History Of The Ampersand

Let me tell you a story.

It’s the ultimate hook – the promise of being welcomed into a memorable experience. When we gather and collaborate, we share stories of our individual experiences. We set the tone for creating shared experiences that become our collective stories. It is then that we can come fully to the process of addressing complex problems collaboratively; interdisciplinarity.

The problems we face are too complex to be considered from only one perspective. They require an approach that extends beyond the current implications of collaboration. We stand on the shoulders of giants, building from the vital work of multidisciplinary teamwork; however, it is necessary but insufficient means by which to tackle complexities of the nature that Ampersand Collaborations Perluète represents, and what it undertakes.

Our interconnectedness requires the subtle but significant difference of not working in isolation, or even side by side, but as a component part of what emerges only when we are mindful of the importance of embodying the very thing we are striving to achieve. That the striving and the process of coming together is as vital as the outcome of the goal itself.

The work of cross-sectoral collaboration, of community-driven gathering and storytelling, of academic interdisciplinary studies – these are happening the world over, and the impact is resonating. What we are missing is the deeply embedded and overarching disposition of interdisciplinarity to steward the processes ensuing from collaborations themselves. We remain cloistered within disciplines and sectors, to the point where each field has its own terms of reference for even talking about knowledge translation, mobilization, and implementation. To see these elements come together and be furthered in complexity rather than reduced to shallow problem solving that matches the level at which the problems themselves operate.
It is the mission of Ampersand to act as the action arm of an interdisciplinary framework known as Tetrahedron. By inverting the flow so cultural change precedes policy change. By embedding the cultural expressions of identity as the foundation upon which we frame our purpose. Ampersand sets the tone for transformative gatherings – collaborations of people whose selves and stories are what we need for embodying interdisciplinarity; and, through this we can then set sights to address complex problems for a more comprehensive whole to emerge.
This is Ampersand in action: bringing together what is then changed by the gathering process and then directing the more cohesive collaboration that emerges to address complex social problems.
Let me show and tell you a story. It’s one you will recognize, because together, it is ours.

The Evolution of The Ampersand

I want to tell you the story of the mysterious and sexy & a symbol that emerged out of necessity, evolved out of purpose, and is maintained out of meaning. The ampersand (&) is a standalone character whose purpose is to connect. It emerged thousands of years ago: Roman scribes made shorthand whenever they could. With such frequent use of the Latin word ‘et’, meaning ‘and’, that each scribe began using their own cursive combination of the word that then took on a unified form. Through this, the shorthand necessity became something that came to mean more than simply putting two letters beside one another to form a word. If you look at the & and its gradual transition to the form as we know it today (shown above), it was once simply a joining of the cursive ‘e’ and ‘t’. 

Today, those two letters are seamlessly bound – they have taken on a new form that simply putting them beside one another was not able to convey. ‘&’ means ‘and’; yet, it conveys something much more comprehensive that its fascinating history tells all too well. The story of the ampersand is a treasure trove of wonder for word lovers. The & symbol, which is a type of logogram (a word nerd way to describe shorthand like what the Romans established), became so commonly used and ubiquitous, that it became the 27th letter of the alphabet.  X, Y, Z, and and…. became just a wee a bit confusing to recite, so ‘per se’ was added, a common reference for ‘by itself’.

…X, Y, Z, and, per se, &.

…and, PER SE, &: and, ‘by itself’, &… 

And per se &…. say that a few times fast…. now imagine 19th century schoolchildren recited this time and again…and again, and again… soon enough, the tail end of the alphabet slurred together, shifting the 27th letter from being a clearly articulated ‘and per se &’, to become what is known as a mondegreen: a mistaken pronunciation that leads to the creation of a new word. And so was born a term for this most fascinating of symbols:


As an organization, we take our literal and symbolic direction from the its creation out of necessity, its evolution out of purpose, and its perpetuation out of meaning.

Connection is a consequence of coming together with others. This can sow the seeds of collaboration, which can be immensely powerful. This power also means a great deal of vulnerability. This is why so often we champion the concept of collaboration, but we get into the doorway of the room, we shy away from the threshold. Choosing instead the easier albeit still important work of multidisciplinary teamwork. The ‘et’, the ‘and’, still holds great meaning. Yet, when we are tackling the world’s most complex problems, we need more than what we already have. We need to draw upon these strengths and harness the power of that same idea of creating a new form by merging these two into a collaborative.

Interdisciplinary is a field of public scholarship; of research practitioners and creation. It is one in which Tetrahedron as a framework is an expert, which guides Ampersand by virtue of years of academic theory, and likewise years of application in the field. It is the praxis and pedagogy that emerges in the spaces between fields. Where the gaps and cracks of inquiry and discovery become the space for transformation.

Working with Ampersand brings this insight to a variety of sectors, stakeholders, collaborators. Those that become part of the Ampersand family define the organization through that connection. This is the curation of the process by which you become not just a part of something new but are yourself transformed. If we are going to change the world, we need to start by coming to the proverbial table ready for transformation ourselves to become a part of something other than what we are. A part of something more comprehensive.

Interdisciplinarity is a disposition. This is what Ampersand sets as the tone for you to be welcomed into. Just as ‘let me tell you a story’ is the promise of being welcomed into a memorable experience.

Unlike most letters, its single use carries a meaning all on its own; however, its purpose is lost when not in action. Its meaning is embodied in its purpose only when in action. Such is the mission of Ampersand Collaborations Perluète. To be a tool as is the ‘&’ symbol from which it derives is names and its purpose: to bring together elements that are more purposeful for their union, and to engage in cultural expression as action, as data, to translate, mobilize, and implement evocative and rigorous processes that reposition the manner in which we come together to address complex social problems, and to see that this begins and perpetuates from our own identities – our own selves. 

The mother of all invention

Necessity. From the immortal Plato, ‘necessity is the mother of all invention’. The emergence of the creation of Ampersand as an incorporated not-for-profit came by way of nearly two decades of the process of weaving together practice and work in the field with academic study and research. Ampersand existed long before it was named – it began as an individual acting as part of a team, serving on boards, executive councils, working as part of committees to secure funding and to deliver arts & culture programming that both crafted and reified our identities. The Ampersand is founded by Stephany Peterson, but just as the & has meaning as a standalone character, its purpose is only engaged when it is in action. By bringing together. Such as it is with this organization. It is always a ‘we’. This ‘we’ is intentionally ephemeral, as who we gather collaboratively is as important as the other ‘serving men’ [sic] as Rudyard Kipling deemed them: the what and why and when and how and where and who. 

The father of all invention

The incarnation of this organization finds only half its story in the need of its establishment. For the full story, let us consider the father of invention: boundless curiosity. Ampersand is unafraid of the risk of failure. 

By orienting a dynamic group of experts in their respective fields and identities toward a non-partisan space, place, and idea, the power structures shift so that Ampersand acts as the connector. It mitigates questions that emerge from the vulnerability of true collaboration by addressing them head-on. One of the greatest issues with collaboration is not being guided by generous authority. Collaboration does not mean there is no structure, no guidance, no stewardship. Drawing upon the expertise of interdisciplinary as a field of study, and interdisciplinarity as a disposition, Ampersand frees its collaborators to focus not on being, but becoming: to see what can emerge when being thoughtfully guided to bring their own selves to the project and become a part of something other than the greatness they already possess.

We envision problems to be instead a space for effecting change – as a way to reconsider what is taken for granted and to use this as an opportunity to recognize that we are hardwired as humans for cohesion. 

 We are Ampersand.

The PURPOSE of Ampersand as set out in our Incorporating Documents:

Non-partisan collaboration as a social, arts, and cultural innovation creator and incubator for the purposes of the main activity and operation of live arts, community, social innovation, cultural heritage programming as collaborations between and among professionals and emerging practitioners as individuals, organizations, and levels of government.

If Ampersand is a symbol in action, then who are its stewards?

Ampersand takes its mission to be the embodiment of the theories and practices we articulate as being what are the necessary transformations to see action that disrupts how we address issues at levels of symptoms and systems and shifting to a deeper level of paradigmatic change.

This begins with the very governance and stewardship of our organization. The continued living document of the Handbook for Policies & Procedures (working title) set out the processes by which Ampersand functions as the social innovation action arm of the Tetrahedron Framework. This document identifies the roles and responsibilities of the organization and its moving parts, including a complete restructuring of the existing governance by which this sector functions by virtue of the Government of Canada NFP Act.

Ampersand Roles include and are further described:

Founder as Director; Integrity Council; Per Se Council & Consonants

As a fundamental component to how we envision how organizations can embed cultural change to precede policy change (which is a component elaborated on within the Tetrahedron Framework), it is our responsibility to orient the organization and its people relative to their positionality. Briefly, this means that we understand that identity is socially constructed, and culturally expressed. These social constructs are where we are positioned relative to the axes of power. It is the context by which we perceive ourselves and are perceived in the world. Positionality is the praxis (the interaction space of theory and practice), of intersectionality: the overlapping and interdependence of the systems of access to resources. What does this mean for Ampersand? We believe our policies informed by culture should make space for accounting for the identities of those that are appointed to positions of power. Therefore, we embody this practice by having our own organization undertake the process of making space for positionality and intersectionality to be transparent. This means we start this shift of perceiving of every single governing body of an organization include an Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Access Matrix. This is a self-identification process by which those who occupy roles and responsibilities indicate their social constructs. Though we acknowledge that this is but an incremental step and must accompany much deeper and broader dialogues about how organizations and systems of power function to privilege or marginalize, we begin here.

Though Ampersand already functions with a mindfulness to this concept of representation, we want to more concretely establish a mechanism for this to become implemented across all sectors. As a result, the IDEA Matrix process will be incorporated into the Ampersand process. We continue to work on establishing a comprehensive process for this.

As a further action, each person that becomes a part of the Ampersand family becomes certified through the Government of Canada Gender-Based Analysis + program (GBA+).

Though not without its issues, regardless of what knowledge and expertise we bring into the process, with this analytical tool, we can all know that this is a place where we can ‘meet people where they are’, and work from this as a shared experience and place of understanding. As it is mandatory for all federal employees, I also think it is a valuable tool for understanding the baseline tone of what our civil servants understand about intersectional identities and a part of the systems in which we are a part.


This logo comes in a variety of forms that play with the two-dimensional representation of a tetrahedron. It is a visual representation conceived of and created by its founder for how Ampersand is embedded within a larger framework whose function is explained by virtue of the metaphor of fire, and the four elements of the fire tetrahedron. The purpose of the metaphor is to make the messy and complicated more accessible, to find a way in without oversimplifying what is complex. For a long time, fire was explained as a triangle: fuel, oxygen, heat. But, this neglected the fourth element: the uninhibited reaction between them that resulted in FIRE. This is not a triangle, but a fire tetrahedron.

Fire is not a substance, it is a process. The elements of fire become irrevocably changed by their interaction: their interaction brings about a more comprehensive whole that if conditions are maintained, is self-perpetuating. The metaphor refers to the components of how we come together to address complex social problems.

The fuel is the self, the social constructs of identity. The kindling, the logs, the newspaper, the fire starters.

The oxygen are the resources: social and economic capital, power dynamics, access to resources.

The heat is the component between the fuel and the oxygen: the sparks that excite the molecules between them and create conditions for ignition: these are our policies and governance, our systems and structures. The heat is what can be self-perpetuating if conditions are right.

The reaction is what results. 

We call it fire. 

Take away any of these four elements, and you no longer have fire.


Interdisciplinarity is the fire tender: stewarding and stoking the process of fire.

This is the metaphor’s intention.

This is the larger context of what Ampersand as an organization functions to serve.

This is our intention.

Expertise & Services

Each collaboration – largely dedicated to work across the fields of public, political, and social innovation – is curated to suit its purpose for the project and the larger context into which it fits. This weaves together any and all resources as suitable, employing advisory, design, and facilitation practice combined with the rigour of academic theory and analysis:

In addition to these bespoke services, Ampersand also works with a select number of collaborations to be a full and direct participant and collaborator in specific projects. This provides the full scope of its services and the organization’s own innovative governance structure: not-for-profit’s organization: Integrity Council and Stakeholder Partners. Please contact us for further details on how to leverage these resources.