Last week, I had the opportunity to participate in a convening of “network practitioners” (consultants and others who are working with or networks of people and organizations on social change goals) at the Packard Foundation and designed and facilitated by consultants Gigi Barsoum and Heather Grant-McLeod. The purpose was share insights and learn more about creating, supporting, and managing networks. I enjoy meetings when there has been a lot given to the design and you have expert facilitators in the room because I not only learn about the content, but also learn some new facilitation techniques.
Having a productive convening when bringing people who may not know each other together for the first time, but have a common interest is to provide time for participants to get know each other. The “ice breaker” exercise was for us to draw a map of a network we’re currently working with it. Then we found a partner and shared our maps. And, finally then we had to introduce the other person to the whole group by sharing the map. But we had to do our introductions in one minute or less and were timed! This was a nice variation on the classic icebreaker for people to get to know each other where people introduce themselves to each other in pairs and then introduce the other person to the entire group.
The convening had a good mix between content-delivery and peer interactions. Following the icebreaker, we got an overview of networks and network development and short case studies from participants were shared during the day. We had ample time for structured small group discussion on specific questions and an “open space” style small group session areas of practice.
One of the great techniques that Gigi and Heather used was “sticky note synthesis” so anytime during the session we could jot down takeaways, or ahas and Gigi would collect them and organize them into themes. By the end of the day, she was able to summarize ideas and takeaways that we discussed.
Incorporating the creative of use of sticky notes into a meeting, training, or convening can not only be fun, but also an effective way to brainstorm, solve problems, or summarize discussions as the example above illustrates. If you are curious about more techniques, I suggest David Staker’s “Rapid Problem Solving with Post-It Notes.”
For a big picture guide on how to design and deliver an effective convening for social-change work, check out this new publication, “Gather: The Art and Science of Convenings. It’s a guidebook for convening planners and change agents interested in harnessing the potential of collective intelligence through in-person convening. If offers frameworks, tips, and checklists for thinking through the content, interaction design, and logistics.