Note from Beth: This resource has lots of useful framework and design tips for designing and implementing convenings which can also be applied to designing workshops, meetings, and other gatherings.
How to make convenings count: a new hands-on guidebook
By Noah Rimland Flower
The Networked Nonprofit wasn’t only about making smart use of social media and metrics. It talks about how to use today’s tools to build a collaborative culture and using them to find ways for individuals and organizations to team up in building new solutions. As Beth and Alison describe, there are many interesting new ways to do that online, but some of the most important work can only be done in face-to-face convenings.
Convenings have long been acknowledged as an important tool in driving change. They can help people with different knowledge, skills, and points of view to tackle a shared problem, see old things in new ways, or challenge the status quo. Convenings can be a crucial catalyst for a group, an organization, an idea, or even a movement.
Yet there is widespread disappointment with how most conferences and workshops are organized and the level of results that they’re able to achieve. And a big contributor to that is how much of an art it is to become a good convening designer. You can watch a facilitator give the group engaging ways to interact with one another and co-create content, but it’s often hard to see in the moment how those reflect intentional design choices, and understand how to use their approach in designing your own convenings.
But isn’t there at least some degree of conventional wisdom about how to design a co-creative convening that can tap collective intelligence and achieve lasting impact? And a set of “next practice” ideas about how to do that in creative new ways?
In 2012, leaders at the Rockefeller Foundation posed that question to our team at Monitor Institute, kicking off a year and a half of research and analysis. While convening design is not a plug-and-play process, we did discover a set of critical steps and processes that can increase any convening’s chance of success. What we found is now available as a free online guidebook, GATHER: The Art and Science of Effective Convenings.
As GATHER explains, we found two fundamental questions to answer that will get a convening design started in the right direction:
- To convene or not to convene? (Is it the right time?)
- What’s the point? (Do you have a clear purpose?)
It might sound simplistic, but in talking with over 70 convening design practitioners, my teammate Anna Muoio and I heard repeatedly how often these two questions are overlooked. To learn more about how to answer those questions well, and manage the cascade of smaller choices that result, watch our brief whiteboard video below or dig into the guidebook itself. I hope that you’ll find GATHER to be a helpful resource in making your convenings count.
Noah Rimland Flower is a consultant at Monitor Institute, where he works with innovative leaders across sectors to craft strategies that cut to the heart of wicked social problems. His particular passion is finding ways that technology can enable new models for delivery, measurement, and collaboration. He tweets at @noahflower and edits the Monitor Institute blog.