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Upcoming Courses

Spring 2021: Semester in Wicked Problems

Full-time, 15 credits (DIAL 390W, 391W & 392W)
Program dates: January 5 - April 12, 2021

APPLY NOW! Deadline: October 31, 2020

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 2021 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 a professor and fellow in the Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue.  Diane came to the Centre after a five year leave of absence from SFU to serve as President & CEO of the Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research (2012-2016). She has been on faculty at SFU since 1997 in the Department of Biomedical Physiology and Kinesiology where her research interests included the pathophysiology of obesity and diabetes. More recently after an opportunity to serve as the inaugural scientific director of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research’s Institute of Nutrition, Metabolism and Diabetes (2000-2008) her academic interests have broadened to include population and public health, health policy, knowledge translation and complex adaptive systems. Her passion is to help people understand that complex is not the same as complicated and that different strategies are needed to address wicked problems.

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, David Krakauer 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 individuality and economic systems, blockchain, complexity science, chaos theory, and the under-utilized potential of fiction for knowledge mobilization and pedagogy. Vancouver-born, he loves hockey, photography, cli-fi, homemade omelettes and playing Pandemic: Legacy with his 5-year old daughter.

Ilhan Abdullahi is a Somali-Canadian whose parents’ migration journey brought her to the unceded Coast Salish Lands at a very young age. Stemming from her family’s experience of navigating their new world as newcomers, Ilhan has been passionate in addressing social and health inequities experienced by underserved communities from an intersectional lens. With over 10 years of community-based advocacy, leadership and youth outreach, she‘s eager to continue exploring how grassroots community organizing and the process of decolonization through a systems change lens can lead to the liberation of these communities. She hopes to bring her grounded expertise and knowledge in community engagement, health equity, systems thinking and public health to this course.

Current Course

Fall 2020: Semester in Dialogue: Department of Living

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

Program dates: September 8 - December 8, 2020
Applications are now closed.

Department of Living brings together engaged, innovative students from diverse backgrounds and disciplines to consider what it means for young people to thrive in an urban environment. This full time 12 week program follows from the SFU Semester in Dialogue's work with CityStudio in 2018 that produced the Vancouver Student Manifesto. Students will work on a range of projects connected to relevant and timely urban issues in Vancouver.  

The semester will be an immersive, team learning environment combining interdisciplinary skills with the complexity of collaborating within a group setting. The course combines the processes of dialogue and human centred design and requires students to engage with communities and research existing urban issues and design projects to improve the world around them. Students will co-create projects based on needs of the community and are encouraged to bring an open mind about project scope to the program.  

Students will cultivate the skills necessary to conduct student led dialogues, public presentations, and to engage in multi-stakeholder processes with policy makers and City of Vancouver staff with our collaboration at CityStudio. The course offers facilitation and dialogue experience, field experiences, reflective writing, on-the-ground training, leadership development, group process, and project management skills.

The Department of Living in the time of a global pandemic

We talked about the idea of a “Department of Living” as a concept when we taught together for the first time in the Fall of 2018. We were trying to imagine why institutions split up into departments that ultimately are trying to support humans but the splitting up is what is tearing us all apart in many ways. Why is it that social planning is separate from engineering? How might the leaders who think about education work alongside the leaders who think only about affordable housing? How might we create an inter-governmental department of food? We understand that bureaucracies are set up to help streamline procedures but what would it be like to start fresh - to create a ‘Department of Living’ for young people (and artists and creatives and families) who are struggling to live in Vancouver?

We were struck by the needs of young people in Vancouver in 2018 and this is even more relevant in a covid pandemic. For example, students told us about the massive wait lists for student housing in Vancouver and the hours they spent on transit each day to get to school. Young people were looking for places to connect without paying for a latte or beer and found few places that welcomed young people unless they were buying something. What would a city look and feel like that prioritized living and daily experience? We created the title for the Fall term from these questions and we aim to co-create the semester with the students around the broad theme of what it means to live in a city.

What will I learn?  

Human Centred Design - learn to approach the most pressing problems in the City through design thinking which is guided by empathy, optimism, iteration, creative confidence, prototyping, embracing ambiguity, and learning from mistakes. Students will work collaboratively with representatives of the City to tackle issues of supporting daily life in the midst of continually changing circumstances wrought by a global pandemic. 

Planning and Facilitation skills - students learn to lead a dialogue with community experts and the whole class as well as plan and facilitate small stakeholder meetings 

Design your Life Project - meet people in community doing interesting work and find out what brings you energy, flow and deep engagement

Project Management - in parallel with the Human Centred Design methodology, students will gain experience implementing key project management processes that can be utilized in a broad range of settings (research projects, interventions, pilots, policy and digital engagement). Also learn to use tools like budgets, timelines, communications and stakeholder plans


Dr. Janet Moore is a Professor of Professional Practice at Simon Fraser University where she co-creates, co-designs and co-teaches in the SFU Semester in Dialogue program. Janet is the Co-founder of CityStudio - an innovation hub that connects students with City Hall to co-create, design and launch experiments. Janet has spent 20 years imagining, designing and facilitating intensive, interdisciplinary programs that focus on dialogue, social innovation, group process, divergent thinking and urban sustainability. Janet has an BSc in Marine Biology from McGill (she loves whales and intertidal zones) an MSc in Ecology from UBC (where she fell in love with teaching, hummingbirds & the west coast). Her PhD at UBC combined lessons from the School of Community and Regional Planning (urban sustainability, systems and feminist methodology) and the Faculty of Education (transformative learning & participatory methods).

Janet is passionate about new possibilities in cities and thrives when co-creating imaginative solutions to complex problems.  Her interests include transdisciplinary higher education, transformative learning, social entrepreneurship, social innovation and organizational change in higher education. She is learning to reconcile what it means to be a settler on the west coast of Canada. She loves riding her bike, digging in the garden, hanging out with her family and walking her dog Magic in the rainforest.

Holly Schmidt is a Vancouver artist, curator and educator. She has a research-based practice that engages processes of collaboration and informal pedagogy. Moving across disciplinary boundaries, she explores the relationships between practices of making, knowledge creation and the formation of temporary communities. Her exhibition, public art and residency projects include Pollen Index (2016) Charles H. Scott Gallery, Till (2014/15) with the Santa Fe Art Institute Food Justice Residency, Moveable Feast (2012) Burnaby Art Gallery, Grow (2011) Other Sights for Artists’ Projects. Upcoming projects are Lost Lessons (2019) Boca Del Lupo, A-Y Bread for Locals Only (2018) AKA Gallery, and Accretion (2018-) 10 Different Things with ECUAD Living Labs, City Studio and Vancouver Public Art. She’s developed and taught course in social practice at Emily Carr University of Art and Design, as well as curating community engaged artist projects with the Contemporary Art Gallery. Holly co-taught the Fall 2018 SFU Semester in Dialogue at CityStudio program. She is also on the CityStudio Vancouver Society Board of Directors.

Adrian Sinclair is Co-Founder and Director of Engagement for both Transformation Projects and The Vancouver Mural Festival. He is a Visiting Faculty at the SFU Semester in Dialogue at the CityStudio program. Through practical, on the ground experience, Adrian has become an expert in public engagement and fosters a passion for dynamic, creative and inclusive cities. Past projects have included design and event production for organizations including The City of Vancouver, Museum of Vancouver, Hootsuite Media, The Dragon Boat Festival and Sun Yat Sen Traditional Chinese Garden. He recently co-authored and illustrated Freestyle Focus Group: Learn to Freestyle Rap and Build Community, 2016. In his spare time, he is the Vice-President of the Mobile Sauna Society. Adrian completed his MA in Philosophy at The University of Western. Adrian co-produced Ten Different Things on behalf of CityStudio in partnership with Living Labs at Emily Carr University.

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Semester in Dialogue 2016 brochure