The Origins of Theatre of Transformation’s Methodology

The methodology of Theatre of Transformation emerged at The Centre for International Studies at the University of Oxford starting in December 2013. It takes forward the conclusions of the CIS project, ‘Ending Mass Atrocities’. The final publication, co-edited with Professor Thomas G Weiss, concluded:

(t)here is need in the praxis of politics and international relations to restore art, aesthetics and creativity to a central place. The bureaucratic stagnation and lack of imagination that bog down problem solving in governments as well as intergovernmental and nongovernmental organizations can and should be overcome. Creativity, imagination and innovation in problem solving would be potent tools to rejuvenate governance at all levels.

Furthermore, it noted:

There is much that UN officials and governments can learn from the ordinary citizens whose voices are heard in this volume… The UN – its member states and its staff – must act more consistently, creatively, courageously, and humanely.”1

Theatre of Transformation Academy responds to this need, within a global climate of worsening brutality in wars, dangerous divisiveness in national politics, and stagnation in international relations. It proposes to bring humanity and creativity to the responses of the public, decision-makers, scholars and practitioners to political crises, to stimulate ideas and initiatives to enact global transformation. It amplifies the voices, visions and wisdom of individuals and communities affected by crisis, and shares their transformative initiatives. It evokes new paradigms of power to enact global transformation responding to today’s realities and tomorrow’s needs. Testimonies of Transformation: Theatre of Transformation began with the straightforward presentation of enacted real-life testimonies of people encountered first hand, primarily in situations of crisis. Diverse testimonies offering different perspectives on the crisis were presented initially. A natural focus on transformation began to emerge with a particular interest in the stories of individuals and communities or organizations who underwent an often unexpected or surprising transformation within themselves in the face of crisis, which often turn triggered a wider societal transformation. They might be ‘victims’ or ‘perpetrators’, leaders or citizens, old or young…

The impact of presenting these real-life testimonies of transformation on diverse audiences in disparate contexts around the world was striking in every case: in classrooms, conferences, or concert halls. Whether students, policy makers, international or national civil servants, military officers, humanitarians, victims and survivors of violence and injustice, peace activists, witnessing the testimonies had the effect on deepening their understanding, changing or widening their perspective, evoking their empathy, and activating a desire to engage directly or to act differently. It also entirely changed the nature, quality and substance of the ensuing discussion, and incited a fresh problem solving approach, which generated new pathways.

The consistent observation of this impact instigated a process of analyzing the range of reactions and responses among diverse participants, evaluating the impact, and understanding their causes, at each event. It also intensified the process of understanding the diverse trajectories of the individual and societal transformations portrayed: the triggers, the stages, the internal process, and the external ramifications. This is how the four-stage process began to unfold, through a process of collaborative development.

Collaborative Development of the Methodology:

Theatre of Transformation’s methodology evolved through the distinct and diverse programmes or events offered since 2014 in partnership with academic, inter-governmental and non-governmental organisations in Oxford and in countries around the world. These ranged from academic courses, policy seminars, conferences, keynotes, lectures, creative dialogues and interactive public performances. The process was developed gradually through intensive interaction with host organisations, academic and artistic collaborators, and programme participants, and through scrupulous analysis of the response to and impact of each event. It was also fuelled by a series of peace and justice missions undertaken in war-torn and crisis-affected countries, in partnership with local leaders, universities and organizations.

The methodology was shaped incrementally based on substantial feedback from distinguished colleagues in academia at Oxford and elsewhere, as well as from eminent collaborators in policy, peacebuilding and cultural spheres.

Those whose feedback and collaboration has informed this methodology since its inception include, non-exhaustively:

Professor Kalypso Nicolaidis (Director, CIS, Oxford, UK), Zahira Kamal (political leader and former minister, Palestine), Professor Jean Houston (Chancellor, Meridian University, USA), Dr. Scilla Elworthy (Founder, Oxford Research Group), Professor Alexander Schieffer (Co-Founder Trans4m), Dr. Meera Sethi (International Organization on Migration), Thais Corrall (Founder, SINAL, Brazil), Chipo Chung (theatre actress/activist, Zimbabwe), Ozioma Egwuonwu (Founder, World Dream Day) and William Kelly (humanist artist, laureate of the Conflict Prevention Award, Australia), to name but a handful.

Formative inputs while developing collaborative events was provided by: Dr. Annette Idler (CCW, Oxford), Jacqueline Cote (Graduate Institute of Geneva), Dr. Corinne Kumar (Founder, World Courts for Women and Vimochana, India), Dr. Meenakshi Gopinath (Principal, Lady Shriram College, India), Sujata Khandekar (Co-Founder, CORO-India), Dr. Leila Nicolas (Professor of Politics, Lebanese University, Lebanon), Genevieve Ancel (Co-Founder, Dialogues in Humanity), Nancy Roof (Founder-Editor, Kosmos Journal of Transformation), Peggy Rubin (Founder, Sacred Theatre), Saphira Linden (Founder, Omega Theatre), Liliane de Toledo (former ICRC), Paul Grant (musician), etc.

Furthermore, incisive feedback at key events were provided by: Edward Mortimer (Fellow, All Souls College Oxford), Professor Roger Coate (Vice Chair, Academic Council on the UN System), Professor Katherine Marshall (Georgetown University), Professor Richard Caplan (CIS, Oxford), Professor Adam Roberts (CIS, Oxford), Dr. Thania Paffenholz (Director, Inclusive Peace and Transitions Initiative), Dr. Liz Carmichael (CoConvenor, OxPeace), Professor Thomas Weiss (CUNY Graduate Centre), Swami Agnivesh (Founder, Bonded Labour Liberation Movement, India), Dr. Cornelio Sommaruga (former President ICRC)

It was also profoundly shaped by creative collaborations with transformative musicians and artists, many of whom themselves underwent profound transformation following crises in their countries and lives.

Thus Theatre of Transformation’s methodology has been developed through inputs and collaboration with a vast range of scholars and practitioners around the world, and owes a debt to every single one of them.

Academic Sources – A Synthesis of Diverse Transformative Methodologies:

Theatre of Transformation’s methodology builds on over 25 years of academic knowledge and professional experience in international relations. It benefits from a generation of academic research by leading IR scholars in the then virgin areas of global governance, peacebuilding and transitional justice, which have now generated a vast knowledge base. These scholars’ rigorous analysis of the challenges, shortcomings and failures in each of these three areas was particularly instructive. As earlier mentioned, the focus of Theatre of Transformation’s evolving methodology was to understand diverse processes of transformation in situations of crisis, and to provide a vehicle or platform for diverse participants to experience this directly and shape their own transformative approaches to their respective challenges or initiatives.

Consequently, this methodology sought out and drew inspiration from several selected trans-disciplinary methodological approaches that are specifically focused on different dimensions of transformation. In each case, direct collaboration and interaction with the proponents of these methodologies, and with several colleagues within their epistemic communities to test their effectiveness and relevance were the key factor determining their inclusion in this methodology.

The Integral Model for transformation proposed by Professors Schieffer and Lessem, elaborated in an academic series published by Gower Ashgate, pursued in the PhD programme in societal transformation at Da Vinci University, South Africa, and serving a global community of practice.

The Social Artistry framework for transformation developed by Professor Jean Houston, elaborated since 1986 in numerous books, serving as the basis for a PhD programme at Meridian University, and applied by UNDP in over 50 developing countries.

The Conflict Transformation and non-violent peacebuilding framework proposed by Dr. Scilla Elworthy, elaborated based on her award-winning research and policy experience as Founder of Oxford Research Group and Peacedirect over the past decades.

The Paradigm of Life model, developed by Prof. Hans-Peter Durr, Director of the Max Planck Institute for Physics, and the application of a range of relevant insights from quantum science by Prof. Durr and other scientists to politics and IR.5

Transformative Justice Theory and Practice: Shaped by the works of genocide survivors like Viktor Frankl and Vera Kohn, this approach crystallizes 20 years of study of post-conflict peacebuilding and transitional justice and direct experience in war-affected and transitional countries, and is taught at MA level at Geneva Academy, and at the Geneva Centre for Security Policy.

The Creative Process: This process is shaped by in-depth study of the creative process especially in crisis and war, in-depth interviews and collaboration with artists and cultural agents in crisis countries.7

The current formulation of the Methodology integrates elements from all these transformative approaches.

First Hand Evidence and Experience:

Besides this robust academic foundation, the methodology is substantiated by hundreds of first-hand encounters, in-depth conversations and close collaborations with diverse stakeholders ranging from global leaders to civic activists and war victims, harnessed during 25 years of scholarship, governance and peacebuilding work. It also draws on direct experience with transformation efforts in international relations, and an inside understanding of why these remain incomplete or fail. This includes direct experience with the Commission on Global Governance in the study, preparation and global launch of its report, Our Global Neighbourhood, for the UN’s 50th anniversary. It also includes serving on the Boards or in advisory positions to several organizations attempting visionary global change.8

Applications and Formats of the Methodology:

As the methodology evolved, it was applied and tested in varied formats, in collaboration with diverse host and partner organizations across Europe and USA, as well as in Palestine, Lebanon, Turkey, South Africa, Brazil, India, and elsewhere.

The different formats include:

(1) As a performance artform, with collaborating musicians and artists, to engage audiences to enact change.

(2) As a teaching methodology in delivering MA & BA courses (eg. Geneva Academy, St. Gallen University)

(3) As a policy-making & crisis-response process for policy makers (eg. Geneva Centre for Security Policy)

(4) As a confidence-building forum for crisis-affected communities (eg. Palestine; Iraqi and Syrian refugees)

(5) As a peacebuilding and humanitarian response framework for practitioners in crisis areas (eg. Turkey)

(6) As a process for addressing social, political, gender and ecological injustices (eg. Lebanon, India)

(7) As a transformative leadership tool for decision makers and women leaders (at several leadership summits)

(8) As a format for keynote addresses at academic conferences and global fora (at numerous conferences)

Conclusion: An Adaptable Vehicle for Enacting Transformation

Effectively, the Theatre of Transformation methodology brings humanity and creativity together with effectiveness to the centre of global problem solving. It voices myriad real-life testimonies of people who have enacted transformation in the midst of crisis. It offers an effective and engaging transformative process for the public, decision-makers, scholars, policy makers, governmental and non-governmental officials and local peacebuilders to go beyond the deadlocks that stymie conventional crisis management and institutional reform efforts. It offers a supportive process to scholars wishing to pioneer cutting edge research to innovate responses to global crises and enrich the IR literature. It offers space for critical thinking free of the conditioning and constraints of academic theories, political ideologies and institutional mandates. It catalyses individual intelligence and creativity as well as collective intelligence and innovation within a group, both of which are essential today to overcome impasses and initiate transformative action. Finally, it is not a rigid template or model but one that can be adapted and tailored to diverse situations and contexts.



1 Mani and Weiss, Responsibility to Protect: Cultural Perspectives in the Global South, (Abingdon: Routledge 2011) p. 234 ; p. 244-245.

2 Lessem and Schieffer, Integral Research and Integral Development. Integral Research serves as the methodology for the doctoral programme offered by Profs Lessem and Schieffer at Da Vinci University, South Africa.

3 Jean Houston, The Possible Human. Social Artistry serves as the methodological framework for the PhD programme Prof Houston leads at Meridian University, USA.

4 Scilla Elworthy, Pioneering the Possible (Berkeley: North Atlantic Books 2014).

5 Hans Peter Duerr, ‘Potsdam Manifesto 2005’ (Munich : Okom verlag 2005) ‘The Crisis and Challenge of Globalization : Physics Insights (Munich : Global Challenges Network, 2001).

6 Rama Mani, ‘Integral Justice for Victims’ in Inge Vanfraechem, Antony Pemberton and Felix Ndahinda (eds.), Justice for Victims (Oxford: Routledge, 2014). This provides the foundation for the MA course in Transformative Justice taught at Geneva Academy, Graduate Institute. (www.geneva-academy.ch/masters/master-in-transitional-justice.

7 ‘Creation Amidst Destruction’ in Rama Mani and Thomas G. Weiss(co-eds.) The Responsibility to Protect: Cultural Perspectives in the Global South, (Oxford: Routledge, 2011).

8 On why transformation efforts in international relations fail and paradigm change see, ‘From Dystopia to OURtopia: Charting a Future for Global Governance’, International Affairs, Sp. Issue on the United Nations at 70, vol 91, No 6, 2015.