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Upcoming Courses

Spring 2020: Semester in Wicked Problems

Full-time, 15 credits (DIAL 390W, 391W & 392W)
Program dates: January 6 - April 9, 2020

Apply Now: DEADLINE EXTENDED until Friday, November 1.

The world is becoming increasingly complex. Climate change, mass migration, and epidemics of chronic disease are just a few of the wicked problems we will face in the coming decades. The Semester in Wicked Problems (Spring 2020 Semester in Dialogue) will explore some of these problems and many others using dialogue and systems thinking.

Dialogue is intended to be an engaging and inclusive conversation for all participants and is based on an understanding that everyone in the room is coming from a different background, and will have different interests and views. The goal of the Semester in Dialogue is to create a space where views can be expressed and where participants can actively listen to each other and learn something new. Dialogue ultimately provides a space to bring together diverse viewpoints, explore these differences, and work towards understanding them better. Systems thinking recognizes that complex problems are different from simple or complicated problems. Some systems are only simple or complicated, meaning they will be predictable, controllable and designable, e.g. sending a rocket to the moon. Other systems are complex, meaning they are unpredictable, self-organizing and emergent, e.g. raising a child.

The Semester in Wicked Problems will enable exploration of a variety of complex problems, what makes them complex, and how solutions to complex problems need to be quite different from the “tried and true” solutions to complicated problems we’ve come to rely on.

What wicked problem keeps you up at night? 


Dr. Diane T. Finegood is an experienced research leader and strategic thinker with an excellent track record of heading national and provincial health research organizations. She served as President & CEO of the Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research (2012-2016) and inaugural scientific director of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research’s Institute of Nutrition, Metabolism and Diabetes (2000-2008). Diane is currently a Professor in the Centre for Dialogue and Semester in Dialogue at Simon Fraser University. As a bridge-builder and systems thinker, she has successfully facilitated the needs of disparate stakeholders to carve out common ground for effective dialogue, collaboration and outcomes. Diane is also an internationally recognized researcher whose work and expertise range from cell biology, physiology, and mathematical modeling, to population and public health, health policy and knowledge translation.  She has received a range of awards, which reflect her impact as a leader, scientist, partner and mentor.

Chris Yakimov is the Associate Director, Digital Community Engagement for the Office of Community Engagement, SFU External Relations. He has worked as a digital strategist in the private, nonprofit and now public sector, and has a BA and MA from UBC in Psychology and Education, respectively. His graduate thesis was a narrative inquiry that explored the power relations brokered by the word “self”, in academic, therapeutic, and everyday discourse. He’s heavily influenced by thinkers like Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, Antonio Damasio, Jaron Lanier and Judith Butler, and brings an abiding and passionate interest in the roles of emotion, autonomy, language and power within the complex bio-relational system that is “us”. Current interests include: critical deconstructions of economic and business systems, blockchain, cooperative governance, and the underutilized potential of fiction in knowledge mobilization and pedagogy. Vancouver-born, he loves hockey, photography, cli-fi, breakfast sandwiches and looking forward to whatever his three-year-old daughter will say next.

Fall 2019: Semester in Climate Futures

Full-time, 15 credits (DIAL 390W, 391W & 392W)

Application deadline: April 1, 2019
Program dates: September 3 - December 16, 2019

Climate change poses a profound challenge for the future – for individual lives, communities, nation-states and the world. Deep-rooted action is necessary both to reduce the negative impact of human activities on the climate and to adapt to the climate changes we know we will have to live with for generations to come. This Semester in Dialogue will tackle this global issue from many different angles: through the lenses of the physical sciences, economics, business, politics, ethics, psychology and communications. 

Class projects will focus on what individuals can do to respond to climate change at the personal and community scale. We will explore how different levels of government address climate policy and how individuals can influence those decisions, by working inside government as a public servant or elected official, or by working from outside through grass-roots or stakeholder organizations. We will also explore the role that markets and the private sector can play in moving the world towards a more sustainable, low carbon future. 

Through interactive workshops, dialogues and group projects students will have an opportunity to engage with a wide range of thought leaders who are committed to finding climate change solutions. Students will also explore their own capacities to act, building on their strengths and networks, through coaching, skills-building workshops, and community outreach activities. 


Michael Small is a Climate Solutions Fellow of the Centre for Dialogue. He co-designed and co-taught the Summer 2018 Semester in Dialogue on Urban Energy Futures. From 2015 – 2018 he was the first Executive Director of the Centre's program called Renewable Cities, which supports cities in the transition towards 100% renewable energy. 

Prior to joining SFU, Michael was a senior executive in the Canada's Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade and he served as a Canadian diplomat for thirty-four years. He was Canada's High Commissioner to Australia from 2010 - 2014, Assistant Deputy Minister for Global Issues from 2006 - 2008, and Ambassador to Cuba from 2000 - 2003.  Earlier in his career, he played a leading role in shaping Canada’s human security agenda for Foreign Minister Lloyd Axworthy and as the Co-ordinator for the Canadian delegation to the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro.

Deborah Harford is the Executive Director and co-founder of ACT (the Adaptation to Climate Change Team), based in the Faculty of Environment at SFU. A member of the first cohort of students in SFU’s innovative Undergraduate Semester in Dialogue, she is a lifelong environmentalist, passionate communicator, and thought leader on the emerging concept of low carbon resilience. 

Deborah was appointed as a Climate Solutions Fellow at SFU’s Centre for Dialogue in June 2015 and is an Adjunct Professor in SFU’s School of Resource and Environmental Management. She serves on numerous advisory boards, committees and panels, including Environment and Climate Change Canada’s Expert Panel on Climate Adaptation and Resilience Results, and the Council of Canadian Academies Expert Panel on Climate Risks for Canada. A frequent media commentator, Deborah is the author/co-author of numerous reports and articles on climate change adaptation, as well as a book on the history and future of the Columbia River Treaty in a changing climate. 

Patricia Lightburn is the Manager of Science and Policy at the David Suzuki Foundation, where she leads the climate policy team to advance climate solutions across Canada. She has over ten years of experience in climate and renewable energy, working for government, industry, and non-government organizations. She has contributed to publications on renewable energy, energy efficiency and district energy, for the Pembina Institute, the International Energy Agency and the United Nations Environment Program. Patricia has her master's degree from Sciences Po, Paris, and completed her undergraduate degree in environmental policy at the University of Toronto.

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Semester in Dialogue 2016 brochure