The Art of Hosting

Convergence and Decision Making Methodologies and Practices

From the emaillist, spring '12:

Hello friends,

For some of my work in Japan, I am compiling a set of tips on methodologies and practices for convergence and decision making.
I would really appreciate it if you could share what you use that you have found to be particularly effective.
In Japan in our Future Center work we're using an approach which works with seven stages:
1) relationship building
2) identifying needs
3) gathering data
4) generating ideas
5) converging
6) prototyping
7) communicating results

Over the last couple of years we've paid most attention to the first four stages, now our attention is turning to the last three.

Of course this is a never ending cycle and in some ways I experience it as each further steps reaches back and embraces what's gone on in the previous arenas.  In Japan, where there is such a sense of beauty and aesthetics, we've even come up with a large graphic workboard (about 3 feet by six feet) which can be used to illustrate where we are on the journey:
Thanks for your help!
Bob Stilger

Hi Bob,

The importance of convergence is a topic that resonates with me. In fact I wonder if it is one of the things that could be considered to be “missing” in typical AoH trainings. Of course Proaction Cafe is a good divergent process, as can be World Cafe and even OST, with the right questions.

In addition we have been working with the idea of Participatory Decisions, based on Arnold Mindell’s work, some classic consensus decision-making and some of Myrna Lewis’ work on Deep Democracy. A problem in terms of training is that it’s a reasonably large piece in its own right and so very difficult to incorporate into AoH training. (Having said that it is also true of Appreciative Inquiry, which is often given merely a passing nod.)

The critical concepts in our Participatory Decisions model are:

  • Ensuring all views are aired
  • Encouraging the voice of dissent
  • The wisdom of the minority (from Deep Democracy) – the classic majority democratic approach assumes that those who lose the vote will fall into line, and that can be somewhat naive.
  • The sabotage spectrum – when those who “lose the vote” continue to work for their cause/case by sabotaging the majority decision
  • Social Field Theory/Role Theory (Mindell)
  • Metaskills (Lewis, et al)

We tend to use Circle as the framework to support the approach, and if it’s a big group we use multiple Circles. I guess it could get slightly clunky with very large groups, of say over 50 people. So far we have used it with smaller teams,  but that might just be our lack of imagination.

Anyway if this is helpful and of interest I’d be happy to talk further with you.


Stephen Duns


I have found that the ICA methods, focused conversation and workshop, are the most efficient participatory methods for convergence.. They are designed for people to reach shared understanding, shared meaning and shared direction. ICA is a global community of practice and their work is complementary to AoH methods. While they have their own training and certification, it is experiential and reasonably priced. Would be great to develop a relationship and explore ways to bring this work to AoH practitioners. I have been a mentor trainer of these methods and find them highly useful, along with Sam Kaner's work.. 
I appreciate the distinction of "convergence" as I think these  methods are not as effective without the "divergence" processes that I believe AoH so beautifully integrates.
Ginny Belden-Charles
Hi Stephen, 
We're thinking along the same lines and holding similar partial responses!
I often turn to Deep Democracy's "soft shoe shuffle" as one good way to get an excellent sense of the room in a more dynamic fashion.  And I know that we can employ a variety of dialog methodologies to help create a meaningful conversation which can help to narrow and even select options.
I guess I am looking for more "tools" like soft shoe shuffle.
At one level I realize that an experienced host is always reading the air and when a moment for convergence appears, almost instinctively know how to proceed.  I'm looking for what processes might be useful for the less experienced host!
Thanks for your thinking and response.
A rich one...
Decision making process I have used over the years, depending on scale... I'm finding much of what has been offered so far to be frameworks for making decisions.  I think we are good on frameworks in AoH practice - we speak a lot about the theory and architecture of moving towards convergence, but, at least in the many AoH's I have been involved in, we don't spend a lot of time actually practicing decision making.  So this mail articulates some of the core decision making mechanisms I have used over the years.
First of all let me say that the biggest piece of wisdom I can offer on decision making is that you need to agree as a group before hand what the rules are.  I have had terrible results from making it up as we go along or by imposing a decision making framework on a group at the end of a process.  If decisions are to be made it is important to agree on the process as soon as you know you will be using one.  This is basic design work and fits into the "practice" step of the chaordic stepping stones.
The second piece of wisdom is that bad decision are decisions that get made resulting in separation between people.  If we make the decision at the expense of relationships we are risking sustainability of our action.  So even where we need to make a decision to split a group or leave, it is wise to always remember that we are still in relation to those that are left behind, whether that relationship is positive, amicable or negative.
And a third piece: decisions are NOT the same as action.  They often get confused. Sometimes people ask me to host strategic conversations that result in action and what they mean is that they want decisions to be made.  Action is what follows a decision and good decisions contribute to wise action.  In this sense some of the methodologies we are talking about are not necessarily decision making processes.  For example, Pro-Action cafe is not per se a decision making process but rather an action making process.  But I'll say something about that below. 
Here are a few classes of processes that I use:
  • I have used majority rules voting before.  But it is often important to do that alongside using a relational protocol to deal with dissent and the minority voices.  In other words, knowing that a vote will result in a dissatisfied minority, it is wise to immediately work on how to include the minority back into the field of the whole.  In my home community we had a very divisive referendum on a contentious issue and those of us on the losing side of the vote were never properly brought back into the fold.  My recommendation for our Council was for us to take the decision (on whether to establish a national park on our public lands) and then to engage in a piece of work we can all get behind (building a community centre).  Shared work can often be enough to pull people together in a space of difference - as Tuesday Ryan-Hart is saying - and in the absence of a shared purpose, or in a wounded collective purpose, an invitation to work on a piece of bigger communal need can be important.  That didn't happen in our community - the group that promoted the majority NO vote on the park has taken control of the community centre project and has not offered an invitation to others to engage.  It is a deep bruising sore in our community and instructive for me to be on the losing end of something with no power to convene.
By far I prefer to use consensus building tools, because they fit with our basic approach to working in relational fields.
  • Larry Dressler has some good ideas in his book on Consensus Decision Making.  He focuses on the process and architecture of planning decision making processes.  The essence is moving from dialogue to the creation of a proposal to a decision making process.
  • Sam Kaner et. al. also has great tools in The Facilitators Guide to Participatory Decision Making.  That book has given us the groan zone, but it has also given us a suite of excellent decision making tools.  One I use all the time is the graduated scale. This is where we ask people to vote on a proposal using a scale of one to five or one to seven.  For large scale work I often place a big scale up on a wall and invite people to indicate their support for the proposal with a post it note place somewhere on the scale.  I ask people to write on the post it note their reason for voting this way.  This allows us to immediately see the grades of agreement and allows us to hone in on on the important conversations that we need to have to move more of the groups towards inclusion.  This works well in very large groups.  I have used it in a series of Cafe's involving a total of 400 people to make decisions about choosing a site for an indigenous school.
  • I use a scaled down version of this in Council decision making using the three thumbs method of making decisions.  Thumbs up means support, thumbs sidewise means I need a conversation about something for clarity and thumbs down means that we cannot proceed, and that I am willing to bring forward another proposal.  This is how I lead decision making in Circle.
  • Decision making of any kind at large scale takes time.  If you don't have enough time, relationships will suffer.  A good pattern to remember when designing is to Bring Forward a Clear Proposal.  Another pattern to remember is Tend to Relationships. And another one is Seek Clarity.  These three patterns should give you enough to design processes, but you need good time.  The Occupy movement has several great and evolving lessons about large scale decision making, but they also have a lot of time to deliberate.
Self-organizing decisions and action
Sometimes we don't need everyone to be on the same page.  What we need instead is a lot of prototyping, or connected action.  In this case there is still a decision making process, but it is individual led, "posted and hosted" and undertaken by invitation.  In Open Space and Pro-Action Cafe we see this process at play.  It is valuable because it allows for actions to come from the margins without the need for a whole group to be involved. But if it involves the resources of the whole group, it will eventually need approval from the whole group.
My basic decision making process for Open Space is documented in Harrison Owen's third edition of the User's Guide.  It is essentially opening space again.  For example, after a day of conversation in Open Space, we print out and circulate the proceedings of all the small group sessions and then invite anyone who is willing to lead an action planning session to come forward and host a short planning meeting on their passion.  Each one takes responsibility for birthing a new initiative and each group is asked to design a little plan and bring it back to the whole.  If there is a decision that the whole needs to take, we can do that too.  Here is an example of an event we did last year in which we used this process for a 1.5 day Open Space to address addiction related stigma in the health care system in Vancouver:
Pro-action Cafe works in a similar way.
While these are action planning processes and they contain decision making, they aren't really collective decision making processes in the same way that the above methods and tools are.  
And although I haven't worked with it, my friends Peggy Holman and Tom Atlee swear by Dynamic Facilitation as a way of hosting and harvesting emergent decisions, the kind that come from the clarity of simply being in dialogue together.  That is also worth a look.
I've been gradually writing a little more for our workbooks on decision making, and this email may well serve to seed some other ideas.  Please feel free to use it in any way in journals and workbooks for events, and let's add to it.
Hope this helps.
Chris Corrigan
This is really excellent, Chris.  Thanks so much for your continued contributions to the learning of this community!

Bob Stilger
When I was leading facilitation trainings with a team at Michigan State University, we practiced the same 'gradients of agreement' method that Chris describes so well here (the Sam Kaner et. al. piece). 
I have a written guide for leading a session, with a couple practice scenarios that I'm happy to offer. It's about 3 pages long, so I think pasting it here might be a bit excessive. I'd happily email it to you (any of you), if you would find it useful.
It seems I'm still finding my way beyond facilitation and into hosting, and sometimes struggle with throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Many of these tools we've used for so long are already woven into our hosted conversations in both subtle or more obvious ways. It's an interesting process to sort what I've often referred to as my 'laundry basket' of tools to find ways of working with what still holds value in service of these deeper processes. I'd love to just sit with some of you and sort the laundry some day!
I so love these conversations; the learning never ends...
in peace,
Tracy Meisterheim
What a lovely reflection in the midst of a very rich conversation. And I have loved the offerings of Bob, Chris and others here.  It is a conversation that already had my attention as we seed the field for California where this question is already being raised.
One of the things I love about AoH is that it doesn't have to be either/or, just one way to do things.  There are a myriad of possibilities and the key is to learn discernment.  At what point does what process serve?  This includes decision making processes.  There really is a balance between how we tend the relational field and how we get work done.  There is no one right way to to do this. This is why it is an art.  We sometimes lose the "art" in the process when we become too impatient, wanting things to happen quicker, not trusting convergence will happen.  Convergence also needs leadership – it doesn't necessarily just happen.  In my work with leaders of teams and organizations there is a tendency for them to lean in too far or not lean in far enough. This is why I've been growing my understanding that there is a set of leadership skills that support hosting in organizations and in teams.  
In my experience, there is a difference between consensus in teams and consensual decision making.  Teams that have learned to work well together function in a consensual fashion.  If you really look at their decision making processes a lot of what they do is far more directive by individuals but the trust level inside the teams is so high that whoever makes the decision is supported by the rest of the team.  I loved Chris' distinction between decisions and actions.  I see that a lot as well.
One of the value added AoH brings is around engagement strategies.  The question is what is the degree of involvement of each individual/stakeholder in the decision making process? And what is skill of the host in inserting the right question at the right time time to support convergence that wants to happen and not the convergence that any one is trying to force to happen.  It is a delicate balance and there are many tools to help with the process. And there is also something about the awareness and intentionality we bring to the process that feels important here.  
I'm always happy to learn more about decision making tools that support the work we do in well ways.  
Kathy Jourdain
Kathy, your distinction between consensus in teams, and consensual decision-making, reminded me of a resource that I've found extremely useful...
in Barry Johnson's book on Polarity Management, he has a section called "How Participatory Management Gets Into Trouble" where he explores two different polarities... autocratic management / participatory management, as well as centralized decisions / decentralized decisions.  As the two polarities are independent of one another, we can have participatory management that is either centralized or decentralized (or ideally, shifts between both poles, as appropriate to the needs of the situation...)
the 'decentralized decisions' end of the polarity is the one that would correspond with your high-trust factor... where individuals make decisions and are supported by the rest of the team. From the Polarity Management perspective, one of the places where participatory management has often gotten into trouble, is getting stuck in the "centralized decision-making" end of the polarity... the group has all the power, but individuals have little freedom, as everyone feels the need to be "in" on every single decision that gets made...
the "decentralized decisions" end would also correspond to what Chris wrote,  about the value 'self-organizing decisions and action'... and at the same time, as Chris points out, "if it involves the resources of the whole group, it will eventually need approval from the whole group"... which makes sense from the PM perspective, which holds that what is most valuable is the ability to flow freely from one end of a polarity to the other, as needed...
and Chris, I love your description of Dynamic Facilitation as "a way of hosting and harvesting emergent decisions, the kind that come from the clarity of simply being in dialogue together".
You've really gotten to the core of it...  I've sometimes described DF as "taking all sides, while holding space for creative possibility" ... or even more briefly, as "welcoming the gift in everything". Of course there are also some specific tools that embody the underlying awareness practice... For anyone interested, more info is available on Tom's site at
with all best wishes,
Rosa Zubizaretta
Dear all 
Wow many thanks for all this, just today Im about to host a leadership group in conversation about their decision making process, this  couldn’t have come at a better moment – thank you, such elegant writing on the context and content of what to hold in the space and pay attention to.
I'd love to add to the richness of the tools we are talking about ( and to ask what is soft shoe shuffle ? ) by posting a bit of info about a convergence tool I have used which I love for its simplicity, participation and optimal/minimal structure.  Its simply a clustering/harvesting process with a lovely twist in the middle which seems to engage people in finding common ground, whilst also allowing space for diversity and its totally participant led…. in fact follow the process but get totally out of the way as you host it.  
It's Swedish/Finnish ( as are many beautiful designs ) and comes from a company called Innotiimi  who I trained with years before coming into contact with AoH, its one of the very few processes that has travelled with me since.  Its called OPERA, has 5 stages and comes as the session begins to converge ( and depends on how ready the group is to converge ) although its also pretty useful to collaboratively set out the things people want to talk about at the beginning of a ( longish ) meeting
O – wn work – people work on their own in silence making their own list of what ever the matter in conversation – so decisions, principles, priorities, important points to capture/propose  ( 5 mins ) 
P –airs – people work in small groups (up to 4 in total) and share their lists choosing between them 4 to put forwards as their contribution ( up to 20 mins )   when they have chosen 4 from all their lists they write each one on a separate large post it note and stick them on a sticky wall matrix which is pre - prepared with letters across the top ABCDEF and 1 – 4 down the side.  Group A post their 4 in the A column – group B in the B column etc.  Done when the board is covered  ( this works best with up to 6 groups of 4 people so ideally not more than  24 people per session – although you can have simultaneous groups going on – I have done this with up to 100 people at a consultation ) - 20 mins
E – xplanations – each group speaks to their 4 proposals and explains a bit the thinking behind it – ask the group to listen to all the contributions and be sensing where the greatest energy lies, which proposals feel right, create a feeling of  YES that’s really right, even if they didn’t propose it  – go through from A – F, give this time but not huge explanations just enough so we can all hear it, understand what has been written down and see the energy behind it. 10 mins
R – anking – ask the groups of  ( up to ) 4 to come back together and choose 4 proposals from the board.  They can choose from anywhere on the board BUT they can only choose one from their own line.  They can use the ABC 123 as short hand to make their decision ( ie  I liked A4 and B6 – stops them crowding the board so everyone can still see it ) and it also has the effect of requiring them to seek out similarities across the board ie. Proposals that have the same energy but might not be written in exactly the same way.  This is usually a lively session where they realise if they play their cards right they can get all their proposals in by choosing similar ones from other groups and still have space to choose something unique from their own group.  When they have made their choice ask them to come and put a marker on the 4 that they have chosen - 10 mins.
A – rranging – take off all the proposals that don’t have a marker and arrange the remaining ones so that the proposals with the most markers sit in a horizontal line,  the proposals that have just one or two markers elsewhere.  Ask the group to cluster them – which ones go together and which ones stand alone.  ( again using the short hand of A4 goes with D3 ) Do not get involved in anyway in this conversation, let the group tell you where to cluster – simply be there to move pieces of paper around.  If they cannot agree then the group that proposed the decision decide where it goes – proposals can straddle two themes.  This session leads to even more conversation and clarity about the decisions or what is being proposed.  15 mins 
If you have time you can then work with the group to give each column a new heading – that also helps to clarify each decision, proposal, harvest point and can lead to even more clarity emerging.
Whew – hope this is helpful, like most things the real tool is yourself not the process, however this is just a little gem, would love to hear of your gems.
Linda xx

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more comments and a harvesting document!:

Hi friends,

This really is a great community.  Thanks to the many of you who offered ideas on processes you've used for work with decision-making and convergence.

I needed to pull something together for a meeting today in Tokyo.  What's attached is still in rough form, but it is getting towards what I want.

Happy to hear feedback and suggestions for other things to be included.


Bob Stilger


Hi Bob. This is fantastic and I would love to shape it for AoH journals if that's good with you. 
In terms of additions, important for me in circle thumb practice is that people with thumbs down need to bring proposals. The principle here is passion and responsibility. No blocks without alternatives. 
But this is a great start. Good stuff mate. 
Chris Corrigan


Great Bob...will wait for a thumbs up and then start shaping something.

In the meantime, over the years I have collected a bunch of decision making processes and they are scattered about on this page: 
I often just troll through there looking for inspiration when I am in design.

More inspiring comments and exercises!



What a wonderful start!  Convergence is a topic I have a lot of juice for.   I lived in a question for several years: What does it take for a group to reach a decision?


Ultimately, I found an answer that has continued to serve me well.  It came about when I was working with a women's leadership program.  The women had to choose a service project to do together.  They had few constraints on the project, the choice was in their hands.  And they worked through it without hitting a crisis -- often unusual when groups are given ambiguous tasks. As I listened to their reflections at the end of their program, I heard them speak to two characteristics that I believe are at the heart of group decision making:


*  Letting go of the need for an immediate answer.  

I found this subtle, but critical.  We listen differently when we're not pushing to reach a conclusion.


*  Speaking authentically about what matters.

The breakthrough in women's leadership group occurred when, after weeks of being polite with each other, one woman jumped in and spoke to the project she was most passionate about doing.  That opened the door for others to quit being overly polite and speak to what mattered to them.  By the time they had each spoken, the choice was clear.  I talked with the woman who spoke first, asking her what prompted her to do so.  She said that she reached the point that speaking her truth became more important than maintaining an image or worrying about what others thought of her.  I found that such a useful tidbit to know -- creating conditions for people to express themselves is so essential!  And it seems almost a contradiction: that by encouraging individual expression a collective decision gets easier.  Amazing but true.


Since that experience, I use these two principles to guide me when supporting a group to make decisions.



On another note, I collect convergence practices.  Three of my favorites:


1.  Thirty-five.  This is a form of face-to-face crowd sourcing.  When a sense of the whole is useful at the end of an Open Space, I'll do this when people come back for evening news.  It feeds the reflections.  I learned it from a Playback Theatre person.  it takes about 20 minutes and can be used with any size group.  It's fun and energizing.  The ideas that surface really do seem to have legs.  It starts with each person writing something in response to a question seeking coherence (e.g., What do we now know about working in the new news ecology?).  People then walk around swapping cards and periodically stopping with another person to read each other the cards they're holding and splitting 7 points between the cards.  At the end of 5 rounds, the points are totaled (7x5 = 35 max points).  Reading the 2-9 top scoring cards seems to surface what has meaning to many in the room.  See for details.



2. "Cheeks in chairs".  I learned this activity from Miki Kashtan.  She is a leader in the Non-violent Communication world in the Bay Area, near San Francisco.  It begins with everyone standing.  As someone speaks a thought, those who had a similar notion in mind sit down.  Often, a some point, you'll hear an audible “thump” when someone says something with broad resonance.  You continue until everyone is seated. if I don't have a lot of time but an important outcome is a sense of the whole, I do this.  It takes about 10 minutes.  Again, it's a great entry into a reflection.


I was working with a high tech client and used this activity at the end of an Open Space.  What they said became a poem.  I loved it so much that I've copied it below.


 3.  Reflective Synthesis. This last approach is similar to one that you described in your handout. I just made up the name Reflective Synthesis for it.  

It begins with individual reflections.  For example, with journalists, I've asked them to write a story in which they see themselves working in the "new news ecology".  They take about 15 minutes of time by themselves.  Then they share stories in groups of 3-5.  Each group then generates one statement, with room for "wild cards" ensuring room for what individuals feel passionate about.  Statements are read out loud and posted around the room.  If the group is large, we'll do some clustering first.


Then people literally take a stand, moving to stand by the cluster that has most resonance.  It gives quite a visual hit of where the energy is.  At one Journalism that Matters, these are the statements that emerged:



Thanks for the topic Bob.



Peggy Holman


I use 35 all the time very useful for helping to sort ideas and give a broad sense of what might be a good group of ideas to go with.  Allows everyone to contribute their best thinking and takes a cut a sorting ideas quickly.  I use it a lot for coming up with language for vision statements and such.


Thiagi has many many many excellent processes for converging.  Hundreds even.  You can find many of them here: Training Games


Chris Corrigan




I'm so glad you highlighted Bob's distinction between decision making and decision happening.  I struggle with the language but the point is so key!  The practice of supporting emergent decisions is completely different from decision making processes.


It was observing groups reach decisions in Open Space without explicitly doing so that caused me to live in that question I mentioned in my previous post (and before I read these last two posts from you and Bob): What does it take for a group to reach a decision?


Part of the reason I was so captivated with Open Space was that I saw groups embrace people making individual choices.  The groups reached a turning point in which there was a sufficient sense of direction that people acted based on individual passion, but responsible to the needs of the whole.  The way I've come to understand that turning point is that people could see how they fit in, seeing themselves as part of a larger whole.


There's a metaphor that carries the idea for me.  I heard this from a Boeing engineer describing an airplane.  i think it describes a group that knows how to allow decisions to emerge:  3 million parts flying in close proximity.



Peggy Holman


Hi Bob


A great inquiry... some thoughts... with a punch line that is.... that purpose setting is really decision setting..and that hosting vs facilitation (both are needed) is more about decision discovery and harvesting rather then decision making processes, which are more facilitated.


Often I have seen groups dealing with significant issues move to decision making as an " comfort zone", a place of familiarity that gives an often false gravitas and stability to processes and groups...., particularity when playing with live ammo... mandates, budgets that impact lives and futures. 


The work of good convening is to a large extent rooted in the entry into the work. In that entry the decision is often set, meaning the wisdom is already being called forth, often deeply below the knowing eyes of the hosts and field in the work of setting purpose. .... The subtleness of this is the setting of the dojo... of the purpose, the Art of Hosting is in someways very much the art of discovery of purpose... mine... yours... ours.. in a way that sustains our collective journey to the larger quest of doing good works in the world. 


So with this comes a subtle shift from approaching the work as decision making... to the art of "decision discovery and harvest"  Its likely intuitive what that means to you..., but to unpack where this come from... I am working on a few "wicked" challenges that are calling on some very intelligent and passionate people to make a collective deep shift in practice and being in their work in the world away from being solution providers... their unstated job descriptions and mine... to being solution discovers...


Generally in strategic challenges and decision making the work is riddled with... and even rooted in "knowing the history of the issue" we are trying to shift. Unfortunately in the best of intentions for social innovation... "we might be done with the past but the past aint done with us".... making it hard to find fresh eyes and to move collectively into deep inquiry as opposed to deep strategy, the difference being strategy is informed by knowing/... inquiry by discover. and here specifically the discovery of wise decision as apposed to smart ideas, a difference i think hosting is very sensitive to. 


So hence my inquiry here and spark with your call to the field re decisions. 


The art of good decision discovery and harvest is within the practice of convening in a way that allows the wisdom or needed decision to be discovered --in the ecology of the complexity of the issue--as a natural evolution of a core purpose, set... and tended to... as it evolves and begins to show itself in good conversation, process, holding,  noting that emergence is when we discover something new and essential that nobody actually necessarily brought into the room but which we all own... a little of that magic in the middle that was in the DNA of good purpose, intention and attending. 


In all beginnings and endings be careful, certainly, and to the extent that the decision in its raw DNA form... is already rooted in the purpose,  then the work is to discover together the wise decision we invited in with the setting of purpose. The work of the host is to support that invitation and journey of discovery within the group and process to deepen into......, and tend to the field that grows it... and be attentive to the timing of good harvest... and then to know when it is to be proclaimed as a decision... and how... and then... when its over its over.  The word "Decision" come from the latin root that literally means to cut off, a important point for those needing to make clean cuts, clean endings and open the way for wise actions.


Once we move into the simple practices and decision making processes... which is really facilitation... the hosting practice maybe in how well we hold space for decisions to be discovered... tended to as wise decisions (ie witnessed )and used as points to set new purposeful action forward,


and if all that is just too philosophical... then I would just say... lets all play 35 on defining good decision making processes....(:


over n out!

David Stevenson


Really enjoying this thread and the input you all are bringing to it!  And I appreciate your naming of “the art of good decision discovery”, David.  

I’m seeing this practice field discovering and uncovering the art of many things – the art of hosting, the art of harvesting, of course, but there is also the art of calling, the art of invitation, the art of practice, the art of naming, the art of the subtle, the art of relationship, the art of learning, of community, of consciousness.  All of these, and more, are in our field together.

And the joy it is to move beyond the mechanics of something to the artistry of it.  The artist who has learned the basic, honed mastery of a skill and is now using unique perception and gifts to create artistry personally and together.  

Mates, this is why I’m in this field!

Mary Alice


Very  nice, David!


Years ago, in my doctoral cohort, I coined the phrase "decision happening."  My invitation to others was for us to be still enough to be able to notice, then see, then articulate the decision that was emerging in the room.


I came to believe that much of what we call decision-making is simply the exercise of a right bestowed on people in positional power which is exercised when their frustration reaches their limits.


AND, I think there is another piece here.  At least in terms of what I am seeing in Japan.


Sometimes the air of Art of Hosting, or what we increasingly call dialog and Future Centers in Japan, becomes a little rarified.  The early adopters come and a fabulous community forms.  The question we're working with in Japan is how to go beyond the early adopters, especially when resources are limited and in high demand.  In the case I am think about, it is not so much $ that are limited but personnel.


So I am thinking about one major company I've been doing some Future Center work with.  A core team in their branding department is incredibly enthusiastic about Future Center work.  The question they are in is how best to make it easy for people in the periphery of the company to use.  As a result of those conversations, we've started getting more explicit about what beginners need to know in hosting, what people who are practicing need to know, and what people who have really bought in need to know.


The idea of "decision happening" or the "art of decision-making" for us comes, I think, at this last level and it is a really, really important idea.  Not one I'd try to introduce to someone new to the ideas who is already a bit nervous and feels somewhat awkward with all these new forms.  But something to be saved for later!


Good stuff!

Bob Stilger


Yes, I also love David's exploration here.  It feels expansive, has me more curios and would like to explore more deeply.  Bob, I was also struck by your comment, "we've started getting more explicit about what beginners need to know in hosting, what people who are practicing need to know, and what people who have really bought in need to know." This is consistent with a similar conversation in Minnesota and maybe Australia as more and more questions and layers emerge the longer we are in this work together.  Perhaps a sharing would be helpful. I know Jerry Nagel has been working on articulating what some of these distinctions may be.  A delicate and necessary stage of evolution of the patterns of this work.  

Kathy Joudain


Hi Bob, hi David, all...


Awesome write-up, Bob!


I especially enjoyed all of the underlying principles in the introduction, and also,  the concrete example of an interative process between the "Future Sessions" and the "decisions made within the customary business strategy".  Also really appreciating the phrase, "the ecology of actions that will emerge with respect to a particular topic", as something distinct from (and generally complementary to) the "unified voice"...


I am also particulary appreciating your phrase "decision happening", and David's "decision discovery and harvesting"....

as you said, this may be something that is best saved for a more in-depth treatment, rather than an introduction.


From my own experience, years ago, I would describe the Choice-Creating Process (DF) as a "creative exploration", something that would help generate broad shared understanding as well as new ways forward, but not a "decision-making process". Instead, this was something to "till the ground", as it were, and any "decisions" would be made afterward by the client, using their own "customary" decision-making process...


What I wouldn't necessarily say beforehand -- i might mention it in passing, but not make a big deal of it --  was that the need for many of those subsequent "decisions" would have "evaporated" by the end of the process, through the breakthroughs in shared understanding that emerge naturally...


This is  what I understand your terms, "decision happening / decision discovery and harvesting" , as pointing to...


Our practice has continued to evolve, and at this point I am much more comfortable  speaking about CCP/DF (depending on the situation, of course) as "an alternative to a decision-making process", rather than as "not a decision-making process".


 I do think that the spelling out the interative dance between the outcomes of any emergence-based process, and the organizations' established decision-making process, is extremely helpful... at the same time, I am also finding it very helpful to be able to be more explicit, about how the "emergent decision-happening" process itself, unfolds... which has been my focus for the last twelve years.


of course there are some cultural differences between our two communities of practice... Jim (not being a swordsperson!) has been reluctant to embrace the term "decision" in any form, as he sees it as connotating a selection from a limited set of pre-existing options, rather than the co-creation of a new choice. For me, being bilingual and bicultural, code-switching is not a big deal... I see any metaphor as having its limits as well as its gifts, and language itself as being inherently metaphorical. Still, awful lot of fun, pointing at the moon!


with all best wishes,




Thanks Rosa,


This too is helpful.


Reminds me some of Peter Block's work in The Answer to How Is Yes in which he describes how people unconsciously (or consciously) shift the attention from the YES that is emerging in the room by diverting the conversation into questions of how.


I've had the same experience you describe.  The way I phrase it is to say that as trust builds in a relational field (called BA or  ) a whole set of issues and concerns begin to fall away.  I like the way Einstein said it, which was something like "it is not so much that issues get resolved at a higher level of consciousness as they become irrelevant."   I dislike the term higher level of consciousness, but I have learned to accept it as a term we use to describe a wider field of meaning and understanding.  As the relational field grows and deepens the things we thought we had to make decisions about just fall away.


Interesting stuff!






Hello Bob and everyone,


Good convergence. :)


My 2 cents will go on "agree beforehand on how decisions..." On a general note, and I don't know how much it is relevant to add, it seems important to have spaces to re-visit the decision about how decisons are made, who will make them (if not everyone is always involved), etc. This has particular value at the beginning where things are being tested out. Process check, I guess.


And on the business side. One of the things that I witnessed gettting 'business people' off all participatory work is the claim for universality. There are decisions and decisions and the agreement on how to frame and go for them has been helpful and at some places the framing itself has been made in a participatory way. I guess this is present in the Cynefin framework and similar things. 


Great work.




Augusto Cuginotti

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