meeting dilemmas and finding new cultures together with Naia Begiristain.

Naia Begiristain’s helped us kick off the new year in workshopping mode. 

Naia led us in exploring how political actors co-create a new culture of shared governance. They do this by facing unresolved dilemmas that emerge, even if it feels like an avalanche. The preparation and facilitation within the workshop was with Hilary Bradbury.

After a check in around the globe – with its reminders about the high temperatures in the Australian late summer, the beginning of spring in the Celtic world and the effects of climate change southern and central Europe –  we proceeded. 

Context and dilemmas with a New Political Culture Think-Tank

Naia Begiristain research project is with the “New Political Culture Think Tank” coordinated together with Orkestra (Basque Institute of Competitiveness) and the Provincial Council of Gipuzkoa. Between 2020 and 2023, the project aimed to enhance collaborative governance networks. The deliberation process included policy makers, territorial agents, and researchers.

During the process there were several dilemmas the deliberation group needed to overcome. Naia first highlighted those related to all manner of diversity issues, e.g.,

  • The first dilemma related to multiple languages and their management.

○ At a certain point, one of the participants – a Basque speaker – expressed discontent with the predominant use of Spanish. On one hand it seemed easies to insist on speaking Spanish as almost all participants can do so. But that overlooked the majority of participants who also speak the ancient language of Basque who felt overlooked in the need to bring respect for the Basque culture as it still reckons with being marginalized during the Franco dictatorship. This dilemma led to the development of a language plan with guidelines for language use, with simultaneous translation, allowing those who spoke Basque not to feel overlooked. Both practical and symbolic in resolving the dilemma, this resolution to allow “Both/and” – Basque and Spanish – signaled a new openness to other Both/And approaches.

  • The second dilemma frames ways of knowing and which knowledge is valued.

○ At a certain point participants expressed discomfort over privleging of expert knowledge often unrelated to the specific processes of the Think-Tank. Why not also include more subjective and group knowledge? After all it was produced through real experience of participants within the territory and likely capable of solving specific challenges. Interestongly, this underprivleged knowledge was usually in the Basque language and shared informally over coffee rather than in

the formal meetings. Once this dilemma was acknolwdged, a researcher-facilitator from Orkestra organized a session to reconcile the two different ‘knowledge forms” expressed in the group. From this point on, the dynamics of the deliberation group changed so that, as with the Basque/Spanish dilemma, a new resolution allowed for both expert and experiential knowledge to be used together.


Naia contextualizes these dilemmas within her conceptual model, explaining that:

  1. The actors come together with their own unquestioned beliefs: e.g., “We can speak Spanish”
  2. They are confronted with a dilemma: e.g., “Spanish is the majoritarian language and leaves no room for me as a Basque speaker in formal deliberations.”
  3. A new culture is created when a new policy is introduced that allows both Spanish and Basque to be used.

It is therefore a conceptual process model consisting of three elements: actors, as yet unresolved dilemmas and new cultures arising when the “either/or” becomes a policy of “both/and.”


Naia invited other participant to reflect on how her conceptual model speaks to them in their contexts. She wondered whether these elements [actors meeting dilemmas and approaching new cultural policy] make sense to others in their work of transformative spaces.

As the ARTists participants put it…

  • According to Ruth Förester, when faced with a dilemma, she conceptualizes it as irritation. She believes that the key to resolving this irritation is through trusting relationships, where implicit arguments can be made explicit.
  • Carol Gorelick relates the framework to the concept of polarities. Throughout her career, Gorelick has extensively worked with polarities. She argues that rather than overcoming polarities, one learns to surf them as if they were an ocean of waves. She illustrates this with an example: one does not have to choose between three languages, but rather learn to work with their coexistence.
  • Lone Hersted sees a reflection of Bakhtin’s concept of dialogism and polyphony: in a nutshell, situations in which tensions between multiple voices act as centrifugal force. She explains that balance should be the intended relationship between culture, identity, background, and emotion.
  • Susanna Carman states that she feels identified with the concept of ART that stresses placing relational space before conceptual space. She adds that language goes far beyond specific words and expressions. She believes that language can be a meaning maker transcending verbal communication.
  • Hilary Bradbury offers a reminder that there are various forms of knowledge, including arts based as one avenue into investigating post-cerebral knowledge forms. She highlighted the importance of seeing experiential knowledge as including expert knowledge; they are not opposites. In allowing “both/and” approaches we can encompass more inclusive spaces.

A key issue: Resolving cultural and inter-actor dilemmas is all our work!

Managing language, professional backgrounds, and polarities suppose a significant challenge in multicultural and multilingual contexts. Also in AR+!

Lone Hersted, who is fluent in several languages but feels more at ease with Spanish or Danish over English, expressed her own struggles with the subject of language within AR+. While there is a consensus is that all voices should have a space to be heard, in reality it is a dilemma, as those who are fluent in English forget the privilege this brings in the form of ease of self expression.

Susanna Carman also notes that it is essential to build relationships (“relational space”) before introducing conceptual frameworks (“entering into conceptual space”). Throughout the conversation, it becomes clear that these issues are dynamic and require context-specific management.

Clear that the use and integration of different languages is related also to the inclusion of different forms of knowledge that go beyond language, we see that facilitation requires that we democratize variety of voice. This democratization gives space to different types of knowledge too. And therefore how important it is to have non-English speakers, but only if we consciously appreciate and make room for this! We also spoke about the value of the arts and other creative forms – such as movement, dance or drawing – so that we can be freed also from the prison of wordiness.

Naia concludes on starting from experience…

With appreciation and gratitude! For Naia, two preparation sessions had been instrumental in helping her organize her thoughts.  She brought her conceptual model by re-anchoring in the experience of Think-Tank participants. From this she made an effort to make contact with many people’s interests outside the think-tank, such as in this coLAB. She saw the value of starting with her own experiential knowledge and from that was more confident in bring her more expert seeming cognitive model. Without experience it would appear quite abstract and less helpful to those thinking similarly about groups navigating dilemmas.

Naia also shared being grateful for the valuable source of knowledge and inspiration she experienced with participants. She said that the session has opened many new windows for her because as an early stage action researcher, this type of exchange of ideas has already broadened her perspective.