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Creating Space IX: What We Learned

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We would like to extend our sincere thanks and appreciation to the Creating Space IX participants for taking the time and completing the follow up survey and sharing your thoughts, experiences, learning, suggestions and comments. Over 38% of you responded! Your survey responses have provided us with a rich opportunity to learn about what worked, what didn’t work, and what we could have done better.

It all begins with the design, and this year’s team was comprised of those community members who responded to the invitation to join the Design Team that went out through our listserv. In a decided shift from previous years, this year a decision was agreed upon early on to invite every interested member of the community to join the Design Team and take part in shaping the event at whatever level they were able. That meant that some would be available to participate in every meeting, some in a few and some would be available only sporadically. As is the case in any collaborative effort, it took time to grow together as a team. One challenge we all faced at some level was to learn how and when to use the wiki as a collaborative tool to share our ideas and proposals. Use of the wikis and other collaborative technologies continue to be an area of learning. Over time, each core team member took on a leadership role in some aspect of the convening with outreach as the responsibility of everyone. In the weeks prior to open space the entire Design Team had the opportunity to collectively work with and tweak the proposed design using wiki technology. It was exciting to see the Design Team take shape and arrive at Creating Space ready to make it happen and to seize the moment – igniting and sustaining leadership for social justice!

Creating Space has always had a good number of new participants and this year 73% of the survey respondents were “first timers.” In fact, speaking of ‘first timers,’ seven of the Design Team members were also entirely new to Creating Space, infusing our meetings with fresh perspectives and ideas, and challenging some of our assumptions. For example, historically Creating Space was designed to include a combination of scheduled sessions with Open Space taking place in the course of one afternoon. This year, the team decided to have all the sessions take place in Open Space with no scheduled sessions; however, a wiki was created as a way for participants to link to their proposed sessions prior to the convening.

We acknowledge that participants come to the convening and bring with them different perspectives, expectations, cultures, learning styles and work contexts. In reviewing the survey responses, it’s clear that some aspects of the design worked better than others.

A Snapshot of Survey Responses or What We Learned 

Please refer to the attached document for a complete overview of the survey results. In general, the responses indicated that participants liked Open Space, but some would also have also appreciated more formal sessions. One participant thought “. . . the design was a little too loose. I think it might have been helpful to have some pre-designed workshops mixed with the open space sessions.” Many of you also indicated there was not enough unstructured time. “Was there any unstructured time? Felt a little packed at times.” The issue of not enough unstructured time is one we have grappled with in the past and in the planning of Creating Space IX. However, going forward we will continue to be mindful of the issue and work to weave unstructured time more intentionally into the overall design.

A category that received one of the highest ratings was the physical space and location. At the same time, one participant recommended, “Having it in a location that requires everyone to be together for the entire gathering, a more retreat-like orientation.” We have held some Creating Space convenings at more retreat-like settings and the benefits of everyone being together for the entire event are undeniable: conversations can continue throughout the evening and into the morning hours; time to develop deeper relationships, trust and conversations, etc. The issue of more unstructured time appears to be inextricably interwoven with a setting that is more retreat-like allowing for those rich conversations, deeper learning and relationships to be built upon. One caveat to the retreat setting is that the costs to participants are significantly higher and this year most organizations are struggling with diminishing resources.

The facilitation of Creating Space by Odin Zackman as the Anchor Facilitator was also rated among the most positive survey responses, as did the use of a team of facilitators (Diane Johnson-McCarthy and Odin Zackman). We have used the team facilitation model in the past and found it works well. One reason may be that each facilitator brings with them their own style which allows for more diversity in the facilitation as a whole. While the feedback on the facilitation team was extremely positive, one participant commented about an instance where a facilitator stepped out of their role and became a participant. They added that they experienced this as disruptive to the creation of a ‘safe container.’ The lesson here is to pay attention to maintaining the neutrality of the facilitation team.

An issue that has been an ongoing challenge for us is that of documentation. We continue to experiment in this arena and this year we relied almost exclusively on virtual collaborative spaces (wikis, ning site). Not everyone is comfortable working in virtual spaces and it might have been useful to have a webinar for participants introducing them to the various sites and how they could contribute to and use them.

Participants appreciated the role of the Conversation Catalysts, and at the same time raised the issue of better integrating them into the entire event. Rinku Sen’s presentation on structural racism and the need to push for a racial analysis for policy development as a way of avoiding unintended consequences (i.e. impact of economic downturn has significantly greater impact on people of color) was both provocative and catalytic. This was an opportunity to have a deeper conversation about race. “. . . and to not shy away from topics related to racism that Rinku brought up. It might have been helpful for someone on the design team to pose key questions based on remarks from the conversation catalysts as a way of ensuring that those conversations continued . . . “ In the survey responses and at the convening participants shared their disappointment that this conversation was not taken up with more intentionality. At the same time people acknowledged that it happened, and that now we could move forward to have those conversations. To continue this conversation, Sally Leiderman posted a blog post on Transforming White Privilege in the 21st century that poses questions for us to continue this conversation. We invite you to add your thoughts about these questions on our website by sharing your comments.

  • What curriculum do you use in your program to address structural racism and white privilege?
  • How do you create "safe spaces" and at the same time move people out of their comfort zones?
  • How do you deal with your own fears and concerns about dealing with issues of race and racism?

A couple of lessons can be learned from our experience with conversation catalysts:

  • Pay more attention to how we work with conversation catalysts to bring them into the convening and, as recommended by one participant, encourage them to stay for the entire event.
  • Be prepared for the unexpected and allow for flexibility in the design – be open.
  • Allow more time for conversation after the catalyst speaks so that participants can develop trust to go deeper into difficult conversations.

We welcome your continued engagement, both virtually and in person!

 

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