More on Hosting and Facilitating (cont’d)

I received an email from my friend Chris Corrigan in response to my previous blog as he was having trouble posting a comment. Hopefully I’ve fixed that problem and Chris can weigh back in directly as I truly value his contributions and how he stimulates my thinking. One of the questions Chris asked me is “.. what are the conversations that are alive and edgy in the communities of practice you are in? What is the living edge for C2D2 and IAF at the moment? I wonder how those of us around the world in these conversations can reach across our bounded communities and into, what, I wonder?”

There is a sense of discovery and newness in the AoH community – Chris refers to it as ‘wow…shiny!”, as for the first time people experience the power of co-creative engagement space. They contrast this to what they have known before and want to make distinctions, and ‘better than’, or ‘different than’, or ‘more than’, or ‘not that’ is often the result. Beyond my own personal experience, when I ‘listen in’ to the AoH Flickr photos and other retreat AoH Harvests, and tap into the energy of the videos, I get a sense of how profound it is for people to connect in their humanity with others in natural, conversational space around deep questions. This is all new to them, potent, juicy, ‘real’, and I do understand it and am glad for it. Simultaneously I am wary that it not lead to division and hair splitting. To feel comfortable calling myself a member of the AoH community, I need what we do to be about strengthening the ranks of people who understand the importance, necessity and power of co-creative engagement, rather than contributing to distinctions amongst practitioners about whether a ‘host’ is different and superior to a ‘facilitator”.

Chris asks where is the ‘living edge’ of this similar excitement in other communities of practice, and I’m glad to have a chance to provide some context here. For the International Association of Facilitators, it showed up a long time ago – well over 13 years ago for me anyway at the 1995 Denver conference, when Billie Alban and Barbara Bunker featured their research findings about the power and potential of large group, whole system interactive methods. There was a palpable sense of discovery, amazement, and possibility at that conference, when I first learned about and subsequently began to attend training programs in all these methods – taking Harrison Owen’s 6-day training on Open Space with Dell Spencer, the Dannemiller Tyson training on Real Time Strategic Change, later rebranded as Whole Scale Change, Future Search and The Conference Model from the Axelrods and Sandra Janoff, Appreciative Inquiry from Gervase Bushe, Dialogue from Glenna Gerard, and so on. The excitement for these methods also showed up at the same time in the OD Network field.

For the Dialogue and Deliberation community, an explosion of interest and excitement in these methods took place in 2002 with their first conference of the National Coalition on Dialogue and Deliberation (NCDD). A visit to the NCDD website is well worth it for the wealth of resources, materials, links, and connections to a huge community of communities – probably the largest intersecting gathering place of community and organizational interest from all avenues – practitioners, researchers, academics, community leaders, activitists. The Canadian Community for Dialogue and Deliberation (C2D2) is part of this phenomenal rise in interest, learning, application.

The Nexus for Change is another field where practitioners and the original founders of these methods are exploring what we know about whole systems and participative change and what were are learning so that each of us and all of us are more competent to act in these times.

Dialogue – Do’s & Don’ts

What are the keys to enhancing the effectiveness, outcomes and impact of our Dialogue and Deliberation practice, no matter what the methodology, scale and approach adopted?

This question was the focus of the Saturday morning plenary session at the first Canadian Conference on Dialogue and Deliberation in October 2005 in Ottawa Canada. The session was facilitated and designed by myself and Miriam Wyman, with input from Diane Abbey-Livingstone and Ray Gordezky, and Graphic Facilitation provided by Christine Valenza and Sara Waldston (whose image is shown here). The previous blog on the importance of purpose reminded me of this valuable work, and I want to ensure that the results are known and shared broadly. (What follows is extracted from the pdf report I co-authored and can be downloaded by following the link below.)

From the outset, we intended to offer the results of the Dialogue & Deliberation: Principle and Design Do’s and Don’ts plenary results as a ‘work in progress’ for continued refinement by the global D&D community, as part of C2D2’s contribution to the growing body of collective intelligence around D&D practice. After the conference, I compiled and consolidated the data, then met with Jan Elliott and Miriam Wyman by phone several times to further analyze and summarize the raw data into this Summary.

For the most part, we came out of this exercise feeling that indeed there are principles that are inviolate – things that must characterize any dialogue or deliberation process; these actually do underpin our work and guide us in design, implementation and follow-up. These include things like transparency about purpose, accountability, inclusivity, commitment to feedback – what Dr. Peter A. Singer has called “procedural values”. Design relates to aspects of the dialogue or deliberation itself, like matching approach to situation or numbers, ensuring comfortable and conducive physical arrangements, creating guidelines for engagement, etc. In general, design flows from principles, and careful design is essential to ensuring that principles are ‘lived out.’ That is, principles and design are very closely connected and not always easy to distinguish. So we found ourselves moving away from our initial idea of first identifying principles and then talking about design.

I invite you to download and use the Dialogue & Deliberation: Principle and Design Do’s and Don’ts Summary we compiled as a platform for further reflection and conversation.

Clarity of Purpose – Streams of Engagement Framework

In a recent Art of Hosting post, as well as in his blog, my friend and colleague Tenneson Woolf is inquiring into questions that invite real energy and focus into the purpose of a project, especially at the start of community or organizational engagement, and also to guide such initiatives once they are underway to ensure the original intent is not lost. He remarks that often there is a rush to ‘jump in’, overlooking this vital first step, and this may lead to stuckness later on.

When it comes to stressing the importance of being clear on purpose, I love Toke Paludan Moeller’s wonderful quote: “Clarity of purpose is a sweet weapon against confusion”. This reflects my own experience that if you don’t know where you’re going, any road will lead you there, and don’t be surprised if you find yourself lost, confused, frustrated, and de-energized in the process. The single most important task in the initial phase of engagement contracting is to clarify the ‘why’ of coming together, along with the ‘what’ of desired outcomes and deliverables.

In this regard, yet more of my friends have been grappling with the same issue at the National Coalition on Dialogue and Deliberation. The result is a wonderful resource developed by Sandy Heierbacher, ED of NCDD (presented in October 2005 with Tonya Gonzalez at Study Circles – now Everday Democracy national conference) and Jan Elliott (presented at the Facing Complex Issues Together Canadian Conference on Dialogue & Deliberation), entitled: NCDD’s Engagement Streams Framework. Intended to assist in the process of clarifying purpose and the alignment of methods to serve that purpose, this free downloadable resource is a series of two charts that categorize the D&D field into four streams based on intention or purpose:

  • Exploration – people learn more about themselves, their community, or an issue – and perhaps also come up with innovative ideas.
  • Conflict Transformation – poor relations or a specific conflict among individuals or groups is tackled.
  • Decision Making – solutions are generated and evaluated, a decision or policy is impacted, and public knowledge of an issue is improved.
  • Collaborative Action – people tackle complex problems and take responsibility for solutions they come up with.

The framework shows which of the most well-known methods (e.g., Cafe, Dialogue, Appreciative Inquiry, Open Space, Study Circles, and so on) have proven themselves effective in which streams. The second chart goes into more detail about 23 dialogue and deliberation methods, and includes information such as group size, meeting type and how participants are selected.

The Streams of Engagement framework was featured in the May 2006 issue of IAP2’s Participation Quarterly publication, was featured in a book published by the United Nations Development Programme called Democratic Dialogue: A Handbook for Practitioners, and is also described in Sandy Heierbacher’s chapter on D&D in the 2nd Edition of The Change Handbook. It has also been used by numerous D&D practitioners to help community leaders and public managers understand their options. The resource can be downloaded free in the following formats as:
  • A 9-page PDF resource
  • A comic graphic representation of the 4 main purposes, and
  • NCDD is in the process of developing a beginner’s toolkit around this.