Communicating Change Extended

Communicating Change

by Claire van Rhyn


Communicating Change presents practice-led research in progress. It proposes the body as a crucial modality for supporting the communication of social change amongst members of a community. The research has a particular focus on educational futures and is predominantly situated in the compulsory schooling system. The research contextualises schools as potent sites of future-making and engines of societal change and takes a body-led approach to researching and co-designing transitions in education.


With the loss of what Guyer refers to as 'near future certainty', it is no wonder that the aims of compulsory schooling and the education of our children and young people are at a crossroads. The very loss of near future certainty should shock the education system into raising its gaze beyond what Anusas and Harkness refer to as the 'close present: the present of a recent yesterday, limited now, and almost tomorrow'.

Eisner (2005) suggests that the reason one might embark on investigating the 'living system' of schooling, is to 'secure an organic, cultural picture of schools as places to be'. Schools are generators of societal culture, yet simultaneously at the mercy of existing societal culture. If schools are to be honoured as potent sites of future-making, a clear picture of the experience of the everyday lives of school communities will need to be married to the radically large scales of societal change. For this task, we will be challenged to ask new questions and develop new tools and approaches.


The applied practice developed through Communicating Change is an innovative cross-pollination between design and choreographic thinking. The practice is in the form of a participatory workshop and aims to unpack the experience of being an individual body that is also part of a group ‘body’. The starting point for developing this body-led research methodology relies on a definition of the body as socially situated and socially enacted. The body is always in a social context and we come to know that context by being active in it. Furthermore, the body is regarded as always in intercorporeal relationship with other bodies. Consequently, the term body is applied in three indivisible ways: the physical body of the individual, the body of the group (or social body), and the environment as a contextual third ‘body’. This definition frames the body as a powerful tool for investigating social systems undergoing transition. 


By focusing on the moving body as a mode of communication, the semi-structured practices developed through this research aim to provide a platform for a community to map the current reality of their group dynamic by physically attuning to one another through a series of collaborative and improvisational games. By engaging a body-led approach to co-investigate and map the tacit systems of community interaction, the games provide tools for anticipating emerging realities, and prototyping futures aligned with the community’s shared aims. By engaging a range of community stakeholders in the shared mapping of a process of transition, the body-led methods democratise and enable all ‘voices’ to be heard. It creates a context for a community to become aware of its behaviour - what change theorist Scharmer refers to as 'making the system see itself' - which is key to systems transformation.


As an intervention technique to support the co-design of transition initiatives in school communities, these generative awareness-based games provide a horizontal group platform which supports the community in identifying challenges and recognising emerging future possibilities for their short, medium and longterm horizons. As a research methodology, it provides a window on often hidden aspects of how communities experience, make sense of and communicate during transition initiatives.



Anusas, M. and Harkness, R. 2014. Things Could Be Different: Design Anthropology as Hopeful, Critical, Ecological. Paper presented at Research Network for Design Anthropology: Ethnographies of the Possible, Aarhus.

Eisner, E. (2005). Reimagining Schools, Oxon: Routledge.

Guyer J.I. (2017) Anthropology and the Near-Future Concept. In: Poli R. (eds) Handbook of Anticipation. Springer, Cham.

Scharmer, O. 2018. The essentials of Theory U: Core principles and applications. Oakland: Berret-Koehler Publishers.



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