From the emaillist, spring '12:
1) relationship building2) identifying needs3) gathering data4) generating ideas5) converging6) prototyping7) 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.
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:
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.
more comments and a harvesting document!:
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.
Great Bob...will wait for a thumbs up and then start shaping something.
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 http://www.thiagi.com/pfp/IE4H/march2008.html#Framegame 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.
I use 35 all the time Peggy...is 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
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.
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!
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!
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!
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.
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,
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 場) 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.
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.