I helped facilitate a community conversation on sustainable communities last week. It was in a cafe at night. The process was a light touch combination of world cafe and Theory U. World cafe puts different questions on different tables, allows people to choose their topic, then rotate to another topic and a new table group. It is very interactive, and encourages warm networking among strangers.
The piece from Theory U that was valuable was a simple way of framing the context for the discussion. The first round was pretty ‘heady’ stuff, lots of ideas and activity. For the second round, I made a point of introducing the discussion in the spirit of ’empathic’ listening, listening from the heart. The question was carefully constructed to be about ‘feelings’ of belonging in communities.
Then the last round of discussion was framed as ‘generative listening’. Not just telling others what should happen, but being alive to the possibility that something might emerge, collectively, in the discussion that would reveal a pathway to the future.
By the time we reached the conclusion, the conversation had a much deeper, slower tone. The feedback from the guests was highly appreciative.
The simple lesson is about taking the time to make frame the conversation, making it really clear what is possible and desirable – standing up for empathy and openess.
More on Theory U: http://www.presencing.com/presencing-theoryu
More on World Cafe: http://www.theworldcafe.com
And for the Sustainable Grounds web site – cafe conversations for sustainability: http://sustainablegrounds.posterous.com