I’m back from Bella Coola, and reflecting on the remarkable three days of learning and Open Space we did there.
Saturday, we held a small community Open Space gathering around the issue of what the community needs to do to prepare for assuming full responsibility over child and family services. This is a provocative question in the Nuxalk Nation. The Nation is a strong and independent community and putting children and families in the centre of any conversation brings heart, passion and commitment.
We had a small group of people present for our Open Space. 20 people began the day with us and more came and went. There was a flurry of activity to post sessions in the morning, much of it spurred by pressing community needs. The conversations had a kind of solid adhesion to them that I haven’t witnessed in every community gathering like this. People sat in very well formed circles, and very little bumblebeeing was seen.
There were two incredible pieces of action that flowed from this gathering – one immediate and one long term. The short term project that arose came out of a conversation on the safety of children and youth. At the outset of that conversation a young man, Stephen, told a story about what happened to him the previous night. He was waiting to be picked up by his mother at 2am after being out with friends. While he was waiting a young girl, who he estimated to be between 10 and 12 years old, came out of the bushes, pulled out a crack pipe and started smoking it. Crack and crystal meth are just beginning to make an appearance in the community, but it was the age of this girl that was shocking to Stephen. He told his mom that no matter how he felt the next morning, he was going to that community Open Space to talk about what to do. Stephen’s story inspired the group on the spot to create a network of parent and Elder patrols. Parents signed up to take turns driving around the reserve all night, looking out for kids and helping them get home or stay safe. If it wasn’t possible for them to go home, Elder’s offered to open up their houses so the young people could stay with them until it was safe. The first patrol happened Saturday night.
The long term project involved further development of the idea of a community house that came out of our World Cafe on Friday. A group met to discuss what came next and they committed to open a bank account, begin fundraising and to meet in a week to flesh out a more detailed todo list. As a result of the concreteness of their invitation and willingness to work together, the group raised $260 just by passing a hat in the closing circle, a tangible investment of money that arose very much as a koha, which is the Maori word for what happens when people commit money to an idea at the end of a meeting.
One of the reasons why this Open Space seemed so “adhesive” was that it came at the end of two days of training, and the folks who came through that experience together ended up co-hosting the invitation for the Open Space – by directly inviting two or three other community members to show up on Saturday – and they took responsibility for co-hosting the conversations and the action in the Open Space. We came up with these two concrete projects without even doing any action planning.
As usual I learned much about community and Open Space in this process. The most important thing for me was noticing what happens when a community enters Open Space with some preparation. In the past I have facilitated these kinds of events in a way that was completely self-contained within the Open Space. It has long occurred to me that simply doing that is not leveraging all the potential for leadership and change that is present in a community. I have been thinking for a while about how to combine training and capacity building with Open Space events to maximize this high potential.
On this score, Michael Herman, Julie Smith, Judi Richardson and I developed an approach in 2002 in Alaska that addressed this by holding an Open Space event and then following up immediately with two days of Open Space training to further explore applications of the process and to develop ideas that were started in the Open Space. In Alaska in 2002 we had great success with this approach and Open Space became used fairly widely within the school system, and in some quite surprising places. The advantage of this approach is that the community gets to experience Open Space first, develop ideas and then refine them further.
This alternate approach is based on the work that I am doing with The Art of Hosting community. The Art of Hosting is a training event that covers many aspects of leadership, process design and methodologies and is built around the core of Appreciative Inquiry, World Cafe, Circle practice and Open Space. In wanting to give participants a more realistic experience of Open Space, we have been adding more and more time in the Art of Hosting to the Open Space events, and typically putting them at the end of the three or four days of training. The advantage of this approach is that it begins by building a broader sense of leadership, design and process and then uses Open Space to create the kinds of projects that flow from the learning work. In the context of community-based leadership development, this approach works beautifully, to give people a variety of tools, host conversations that are at times theoretical and at times deeply experiential and to sew it all together with a concrete experience of Open Space which actually gets so-hosted by the community members themselves.
I hope to get back up to the Nuxalk Nation in the not too distant future, to check in on where they are at and contribute where I can. You can contribute too if you like, by donating money to the community house fund, the project which started entirely in Open Space. If you could even spare $10 that would be fantastic, and to have it come from far flung parts of the globe would be an inspiration for the community members working hard to improve the lives of their children and families.