Digging into Warm Data, The Warm Data Lab, and Certified Training.

I first used the term “Warm Data” in a meeting in January 2012, as a concept it is still emerging, slowly and with a depth that continues to surprise me. Tomorrow I am going to host a Warm Data lab with the LILA group at Harvard. The subject: Health: of the individual, community, organizations & biosphere.

I feel it is time to let this cat out of the bag so to speak, and let Warm Data be real. This blog post is an introduction to my work on Warm Data so far. Next week I will host one in San Francisco (Subject: Addiction, to substance, behavior, nuclear weapons, and ideas of society that are continued even though they are harmful)

Stockholm, Sweden (Subjects: immigration, education, economy and cryptocurrency). Singapore (Subject: the complexity of intimacy and consent!! Very excited about this one.Regenesis 2018 (Subject: investment in the health of society and the biosphere)

Canada, Finland, Australia, UK, and other places are upcoming places where I will host Warm Data Labs.

There will also be training sessions offered with certification on “How to Host a Warm Data Lab.” (UK, US, Sweden, Finland, and Singapore)

Warm Data napkin
Transcontextual interaction

In my opinion the most important task in this moment is to generate a base of people who are eager to practice perceiving the complexity and interdependency in every aspect of their lives. If I could wish for one thing it would be a big grant to do this work around the world, to train others to do it and create a cross-sector community of people who have a new tool, a new vocabulary and most importantly, each other… to meet the challenges of this era (i.e. ecology, economy, health, education, politics, communication, culture, incl: identity & sexuality). If humanity can’t approach the complexity of our world with greater collective effort, we can’t meet the challenges we face now.

This is NOT an abstraction. I maintain that developing an understanding the patterns and processes of interdependency in complexity is the single most practical capacity that we can support in ourselves and each other. The uncertainty of this transformational era we are now within is triggering some people to grasp violently for more control. Others are recognizing that a potential evolutionary junction for the human species is upon us. Can we perceive the world through another lens that brings the potential of our interaction with each other and the biosphere into mutual harmony? There will be those who wish to divide the world into parts and control the emerging changes of our times, and those who see the interrelational complexity that defies linear causation and will respond with another order of questions, projects, and actions.

Humanity is at a crossroads, will we be hoarders or healers? There is every reason to argue that history proves either. System Change is needed to find our way to another way of living that is not fed by exploitation of each other and the ecology. The change needed is not in any of the institutions, for surely they are interdependent, the change is between them. For that reason a greater familiarity is required to respond to the complexity. For example: any change in economy is going to involve changes in employment, education, medicine, politics, media, culture, law, and so on.

For many years I have worked as an educator “teaching” and modeling perception of interdependency. My father, Gregory Bateson, had his way of doing the same thing, and so did his father William Bateson. My family has been working on this project for more than 125 years. Others have also been working on it, including the community of “systems theorists & systems thinking”, cybernetics, and complexity theorists. I can tell you… it is a frustrating task. The intellectual activity is delicious and delightful, but more often than not the session ends with someone asking, “But how do I use these ideas in my work?” The gut-knowing that the world is interdependent is incongruent to the mechanistic patterns in which interaction with our families, jobs, life struggles, is habituated. Some people seem inclined toward this material, and others resist, –but for all of us it takes time and practice. This form of perceiving and knowing is not only intellectual, it is also physical, emotional, cultural, linguistic and lives in our imaginations.

In my experience this idea of Warm Data, and the Warm Data Lab have been the most successful approach I have found. I do not say that lightly. I do not see this work as a manipulation of peoples’ thinking. The task here is offer the conditions in which the realizations can occur both individually, and collectively. I attribute the success of this project to the way people in a Warm Data Lab make their own individual connectings and linkings – it is not about any direct “teaching” from me. I have now done more than 60 Warm Data Labs around the world, with all ages, and levels of education, addressing any subject that is complex by nature. I feel I can share it with the world now.

What is Warm Data?

“Warm Data” can be defined as: Transcontextual information about the interrelationships that integrate a complex system.

I wrote a piece on Warm Data that has gone fairly viral: https://hackernoon.com/warm-data-9f0fcd2a828c

Here’s a short link to the San Francisco EventBrite: bit.ly/ibiwdlsf
—> And a short youtube on Warm Data:


Why Warm Data?:

Though statistical data is useful, it is also limited due to the common practice of decontextualizing the focus of inquiry. To study something is usually to pull it out of context and study it in isolation. Rarely is the study re-contextualized to examine the complexity of its larger scope of relationships. Warm Data bypasses this limitation inherent to statistical analysis by centering itself within a transcontextual research methodology, bringing not only context, but multiple contexts into the inquiry process.

In order to interface with any complex system without disrupting the cohesion of the interdependencies that give it integrity, one must look at the spread of relationships that make the system robust. The sole use of analytic methods focused on parsing statistical (cold) data will often point to conclusions that disregard the complexity of the situation at hand. Moreover, information that does not take into account the full scope of interrelationality in a system is likely to inspire misguided decision making, thereby producing additional destructive patterns in an effort to remedy the issue.

Warm Data provides cross sector information because it is the outcome of a research methodology premised upon the transcontextual interaction inherent in any system. The complexity of this sort of inquiry is daunting. For example, if one is to study the ways in which food impacts our lives, a multifaceted study of ecology, culture, agriculture, economy, cross-generational communication, and media must take place. This transcontextual platform provides a wider contextual framework for further inquiry into what forms and constitutes certain international contemporary issues such as eating disorders, starvation, and other health problems associated with diet.

Warm Data is generated through a Batesonian[1] approach of examining interrelating processes in a given system. With this developing methodology another species of information, beyond the limits of statistical data is emerging. Warm Data provides the information about systems’ relational interdependence. This information offers contextual understanding of complex systems. Warm Data presents another order of exploration in the process of discerning solutions according to vital, contextual interrelationships.

Warm Data Lab?

I developed this is an exercise for use with groups who are interested in strengthening and further practicing their collective ability to perceive, discuss and research complex issues. By shifting perspectives, the Warm Data Lab process increases ability to respond to difficult or “wicked” issues. Because so many of the challenges that we face now are complex, we need approaches to meeting that complexity. Although there is a desire to reframe these complex issues in simple terms that might lend themselves to easy solutions, this usually leads to the dangers of unintended consequences of reductionism… and further problems. It is inspired by the research and ongoing development of the IBI’s work on How Systems Learn.

But, thinking in complexity requires the ability to perceive across multiple perspectives and contexts. This is not a muscle that has been trained into us in school or in the work world. It is a skill acutely needed in this era to meet our personal, professional and collective need to respond to crisis, and to improve our lives.

Let me be very clear, the Warm Data Lab is ideal for bringing a group together to raise the level of questions, and understanding of a given topic. It does not provide solutions. The WDL is an exercise that gets a group to address their concern within the complexity needed. But it does not spit out answers. (That is part 2.)

How it works: The format of the Warm Data Lab is simple, even though the theory that underpins it is not.

  1. A chosen complex issue is provided by the room,
  2. Start by being seated 3-6 to a table ( depending on the size of the group).
  3. Each table has a “context” on it that will be the frame through which the “complex issue” is discussed at that table. (at least 6 contexts)
  4. Participants (as individuals) discuss at the tables as long as they wish before changing tables. They move when they want to another table or “context”.
  5. There are no time limits, or set instructions. Participants join and leave conversations as they wish.
  6. The process usually takes at least an hour, and can be continued.
  7. Discussion

The Warm Data lab is a living kaleidoscope of conversation in which information and formulation of cross contextual knowing is generated. The conversational process is designed to seamlessly engage multiple theoretical principals in a practical format. The process relies on using two concepts: Transcontextual Interaction, and Symmathesy.

Transcontextual interaction is the recognition that complex systems do not exist in single contexts but rather are formed between multiple contexts that overlap in living communication.

Symmathesy: The ways in which systemic interdependency form is through contextual interaction and mutual learning. Symmathesy is the concept of mutual learning that encourages us to concentrate on how these contextual interactions inform one another, and generate learning.

“Biology, culture, and society are dependent at all levels upon the vitality of interaction they produce both internally and externally. A body, a family, a forest or a city can each be described as a buzzing hive of communication between and within its living, interacting ‘parts.’ Together the organs of your body allow you to make sense of the world around you. A jungle can be understood best as a conversation among its flora and fauna, including the insects, the fungi of decay, and contact with humanity. Interaction is what creates and vitalizes the integrity of the living world. Over time, the ongoing survival of the organisms in their environments requires that there be learning, and learning to learn, together. Gregory Bateson said, “The evolution is in the context.” So why don’t we have a word for those bodies, families, forests and other buzzing hives of communication—and for the mutual learning that takes place within those living contexts?” – From Symmathesy, a word in progress Nora Bateson 2016

The Warm Data lab is a tool for revealing relationships that are integral and woven into the complexity of the issues we are working on. This process allows us to see new patterns, new causations, and to respond to them with a much broader comprehension. An important aspect of this process is that no two participants will have the same experience. Each person moves and connects their contextual framings through their own lens, in their own way.

The Warm Data Lab process is an inviting and seemingly simple way to bring a group of people into dialogue around complex issues. Anyone, of any age or profession can participate in a Warm Data Lab. From school children to executives, families and companies the Warm Data lab is an open forum of learning, discussing, and discovery. It is not based on prior knowledge, or skill, but will increase both in an atmosphere of mutual learning.

Hosting a Warm Data lab is another story. The host of this process must have a strong base in the many theoretical foundations that underpin the process. An effective Warm Data Lab experience requires a prepared and organized host. In contrast to the appearance of the simple openness of the Warm Data Lab, the rigor in which is set is critical.

Warm Data Lab Certification from the International Bateson Institute:

This training session offered by myself, (Nora Bateson) and soon other International Bateson Institute research advisors, provides certification for those who complete the training to host Warm Data Labs with groups internationally.

A good Warm Data Lab is an artful balance of both holding open the group’s horizon of learning, and generating conditions for a rigorous and multi faceted discovery to take place. The magic of the process is in the participants’ own connection and learning, which cannot be forced or funneled into any particular “knowing”, but must instead be invited to make new associations, linkages and perceptions – as individuals in mutual learning.

Once you have completed the course of training, typically a 3 day course, you will be certified by the International Bateson Institute to host groups who are interested in using Warm Data to facilitate their work on complex issues. You will not however be certified to train others in becoming Warm Data lab hosts.

What the training and certification entails:

  1. A sound understanding of the structure, timing and form of the Warm Data Lab Process. This includes trouble shooting guidelines of “what not to do.”
  2. Practice setting up, hosting and holding the group through the process.
    1. Prep: How to set up the questions and contexts
    2. Process : How to support the group during the Lab
    3. What next? After the session, how to hold the discussion of practical application.
    4. Follow up.
  3. A firm grasp of the theory involved. See list below. The theory is heavy. It should be. The rigor of this work is vital to its integrity.

Theory: There are several theories at work within this process. I will list a few of them in category form, but not define the theories.

  1. Patters that connect
  2. Bertrand Russell’s Logical Levels
  3. Difference that makes a difference
  4. Multiple description
  5. Mutual learning and calibration (Symmathesy)
  6. Iterative multi-modal learning
  7. Autopoeisis (Varella and Maturana)
  8. Mind (G. Bateson)
  9. Systems and Complexity Theory
  10. Ecology of communication
  11. Double Bind
  12. Conscious Purpose
  13. Epistemological frames
  14. Change in complex systems
  15. Interdependency
  16. Transcontextual processes
  17. Improvisation/sense-making


Please contact me if you are interested in more information. bateson.institute@gmail.com


[1] a theoretical ontological toolset including, but not limited to, schismogenesis, abduction, double bind, and the six criteria of mind as listed in Gregory Bateson’s seminal text Mind and Nature