The Relational Academics Symposium 2015 – a report

The Relational Academics Forum is a network of scholars interested in exploring relational approaches to their studies. On the 16th September, at St. Catharine’s College Cambridge, the inaugural Symposium of the Relational Academic Forum took place on the theme ‘Relational Research in the Social Sciences: concepts and methodologies.’

The Relational Academics Forum is part of the Relational Thinking Network, which is a global association of individuals, corporations, NGOs and think-tanks committed to developing and applying relational thinking in all areas of life. Relational thinking as understood in this institutional context builds on the work established by Michael Schluter, David Lee and others from 1993 onwards.[1] A number of scholars from a range of academic disciplines had been meeting privately on previous occasions, but this Symposium was the first event for which there was a public call for papers.

The theme of the Symposium was deliberately broad; even the restriction to ‘social sciences’ was arguably too narrow, as the interests of participants extended to humanities and human sciences. The purpose of the event was to draw in to the emerging network scholars hitherto unfamiliar with relational thinking, particularly the younger generation of PhD students and postdoctoral researchers.

The day was chaired by Julian Rivers, Professor of Jurisprudence at the University of Bristol. As he explained in his opening remarks, the motivation behind the Symposium was highly ambitious: to trace a Big Idea through a series of subjects and disciplines usually kept separate. But the coherence of the event was anchored in three overarching questions:

  • What are the connections and distinctions between relational thinking in the narrow sense as developed over the last 20 years by members of the Relational Thinking Network, and the wider phenomenon of a recent ‘relational turn’ in many areas of the social and human sciences? This could be called the Family Resemblance Question.
  • What difference does relational thinking make to the motivation, methods, context and subject-matter of study? This is the Relevance Question.
  • Does relational thinking have sufficient explanatory power and normative salience to constitute a ‘grand narrative’ capable of competing with others such as liberalism, Marxism, feminism or discourse-theory? Is there such a thing as Relationism? This is the Grand Theory Question.

Eight papers were then presented and discussed.

Paper 1: Dr. Jeremy G.A. Ive, ‘A Philosophical Basis for a Relational Methodology’[2]

In this paper, Ive sketched out a philosophical basis and the outline of a relational methodology for the social sciences.

He argued that there are three ‘transcendentals’, i.e. necessary conditions for any possible experience:

  1. That there are persons/things/social entities
  2. That these are related according to certain universal ways of relating.
  3. That both a. and b. are subject to a series of changes and development.

If any one of these conditions is not met, we cannot speak of created existence or experience – it is impossible to conceive of created existence or experience without all these conditions being met together. A fruitful correlation can be made with the ‘Analogies of Experience’ in Immanuel Kant’s ‘Transcendental Analytic’ in his Critique of Pure Reason. Slightly changing Kant’s order, these are: the principle of succession in time, the principle of co-existence at any one moment in time, and the principle of permanence or continuity through time.

Ive then drew on and developed the insights of two Christian philosophers Dirk Vollenhoven (1892-1978) and Herman Dooyeweerd (1894-1977) who together provide a comprehensive ontology and epistemology for the analysis of the social order, and indeed the created order as a whole.  Between them they developed a thoroughly pluralistic understanding of the world. Vollenhoven and Dooyeweerd start with experience in its rich and irreducible diversity and identify different levels of description or explanation called ‘modalities’. Together, in their mature thought, Vollenhoven and Dooyeweerd identified fifteen modalities ranging from the numerical (quantitative) to that of faith.  These identify the different ways in which particulars function, are related to one another, and in which relationships develop and unfold over time.

Using this, Ive traced three different points of entry, or what he called ‘descriptive views’.  These allow us to uncover the relational richness of the social order through looking at society as persons or entities in relationship, and then as the development of those persons or entities, and, complementary to this, the unfolding of the many different relations which connect those persons or entities.  This affirms relationships, in all their richness and diversity within the whole diversity of social structures without undue emphasis on any at the expense.

Paper 2: Sarah Pawlett Jackson, ‘Measuring ‘Relational Proximity’: The Importance of Multi-Person Contexts’[3]

Pawlett Jackson’s research, in the discipline of philosophy, attempts an analysis of basic intersubjective structures. Relationality, a richer and more specific concept that intersubjectivity, nevertheless presupposes these intersubjective structures. In her paper, she laid out some of her own ongoing doctoral thesis work in the philosophy of intersubjectivity. She demonstrated how the concepts and methodologies employed by the metric of Relational Proximity are underpinned by fundamental philosophical assumptions about the nature of human subjectivity and intersubjectivity. She attempted to show that the overarching claims and vision of the Relational Thinking movement, namely that ‘good relationships are not simply a desirable extra; they are fundamental to the stability and wellbeing of our societies,’[4] are well supported by philosophical reflection on current interdisciplinary research into the nature of intersubjectivity.

The second and more substantial part of this paper attempted to outline the argument that there is nevertheless a ‘dyadic paradigm’ in the philosophy of intersubjectivity: an emphasis on the relationship between two individuals remains in predominant models of philosophical analysis, sometimes implicitly. Jackson argued further that other disciplines tend to analyse relationships under this paradigm. More attention needs to be paid to multi-person contexts, i.e. relational interactions between more than two people.

The authors of the Relational Proximity metric are clear that they do want to speak to multi-person contexts with their metric, and the importance of networks, groups, organisations and communities is often made much of. However, Pawlett Jackson argued that the metric of Relational Proximity as it stands can be developed further in order to account for the fact that the different types of intersubjective structures involved in multi-person interactions are themselves a necessary component of the relationships in question, and therefore must be incorporated into the analysis. She outlined different varieties of multi-person intersubjective structures, and explored how these might be integrated into the Relational Proximity metric itself, both in the content of the category of multiplexity, and in the method of the application itself in multi-person contexts.

Paper 3: Henk Hadders, ‘Relational Sustainability: Measuring and Reporting Organizational Sustainability Performance with Relational Footprinting’[5]

Hadders’ starting-point is that sustainability is about the quality of our relationships, but everywhere in this world we see the ecological divide (between self and Nature), the social divide (between self and Others) and the spiritual-cultural divide (between self and Self) as visible signs of our current reality. We deplete natural, social and human vital capital resources needed for a fair and safe operating space for humanity and its health and well-being.

Why do we collectively create these unsustainable results that nobody wants? Meeting the challenges of this century requires updating our relational logic, -thinking and -intelligence and a shift of our Relational Operating System from an obsolete “ego-system” focussed entirely on the well-being of oneself to an eco-system awareness that emphasizes the well-being of the whole.

Relational Thinking and the Economics of Mutuality are two promising possibilities to help solve our wicked problems in the world. Relational Thinking involves learning to see life from the perspective of relational well-being and “thriveability” as opposed to viewpoints of individualism and materialism. The Economics of Mutuality recognizes that value is more effective and sustainable when all of the stakeholders are considered, not just the shareholders. In this paper Hadders added a third promising possibility to the mix: Context-Based Sustainability (CBS), as developed by Mark McElroy (2008). CBS-theory can be used to explore relationships “in sustainability-context” and to clarify what the concepts of “Relational Sustainability” and “Relational Footprinting” look like.

How to describe, analyze and measure relational sustainability performance? This theoretical paper dealt with these questions at an organizational level. The first part of the paper was about the conceptualization of “sustainability” and “relational sustainability”. The second part was about operationalizing, quantifying and measuring relational sustainability by introducing a Relational Quotient. Here, Hadders used Relational Footprints as an analytical tool for impact measurement and developed a new Relational Strategic Performance Scorecard, as a successor of the Balanced Scorecard.

Thus CBS-theory can be used to conceptualize and operationalize the notion of “corporate relational sustainability”. Hadders gave an example of water use to illustrate the Relational Footprint for the relationship of an organization with its local community as stakeholder in an ecological area of impact. This paper was a contribution to the dialogue about an emerging transformation of business thinking, where the purpose of business is to enhance the well-being of society. It ended with some conclusions and suggestions for further research.

Paper 4: Brendan Bromwich, ‘Institutional bricolage as peacebuilding: theory and practice of a relationships-based contribution to resolving conflict over natural resources in Darfur’[6]

This paper was written based on the premise that conflict, governance and peace can be described in terms of the improvement and deterioration of relationships: between people, communities and institutions.    Conflict comprises a process of contesting relationships; governance is a process of regulating relationships; and peace carries the notion of a quality in relationships.  The paper reviewed a theoretical approach to describing relationships developed in a United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) programme in Sudan supporting Darfur to make the transition to peace.  UNEP drew on relationship descriptors identified by Schluter and Lee to enable analysis and reporting of work to develop collaboration amongst diverse actors in the environmental sector in Sudan.[7]  The notion of governance as a complex network of relationships informed the development of UNEP’s theory of change on governance and peacebuilding.[8]

The paper compared UNEP’s analytical framework with the academic literature.  Of particular relevance is the notion of institutional bricolage developed by Cleaver, which highlights the complexity of social and institutional interaction; the importance of inequalities in power; and the way that institutions evolve, fragment and re-form over time.[9]  The paper argued that this process is relevant to peace-building, as well as the broader development processes Cleaver describes.

Another focus in the paper was how the development of collaboration between parties can be described over time.  Discrete transactions, once negotiated and implemented, may or may not lead to ongoing collaboration. This is relevant to peacebuilding given the potential of external actors to incentivise discrete acts of collaboration in the hope that these lead to lasting collaboration.  Understanding this dynamic is essential to many forms of peacebuilding. The pattern is seen in traditional local peace-processes in Darfur and is also important in the role of peace-keeping missions.[10]  UNEP used a “relational pathway” as yardstick to describe the emergence of these relationships in peacebuilding and governance contexts. The paper reviews the use of this pathway as an indicator in aid programming.

The paper was written as the third in a series on natural resources and peacebuilding in Darfur.[11]  Building on the contextual analysis provided in the first two papers, this paper described in practical terms how a response to the complex problems of conflict and failed environmental governance may be developed.  Recalling the immense challenges faced as a result of social and environmental change in the Sahel and Horn of Africa, the paper concluded by highlighting the need to support environmental governance initiatives that enable inclusive transitions in livelihoods and society, thereby mitigating the risks of violent conflict.

Paper 5: Zolile Mlisana, ‘Relationships, Power Abuse and Humanity’s Psychomutation’[12]

Zolile Mlisana’s paper drew on his experience in child psychology to consider the longer-term impact of child (including sexual) abuse.  The abuse of power is a pervasive social challenge which is both cause and effect of ‘relational disease’. Power abuse reshapes the ‘collective unconscious’ (Jung). It threatens the material future of humanity and next generations by reshaping ‘reality’, i.e. values, choices and actions. This ‘mutation of psyche’ derives from social pressure on a template of relationships over time. Mlisana argued that abuse inflicted within an intimate relationship is the most toxic to the psyche and offers the best lessons in analysis.

Different roles can be identified in the dynamics of child abuse: perpetrator, victim, passive witness, accomplice, the system (since some vulnerabilities are systemically prescribed) and ‘evil mercenaries’ (who intentionally commercialise the evil). A standard progression can also be identified in the mind of the victim: startle/shock – disbelief – fight or flight – surrender (predisposing to self-deprecation) – ‘drift of psyche’ in accepting a new perceptive reality. The last step can be supported by social condonation or pontification facilitated by intricate permutations of systemic stakeholder collusions in abuse.

This model is capable of application in a range of areas. In economics, politics and the domain of the psychosocial one can see patterns of self-perpetuating, psycho-mutative social abuse as societies get locked into sophisticated processes of legitimization, glamorization and obfuscation. The result is that elites continue to dominate victims. The paper closed with a bleak view of the future of humanity. Humanity seems to have an intrinsic self-preserving and self-indulging instinct which pivots on the mutation of psyche. The abuse of the child in particular recreates psychosocial reality and steadily grooms a psychologically mutant breed of human beings to the detriment of our collective well-being.

Paper 6: Dr Paul Grimshaw, Dr Elaine McNichol, Prof. Linda McGowan and Peter Lacey, ‘Exploring the role of relational value in health and care’[13]

The authors argue that there is a growing need within healthcare policy and management to understand the essential role that human relationships play within and around health and social care systems, which exist and influence at a number levels; individual to health institutions, organisation to organisation, group to group e.g. inter-professional and interpersonal e.g. GP/patient interaction.  Each person and each system is nested within each other, interacting and changing, hence any attempt to understand any part of the system needs to take account of the others.  It is fairly well established that social or relational factors play an important role in individual health & well-being outcomes. With social support providing access to resources both psychological and material, and social integration providing benefits through the mechanism of buffering and more general effects that are in place regardless of stress. However relational factors also cascade through social systems to influence organisational performance and community cohesion.

This paper summarised ongoing research by Whole Systems Partnership and the University of Leeds which aims to develop a framework for enabling leadership and management to define and conceptualise intangible elements of relationships that span across the whole system in differing health & care environments. The research explores a number of relational attributes, focussing on integrity, respect, fairness, empathy and trust and seeks to find out which potential behaviours, activities and processes support these attributes and potentially lead to improved system level outcomes. This project is part of a process which over time will develop repeatable routines for measuring the pattern of these behaviours with the aim of revealing what WSP are describing as a systems’ ‘relational value’. Underpinning the research is the working concept that relational value can be a component of a relationship, and that relational value ‘does work’ within a system that is dependent upon but distinct from the individual actors.

The research examines the extant research from the management and health fields for behaviour, activities or processes that underpin healthy relationships and seeks to build on this by validating and extending the work in an elderly care context. Residents, staff, family and wider stakeholders in the care setting will make sense of the derived statements, e.g. “There are opportunities to begin activities with others outside the unit”. This statement expresses (i) the potential behaviour of maintaining social relations (ii) that requires some degree of the relational attribute of trust to enable positive risk taking (iii) which in turn relates to a particular element of the organisational system, in this case community and (iv) a consideration of the physical space or infrastructure. These statements are arranged across two further categories (1) organisational level (organisation, community and intra-personal) (2) a socio-technical framework comprising of 6 headings (Vision/People/Process/Culture/Technology & Infrastructure). The system-wide validation (across stakeholders) of these statements will position the importance of the associated behaviours, activities and practices and provide the bedrock for a framework that can be applied in other similar settings, and ultimately begin to enable comparison of differing patterns of relational value across different contexts.

Paper 7: Alexandre Sayegh, ‘Relational Justice in a Non-ideal World: the problem of illicit financial flows’[14]

Sayegh’s paper explored a distinct way to answer the question ‘what does global justice consist in?’

In the global justice literature, growing attention has been given to problems particular to a globalized economy such as tax competition and illicit financial flows. Political philosophers have begun to reflect on how these problems intersect with theories of global justice (Brock and Pogge 2014). These recent philosophical attempts represent a shift from the canonical debate between statist and cosmopolitans, whose central concern was on determining whether the scope of justice is global. Indeed, in reply to the question ‘what does global justice consist in?’, the global justice debate has been structured around three main positions: cosmopolitans, statists and what has been called ‘relational’ or ‘internationalist’ positions. Cosmopolitans claim that principles of global justice should be the extension of principles of domestic justice. Prominent cosmopolitan positions interpreted global justice in a ‘monistic’ way. They formulated one set of principles of justice for the global order (Beitz 1979; Tan 2004; Caney 2005). Statists on the other hand argue that there are no obligations of justice at the global level (Blake 2002; Nagel 2005). More recently, relational or internationalists positions contemplated the possibility that while justice considerations arose at the global level, principles of global justice needed not to be egalitarian in nature (Sangiovanni 2007; Valentini 2010).

Sayegh terms his approach a ‘relational non-ideal theory’ of global justice. The methodology of this theory is relational in nature. It argues that principles of justice are formulated according to the practice they intend to regulate. With regard to the content of principles, the relational non-ideal view put forward in this paper rejects the notion that non-ideal theory is simply applied ideal theory. Instead, it explores the main features of a conception of justice designed for a non-ideal world. This paper argued that the role of non-ideal theory in our theorizing about global politics is not limited to seeking compliance with ideal principles. Its purpose is rather to address non-ideal circumstances particular to the problems of global background injustice. By applying relational non-ideal methodology and content to the problems of tax competition and illicit financial flows, this paper sought to provide insights about how this theory could both contribute to the progression of justice while also evaluating the feasibility and desirability of ideal theories of global justice.

Paper 8: Lorna Zischka, ‘Relational Stocks, Giving Flows and Welfare Outcomes’[15]

This was a paper about the power of philanthropy to transform communities. Data from the Citizenship Survey of England and Wales was used to research the link between giving behaviours and welfare. ‘Giving’ is the time and money voluntarily offered into relational activities, or transferred to other people and to charity. ‘Welfare’ is measured in private terms (life-satisfaction) as well as in communal terms (higher levels of trust, lower levels of crime and deprivation).

The data revealed that giving interacted positively with all expressions of welfare. The sort of giving that made the most difference constituted regular giving; in multiple ways; and across social boundaries (giving across social boundaries counteracts the social exclusion of vulnerable groups). On creating an index of giving by the 10 regions of England and Wales defined in the data, we find that the level of giving by region has a 0.8 to 0.9 correlation with higher levels of trust, with lower levels of crime and with lower levels of deprivation by region. Whether or not a community was ‘giving’ was found to be more closely correlated with these factors than differences in income, in employment, in the racial mix of the community or in any other social factor. In other words, giving behaviours were found to be one of the key indicators of community health.

Giving is significant because it is indicative of positive relationships between parties. It is an indication that the giver is including other people into the decisions they make over the way they spend their time and money, and this ‘consideration for others’ captures an essential feature of relationship. Their giving does not guarantee a personal return, but it does improve the social environment for others. With reciprocation, this may eventually feed back into better outcomes for everyone. In our analysis we quantify how ‘cohesive civic sector relationships’, reflected in giving behaviours, lead to better outcomes for the community.

Relationships are complex and hard to measure, but the giving that flows to and from them is easier to trace. By monitoring giving behaviours in different neighbourhoods, decision makers might therefore gather information about the state of the relationships behind those giving patterns. It provides them a basis by which to evaluate which interventions help and which hinder social cohesion in the civic sector and its associated quality of life. Moreover focussing attention on giving may in itself put people in mind of what they could do for others or for their community (nudge theory). In this sense, including giving behaviours in measures of community health is both informative and prescriptive.


In spite of the wide range of ideas and disciplines represented during the symposium, in closing discussion participants agreed that there was sufficient commonality to make the Forum intellectually worthwhile. It was agreed that attempts should be made to extend the network of scholars interested in relational approaches to their work, and aim for another symposium in September 2016. Paper presented at this event would be published in due course in the journals and other scholarly contexts most suitable for their subject-matter.

[1] See David John Lee and Michael Schluter, ‘Briefing paper on relational analysis in academic discourse’ (2015).

[2] Jeremy Ive is Extraordinary Senior Lecturer at Northwest University, South Africa, and Director of the Relational Peacebuilding Initiative, UK.

[3] Sarah Pawlett Jackson is a PhD candidate in Philosophy at the Open University, UK, and a tutor in the Department for Continuing Education at the University of Oxford.

[4] [Accessed 07/08/2015]

[5] Henk Hadders is former Executive Director of the Board of the Mental Health Institute GGZ Drenthe, Netherlands, and a PhD candidate at the University of Groningen.

[6] Brendan Bromwich is a PhD candidate, Department of Geography, King’s College London, before which he was programme coordinator for UNERP in Sudan, 2007-2013.

[7] Schluter, M., Lee, D. (1993). ‘The R Factor’. Hodder and Stoughton, London.

[8] UNEP (2014). ‘Relationships and Resources: Environmental governance for peacebuilding and resilient livelihoods in Sudan’. UNEP, Nairobi.

[9] Cleaver, F., (2012) ‘Development Through Bricolage: Rethinking Institutions for Natural Resource Management’. Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group, New York.

[10] Smit Duijzentkunst, B.L. and Dawkins, S.L.R. (2015) ‘Arbitrary Peace? Consent management in International Arbitration’. The European Journal of International Law, Vol.26 No1, 139-168.

[11] See Bromwich, B., (2015) ‘Nexus meets crisis: a review of conflict, natural resources and the humanitarian response in Darfur with reference to the water–energy–food nexus’. International Journal of Water Resources Development, 31:3, 375-392.

Bromwich, B., (Forthcoming) ‘Darfur conflict and environment revisited – what are the implications for peacebuilding?’

[12] Dr. Zolile Mlisana is Head of Paediatrics at Zola Jabulani Hospital, Soweto, South Africa.

[13] Paul Grimshaw, Elaine McNichol and Linda McGowan are at the University of Leeds, UK. Peter Lacey works for Whole Systems Partnership Ltd.

[14] Alexandre Sayegh is a PhD candidate in the Department of Philosophy, University College London, and a Visiting Scholar on the Global Justice Program at the MacMillan Center for International and Area Studies at Yale University.

[15] Lorna Zischka is a PhD candidate in the Department of Economics at the University of Reading.

Susan Pinker explains the village effect

The Relational Thinking International Conference 2016 provided a great opportunity for leaders in business, the non-profit and public services sector to come together to explore the concept of Relational Thinking in their particular fields.

On 17th September, teachers, leaders and education policy makers gathered for the launch of the film and book “The Relational Teacher”. We were honoured to have Susan Pinker, international best-selling author of The Village Effect, come from Canada to speak. She was passionate, humorous, engaging and persuasive as she spoke about the importance of face-to-face interaction for education, health and life.

Photography: Julian Claxton

Buy The Relational Teacher here.

Buy The Village Effect here.


International conference 2015

A ground breaking event emerged from 100 participants belonging to 19 nations (Australia, Canada, Denmark, England, Germany, Hong Kong, India, Kazakhstan, Netherlands, Nigeria, Northern Ireland, Scotland, Singapore, South Africa, South Korea, Sweden, Switzerland, Tanzania, and the USA).

The theme was “Relational Risk and Sustainability”, and participants presented, listened to, and discussed ideas in plenary sessions and in specialist tracks on business, international development and public services, in order to examine how to build strength in companies, organizations and communities around the world.

The ground covered included: the global economy, business, management, leadership, good governance, peace-building, freedom of thought, politics, international aid, development, measuring and mitigating Relational Risk in companies and supply chains, and how Relational Risk surfaces and can be managed in public sector organizations working together as well as with communities, schools and health care systems.

Peter Lacey, Co-ordinator of the Public Services Track (education, health care, community work), concludes that “public sector organisations have perhaps been too quick, with their local community’s implicit consent, to ‘take responsibility’ for key areas of provision rather than to work in partnership; and that greater community engagement in these areas should contribute to, and result in a greater focus on, the prevention agenda.”

Here is the list of Presenters at the Conference (all speaking in their personal capacity, and unless mentioned otherwise, they are UK-based):

  • Nabeel Al-Azami / IR Worldwide, Murabbi Consulting
  • John Ashcroft / Relationships Foundation
  • Jyoti Banerjee / International Integrated Reporting Council
  • Julia Bicknell / World Watch Monitor
  • Brendan Bromwich / Consultant
  • Sir Paul Coleridge / Marriage Foundation
  • Andy Corley / Quadralene Ltd
  • Beat Fasnacht-Müller / Businessman and social entrepreneur, Switzerland
  • Matthew Frost / Tearfund
  • Ram Gidoomal CBE / Fair Trade Pioneers Traidcraft plc, Traidcraft Exchange
  • Dr. The Lord Maurice Glasman / London Metropolitan University
  • Dr Khataza Gondwe / Christian Solidarity Worldwide
  • Dr Janet Goodall / University of Bath
  • Professor Prabhu Guptara, William Carey University, India
  • Beris Gwynne / World Vision International, Switzerland
  • Robert Hall / Author and speaker, USA
  • Per Holmström / Region Örebro County, Sweden
  • Dr Justine Huxley / St Ethelburga’s Centre for Reconciliation and Peace
  • Dr Nick Isbister / Listening Partnership Ltd
  • Revd Dr Jeremy Ive / Relational Peacebuilding Initiatives
  • H.E. Peter Kallaghe / High Commissioner for the United Republic of Tanzania
  • John Kennedy / Joseph Rowntree Foundation and Joseph Rowntree Housing Trust
  • Trish Knight / Whole Systems Partnership Ltd
  • Dr Danny Kruger / Political commentator, co-founder of Only Connect
  • Professor Dale Kuehne / Saint Anselm College, USA
  • Jeff Latsa / Global Hope Network International, Switzerland
  • Jeremy Lefroy / Member of Parliament
  • Rob Loe / Relational Schools Project
  • Dr Ted Malloch / Saïd Business School
  • Jill McLachlan / The Academy for Chief Executives
  • Prof. Colleen McLaughlin / University of Sussex
  • Dr Paul Mills / IMF (speaking in his own capacity)
  • Dr Koleka Mlisana / University of KwaZulu Natal, South Africa
  • Dr Zolile Mlisana / District Hospital in Soweto, Forensa, South Africa
  • Vincent Neate / KPMG
  • Pádraig Ó Tuama / Corrymeela Community, Northern Ireland
  • Susan Pinker / Author, Canada
  • Prof. Julian Rivers / University of Bristol Law School
  • Adrian Sieff / The Health Foundation
  • Dr Sarah Snyder / Rose Castle International Centre for Reconciliation
  • David Strang QPM / HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, Scotland
  • Richard Thorby / Matrix Consulting
  • Dr Arleen Westerhof / European Economic Summit, Netherlands
  • Prof. Bob White FRS / University of Cambridge
  • Tim Young / Renuma Consulting Ltd

Responses from participants and speakers were enthusiastic and included the following:

“I was amazed at the variety of contents presented and the quality of the presentations”

“I appreciate the wide range of speakers/backgrounds/industries”

“I was surprised by the breadth of the subject…”

“Very thought provoking, and good opportunity to network with others of like mind”.

“Was great to be presented with material outside my realm of interest”

“Thank you. Two days well spent”

New Initiatives

The Relational Academics Forum held its first public Symposium on 16 September, Chaired by Professor Julian Rivers, and focused on the carefully chosen fields of Theorizing and Measuring Relationality, Relational Perspectives on Social Development, on Health Care, and on Corporate Governance & Finance (authors: Brendan Bromwich, Dr. Paul Grimshaw, Dr. Henk Hadders, Dr Jeremy G.A. Ive, Peter Lacey, Sarah Pawlett Jackson, Professor Linda McGowan, Dr. Elaine McNichol, Dr. Zolile Mlisana, Alexandre Gajevic Sayegh and Lorna Zischka). The 25 participants decided that the initiative should be continued, and a committee is tasked to organize the 2nd Symposium next year. If interested in the Forum or the Symposium, please contact Ms Marjon Busstra,

Photograph by Julian Claxton


Grounding sustainable development: a focus on trust in the Caux Dialogue on Land and Security

The establishment of the Sustainable Development Goals and the International Year of Soils in 2015 give cause to focus on the foundations of sustainable development.  How well are we managing the water and soils we depend on to produce the food we eat?  And, perhaps more fundamentally, who is responsible for the world’s soil, and who should be funding its wellbeing?  These questions about sharing risk and reward from natural resources are fundamental to the conceptualisation of sustainability.

The global food trade is worth in excess of five trillion dollars a year so there is a strong argument for ensuring farmers are sufficiently funded to manage land and water well.  Or is this wishful thinking, given the market’s insatiable appetite for lower food prices?

Where supply chains are short, there are times when the consumer is enthusiastic about funding farming in this way: think local organic farmers’ markets.  But where supply chains are long, complex, costly or just too mundane (think canned beans), then the competition for lower prices may drive the environmental costs out of the equation.

There is an issue of relationships here.  What is our relationship as consumers (those who eat food!) with producers – a.k.a. farmers?  It would be fair to say that in a diverse urbanised economy we are not as well connected as we were and that there is something regrettable about this given the critical importance of food, and of the natural environment, to our wellbeing.

If this is important at home, how about the global perspective?  Africa is increasingly engaging in the global trade of food.  And as it scales up its agricultural production, how can we ensure that the global competition for cheap food doesn’t come at the expense of Africa’s soil and water?

Given the role of land in conflict in Africa, this becomes an important question of security as well as of land, trade and livelihoods.

It is these converging dynamics that will be discussed in the Caux Dialogue on Land and Security this summer.  The issues all have considerable relational significance – trade, good governance and conflict are all functions of relationships.  Dr Michael Schluter of Relational Research will be opening the event alongside Rear Admiral Neil Morisetti, the UK’s former Climate and Energy Security Envoy.  One day will be given over to focussing on the interface between land, trade, food and water.  Scale-up of land restoration and building trust to enable collective action are themes for the other two days.

Conferences at Caux have a long history of building trust in the context of international affairs and in business.  The discussions began as a reconciliation process, high in the Alps, in the aftermath of the Second World War. The stunning views from the restored Belle Époque hotel provide a fine context for reflection and thoughtful dialogue, then as now.

For more information, and to register to attend the Dialogue, which is held in Caux between 10 and 14 July, see

Brendan Bromwich is on the Steering Group of the Caux Dialogue on Land and Security. He will be speaking at the Relational Thinking International Conference in Cambridge in September on  reviewing the UN’s Work on Environmental Governance and Peace building in Sudan.


Transforming Business

If you’re thinking of attending this years Relational Thinking conference in Cambridge, from 16-18 September, here is an event that you might be interested in. On the 15-16 September, Transforming Business, a research and development project based in the University of Cambridge, are holding the Oxford and Cambridge Symposium for Enterprise, Ethics and Development 2015 (SEED).

More details will follow but the theme for SEED 2015 is ‘Virtuous Business in Human Flourishing’ and the symposia are research-based yet practice-oriented. As such, they are not merely academic but aim to fulfil a fivefold objective: inquire – inform – innovate – inspire – impact. They are geared towards the practical value, not merely the innate value, of new knowledge and fresh thinking.

We are pleased to be able to offer a 20% discount to SEED 2015 delegates who wish to attend the Relational Thinking International conference, while they are offering a 20% discount for their conference to delegates of the Relational Thinking conference.

If you are interested in receiving an invitation to SEED 2015, please drop Transforming Business a line here, and put the dates in your diary, as space will again be limited.

Picture by Helena Eriksson

Registration for 2015 International Conference now open!

We’re pleased to announce that registration for the 2015 Relational Thinking International Conference is now open! You can register here.

You can expect a full two-day programme with interesting and inspiring speakers. Some of those who have confirmed are

  • Sir Paul Coleridge (UK), Former high court judge in the family division. Founder and chairman of Marriage Foundation.
  • Prabhu Guptara (India), Distinguished Professor of Global Business, Management and Public Policy, William Carey University.
  • Beris Gwynne (Australia), Director and Representative to the UN for World Vision International in Geneva, Switzerland ; former Australian Diplomat.
  • Robert E. Hall (USA), Author, Consultant, and former company Co-Founder and CEO.
  • Per Holmström (Sweden),Manager, EU Funds for East Central Sweden 2014-2020.
  • Rob Loe (UK),Education Research Director, Relational Schools Project.
  • Dr Michael Schluter CBE (UK), Author, speaker, and founder of the Relational Thinking movement.
  • Dato’ Dr Kim Tan (Malaysia), Founder and Chairman, NCI Cancer Hospital (Malaysia)  and Fellow of the Royal Society of Medicine.
  • Dr. Robert White (UK), Professor of Geophysics in the Earth Sciences department at Cambridge University.

For more names, a briefing paper on Relational Risk and tickets, please visit the Conference web page. We hope to be able to welcome you in Cambridge in September!

Relational Thinking International Conference: Relational Risk & Sustainability

This years Relational Thinking conference will bring together thinkers and practitioners from around the world to look at the issue of Relational Risk; how it manifests itself in different contexts and how we can learn to manage and build with it: from business to the environment and from international relations to communities.

We’re pleased to announce that the following speakers are confirmed for our annual conference:

  • Professor Bob White (Professor of Geophysics in the Department of Earth Sciences at Cambridge)
  • Dr. Ted Malloch (Research Fellow at the SAID Business School and former US Ambassador to the World Trade Organization),
  • Dato Dr Kim Tan (Scientist and investor), and
  • Mrs Beris Gwynne (Director Global Advocacy, World Vision).

Conference registration will be up very soon on our website, so watch this space!

RTN Conference


Thinking about relationships in health

CAMBRIDGE/YORK – It’s becoming more and more clear how important strong relationships are for the quality of healthcare. A conference  early next year, organised by one of our member organizations Whole Systems Partnership, is exploring the role that relationships play in health and care policy and strategy.

The conference, entitled Thinking about Relationships in Health, will take place over 24 hours on Thursday 12th/Friday 13th February, 2015, at the National Railway Museum in York.  It will be led by Dr. Jonathan Shapiro, lead academic and Chair of a large UK Mental Health Trust, and Peter Lacey,  Director of Whole Systems Partnership.  It will also include contributions from other visiting speakers and Whole Systems Partnership Research Associate, Dr. Paul Grimshaw, who has recently joined WSP through the Knowledge Transfer Partnership programme in association with the University of Leeds School of Healthcare Studies.

For more information, or to book online, click here.

Relational Thinking™ International Conference 2015

CAMBRIDGE – After the successful Relational Thinking™ conference earlier this year in South Africa, we’ve started to prepare for next year’s International Conference. We’re excited to announce that the theme will be Relational Risk & Sustainability: Building strong companies, organisations and communities.

In a time where the world faces a variety of challenges on many different levels, relational risk surfaces in almost every area, from schools to healthcare to business to family.

Please note the dates in your diary – it will be from 16-18 September 2015 in Cambridge, UK.

More news will follow in due course, so watch this space.

Hope to see you all there!