Precision in harvest planning.

Since 2007 when Monica Nissen, Silas Lusias and I sat down at Phil and Laura Cass’s kitchen table to write up our thinking on the Art of Harvesting I have been a keen student of the art and practice of meaning making, sensing, visualizing and sharing the fruits of our work. We have called this practice the Art of Harvesting and I am as happy as anyone that it has become a big part of our practice.

Increasingly however I notice that the term “harvest” is being used with some imprecision that leads to confusion. For example in meetings people will often say things like “we will do this work and then we will do a harvest.” I have to admit that I am confused by this statement. What is the harvest? Is it simply a two minute silent reflection on the work? Is it a 30 page report? A vidoe? A picture? a collection of post it notes?

I owe this confusion to the fact that in English the word “harvest” is both a noun and a verb. As a verb, it is a beautiful word to describe our practice of “harvesting” just as “hosting” is a beautiful verb. But as a noun it is imprecise and meaningless and sometimes confusing to the process. Newer practitioners ask “what is a harvest?” thinking that it must be a certain thing done in a certain way rather than an agile response to purpose and context.

And so I have adopted a simple practice. While I continue to use the term “harvesting” as a verb, I have tried to stop using it as a noun, and in working with clients, students and apprentices I have stopped them when they use this word as a noun and invited them to tell me WHAT we will be doing, HOW we will be doing and WHY we are doing it. This leads to far better harvesting plans.

For example, instead of a design that says:

1000-1130 World Cafe: two rounds of discussion about our vision, one round of harvest
1130-1145 Final Harvest

We get

1000-1130 World Cafe: two rounds of discussion about our vision, one round on “what are we seeing about where we are going” Harvesting: 1. participants will record insights on post its. 2. Harvest team will group and theme these post its. 3. Graphic recorder will create a mural of the main ideas 4. Videographer will interview participants on these themes to elaborate further

1130-1145 Collective harvesting: Participants take two minutes to silently reflect on the conversation and how it guides their work. Participants then given five miuntes to journal on that topic and host conducts a 10 minute popcorn conversation with the room to allow a few insights to be shared. Tim will make a slam poem and read it out to the group.

Harvesting is important. In fact it is, for me, the most important thing. “We are not planning a meeting, we are planning a harvest, and the meeting serves the harvest.” I invite you to reflect on your use of the term harvesting and bring as much or more precision in your design to this practice. Just as a farmer must till the sol and plant with the final crop in mind. our hosting practice means nothing if we cannot create fruit to accelerate learning, wisdom and powerful results.


  1. Chris
    Thanks for important reminder that “the harvest” is the reason for the convening. This perspective at this precise moment helped me design my next gathering with more clarity and focus relieving my lament: ‘of what avail’ Chiara Wood (Art of Hosting participant from the past)

  2. “Harvest” makes me queasy. I mostly drop out of facilitated collective “harvesting” processes.

    For me, “harvest” happens while in-process: I get an idea, an insight, an action, and capture it in my notebook. That’s it. Later, more may come in unexpected moments or in periods of systematic, solitary reflection. And even more may come in conversations and reflections with others – but they happen in their own time, at their own pace, in their own setting, rather than being pre-designed by a facilitator.

    Separate, additional process phases of “harvesting” often feel artificial and forced to me (“here! now! let’s generate something!”), and the artefacts that in the AoH community seem to be called “the harvest” (?) (pictures on walls, poems, words shouted into a room…) seemed shallow, vague and unpractical.

    (So I guess I am completely with you when you say “harvesting is the most important thing.” It’s just that for me, “harvest” is only an action. I don’t care for all the intermediary artefacts. I want to see action.)

  3. I am really curious, and want to hear more…..

  4. Martin…this is exactly what I am saying in this post. Harvesting is a verb. Let’s be clearer about the nouns. Cheers!

    Chiara…great to hear from you!

  5. I find myself asking, when I’m designing sessions or generally in meetings, “how is this going to move us forward?” and “what can we do differently to help this have even more of an impact?” and “how can we avoid this being just another one-off that doesn’t make much of a difference?”

    Chris, and Martin, to me this is what comes to mind re harvesting… any thoughts?

  6. Devon: your questions seem useful to me. They point at the sustainability of the efforts the group is undertaking. I like that. You probably come out with “harvests” that are more like action items, or thoughts about / commitments to actions rather than “insights”.