Inappropriate action planning makes me sad

Last year in Slovenia, a group of Art of Hosting practitioners gatherd for a week at a well loved 17th century manor to be together.  I suppose you could call it a “conference” but we all called it a “Learning Village.”  And it was a learning village.  The agenda we set was for a five day Open Space gathering.  there was music and local wine drinking and a learning journey on the land, and the teenagers cleaned out an old stone chapel that hadn’t been dusted for 300 years.  We talked about our work, did tai chi and aikido, played football and made art.  Our kids fell in love and broke up!

It was a village, and there was tons of learning.  And no action plans, no next steps, no commitments, no necessary reports.  A few months later there was a harvest document lovingly stewarded by a few people.  This is all appropriate and good.

And sometimes, there are gatherings where next steps and action plans are important and necessary and are the reason why we are gathering.  But always?  No.

I have begun to notice that when I see conference agendas with “next steps and action plans” attached to them (and especially attached to the end of the last day when everyone is tired and most people have left), I become sad.  Actually and emotionally a little sad.  i think it is because doing this unconsciously reduces the pure experience of being together and intenstly learning into something “productive” in order to justify doing it.

So please, think really carefully about whether or not you gathering needs action steps, especially if you are planning a conference where the purpose is for people to simply be together learning and connecting.  That alone is significant action.  Do we really need to justify it any further?


  1. I can relate to this Chris. With one conference I am involved in we do have an ‘action space’ at the end of the day but it is more about identifying the ideas bubbling up in the room and we won’t be developing any action plans (we are offering to host a separate smaller gathering with those who want to take their ideas further together after the conference).

    Where we have focused more of our attention is on the harvest from the day and have a really lovely harvest plan that will create a post-conference PDF to help tell the story of what happened that day. I wonder if sometimes the cry for action plans and the like can be explored through a good conversation on harvest?

  2. Hi Chris. I love what you say here, and this resonates strongly.
    There might be, for want of a better term, a learning style consideration. Not all participants of events will be as thoughtful and connectivist as thee. Would be interesting to use what you say here as a base, as opposed to presumption of need for action requirement, and then build on that into activity around deciding how to appropriately articulate the connections between the learning experience and individual or group contexts to which the learning may need to be applied. Ha. You know, that’s exactly what I am doing by writing this come to think of it. Thanks! And maybe that is it. I am not actually articulating the action I am taking away from this, I am articulating my learning or thought process. Maybe it is the need to ‘plenary’ the actions that is wearisome rather than the process of imagining them.

  3. Yes. I think a beautiful harvest often meets that need. When I have used graphic recorders (including working with you) just to capture what is happening, it often scratches that itch.

    Truth be told I don’t think people really think about what they mean by “action” and they assume everyone has the same understanding if the term.

  4. Right. This is a great observation Neil an its valuable seeing your process.

    When I work with clients and they use the term “action” I often ask them to tell me what they want to happen without using that word. Brings more clarity.