participating in another AR+ coLAB that was built around a framework of constructivist adult development (

What I take with me…

Enriched by these ideas and the attention with which my peers had engaged, I thanked them all and reflected on how much I valued the opportunity to have this coLAB space to clarify and share my reflections and to meet them as developmental friends. As they offered their insights, it struck me that everyone in the case I described could benefit from having this kind of opportunity and the kinds of developmental friendships that we try to cultivate in AR+.”

Photo by imdadul hussain.