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About Integral theory

Integral Theory in Action

As you can see by now, an all-quadrants, all-levels, all-lines, all-states, all-types, and all-zones approach is pretty comprehensive. Of course, you do not have to use all of these distinctions all the time. In fact, even using two of these elements can make your approach to analysis or solution building more integral than many others. However, having all five of them in your “toolbox” allows you more capacity to respond to the complexity of our world and provides a place for including the essential aspects of any given situation. In addition, it helps us understand the relationships between the various facets of reality that we come across. In fact, this is what sets integral theory apart from all other integrative and comprehensive approaches to solution generation and change facilitation. Currently there is no meta-framework as inclusive and theoretically sound as integral theory, which is what has made it such a useful approach in so many contexts. The AQAL model is a dynamic framework that does more than just cover the basic elements of reality—it interrelates them in a way that allows us to ensure that we are leveraging our efforts in an functional, aesthetic, accurate, and just way. In other words, an integral approach allows for true, good, and beautiful solutions to the major problems we face as we travel into the 21st century.

In fact, the AQAL model is multi-variant and can be understood in a number of ways. AQAL is a map because it is a series of third-person symbols and abstractions that can guide a person through the contours of their own awareness, as well as through some of the most important aspects of any situation. It is a framework because it creates a mental space where one can organize and index their and others’ current activities in a clear and coherent manner. It is a theory because it offers an explanation for how the most time-tested methodologies and data they generate can fit together. It is a practice because it is not just a theory about inclusion but an actual series of practices of inclusion. It involves the meta-paradigm of correlating humanity’s most fundamental methodologies of knowledge generation. AQAL can also be practiced in a more personal setting, which results in what is called integral life practice (ILP). It is a set of perspectives because it brings together first-, second-, and third-person perspectives. It is a catalyst because it psychoactively scans your entire body-mind and activates or “lights up” any potentials (quadrant, level, line, state, or type) that are presently not fully being used. Lastly, it is a matrix because it combines all quadrants, levels, lines, states, and types in a way that generates a space of potential out of which more of reality can manifest and be accounted for than any other model has ever included. In short, the AQAL model can be summarized as a third-person map of reality, a second-person framework for working within and across disciplines, and a first-person practice for engaging the development of our own embodied awareness. All three of these aspects of the AQAL model—map, framework, and practice—contribute to an increased experience of intimacy with reality by expanding and deepening our contact with more dimensions of ourselves, our communities, and our environments.

Now that you have a general overview of the AQAL model, I can highlight how these approaches are using integral principles successfully in the field: in the classroom, in the board room, in the political arena, and in home of fices. In addition to disciplinary uses of the AQAL model (e.g., integral ecology or integral coaching), there have also been systematic efforts to advance integral theory as a specific field of meta-studies. Four main efforts currently contribute to this goal: 1) the peer-reviewed Journal of Integral Theory and Practice, which has published over 100 academic articles and case studies to date; 2) John F. Kennedy University’s Department of Integral Theory, with its online master of arts program and one-year certificate in integral theory (this program is doing much to train the next wave of integral leadership in application of the AQAL model); 3) the Integral Research Center, which is supporting graduate level mixed methods research around the world that is informed by integral theory; and 4) the international biennial Integral Theory Conference, which recently brought together 500 academics and practitioners from all over the globe who are applying and refining integral theory.
This systemic effort is important because it allows discipline-specific practitioners (e.g., integral psychotherapists or integral educators) to know the model is sound, it educates integral practitioners to understand the model as a whole (independent of any discipline-specific application), and it creates a community of discourse and inquiry to further the development of the model in a way that invites critical thought and demonstrated practical efficacy.

In recent years a number of books have been published applying integral theory to various areas such as urban design (Marilyn Hamilton’s Integral City), psychological assessment (Andre Marquis’s The Integral Intake), organizational dynamics (Mark Edward’s Organizational Transformation for Sustainability), health (Elliott Dacher’s Integral Health), ecology and environmental studies (my and Michael Zimmerman’s Integral Ecology), psychopharmacology (Elliott Ingersoll and Carl Rank’s Psychopharmacology for Helping Professionals), business (Daryl Paulson’s Competitive Business, Caring Business), and international community development (Gail Hochachka’s Developing Sustainability, Developing the Self). To date, the fields that have produced the largest amount of theoretical and applied material using integral theory include psychotherapy and psychology, education, mixed methods research, ecology and sustainability, international development, future studies, business, and organizational management. Following are short descriptions of a number of current examples of integral theory in action.

Integral Education

The Integral Research Center (IRC) is in the process of designing and launching an ambitious longitudinal study using methods from all eight zones of integral methodological pluralism to assess the transformative effects of integral education at John F. Kennedy University. The IRC is working with Theo Dawson of Developmental Testing Service and Susanne Cook-Greuter of Cook-Greuter and Associates to help with the research design, which includes the Lectical Assessment System (LAS) and the Sentence Completion Test (SCT). This study aims to discover, “In what ways do students transform within the online master of arts program in integral theory?” Do they, over the course of three years of coursework, demonstrate vertical stage development (e.g., exiting one level and beginning to stabilize the next one) and/or horizontal development (e.g., increased access to emotional content). If so, what aspects are developing? The results of this ongoing study will be used to improve the developmental potential of the curriculum, making it even more conducive to psychological transformation and growth.

Integral International Development

One Sky – Canadian Institute for Sustainable Living in partnership with Drishti – Centre for Integral Action recently received a $500,000 grant from the Canadian International Development Agency for a three-year leadership development project entitled, “Integral Applications to Sustainability in the Niger Delta.” Building on previous work it had done in Nigeria, One Sky was aware of the value of interventions associated with the Right-Hand quadrants that focused on “development, financial management, improved communications, and policy influence.” While recognizing the essential role such efforts play, One Sky became increasingly aware of how these efforts could not be sustained without supportive interventions from the Left-Hand quadrants that focused on “personal leadership, self-awareness, moral intelligence, and interpersonal skills.” Consequently, their project will work with 30 young Nigerians from nearly a dozen organizations in the Cross River region of the Niger Delta on environmental and economic sustainability. “The project essentially involves engaging a personal development process (I), held in place with learning communities and a new social discourse (We), and enacted in breakthrough initiatives in their home organizations (It/Its).” In addition, this program will be evaluated through a pre/post assessment based on the principles of integral research.

Integral Forestry

Next Step Integral, an international non-profit, was established in 2003 by Stephan Martineau. Soon he joined forces with Lisa Farr, the director of a local watershed association, to begin the arduous task of establishing an integral approach to a community forest project in the Slocan Valley of British Co-lumbia, Canada. This goal was particularly daunting given the historical tensions over a 35-year period between various worldviews within and outside of the community (e.g., loggers, miners, farmers, environmentalists, First Nations individuals, artists, practitioners of multiple religious faiths, government workers, and a multinational corporation). Also, there had already been nine failed attempts by the B.C. government to establish a workable solution to the divisions within the community between stakeholders connected to the forest. The guiding principles of their initiative included: recognizing and honoring the diverse perspectives about the forest of Slocan Valley residents; recognizing that these perspectives were informed by lenses associated with each of the quadrants (e.g., behavioral, cultural, psychological, historical); and recognizing that any viable long-term solution would have to integrate the many conflicting views within the community. In addition, Martineau identified a num-ber of “main capacities” explicitly grounded in the AQAL model but used implicitly to support their initiative: holding and inhabiting multiple perspectives; an awareness of and an ability to work with the multiple lines of individuals; a commitment to personal growth and shadow work; creating shared motivations; balancing empathy, engagement, and impartiality; and cultivating qualities, attitudes, and capacities that supported mutual understanding.

On January 14, 2007, Next Step Integral submitted an application for a Community Forest Agreement to allow the local community to manage 35,000 acres of contested forest. In July of that same year their proposal was approved! Thus three years of negotiations and grassroots work guided by the AQAL model resulted in the creation of a large-scale integral forestry cooperative—the first of its kind in the world. This community forest project has support of an impressive 95% of the inhabitants in the valley. Aptly named the Slocan Integral Forestry Cooperative (SIFCo), this project is a true testimony to the power of the integral model—even as an implicit guide—in working with diverse perspectives to achieve a common goal that other approaches failed to manifest. Now that SIFCo has been granted tenure over the land, the coming years shall be an important testing ground and source of clarification of the tenets of integral ecology in general and of integral forestry in particular.

Integral Coaching

Integral Coaching Canada (ICC), an Ottawa-based company, has developed an entire school and methodology for professional coaching based on the AQAL model. Over the past 10 years ICC has emerged as one of the premier schools in the world for professional coaching. They have a rigorous methodology that combines embodied perspective taking, presence, and powerful conceptual distinctions. Coaches use all five elements discussed above to support their own personal growth and to work with their client’s development. Typically it takes an individual two years to complete the certification process and become an Integral Coach®. ICC has a strong reputation for demanding a great deal from their coaches-in-training, which includes each trainee committing to an integral life practice that includes meditation, body work, journaling, and reading. They are the only coaching school I am aware of that incorporates developmental psychology (e.g., Robert Kegan’s subject-object theory) as the spine of their methodology. This alone gives ICC a trremendous advantage over other schools because their approach is built on extensive psychological research about how and why humans transform and integrate new capacities. In fact, ICC’s application of the integral framework is one of if not the most sophisticated uses of integral principles in any context or field.

Integral Politics

The State of the World Forum (SOWF) was established in 1995 by Jim Garrison with Mikhail Gorbachev. SOWF began as a series of annual conferences that convened hundreds of international leaders (ranging from community organizers, Nobel Laureates, social activists, Heads of State, and business leaders) to explore key issues facing the globe. These gatherings established a Global Leadership Network committed to the guiding principle: “Transforming conversations that matter into actions that make a difference.” Over the years, SOWF sponsored a variety of gatherings and “strategic initiatives” that resulted in a number of projects and non-profit organizations. In 2008, SOWF set its sights on the borderless problem of climate change and the global transition towards a “green economy,” and in November of 2009 will initiate a 10-year cycle of international annual gatherings. SOWF has adopted the AQAL model as the organizing framework for each event. Consequently, integral theory will be used for designing each conference and for guiding the development of policy recom-mendations to political leaders at all levels of government and civic responsibility.
These gatherings will take place in different countries around the globe and build a coalition of multi-stake holders committed to developing innovative policy and effective action for confronting climate change and serving to guide the emergence of new sources of energy. Now this is integral theory in action—working across the globe with diverse leadership to address humanity’s first planetary crisis.


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