The Common Ground Group Model

The Common Ground Group Model is a guide that helps in the formation of healthy, effective groups and groups of groups. It is grounded in a regenerative, whole-systems design concept called "scale-linking". This, essentially, means cultivating the common ground among scales. The idea is that enhancing health can often be thought of as increasing alignment of behaviors and their drivers across scales. On this view, one can better understand one’s health as a function of one’s relationship to the scales of organization smaller and larger than oneself. Which is to say, the idea of a ‘healthier’ individual corresponds to a person whose thoughts and behavior are aligned with the needs of her cells and other constituent parts, as well as whose actions are aligned with the needs of her peers and the group entity that they make up. Through the same lens, a 'healthier' group is a group whose culture and behavior are aligned with the health of the individuals of the group as well as whose culture and behavior are aligned with the health of the other groups and the collective that they make up.

The idea is not to try to strive for some idealized 100% alignment between all things. That is not possible, nor could it be healthy. It is healthy, of course, that we as individuals have aspects of ourselves that don’t line up perfectly with everybody else. An appropriate way to speak about alignment, in this context, is to say that if an individual has a healthy balance between her personal life and her group life, she is in nice alignment with the group. If she loses her sense of individuality, or prioritizes the needs of the group while sacrificing her own needs, or prioritizes her own needs while sacrificing the needs of the group, then her well-being suffers and she is not in such nice alignment with the group.

Alignment, in our use of the word, here, means alignment of well-being. Cellular health, Individual health, Group health, political/economic health, ecological health; Everything is highly inter-connected and inter-dependent. Scale-linking is a process that begins with recognizing this fact about the world and continues by learning to become continuously more skillful at guiding systems into better alignment across scales. The Common Ground Group Model uses this idea to frame our process of facilitating the formation and evolution of healthy, effective, and resilient groups. More on Scale-linking: Scale-linking, salutogenic design for resilience, by Daniel Christian Wahl

Scale-linking Group Map

This brings us to the Common Ground Scale-linking Group Map. We begin the process of group culture facilitation by exploring the territory and learning to take better accounting of the common ground among these four sectors:

Individual Internal Thoughts, feelings, desires, intentions, visions, etc. Individual Actions “That which a video camera can capture an individual doing.” Group Internal Group culture: Beliefs, visions, goals, norms, practices, etc. Group Actions “That which a video camera can capture a group doing.”

Common Ground Scale-linking Group Map, by Galen Meyers

The two "Individual" fields, here, can be thought of as representing a generic individual that is a part of the group (or it can be thought of as representing all of the individuals in the group, as individuals.) The two "Group" fields can be thought of as representing the collection of individuals as an entity itself. Each overlapping sector represents the set of all things related to the group that involves each field in question. The Scale-Linking Group Map is a map of the landscape of the overlapping thoughts and actions of groups and their members among all scales. When we think about this landscape, we can imagine certain aspects of groups that live, more or less, in different sectors of this landscape. For example, in the outer tip of the “Individual Internal” field, we can imagine live all the things inside members of the group’s minds that don’t overlap very much with group culture. In the outer tip of “Individual Actions” live all the group member’s actions that can hardly claim to be being done in the name of, or as part of, the group. In the sector where “Individual Internal” and “Individual Actions” overlap with only each other, we can imagine a rather fertile overlap of intention and action. This is likely where individuals’ committed, engaged, value-driven work would live.

Where “Individual Internal”, “Individual Actions”, and “Group Actions” all intersect, you can find teamwork. Add some Group culture to the mix, and now you have some potentially high-quality group connection, coordination, and health. We can imagine other types of things in each place, too. Much of this exercise can be relatively subjective, but it is a useful exercise, and there are some real trends that objectively live on this map, too.

This map, like the model, itself, is “scale-free”. This is to say that the same map can be used to consider an individual’s relationship with her group; a group’s relationship with its members; or a group of groups’ relationship with its member-groups, and ad infinitum. The model is designed such that if every group were to analyze only their immediate relationships on either side of scale and align effectively there, this process should serve to help weave into alignment some of the intentions and actions of all involved, all the way throughout, up through every scale of the system- scale-linking.

Ideally, this model is used it to explore on “both sides” of the scale of your group. The idea is to examine and consider the alignment between the intentions and actions of your individual members and your group as a whole; and examine and consider the alignment between the intentions and actions of your group and the larger collective of groups of which your group is a part, and repeat at every scale possible.

This simple, rough animation helps us visualize how the Common Ground Scale-linking Group Map can be supportive in considering alignment between a group and its individuals, and then how the same model can consider the group in question to be an 'individual-group' in the next scale up and repeat the process as members of that 'group of groups'...

Animation by Galen Meyers

This rough animation offers a visual of how the map adapts to each scale and can slide up and down to different scales as needed. Notice upon the zoom out that what is the group level becomes the sub-group level in the next scale up.


Common Ground Networks has adopted the trans-disciplinary Prosocial approach, which is largely based on the combined guidance of Elinor Ostram's core design principles for common-pool resource management groups, Acceptance and Commitment Training (ACT) for behavior change, and an evolutionary framework helping to guide our thinking about how groups change over time, and why. Prosocial's integrative approach offers a powerful framework which we have placed at the core of the Common Ground Group Model. We highly recommend learning more about Prosocial and their approach and developments.


Common Ground Networks also deeply appreciates and employs the rich understanding and guidance available in a study of modern evolutionary theory that includes "multi-level selection" and "cultural evolution", but we will not address that in this document. More on the Evolutionary approach: Steven C. Hayes (of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy) on conscious evolution David Sloan Wilson: "This View of Life: Completing Darwin's Revolution"

The Core Design Principles (CDP's)

Elinor Ostram won a Nobel prize in Economics 2009 for her comparative analysis of many diverse groups all over the world collectively managing resources held in common. Contrary to popular belief, privatization and government stewardship are not the only methods we humans have to ensure a valuable resource is well-managed. Ostram not only documented that many groups are able to very successfully manage their common resources through other, collective, means; but she also derived 8 principles that all of the successful common resource management groups she studied had in place, in one way or another. She later worked with David Sloan Wilson of Prosocial to generalize these principles to all human groups.

The Core Design Principles (CDP’s), as stated by Dr. Paul Atkins and the Prosocial community:

1. Shared identity and purpose.

2. Equitable distribution of contributions and benefits.

3. Fair and inclusive decision-making.

4. Monitoring of agreed behaviors.

5. Graduated responding to helpful and unhelpful behavior

6. Fast and fair conflict resolution

7. Authority to self-govern (according to principles 1-6).

8. Collaborative relations with other groups (using principles 1-7)

CDP 8 is another way of saying: “apply these principles at the next scale up”.

An analysis of these core design principles of human groups helps outline and highlight certain qualities or functions that groups must have in place to be successful. With these research-derived principles guiding our exploration of the common ground among individuals, and groups, and groups of groups we are empowered to help grow healthier, more resilient, and more effective groups.

More on the core design principles: "Generalizing the core design principles for the efficacy of groups", by David Sloan Wilson, Elinor Ostrom, and Michael E. Cox

It is illuminating to consider where we think the Core Design Principles might live on our Group Scale-linking map. Considering which principles involve, mainly, which fields and mapping them accordingly, we can immediately see that all but one of these principles live in the same area. They serve to help maintain alignment between the Individual’s actions and the Group Internal. This makes sense. That’s the most general function of a group culture: to influence individual behavior in a way that enables the group to coordinate some kind of cohesive, collective behavior.

The one design principle that is not along this center line sector is:

CDP1: "Shared identity and purpose".

This principle obviously addresses the fields of “Individual Internal” and “Group Internal”, and it isn’t surprising that this sector needs to be bridged. The majority of approaches and literature agree that a shared identity and purpose is of tremendous importance to healthy group culture and performance.

It can also be seen that more than half of these principles, 4/7, address Group Actions. Even more, 5/7, address the Individual Internal. We can also notice that all CDP’s live inside the Group Internal field. These are group culture design principles.

As we can see, the Common Ground Scale-linking map provides us with a useful view of our landscape of individuals in groups, and the core design principles mark key features in the landscape. But, we need to know where we are, and what directions to move in. There are many behavior assessment and change tools that your group can use like a compass in this model. Anything that guides us to identify what thoughts, habits, or practices are serving our intention to grow a healthier group, and what thoughts, habits, or practices are not serving this intention.

Acceptance and Commitment Training (ACT)

Forming healthy, resilient, effective groups is essentially a rich, iterative series of learning and practice with behavior change and multi-stakeholder decision-making. Acceptance and Commitment Training/Therapy (ACT) is a wonderfully helpful practice of contextual behavioral science, largely developed by Steven C. Hayes, who is also a partner of Prosocial. ACT is a practice that helps leverage behavioral change. As part of the repertoire of ACT, there is the practice of working through an ACT Matrix.

The ACT Matrix

Common Ground Networks utilizes this useful tool that can help generate clarity on values, goals, and challenges for the purpose of helping to align one’s intentions and actions- and yield competent and desirable behavioral output. Although it was originally developed and used for individuals, Prosocial has guided us in the adaptation of the use of the ACT matrix to assess the alignment of the intentions and actions of a group entity, as well.

The ACT matrix is another way of considering the relationship between the internal and the actions, but it contributes the element of direction: "Toward" or "Away", which is exactly what makes it a compass for our process. The matrix helps us consider what thoughts, feelings, and behaviors lead us towards what we value, and which move us away. As we decide what values we hold as priorities, each value can be explored with it's own ACT Matrix exercise. The ACT Matrix can also be used to navigate at any scale-level. An individual can work through a matrix on a particular topic to assess his or her individual Internal/Actions at the individual scale, and a group can work through a matrix (as individuals OR as a group) to assess the group’s Internal/Actions at the group scale. The ACT matrix is also a scale-free tool, but it will only ever address one scale at a time, rather than viewing a relationship between scales.

More on the ACT Matrix: More on Acceptance and Commitment Training: In the Common Ground Networks approach, an ACT practice is guided by mindful consideration of general alignment across scales, which is guided by an informed awareness of the Ostram-Wilson core design principles for human groups. The Common Ground Scale-linking Group Map grew out of the ACT matrix framing of behavior change. This combined use of the scale-linking map with the CDP's and the ACT matrix empowers us to navigate through the complex territory of multi-scale group alignment.

Thanks for reading.

I hope you have appreciated learning some about the Common Ground Networks approach to group culture facilitation. I wish you the best of success in enhancing aligning across scales!

Contact us at: If you would like to share your thoughts, or receive support applying these principles in your groups.

Except where otherwise noted, all work in this document is licensed under a Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 4.0 International License by Galen Meyers.