Itasca County, MN – Art of Hosting Works – Background, Application and Impact

In just over one year, community citizens of Itasca County, who were not familiar with the term Art of Hosting Conversations that Matter, went from showing up at the first three day training in November 2013 with a healthy mix of curiosity and scepticism, to hosting a one day community wide conversation at the first ever Grand Gathering of Itasca County just one year later that attracted over 85 people who engaged in 50+ conversations that mattered over a five hour period.

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How does a community do this? By being passionate about influencing their future and believing it is possible. Support from the Blandin Foundation, (and thanks to the vision initially held by Bernadine Joselyn) made it possible for Jerry Nagel of the Meadowlark Institute and Kathy Jourdain of Shape Shift Strategies Inc. to offer (with other AoH practitioners) five three day Art of Hosting trainings, two Community World Cafes, one Grand Gathering using Open Space Technology and nine days of Advanced (or more in-depth) Training on specific topics. The Community Cafes and Grand Gathering were brain childs of participants in the trainings who stepped up to community engagement and hosting in beautiful and collaborative ways.

Participants understand that good community conversations on important issues offer everyone who shows up the opportunity to speak openly and without fear, to be listened to authentically and respectfully, and to leave feeling an ownership in the outcomes of their conversations. Community or civic engagement is also about accountability and commitment, a request not only to show up but to engage. This is happening in Itasca County in abundance now.

A report on the background, application and impact was compiled for the Blandin Foundation to show the value of the investment made in this series of program offerings for the community and you can access it here: Blandin Harvest 2013-15. (It might take awhile to download as it is full of pictures and stories that Highlight AoH in Action.)

Because Blandin supported this initiative, it made it possible for diverse cross sections of the community to participate – including artists, teachers, business people, not-for-profit staff, government staff from the county commission, natural resources, corrections and more, people from the Leech Lake Nation, people in transition, volunteers and more to participate. People met new friends and brought a variety of worldview perspectives into the room, where people “met” each other in the most interesting and sometimes unexpected places because they brought their curiosity to the conversations.

The stories of impact are still being collected. It is the stories that bring alive what is possible. The stories convey both subtle and large examples of bringing the practices to life. The last set of deeper dive trainings is happening in August 2015 and the programs are filling fast with previous participants, many of whom are planning to bring more people with them.

Itasca County is a beautiful example of the ripple effect that emerges as people change the way they approach meetings and conversations to get to the heart of what matters quickly, to evoke action that impacts, lasts and makes a difference across the region.

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Real People. Real Lives. Real Community. Real Impact.

Driving from the countryside of Stakke Lake in Minnesota, through the little towns and forested roads on the three hour drive to Grand Rapids, it is easy for me to forget that I am not in Canada, but driving through the US countryside, with my partner and co-hosting colleague Jerry Nagel, on our way to a rural community that is breaking its way out of any stereotypes we might conjure up about rural communities – in Canada or the US. What is happening there could happen anywhere. It inspires hope at a time when hope, especially for our rural communities, is deeply needed in the world.

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What’s Been Happening

In 2013, the Blandin Foundation funded a grant to the Meadowlark Institute to bring the Art of Hosting (AoH) Conversations that Matter to the Itasca County area. Not a one-off training but, thanks to the vision of friend, AoH Practitioner and Global Steward, Bernadine Jocelyn, and her colleagues at the Blandin Foundation, a series of trainings intended to offer residents of Itasca County the opportunity to acquire and use skills of 21st Century Leadership to work with every day life and address some of the most pressing challenges in their communities. The Blandin Foundation was founded by Charles Blandin in 1941 to aid and promote Grand Rapids (population around 10,000) and the surrounding area (total population around 40,000) in such a way that it could be responsive to changing times, a beautiful alignment with the adaptive capacity of AoH offerings.

What’s happening there, with organic emergence and almost astonishing interconnectedness, is a thing of beauty. Four Art of Hosting trainings (130 people altogether so far) since November 2013 with two more in the works; two Community Cafés (with almost 100 participants altogether) convened by a planning team that sparked from an Open Space conversation in the first AoH, called by Sandy Layman, a well known community leader. She asked the question “How can we become a community that hosts its own conversations?” That question is gaining momentum as it continues to spark the curiosity and inspiration of the county.

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The first Community Café brought together participants from the first two AoH cohorts and was held one evening during the second training. The second Community Café was inserted into the middle of the fourth training, in an afternoon, and brought together participants from all four trainings and others who wanted to join in.

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The Stories That Bring the Data Alive

All of that feels like data. It is the stories that bring the data alive, that show the nuances and interweave of connections; the stories of who is showing up in the same spaces together; the stories of willingness to dive into challenging conversations to address both long held and emerging issues; the stories of risk and courage as people bring AoH patterns and practices into likely and unlikely work settings.

Truly a fractal of the community is coming together – people who might not otherwise find themselves in the same room or the same conversations. The county administrator. Educators. A senior leader in Corrections. Senior leaders of non-profits. Advocates for mental health. Consumers of mental health services. People who have been homeless, some still in transition. People with very diverse political views. Local radio station representatives. Artists. Business people. Blandin Foundation staff. More. All on equal footing with equal voice. All responding to questions centered on “What is the future we want to live into and what can we begin now?”

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The stories that are emerging from the people who have been through the training bring the impact alive and are heart opening. Our friend in Corrections, who was in the February cohort, shared with us that he only recently had the opportunity to offer a check in at the beginning of a meeting. He said it changed everything about the meeting. When we asked him how, he said, “People were very emotional.” When we asked him what his check in question was, he said, “How we are doing?” Simply, how are we doing? An invitation to a moment of humanity, an invitation to show up fully. They will now start every meeting with a check-in question. A small, but powerful, shift in practice.

The County Administrator shared that there is a discussion happening at the County offices about mental health funding, the number of agencies that provide services and the need for greater interagency communication. Someone at the county offices, who has only heard about AoH but not been to a training, said that what is needed for that conversation is art of hosting.

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In Bigfork, another Itasca County community, community leaders have used World Café to host a conversation about an ongoing contentious issue, bringing new insight and perspective to the issue, establishing a foundation from which to move forward.

The region is facing some growing, possibly divisive issues; particularly around resource extraction (economy) and the environment; issues that are growing more complex all the time. Experience with the patterns and practices of the Art of Hosting is helping people see the possibility of different conversations; conversations that invite a multiplicity of worldviews, give voice to all the perspectives beyond the vocal few, invite people who live, work and play in the region to imagine more of the future they all want to live into, to continue to forge new ways forward on small and large matters. There is a growing buzz in the community and a sense of urgency combined with curiosity and even hopefulness.

The Community Conversations planning team grows with each successive training. The team is now getting ready to call and convene a county wide “Grand Gathering” on November 22, 2014 using Open Space Technology – the first community meeting of its kind in the area. This demonstrates the increasing reach of a commitment that began with that Open Space conversation during the first Art of Hosting training nearly a year ago, building on an idea inspired by the Great Gathering in Fredericton, NB; which demonstrates the interweaving of stories across borders and geographic distances. (And, incidentally, we have discovered there is a history of relationship between New Brunswick and Itasca County thanks to the pulp and paper industry.)

KAXE, a local radio station, present at the Community Café and on the planning team, will be doing a series of radio spots leading up to the Grand Gathering, which is being hosted by the Grand Rapids Community Foundation. The team is in full volunteer recruitment and planning mode and the community is being invited to create an agenda of conversations and possible action steps that are meaningful and relevant to them. Some of the potential conversation themes have been popping up already in the Community Cafés and the AoH trainings. They include an emphasis on youth (brain gain), on revitalizing communities, co-ordinating resources and connecting diverse voices.

IMG_0824One of the many compelling themes that is emerging is around evoking stories and extending invitations. Care enough to ask for the story; bring everyone to the table to identify struggles and be open to hearing the unheard. Notice who is not there who should be and extend an invitation. Be a neighbour, bring a neighbour

It is the tip of the iceberg. The work has only just begun. This community is carving out pathways that can be an inspiration to other communities searching for new ways to imagine and live into the future. What can we begin now?

Real People. Real Lives. Real Community. Real Impact.

Worldview Awareness – Imagining the Possibilities

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It might have been in 2005, when I took part in my first Art of Hosting (AoH) Conversations that Matter training on Bowen Island, that I first heard the term worldview, although I can’t be sure. Then and later, if it was talked about, it came in the context of a mechanistic worldview and a living systems worldview, comparing several points of each and recognizing that AoH operates from a living systems worldview. In my experience of AoH trainings, that was pretty much it until, in 2011, I started co-hosting with Jerry Nagel from the Meadowlark Institute in Minnesota.

Jerry was and is steeped in worldview awareness partly through working on his PhD dissertation that looks at social constructionist theory, worldview and the Art of Hosting and partly because of the deep and evolving practice he and we have been bringing around worldview in AoH trainings and beyond. Because of this, we have been developing a more comprehensive approach to worldview and worldview awareness than I had been exposed to before. Jerry and I, and friends and colleagues like Stephen Duns, Dave Ellis, Carolann Wright-Parks and others, have been adopting, exploring and adapting a worldview teach and practice in new, innovative and exciting ways.

What we have been learning from participants in the worldview awareness conversations in the AoH trainings we have led, is that the worldview conversation lingers in their awareness long after the training. In the evaluations we conduct a few weeks after each AoH training we do, participants often identify the worldview exploration as the most impactful part of the training. They state that the reflective space they are invited into about worldview(s), where it comes from, what their own worldview is and curiosity about others’ worldviews helps create an understanding of how to give voice and visibility to multiple worldviews and create openings for successfully leading different, more inclusive conversations on issues and challenges that routinely show up in organizations, communities and social systems.

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If this can happen with a conversation over a couple of hours what more becomes possible with a deep dive into worldview awareness or worldview intelligence? This is what we are now on an inquiry to discover. It is what led to prototyping the first introductory day to the Transformative Power of Worldview Awareness in Halifax where we tested a few ideas and reaped enough ideas to inspire possibility for a long time to come. While the AoH conversations focused mostly on individual worldview, the conversation is now expanding to organizational and community worldview as well as creating the conditions for multiple worldviews to be welcomed into stakeholder dialogues and other places where the risks of engagement are perceived to be higher.

In the one day workshop in Halifax, participants came from a wide variety of places including provincial government departments like health and transportation, the school board, Nova Scotia Community College, Halifax Regional Municipality and community agencies. Quite a few had been involved in diversity and inclusion work for years – welcoming of diversity being one of the more obvious outcomes of worldview awareness – and others identified themselves as social change agents.

The learning environment was rich. Going into the day, Carolann, Jerry and I had so many choices of what to include in the one day and then during the day itself we had to make more choices. We know there is ample material for exploration in a variety of offerings. To say our imagination has been sparked would be an understatement. And we are quite inspired by the reflections shared by the participants in our one day offering, a few of which are below.

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A snapshot of some of the participants at the first Introduction to the Transformative Power of Worldview Awareness Workshop.

“I had no idea what I was walking into but knew when Kathy’s name was associated with it, it would be a great ride. I am a change agent. People’s stories here today have influenced my worldview. It is important to understand the other person and their worldview. This is a wonderful tool to initiate the conversation if you want to be or are a change agent. If you can’t get to the conversation, you can’t get to the change.” Change agent, Department of Health, NS Government

“It’s been a helpful day. I feel very validated in my current practice – which for me is heart work not training. I love the worldview approach and have many new trinkets to take away to apply in my work.” Diversity Officer, Higher Education

“I am more ready to ask more questions to try to go deeper in understanding of the issues and challenges we face.” Diversity Officer, Municipal Government

“I came in frazzled looking for the magic bullet to questions I’ve been carrying alone for six years and I am now connected into a community engaged in this work. I have lots more questions but am optimistic there is another approach – through worldview awareness.” Social change agent at an NGO

“I walked in with some assumptions that proved wrong. One day is not enough. I work in isolation in an interesting system. Starting a conversation with a different entry point might help me impact change in the system.” Employment equity officer in a public organization

So… stay tuned. There is more to come. Looking at Minnesota this fall, Australia in the new year and more in Halifax too. We are exploring a comprehensive approach to worldview awareness: transforming differences into progress, seeing how growing worldview intelligence in an area that has not been explored to the same degree or depth that religious and scientific worldviews have been explored will generate social change methods and processes in situations that have challenged the best of what we know to date in engagement strategies and practices.

Virtual Circle Check-In as an Entry Way to Practice

In the Art of Hosting Conversations That Matter Training where Jerry Nagel and I are part of the hosting team, after we experience circle practice, usually as a form of check-in on our first day, we offer a little teach on check-in and check-out practices as a routine part of a meeting structure and flow, as a way to help people arrive into the purpose of the meeting and to wrap up the meeting before everyone departs.  We share how we, like many of our colleagues, also do this with our calls or virtual meetings as we are part of many hosting teams where members are drawn from many locations.

A participant at a November 2013 training in Grand Rapids shared her experience with how using circle with a virtual work group shifted the shape of their experience.

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“I work pretty much 100% via phone. Today, I was bringing a group together after a few weeks unconnected during the holidays. Wondering how to loop everyone back into the groove, I recalled  one of the things we learned at AoH in Grand Rapids, about how a “circle” acts as a form of check in and grounding.  I explained briefly what we did at our AoH workshop with the circle and a structure. I asked them, if we actually had a physical circle, what structure would they place in it and what about it would they like to share.

“Wow!  It was amazing how their “structure” actually related to the previously stated goals of the group and their own stated goals.  This set the course for the rest of the meeting. What could easily have been a painful meeting listening to how busy everyone has been, blah, blah, blah – turned into an awesome meeting. Picking their “structure” back up set action in place for our next meeting too.

“Just wanted to let you know this stuff actually works – if we use it;)”

Love that last line – this stuff actually works – if we use it! Where is your entry point? How do you invite people so they feel invited, thoughtful about it and engaged?

Transformative Questions Can Shift Worldview – Guest Author Jerry Nagel

authored by Jerry Nagel (Originally published at Growing Hosting Artistry, January 3, 2014)

 “The success of the intervention is dependent upon the inner condition of the intervener.” William O’Brien (deceased), former CEO of Hanover Insurance

QuestionsQuestions. It seems that when one adopts inquiry as a core part of a way of being in the world there are always questions. Some are simple: “How are you today?” Some are reflective: “Why did I say that? How can I help in this situation?” Some challenge us to explore areas of interest more deeply: “What is the theory behind…? How can we be intentional about collective transformation?” Some are at the core of our worldviews: “What is really real? Who am I? Why am I here?”  And sometimes a question can change our lives by creating the conditions to alter our worldview. The asking of a simple question can be a transformative experience.

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July 3rd, 2003 I experienced the transformative question that started me on a journey that would shift my worldview, although I didn’t know it at the time. I was part of a small group of people working on agriculture and rural policy issues in the United States that had traveled to Europe to examine how environmental and social values were impacting European agriculture practices.  During dinner one evening a powerful question emerged within the group that influenced our conversations for the rest of the trip.  The question was “Have we been asking the same questions [about rural development policies] over and over for so long that we don’t even know what the right question is anymore?”

This transformative moment started me on a journey of exploration, learning and self-reflexivity that has led to a shift in my worldview, a change in professional focus and a reconnecting with a curiosity about human behavior that I had explored in my early teens. It also reconnected me to a strongly held belief in human possibility that developed in my late teens and twenties and a deeper awareness of our connections to something greater that, for me, is sensed most during my times in nature.

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As I explored ideas, methods and programs to find the right questions for addressing the current rural policy issues in my work back home in Minnesota in a change lab initiative called the Meadowlark Project and through my participation in the Donella Meadows Leadership Program, I couldn’t escape a similar question that was simmering within me, “What was my own personal ‘right’ question?” Having spent my professional and intellectual life working as a research economist on rural development with a worldview that assumed that if we created investments in the material well-being of people and communities (jobs, buildings, roads, etc.) then rural communities would thrive, it surprised me to discover that when I challenged my professional worldview I was also challenging my own personal worldviews and related sense of self or identity as an economist.

There were two big learnings from my work with the Meadowlark Project Change Lab. First was a recognition that while we all wanted to have the difficult conversations about the challenging and complex issues the Change Lab was working to address, we didn’t have the skills to have them. Second was a realization that while addressing the material well-being of a community was important and necessary, it was not sufficient to build a wholly healthy community. To do so both the material and human side of a community’s life needs to be addressed.

I found myself drawn more and more to actions that connected the work of rural development with one’s own or a community’s set of values and beliefs, which also connected with the work of my own personal explorations.

 “The essence of our leadership journey is about growing into our true identity as a leader and, by doing so, accessing an intelligence that is greater than ourselves and encompasses the whole.” – Petra Kuenkel, Mind and Heart, 2008

As someone trained in economics, my worldview was deeply embedded in the notion of ‘man’ as an independent actor making rational choices of pure self-interest. I found myself challenged by the paradox that we humans experience ourselves as separate, unique and free individuals, and the social constructionist perspective, which I was learning about and coming to accept while writing my doctoral thesis on worldview and Art of Hosting, that everything that we are and all that matters actually comes from our relational experiences as humans and that this begins the moment we are born (and possibly before).

These paradoxes troubled me for some time, as I also sensed that exploring them was part of the journey to connecting with my life journey. So, while keeping one foot solidly planted in the work of answering the emergent questions about rural development policy I also committed to an even more intentional self leadership exploration of the deeper questions of “Who am I? What is my nature?”

The challenge it seemed to me in this exploration was to let go of attachments to specific images of myself that would prevent me from not only participating in whatever evolutionary changes this journey might offer, but also prevent me from seeing the whole and my relatedness to it. I was beginning to understand that my journey was becoming an exploration of the ‘range’ of me rather than the ‘one’ of me.

The work my colleagues and I have taken on through the Art of Hosting Conversations that Matter invites us into a wholeness – a way to connect how we are in the world with practices that support our actions. It also invites us to continually be aware of our worldview(s) and the impact on our hosting.  For me, as an AoH practitioner and host, this is an essential element in the exploration of growing hosting artistry.

Power and the Four Fold Practice

 ~co-written by Jerry Nagel, President of Meadowlark Institute and Kathy Jourdain, Founder of Shape Shift Strategies Inc.~

“Power is the strength and the ability to see yourself through your own eyes and not through the eyes of another.  It is being able to place a circle of power at your feet and not take power from someone else’s circle.”Lynne V. Andrews, Flight of the Seventh Moon

One of the underpinnings of the Art of Hosting Conversations That Matter is the Four Fold Practice. This is a set of practices that invite us to host self, others, processes or groups and to be in co-creation or community of practice with others. Serendipitously coming across the above quote in a little offering about the energy of the magician, generated a whole new level of reflection about power and the first two practices for us.

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The first practice for the Four Fold Practice is to host yourself, to be present or have presence.  When you focus on and grow this practice you know your center and ground and the strategies, personal practices or disciplines that enable you to access this place within yourself.  You can then stay present more often in more and more challenging situations and you can find your way back to presence more quickly should you find yourself off balance for any reason – as we all do from time to time in the flow of life.  In essence, you become more powerful in presence because, like the above quote says, “power is the strength and the ability to see yourself through your own eyes and not through the eyes of another.” Your understanding of who you are is internally rather than externally validated.  For us, what this affirms is the benefit of having a regular practice of self-reflection, not as a process for self-criticism, but out of knowing self or seeing self.  This is a life practice.

The second practice in the Four Fold Practice is to participate by hosting another and allowing yourself to be hosted.  It is a reciprocal relationship when you are tuned in enough to feel the balance between listening and speaking for each of you, which does not necessarily mean equal time.  Sometimes you listen more, sometimes you speak more. Sometimes you need to host someone else and sometimes you need to be hosted. “It is being able to place a circle of power at your feet and not take the power from someone else’s circle.”  If you show up powerfully present you have no need to try to take away someone else’s power nor do you feel threatened by them because your sense of self comes from self rather than from needing anything from another.

“Knowing others is intelligence, knowing yourself is true wisdom. Mastering others is strength, mastering yourself is true power.” Tao Te Ching

This does not mean you cannot be in a space of shared power.  When you are truly powerful, you are also able to fuel the other person’s circle of power without lessoning your own, inviting and allowing them to step more into their own humanity and to bring it fully into the space between you and shared by you. Through this you build the relational field.  This is particularly important when you are part of teams, building the relational field to host groups and processes from a place of individual and collective presence and attention to what is present in the moment. It lends itself to the conditions for co-creation in a team or in a community of practice. It opens up the possibility to move into the generative space at the bottom of the U (from Theory U).  And this is where we often say magic happens – the magic in the middle.

“Magic makes it possible to use the limitless power of spirit to reshape the world in accordance with the fondest desires of the soul.” Donald Tyson, New Millennium Magic

This is part of the exploration we will be in at the end of January 2014 as we co-host with others Growing Hosting Artistry, to be offered in Minnesota. A sneak peek, since the invitation is not quite ready, is that we will explore world view as a lens to deeper work, what it takes from us as hosts to create containers for powerful work, become curious about new narratives that want to live in the world now, how to skillfully deal with shadow and projection, the impact of the relational field including among members of the team on our hosting artistry and how to design for the work at hand.  Hosting artistry begins with knowing self and our power and being in the place of centeredness with individual and shared power.

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Jerry Nagel and Kathy Jourdain – co-authors, co-hosts, friends and colleagues

Seeing and Being Seen, Having Voice

St. Cloud is a small city in Minnesota known euphemistically as “White Cloud” because of its reputation as a racist town.  Some residents of this community have decided this is a reputation that needs to shift.  They are taking action in the form of Conversations that Matter.

Mayuli Bales became aware of the Art of Hosting a couple of years ago through one of the early trainings in Minnesota.  She began to dream of what might be possible in her home town and the seeds of the multi-cultural community gathering for conversation began to take shape, seeds just harvested mid-November 2012.

It was the first gathering in St. Cloud about race and culture convened by people of colour.  Mayuli pulled together a local calling team despite not being able to explain clearly what the Art of Hosting is and they got to work, supported by InCommons and the Meadowlark Institute.

Some of the most passionate discussions in the hosting team were about seeing and being seen, having voice that is acknowledged and recognized. The experience of so many people of color is that they are invisible, not seen, not heard. Heartbreaking. For them. For those of us on the hosting team too.  For me.

The dream was to Color the Cloud. The purpose for our gathering co-evolved by the hosting team the day before was:

Discovering together our community, to build the future by:

  • Seeing each other
  • Contributing all of our voices
  • Getting skillful at being in conversations that matter to us
  • Co-creating the evolving story

So much anticipation.  So much hope.  So much anxiety. Could it really happen? The three day design that emerged used the themes in the purpose as themes for each day.  Day 1 was Discovering Community: Seeing and Being Seen.  Day 2 was Building Community: Getting skillful together. Day 3 was Practicing Community: Co-creating the evolving story.  The design included the usual interweave of patterns, practices and teaches.

Drummers who opened the community conversations in St. Cloud

We were welcomed into our space by drummers – three members of a family with Aztec heritage, a father, mother and their three year old son who took up his place as a drummer.  The father shared with us, “You’ve been told in school and in your museums that Aztec’s are extinct.  But here we are, my wife, my son and me.  We are not extinct.  Neither is our culture.”  Culture must adapt to survive while cherishing those elements which make the culture distinctive.

He shared with us the story of the drum – as a grandfather, as a heartbeat, as part of community voice with its own message for each of us.  We were all invited to drum.  All of us.  Latinos, Somali’s, Oromo, African Americans, White Americans (and Canadians too) – broad categories of culture which do not do justice to the full multiplicity of culture in the room.  One world where many worlds fit.  Could fit.  Could be invited to fit.

The container was set, to be strengthened over the next few days. The invitation to see.  To see who else is in the room.  Who else cares enough about coloring the cloud to show up – for a morning, an afternoon, a meal, for three days. To be seen.  To contribute voice.  All voices.  Welcoming the languages present to be spoken aloud for all to hear.  Slowly at first but building so that by our check out circle, people were freely speaking their language, interpreted for the English speaking among us to comprehend, to see, to witness.

We became aware, as a hosting team, that these people, showing up day after day, did not need to hear our voices introducing teaches into the room.  They needed to hear each other’s voices, each other’s stories.  In ways and on a scale that had not yet happened in this community.  They needed and wanted to become skillful in practicing conversation with each other.  And to use conversation to support each other in initiatives and projects called out during the proaction café.  So we let the teaches of frameworks go and we focused on processes, ways and means of continually inviting them into conversation with each other.

The story of the new began to emerge during Open Space, Collective Storytelling, World Café, Proaction Café and smaller deep check in circles.  Surveying the small groups at any given time or in any given process, it was easy to see the diversity in each circle.  It was heartwarming.

Two of many stories to share here.

The first is of a member of our hosting team, a beautiful Somali woman dressed in the full traditional garb of her culture and often in the most brilliant of colours.  At the end of Day 1 she is part of the check out team.  Sensing the energy is low, she has a plan.  She looks down at her dress, begins to pull up the top layer of it, tying it in a knot, exposing the next layer of dress which still goes down to the floor.  Just this is so unexpected she has our full attention.  Then, she invites all of us to imagine with her that we are cats, to get down on the floor moving around on all fours, meowing.  Amidst gales of laughter, all who were able in the room, get down on all fours and move through the room with varying degrees of gracefulness and hilarity.  Be prepared to be surprised!  How many stereotypes did she smash through with this simple gesture of fun and delight?

The second story is of a self-proclaimed native son of St. Cloud, an older and retired white man.  He was asked to share his story in the collective story harvest and, to be honest, I wasn’t sure how it would unfold.  He offered his story, not only as his story, but as the story of his mother and his grandparents too.  Among the people in his group were three young Somali women.  Later in the collective harvest, one of these young women stood up and said, “We are always asked about my culture and what it’s like to live here. I have realized that we don’t stop to ask the people who have always lived here about their culture and what it’s like for them to live here.”

Later, when we reconvened in our full circle, someone pointed out to me that this man was now sitting in the middle of these Somali women.  Still later, when I thanked him for bringing his story to the group, he thanked me for the opportunity.  He told me he had arranged for these women to meet his mother and hear her story directly.  Delight all around.

These are just two small examples of how we the purpose of our gathering gained life and vibrancy.  People were beginning to see each other and to feel seen by each other, to give voice and be heard.  It is a beginning for a town that is coloring the cloud, shifting the shape of its reputation and sending out the message that the future is being co-created by people who care about where they live and about each other.