Co-creation is the joint reflection of stakeholders on their joint system and direct linking of emerging insights to interventions into their system. I contribute to facilitation as partner of the Spread your Wings network, with Mastercircle as key method. (Both hyperlinks connect to sites in Dutch). Hereafter you will find a brief English introduction to Mastercircle, followed by available publications.

Mastercircle in brief

The Mastercircle Method © has been developed in The Netherlands to help organizations work together in complex challenges. It is developed by a Dutch network of mediators, active in public-private issues ranging from youth care, water safety to innovation management. Mediators invite ‘masters’ to reflect on participants’ approaches. Masters are respected and acknowledged role models to the participants, often former politicians and higher managers.


Participants present their current approach ‘on stage’, and receive feedback from this master, much like the masterclasses known in music. In mastercircles, a master not only helps a number of individual professionals ‘play’ individually, he also helps the group play together, in harmony - even in the presence of conflict between their organisations. Their play is no music, but a joint approach, a joint language even, of a shared complex problem. A mastercircle therefore creates joint action. Because it aims at ‘head’ (joint analysis) as well as ‘heart’ (joint motivation), it envisages a change of attitude toward the joint problem and the other participants. This enables a breakthrough in common approach, clearly visible to stakeholders.

How it works

A mastercircle applies the ‘reverse learning method’: a participant presents his approach and receives feedback from his five peers and their common master. Together, they form the spark of a movement that creates wider change.


A mastercircle starts with a short session, termed ‘the urgency (de Urgentie)’, where stakeholders (usually higher managers) declare the urgency of a breakthrough in a specific complex challenge to six participants. Three master sessions follow, with these participants, a master and a mediator. These master sessions are termed ‘the challenge’ (de Opgave), ‘the turn-around’ (de Omslag), and ‘the future’ (de toekomst), respectively. In the fifth and final session, termed ‘the harvest’ (de oogst), participants present their breakthrough approach to the stakeholders. Total running time is 2 months. Results start being implemented in parallel with the sessions. 

The setting of master sessions


‘Reverse learning’, the core of any mastercircle, takes place at an oval table, with a ‘hot seat’, where masters have individual conversations with participants. Each participant presents and sits in the hot seat in every master session.

Roles in a Mastercircle

The participant
The participants are six peers, often from different organizations, and not (yet) operating as a team. They share a similar challenge, or their challenges touch upon each other. In any case they are anticipated to be able to develop a more effective joint approach than thay may each individually.


The master
The master is selected to be capable of analysing and co-sensing the situation of the participants and to make inspiring suggestions. He or she has ‘been there’ himself. In their conversation with each participant, sitting in the hot seat, they help clarify their situation, their personal options,

and their joint options.


Masters are invited because they have shown they can bring teams to unusual breakthroughs. Innovation and acceleration are the outcome. Each of three mastersessions may have a different master, as circumstances require, or occasionally none at all. 


The mediator
The mediator is responsible for preparing the mastercircle and for keeping the mastercircle goal-oriented from beginning to end. He creates the context that enables all levels of learning: ‘head’, ‘heart’ and ‘will’. Mediators are trained under responsibility of Mastercircle BV.


The stakeholder or client
Stakeholders are representatives of groups who have a key interest in the achievement of a breakthrough in the complex challenge which is at the heart of the mastercircle. If possible, they are also higher managers in the participants’ organisations. They are committed to following-up on the propositions the participants develop during the mastercircle. To that end, they have an open mind.


What do they reflect on? How to link knowledge to power, that's all.

The substance of cocreation is often to think of way to share knowledge so that the participants can join-up their influence. They don't use power, but they inspire power, like described in the paper 'complexity leadership to link knowledge to power', which I wrote with Ben Lamoree.

Leadership to link knowledge to power
Leadership linking knowledge to power No
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Prof. Edgar Schein on "helping", the kind of leadership needed in multicultural and complex societies

In this 2010 video prof. Edgar Schein explains his view on "helping", which is the skill that is also fostered in Mastercircles. It also has similarities with "enabling leadership", a key component of complexity leadership (alongside administrative leadership and adaptive leadership). (I published with prof Katrien Termeer on complexity leadership.) (Courtesy Bertelsmann Stiftung)


Prof. Richard Sennett on complex collaboration

Prof. Richard Sennett talks in this video (at RSA, 2012) about three skills in complex collaboration: dialogue, ability to express ambivalence, and empathy.

Mastercircles encourage participants to represent their challenges and their approaches in such a way that they need these skills. The setting helps them to approve these skills.



Adam Kahane on collaborating with people you don't agree with, like or trust

In this video, professional facilitator Adam Kahane explains ownership of co-created change. The ideas are worked out in his book Collaborating with the enemy, of which I did a review (in Dutch). I also interviewed him and his Dutch colleague Job van den Berg, which became a chapter in the book Quarter makers of the Future (below you can find a link to this chapter). 

Mastercircle as basis for living, learning communities

As of 2019, the Spread your Wings network is making steps towards complementary inventions to help complexity leadership emerge to a level where informal living and learning communities can stabilise. They combine the Mastercircle method with other interventions, partly in larger groups and online. In 2021, the Erasmus University's public administration department joined to study the vitality of informal networks and the effectiveness of interventions. 

Publications about mastercircle

Booklet: Meesterschap in complexe ontwikkelingen (mastership in complex developments)

This book (2012, in Dutch) is the method that emerged in the first 5 years of experimenting with methods of presencing. Authors are the initiators of the mastercircle network: Wouter Kesseler, Sibout Nooteboom, Job van den Berg, Ytsen Deelstra and Leon Klinkers.


1) Introduction

2) Mastercircle : fusion between reverse learning and Theory U

3) The stops in the voyage along the "U"

4) A joint change

5) Characteristics of mastercircle

6) Playing with tensions

7) Group composition and potential synergy

8) Slowing down and accelerating

Leverage points of resonance toward sustainable change

How complexity leaders make social systems resonate toward sustainable change. A summary of experiences from the first five years of mastercircle. 

Leverage points: yourself, defining success, balancing position and relationship, narratives, safe space, arenas. These are the solid elements of a social system that can resonate it to a new state. See the Dutch figure below (from the book Quarter makers of the future). 

Chapters of the "Quarter makers of the future" (in Dutch)

This 2011 book (in Dutch) describes some of the cocreations that emerged in the first 5 years of the mastercircle network.


Editors: Sibout Nooteboom, Ytsen Deelstra, Geert Teisman, Wouter Kesseler, with contributions from Adam Kahane and dozens of masters and participants of mastercircles. Preface by minister Piet Hein Donner of the Interior.


Click here for the full book.


  1. Principes van het kwartier maken. (Sibout Nooteboom, Ytsen Deelstra, Geert Teisman, Wouter Kesseler, Adam Kahane)
  2. A foreign view of dealing with cocreation in The Netherlands - interview with Adam Kahane and Job van den Berg. (Sibout Nooteboom)
  3. Reform in the education sector. Interview with Hans de Boer. (Sibout Nooteboom)
  4. Reform of the national health insurance system (Martin van Rijn and Gelle Klein Ikkink)
  5. Water governance in Noord Brabant province (Lambert Verheijen)
  6. Dealing with social effects of Amsterdam Schiphol airport (Geert Teisman and Heidi Boussen)
  7. Wagenwerkplaats: cocreation between citizens, politicians, civil servants and knowledge programmes (Cees Anton de Vries and Mirjam Barendrecht)
  8. The network of police corpses: cocreation between unions, managers and ministries (Saskia G. Gortz)
  9. The national policy to improve run down neighborhoods (Elly van Kooten)
  10. The Rotterdam neighborhood Overschie (Frank Bierkens)
  11. Youth care (Harro Labrujere)
  12. Teaching at Windesheim polytechnic (Marielle Taks and Bert Meijer)
  13. Internalizing external impact into the cost of transport (Job van den Berg)
  14. Increasing the capacity of the Westerschelde waterway (Ytsen Deelstra)
  15. The Rotterdam area of Hoboken (Ilta van der Mast)
  16. Greenport Venlo (Didy Arnold, Rinus van de Waart, Margreeth Laurentzen and Katrien Termeer)
  17. Self governance in the agro-food sector (Henk Diepenmaat, Sander Mager, Julia M. Wittmayer)
  18. Overheid 2.0. About systems to facilitate co-creation in the government and between government and stakeholders (Davied van Berlo & Sibout Nooteboom)

Announcement of the presentation of Quartermakers of the Future