Prosocial Core Processes

A suite of multi-cropping practices of personal growth, skills building, dialogue, and participatory action learning that is simultaneously theory and practice.

Dr Robert Styles

Dr Paul Atkins


Writing about the ProSocial World Core Processes is tricky without doing injustice to some aspect of it. Like examining a crystal, each facet reveals a new perspective. The same with the ProSocial Core Processes. They are constantly developing and changing according to the unique circumstances within which they are applied. 

Essential to the ProSocial Core Processes is a self-reflective and critically creative response to life as it emerges that results in constant adaptation and change. It also has some essential constants, although these have less to do with actual techniques than with the principles of cultural evolution and liberating processes of learning.

These Core Processes combine a perspective on, and critical understanding of, both the structures of our world (political, economic, environmental, cultural, spiritual, etc.) and the fluid movement of forces that sustain those structures in predominant equilibrium. When employed, the ProSocial Processes resist rigid certainties and create space for a creative understanding of our constantly changing world. A creative understanding that, when shared through a range of dialogical processes, allows for relationships that typically resist change to be reforged within the context of shared purpose. In this way, the Core Processes weave alliances across many sectors at multiple levels between different social movements. They are a suite of multi-cropping practices of personal growth, skills building, dialogue, and participatory action learning that is simultaneously theory and practice.

Seven Core Processes

The Core Processes are typically facilitated over seven phases: Preparing for Change, Developing Oneself, Envisioning Purpose, Understanding Systems, Organizing Prosocially, Priority Opportunities, and Action Learning. These processes are complemented by generalized participatory research. One proviso about these phases is to beware of the tendency to view them as a linear process, moving from one step to the next. They are better understood as recipe ingredients that need to be mixed in proper measure and with respect to the uniqueness of local conditions.

Preparing for Change

Whenever we seek to help a group evolve into a new level of effectiveness, we start by negotiating the context for change. Issues like scoping the project, clarifying key success criteria and taking baseline assessments, getting ‘buy-in’ from key stakeholders and authority figures, exploring and managing power relations that might impact the project, and ensuring the project is adequately resourced are all part of preparing to embark on a journey of significant change.

Developing Oneself

Change projects rely heavily on the participants’ capacity to take others’ perspectives, empathise, regulate their emotions, understand the dynamics of goals, values, and needs, and engage in meaningful dialogue. ProSocial projects involve an essential phase of ‘inner work’ where participants learn psychological flexibility skills – noticing the present moment, unhooking from rigid beliefs, tuning into our emotional being, clarifying what matters, and committing to act together in the service of shared values.

Envisioning Purpose

Humans are unique in their ability to imagine better possible futures. A crucial part of coming to alignment on shared purpose and identity is having a shared vision of what might be possible. ProSocial helps people to dream together, not just by using helpful tools for collectively enabling foresight on a preferred and probable future, but by making it safe and rewarding to deliberate on what is most important now and in the long run.

Understanding Systems

If we are to evolve in a healthy direction, we need to understand the dynamics of the context. To this end, ProSocial projects take into account the critical-uncertain factors (inner and outer) that have everyone across the system the group is a part of selecting their practices. Analysing these contingencies reveals opportunities to catalyse evolutionary change that will curb what will help or hinder vision realisation.

Organizing Prosocially

Once a group has begun to form around a strong sense of shared identity and purpose, it is time to explore how it can effectively work together to realise that purpose. This is where the prize-winning work of Nobel Laureate Elinor Ostrom is so helpful. Ostrom perceived the key factors that need to be considered to build the commons. This is the focus of this phase – forging the cultural and institutional climatic conditions for mutual trust and collaboration at multiple levels of organisation so collaborators can achieve their vision together.

Prioritising Opportunities

The individual and collective visioning and planning so far will have generated many opportunities for change. In this phase of the work, we move from creative divergence into convergence on the highest priority opportunities for learning through action. The group collectively decides where to direct its attention to best meet its needs and those of the ones they serve now and in the future.

Action Learning

Recognizing that human systems are living, complex and adaptive, we hold our plans with commitment and flexibility. Adopting an attitude of ongoing learning and adaptation allows us to continually revisit the effectiveness of the group’s activities concerning its purpose, pursuing the fittest action learning opportunities and testing which methods will serve best.

Participatory Research

ProSocial World is built on participatory, pragmatic, and purposeful research. Conscious evolution must rely upon rich, meaningful, and informative measurements. To this end, we strive to continuously improve multi-level group effectiveness, researching together to continue learning and co-evolving. We host guest speakers, symposiums, networking, connection and support.

Employing the ProSocial Core Processes

When applied, the ProSocial Core Processes become a collective means of conducting a social analysis for action. Two dynamics prove important here: the movements of forces within society and the learning logic of action-reflection-action. What is unique about the ProSocial Core Processes is that they acknowledge that all people have the experience that gives them the potential and the right to engage in this kind of analysis. In so doing, people become actors in changing their world, not merely ‘acted-upons’.

The power of the ProSocial Process is embodied in the multi-level evolutionary approach of participatory action research. When applied to how people learn and evolve, this affirms that the starting point for all learning is action – people live in the world and act all the time. Nobody enters a relationship or a process as a blank slate. We all have experiences that have shaped us and upon which we rely to explain the world to ourselves. To change the world in which we live, especially when it comes to the existential challenges we currently face, we must reflect upon our current experience, analyse it critically for strengths and weaknesses and, finally, bring our reflection to bear upon new action which in turn will need to be reflected upon.

In a nutshell 

As mentioned above, the ProSocial Core Processes are not necessarily meant to be followed linearly. Often much back-and-forth movement is necessary to ensure a genuinely participatory process. The ProSocial Core Processes allow for and encourage a combination of perspective-taking and the negotiation of meaning. Essentially, work is done in the beginning about ‘naming ourselves’. Practically speaking, this is a deep enquiry into our personal and cultural identities that typically involves sharing personal and community histories. Having conducted some ‘naming’ of ourselves, it is then necessary to share some information, often stories of one kind or another, to identify key concerns or issues and gain a perspective on shared needs and values. This creates the need to decide which issues are important enough to warrant a collective critical analysis and response. Once key issues have been identified, a deeper analysis can be applied to qualifying opportunities to start living a preferred and probable future today. Finally, the question of ‘what to do about it’ must be posed, and action steps discussed and converged upon. And the journey goes on…


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