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U of M with InCommons Art of Hosting Training Part II: Harvesting Conversations that Matter

On August 10th and 11th, 27 staff, faculty, and students from across the University of Minnesota reconvened for the remaining two days of Art of Hosting training. In the first two days, we got to know each other, were introduced to the core Art of Hosting concepts, and started to practice some of the techniques (See my reflection on the first couple days here.) Over the course of the last two days, we deepened our ability to host conversations that matter, but we focused equally on harvesting those conversations.

What does it mean to "harvest" conversations that matter?
Think about a time you've walked away from a dialogue you thought would inspire action to find that the momentum faded out after the filing of the minutes.

"Harvesting" emphasizes a renewed appreciation for the value of collective or individual meaning making from dialogues, meetings, or gatherings. It becomes an art as soon as you elevate its importance to at least equal the value of the design process. One of our trainer hosts said, "Don't plan a gathering. Plan a harvest." Think from the very beginning: What do we want to get out of bringing people together? How can we best capture what we accomplished together?

Here's where it gets fun and, better yet, integrative. If integrative leadership means reaching across boundaries of all sorts, one of these is the boundary that tends to exist between the arts and the workplace. The predominate workplace paradigm over the past couple decades has been to leave your creative, right-brained self at home while you bring your logical, left-brained self to the office. As Author Daniel Pink attests in his book A Whole New Mind, this doesn't work anymore. The innovative companies of today and tomorrow are those that encourage creativity and the arts to permeate their workplace.

A Sampling of Harvesting Tools
We live in a time when it is easier than ever to get creative with and share our harvests. Here's a list of alternative meaning making tools we shared:

Visual Agendas, Minutes, and Thinking

  • Snippit Learning videos from Bigger Picture, a UK-based consulting group - Drawing and visual thinking can be a powerful tool in communication and facilitation. In a series of videos, Bigger Picture provides seven elements that will make you able of drawing almost everything.

  • The Grove - A San Francisco-based consultancy and publisher that offers services and tools to help organizations, teams, and individuals successfully envision and implement change. They maintain a great blog with lots of tips and examples of social change visualization.

  • VizThink - the hub for a trans-disciplinary global community interested in the efficacy of visual communication

  • David Sibbet's book: Visual Meetings

  • Wordle - Tool for generating word clouds from text you provide.

  • Search "graphic facilitation" or "graphic reporting" on YouTube

  • Network mapping - Below is a network map we made of all the individuals we planned on following up with from our Art of Hosting training. The average of all the connections was 6.7! Hopefully the commitment of drawing our intended connections will result in an effective Art of Hosting community of practice around at the University!
AoH Network Map.jpg
Movie, Slideshow, and Presentation Production
  • Prezi - Use of this zooming presentation editor has spread across the student body at the Humphrey school like wildfire this year. Lots of us have been using it as a zooming canvas to explore and present ideas with our fellow students in a fresh way. I also know people who use prezi instead of flash for their websites.

  • Animoto - A site that allows you to easily turn video clips and photos into video slideshows.

  • iMovie - For the price of a $4.99 app on an IPad (2nd edition - with a camera), a small group of us from the training created a great, albeit unedited, movie to capture our learnings and impressions from the training.

  • Xtranormal - This tool allows you to create short 3D animated movies from simple text-based movie-scripts. I haven't explored this tool enough to explain its use any further currently.

If you know of other tools, we'd love for you to share them in the Comments section of this post!

Initiatives Already Going on at the University to Bring People Together Better
There is great work that already being done around the University to inspire dialogue and meaning-making in new ways. Here at CIL, we've worked in a productive partnership with the Global Initiative for Food Systems Leadership over the past year to hold cross-sector forums at the intersection of human and animal health and economics. The harvests from both the Fall 2010 forum on Antibiotics & Agriculture and the Spring 2011 forum on Foot and Mouth Disease were defined, shared and have inspired action. We've shared the template used to harvest at these forums on InCommons.org.

The Children, Youth, and Family Consortium is similarly involved in a creative partnership with the nonprofit Public Agenda to "start a conversation about what it means to be a kid." They plan to bring together a diverse mix of parents, community members, state and local policymakers, early childhood advocates and interested citizens in "Citizen Conferences" to discuss what society's responsibility is to children ages 0-5. For more info on this initiative - called the Wonder Years - click here.

I'm sure there are other examples here at the U of M of centers or departments engaging with the public in unconventional ways. If you know of other efforts, we'd love to hear about them in the Comments section of this post.

There is admittedly more to be done here at the University to bring heart to our public engagement efforts, but I believe in the Art of Hosting community of practice that emerged from this summer's training to start to apply what we learned across the many centers, schools, and departments represented.

In closing, I can't help sharing one of the best "harvests" I've experienced lately. National Geographic produced a movie called "Life in a Day" that I had the opportunity to see on the night of its premiere on July 24th. Users sent in videos of themselves on July 24, 2010 that were then edited into a beautifully rich documentary of life, love, fears, and community around the world. The final film includes scenes from 4,500 hours of footage in 80,000 submissions from 140 nations. It appears the movie is now only premiering in cinemas nationally for a limited amount of time, so if you don't see a show time near you, I encourage you to keep your eyes peeled for this to be released on DVD! It's an incredible example of collective meaning making on a global scale.

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