Wrestling with community conversations together across the world

Submitted by Derek Alton on April 14, 2013 - 8:48pm
a conversation between conversation practitioners around the world

Yesterday I had the great privledge to participate in a telelearning event put on by World Cafe entitled, "Learning at the Edge: Applying World Cafe Principles in New Contexts". It engaged over a hundred of us across the world.  

For those who do not know, the World Cafe is an international organization that has formed around a model for hosting a conversation, developed in the 1990's by a community of academics and practioners.  It is based around seven design principles:

1. Set the context

2. Create a hospitable space

3. Explore questions that matter

4. Encourage everyone's contribution

5. Connect diverse perspectives

6. Listen together for patterns and insights

7. Share collective discoveries

To learn more about World Cafes, check out their website.

The goal of the event I attended was to engage people in a discussion about how to keep pushing towards greater practices in facilitated dialogue.  It was the most interactive tele-learning event I have ever participated in.  We spent a good chunk of the call in small group discussion, I was in a group with three women from the States. We wrestled with how to best harvest the fruits of a good discussion.  We came to the conclusion that different harvesting styles work for different people.  For some in the group, art and pictures helped them process the ideas. This lead to the idea of encouraging people to draw their answers and bring it all together to form a group mural that represented the answer.  For others, like myself, words are a prefered method and something like a word cluster diagram, like this one, created on the online program wordle based off of Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I have a dream" speech are best.


After this smaller group discussion, we also had time to harvest and discuss as a full group.  It was interesting to see what other groups had talked about.  A couple others had wrestled with harvesting as well, while others focused more on how to ask the right questions.

At the end of the session when people were talking about their most important take away from this conversation, everyone was struck by the overwhelming sense of community that had formed.  One person after another shared about the gift and importance of this international community of people who are all working towards building community through conversations.  After all it is going to take all hands on deck to tackle the issues that our world is facing.  It is important to note, though, that we are not alone in this.  There are people who are struggling and wrestling with these challenges all over the world.  It is important to have events like this that give us the opportunity to connect, share ideas and learn from each other.  

Often times, when we talk about community we focus on how it requires regular interaction to build the bonds of trust and vulernability.  The community that formed one Saturday afternoon over the telephone highlights a different type of community.  This is a community of practice.  I will likely never meet most of those people ever again, but for that hour and a half we were in community together, sharing with each other, all of us together wrestling with common ideas and struggles.  I left that conversation, feeling not alone but rather part of something bigger.  I think there is something comforting about being part of something larger.  It showed me that community does not need to be long-term, it can be a brief moment of connection, whether over the phone or on the bus.  

A balance: a moment in time and longevity

Hi Derek,

Thanks for sharing some of your learning from this event. Harvesting information is something we have been chatting a lot about so, hopefully it will help in moving our work ahead more effectively.

I aboslutely agree with your final point- community and connection can take place in brief instances. I think this is something we all understand and value. I have blogged several times about interactions on the bus with others that I never see again. I do, however, think that continuing relationships over time is deeply valuable. It is something that is far more challenging, but so deeply important. I think this something that our generation really struggles with. Thoughts?