This is an estuary. Â It is the place where a river goes to die. Â Everything the river has ever been and everything it has carried within it, is deposited at it’s mouth where the flow slows down and the water merges with the ocean. Â These are places of incredible calm and richness, but they lack the exciting flow of the torrents and waterfalls and cascades of the upper river system.
Yesterday I was speaking with a client who worried that an initiative we had begun together was heading towards the estuary of action – a long term visioning processes where lots of things are said and very little is done. Â “We’ve done that before,” she said. Â Nobody likes that. Â I wracked my brain to see where it was that I had led this group to believe that this is what we were doing. Â We had done a World Cafe to check into some possibilities for the organization and we had done a short Open Space to initiatie some experimental actions. Â We had learned a little about the organization from these two gatherings, and we were, at least in my mind, fully entered into a participatory action learning cycle, working with emergent ideas, within several well established constraints. Â I was surprised to hear the fear spoken that what we were doing was “visioning.”
Then I realized that what we were dealing with was an entrained pattern. Â People within this organization associated dialogue with visioning, and the results of dialogue with a mass of post-it notes and flip charts that never get typed up, and action that never comes of it. Â Likewise, it turns out that the associated planning with a process that begins with a vision, and then costs out a plan and takes that plan to a decision making body which then rules on whether the project can proceed, by allocating resources. Â Both of these views are old thinking, rigid patterns that lock participants in a linear view of action that looks like this:
The truth is that I had been viewing the process as an action learning cycle:
So now that we are a little clearer on this, there was a distinct relaxation among the group. Â We are heading into some uncharted territory and it is too early to nail down concrete plans about what to do and likewise simply visioning doesn’t take us anywhere either. Â Instead, we are harvesting some of the rich sense of community that exists, opening some space for a little leadership, inviting passion and responsibility and making small starts, Â The small starts are confirming some of what we suspected about how the organization works, which is good news, because we are developing a pattern of action together that will help us all as we move forward to do bigger things with more extensive resource implications. Â This is the proper role of vision and planning in emergent and participatory processes – gentle, developmental, reflective and active.