moving beyond the culture of contest

University of Amsterdam

We live in a culture where competition and conflictual norms seem natural and inevitable. Many people feel they are victims of this ‘system’ in which they operate, and are incapable of changing it. However, it is possible to unlock the conviction that we are in fact the architects of our future and to begin giving shape to a different reality, to a much more vibrant and creative future.

We took part in an honours module in September-November 2020, called “Moving Beyond the Culture of Contest”, in which we learned how to create an environment of trust by engaging others in meaningful conversations. The importance of this is that in such an environment, new ideas emerge, enthusiasm is created and people take initiative towards more cooperation.

We have explored together what a healthy educational environment looks like. By exploring concepts such as contest versus cooperation, trust, and meaningful conversations we created a shared language and conceptual framework. This conceptual framework served as a means to analyse our own environment and helped us see what is needed for strengthening cooperation and trust within the university.

Remember, always,
that everything you know,
and everything everyone knows is only a model.


Get your model out there
where it can be viewed.
Invite others to challenge
your assumptions
and add their own.


D. Meadows

Part of the program was action research. In this part, we worked in eight teams of three or four students. Each team prepared the questions it wanted to explore with others outside the course, most students and teachers of the university.

Then, individually, we had one or more conversations in which we, together with those participating in the conversations, explored what the culture of contest looks like in our environment and what the mental models are of the people and society around us (reading reality). Afterwards, the teams reflected and collected the new insights from the conversations in a report per team. We have done this four times. Together, the insights presented in this document arose out of a hundred and four conversations.

Download the report