Michael Herman
Inviting Agility

 
 
 
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from Chris Corrigan, Bowen Island, British Columbia, CANADA...

Subject: [OSLIST] Story of a 2.5 day Open Space (long)

Date: Sat, 8 Feb 2003 23:18:53 -0800

From: Chris Corrigan <chris@chriscorrigan.com>

Reply-To: OSLIST <OSLIST@LISTSERV.BOISESTATE.EDU>

To: OSLIST@LISTSERV.BOISESTATE.EDU

Colleagues:

It's a rare treat to have a chance to facilitate a 2.5 day Open Space Technology meeting. In cricket parlance, this is the Test match of OST, as opposed to the one day version, and it demands the same kinds of skills: concentration, presence, acute observation and pacing, both from the facilitator and the participant.

I love getting the rare chance to be with a group in OST for a full 2.5 days. And I love what happens as a result.

I just finished one which was many months in the making and had great results. The OST was hosted by the Katzie First Nation (http://www.katzie.ca) which is a small First Nation occupying five reserves on the Fraser River, smack in the middle of a bunch of rapidly growing suburbs near Vancouver, Canada. It's a strange anomaly. For 9000 years, people have been living where the current Katzie village is, but in the last 20 years, thousands of people have moved in next door. Huge houses, Sport Utility Vehicles, and soccer fields - all the hallmarks of North American affluence and suburbia - surround this little reserve, a postage stamp of land, on the wrong side of the flood dike and littered with fishing boats and nets, stacks of firewood and tarpaulin-covered cars and trucks.

Numbering about 450 people, Katzie is a small First Nation, especially in the face of what surrounds them, but they can be powerful and influential. Their claim on their traditional territory takes in most of the suburbs of Greater Vancouver, as well as areas of mountain wilderness and forest north of the region. They are making steady progress in the treaty process which will see self-government restored to the community as well as a grab bag of tools and rights that will allow them to fully participate in the surrounding local economy. But as important as the treaty process is, it means nothing if they don't have good neighbour relations.

And so over the years, Katzie has made friends (and some enemies) with the people, municipalities, organizations and businesses that have assembled themselves around the little reserve on the river. Sensing that a treaty settlement is possible within another couple of years, Katzie decided to turn it's attention to putting a little more concrete on the relationships it has been nurturing and explore ways in which the First Nation and its neighbours might get down to work on stuff.

So with the support of the British Columbia Treaty Commission (http://www.bctreaty.net) and the Greater Vancouver Regional District (http://www.gvrd.bc.ca) Katzie decided to sponsor a 2.5 day Open Space meeting, to invite people to come together under the theme of "Connecting the Pieces: Leaders in Action."

The invitation went far and wide and on Wednesday morning 35 people showed up, committed to stay for the full three days. They came from local tourist businesses, forest companies, service agencies, and local governments and all were interested in building the new relationship. Chief Peter James welcomed us with a few words of gratitude at the turnout. We began slowly, and as I opened space and described the process, I talked about how leadership and action lies squarely in the province of the individual, and that despite the great relationship building that had happened in the area over the years between organizations, it was clearly PEOPLE that made the difference, and that people would make the difference this week as we moved from the esoteric world of "relationship building" to the real world of "work."

Twenty four topics went up, followed by another 6 over the course of the conference. The conversations on the first day tended to be about getting to know one another once again and dealing with stereotypes and prejudices. Some of the conversations were quite heated, and others were accused of "going around and around in circles (!)" The five or six Katzie representatives had a silent agreement among themselves to be present in every group, and so as their neighbours wrestled with issues like forestry, history and educating the young, the Katzie hosts sat with them, answered questions with tact and diplomacy and generally held space for their neighbours to learn, think and create.

As we went around the circle on the first evening, I asked for one word from each person. Words like "Surprised," "enlightened," "happy," "fun," "productive," and "deep," surfaced. People were getting a sense that there was something different happening here, that this was a meeting between First Nations and non-Aboriginal people quite unlike any they had been to before.

Sure enough, my suspicions that transformation was underway were confirmed on the morning of the second day. The first man in the room was a recent European immigrant who lived in an affluent and cozy little village by the sea. He came to the meeting representing his mayor and council and a citizen's advisory committee on the treaty process that was known more for their hard line stands and bluster than for their advice. He had brought with him a stack of what he later called "propaganda" that was intended to be distributed amongst the conference goers as a way of making positions known.

He admitted to me that he had wisely refrained from making a statement on the first day and instead chose to listen to what people were saying in the groups. His "enlightenment" (his word) was so profound that he claimed not to have been able to sleep that night, as his head was full of questions and learning. In the closing circle on the second day he shared how the world appeared different to him now and that all of his assumptions about Aboriginal people lay shattered.

Day two was very deep, and the conversation that had laid the groundwork on day one seemed to shift towards very important work on day two. Actions got planned and organized, laughter filled the room and the energy was high all day. At the closing on day two, people began talking about the process, the fact that it was responsible for so much happening and the astonishment that 35 people could engage so deeply in only two days.

From the beginning, day three was going to be special. The morning was dedicated to action planning and the afternoon featured a "leader's lunch" and discussion, primarily for mayors and others who were interested in the outcome, but who couldn't commit to the full three days. Others who wanted to come for only a part of the conference were invited for the third morning.

For the morning, I used what has now become my standard action planning process. I invited people to read through the proceedings and identify themes in their minds that ran through all the discussions and around which substantial and real actions could be organized. I invited them to vote with their hearts and step forward to manifest all this leadership and action we had discussed, and post a topic intended to "get the issue out of the room." I had a convener's form that had boxes for the following:

This is a process where convergence happens in the mind, voting happens in the heart and responsibility happens in the feet. Full body action planning.

Eight conversations were proposed and two of these merged so that six hour long discussion groups took place. Without exception they were focused, efficient and began some deep planning. Plans were constructed in some of the following areas:

All of these action plans were created by 35 people in one hour. They were fully endorsed by individuals who committed to making them happen. Meetings were scheduled, tasks assigned and potential partners identified. All of these actions will proceed not because it is somebody's job to do it, but because somebody WANTS to do it.

One of the new comers on day three was a lawyer who was used to long drawn out conversations between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people. He was astonished at how efficient the groups were, and how focused they were on making it happen.

But these weren't the only actions that were captured. For the first time I used an evaluation sheet for each person that focused not on the process but on their work. It was a simple sheet that had a space for a name, address, email address and then a large box entitled "As a result of this meeting..."

These sheets capture both smaller actions (the preparation of a proposal for economic development funding, the intention to invite someone to a meeting, a scheduled phone call etc..) but also learnings. Examples from the sheets include:

I highly recommend this form of evaluation because it both captures otherwise unknown actions, and gets people to consider how the meeting has affected themselves and their own work.

The closing circle was quite powerful, as was expected. And in a final demonstration of the skillful practice of grace that had characterized the Katzie representatives throughout the conference, the head of the treaty team gave every participant a T-shirt with the Katzie logo on it along with a personal thanks. She thanked every single person with a list of the unique contributions they had made over the three days. It was very impressive.

Following our closing we prepared for the mayors and other dignitaries to arrive. Lunch was served and after an hour we gathered in the circle again, now closer to 50 people strong. I invited reports from each of the action groups and then questions or further offers of help. The mayors were quick to volunteer their staff for jobs. "Call so-and-so when you get back. I'll make sure he can help you out..." We had a little bit of further conversation about the three days and then people broke up, dismissed with a short thank you speech from Chief Peter James.

The proceedings will be made public from this event, probably at the Katzie website. I will notify the list when they are up so you can read more, as if you haven't already read enough!

Open Space Technology faired well in this context. It brought together people with widely differing interests and a bag load of assumptions about each other. At the end of three days, deep relationships were forged and significant action began. One person who had been in a number of one day OST meetings said she would never again settle for only one day, and that she would always push for at least 1.5 days, having seen how much further that sleep takes the group. Having used OST now for two regional visioning exercises, both geared towards making things happen, the results are in. The process works well, better over two or three days rather than one, but the main benefit seems to be in getting people focused on that which is truly important, generating commitment and responsibility and transcending rhetoric.

Cheers,

Chris

--- CHRIS CORRIGAN Consultation - Facilitation Open Space Technology

Bowen Island, BC, Canada http://www.chriscorrigan.com chris@chriscorrigan.com