Yesterday in a webinar for the Art of Hosting Applied Practice cohort I threw out a set of ideas around harvesting that were prompted a bit by experience and a bit by the questions that participants were asking. This is a list kind of banged out on the fly. What do you think?
Meetings are fundamentally productive. They produce results. But without planning for these results, we can get meetings that are unclear in their purpose or unclear in their function and the results are alos unclear. Ask yourself with every meeting “What are we producing?” The act of paying attention to that is called “harvesting.”
Harvesting planning needs a coherent scheme to structure the work and it is important to focus on all kinds of different outputs and outcomes from a process. To spur thinking, try working with these polarities:
Intangible/tangible. What are the intangible results we want from the work we are doing? Examples might include community, possibility, connection, belonging, clarity or inspiration. And what are the tangible things we want to have in hand? A report, a video, a mural, a decision? these are things we can point to and say “we accomplished this.”
Harvesting that serves the process and harvesting that extends after the process. In process harvesting includes ways in which the group uses it’s information to deepen or clarify the work it is doing. In almost every meeting, having a flip chart where we record ideas, or a table top sheet in a world cafe, or a book of proceedings in Open Space, means that the group has generated information that it can use to work with inside of the process. We also need to harvest things for afterwards, including reports for bosses or communities, decisions to implement, designs to create, prototypes to run. Think about what is useful in the meeting and what is useful afterwards. Anything you produce for later needs to have some context around it so people understand where it came from, how it was made and why it is useful.
Participant done/facilitator done. This is a balance. In dialogic participatory processes, we want harvesting to be done as much as possible by the participants themselves. But we have to be good with their time and effort and not distract them from engaging and participating in conversation either. So yes it might be important nfor participants to generate a number of insights around a question but it might be prudent if a smaller group does the pattern finding. The caveat here is that you have to be very very conscious of who is making meaning. It is so easy to bias a meaning making scheme. Try this experiment: next time you are clustering ideas for a group process, have a group of participants come up with a categorization scheme and then have the hosting teams come up with their own scheme. Whenever I have done this, I have been surprised by how different the schemes are. Meaning making is context dependant, so if you have a consultant walking away with an armful of flipcharts at the end of the day and writing a report, make sure that some small group of the participants checks the work for accuracy and bias.
Artifact/channel. What are the actual physical artifacts we will have in hand as a result of this process? Reports, videos, manuals…physical things. And what are the channels we need to create in order for those artifacts to be used? Without a channel for action, a report will sit on the shelf, or worse, it will be 300 pages long where it only needed to be 10 pages because only a certain amount of information matters to get things done. be precise with the artifacts you produce and ensure you have a way to use them right away or they will find their way to a shelf.
Intentional/emergent. When a hunter/gatherer goes out into the woods she goes looking for specific things: mushrooms, berries, roots, animals. But while she is out there she notices things, important patterns that help her decide on how she will go out into the forest in the future. This is what it is like when you go into a process with an intentional desired result AND what happens when you pay attention to what happens because you have undertaken the work. For example, one of the principles I try to operate by when facilitating meetings is “leave more community than you found.” We might initiate a process to do some strategic planning, but the emergent harvest could also be community and perhaps participants gaining new insights into each other’s leadership or perspective.
Personal/collective. Conferences are fabulous places for personal harvesting. In every learning situation a personal harvest is possible as well as a collective harvest. Make space for both. Build in reflection so that people can integrate their own learning with the group’s