Academic journal article The Journal of Baha'i Studies

The Power of Reflection: Advancing Governance and Dispute Resolution Systems through Devolved Reflection and Shared Knowledge Generation

Academic journal article The Journal of Baha'i Studies

The Power of Reflection: Advancing Governance and Dispute Resolution Systems through Devolved Reflection and Shared Knowledge Generation

Article excerpt

Drawing on insights from Bahá'í practices of community-based reflection gatherings beginning in the 1990s and now held in more than 5,000 localities worldwide, it examines how such devolved reflective approaches contribute to planning processes that take into account increased capacity. At the same time, in recent years, mechanisms for devolved reflection have increasingly been incorporated into emerging modes of organizational practice, soft law principles that inform the emergence of customary international law, analytic and normative frameworks for new governance policy, and applied reflective research methodologies. While such developments represent important advances in modalities of governance, this paper suggests that the significant benefits arising from devolved reflection can be most fully realized when it is carried out as a component of a larger framework of learning through reflective action. As part of a tapestry of study, consultation, action and reflection, "questions can emerge and methods and approaches be adjusted" (Universal House of Justice, letter dated 26 November 2012) by which "collective identity" is created and "collective will" strengthened (Universal House of Justice, letter dated 27 December 2005). According to the Universal House of Justice, the capacity to "act in the light of reflection" cultivates "an instinctive posture of learning" (Ridván Message 2016) and allows for insights to "gradually accumulate about effective ways to work for the betterment of society" (letter dated 1 October 2017). The paper will draw on research highlighting the role of engaged reflection and shared knowledge generation in facilitating conditions conducive to progressive advancement within governance and dispute resolution systems-whether in the context of community engagement with consumer financial institutions, cross border-arbitration, or post-disaster governance initiatives. The work traces the role of capacity building, cohesion, and collective contribution in knowledge generation.

Introduction: Devolved Reflection and Organizational Progress

The possibility of achieving progress in organizational contexts has been a subject of debate and continued striving. June Manning Thomas expertly observed that while humanity has produced advances in technology, it has not solved the fundamental problems of hunger, poverty, homelessness, war, ecological destruction, and political strife: "organizations at all levels struggle to adapt to the changing world in which they must survive and to carry out the purposes for which they were created" (1). Yet central to this struggle is the recognition that as humans we are "capable of thinking, planning and envisioning alternative courses of action" (Laszlo 56). The "larger the entity or system involved, the more difficult the process . . . becomes," yet progress is achievable. (Manning Thomas 3).

The Bahá'í writings link the idea of progress to collective participation: "the realization of justice is dependent upon universal participation and action among all members and agencies of society" (ISGP 10) and even state that mankind's purpose is "to carry forward an ever-advancing civilization" (Bahá'u'lláh, Gleanings 109:2).2 Echoing this perspective, recent scholarship has described an important shift in organizational structure toward equipping governance entities to "draw out more human potential" (Laloux 4) through reflective dialogue-a concept that will be elaborated on later in this paper-so as to enable them to address increasingly complex and critical social and environmental challenges (5). Among the defining features of such organizations is an orientation toward structures in which "purpose . . . [is] the guiding principle" (50). Such organizational systems operate on the basis of "peer relationships" and are assisted to advance through joint reflection by asking "the . . . questions that help teams to find their own solutions" (69) while "trust[ing] in the collective intelligence of the system" (85). …

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