Purposes differ

A bit cryptic, perhaps? Or a tool for greatly increasing clarity?

I was at a network meeting on Zoom this evening. As it happens, it was about ‘harvesting’ in the sense used by Art of Hosting (AoH) practitioners, which is roughly to do with how do you gather the sense, the meaning, the outcome, or whatever it is of value from a ‘conversation’ that is being, or has been hosted. People were talking about lots of different ideas, asking how you harvest visually, graphically, in song, in movement or gesture, etc. And, naturally, the point was made that planning your harvest is a vital part of effective harvesting. The agricultural metaphor is not lost: ‘harvesting’ is part of a bigger picture which includes cycles, labour, outcomes, nourishment, and so on.

The point was well made, and well taken, that if you have a clear intention in mind, that is likely to help answer questions about the form of a helpful harvest. Or purpose, or outcome – and this seems to me to fit in well with the widespread practice particular in AoH circles to take a lot of care in framing the guiding question, or enquiry, around which a gathering, meeting or conversation is taking place. What is not so obvious, and wasn't obvious from the conversation this evening, were the basic categories of purpose that are frequently served by conversation.

One of the images than comes up frequently in AoH training is the ‘Diamond of Participation’, framed well by Sam Kaner, which has two sides: starting with divergence, and ending with convergence, as well as a ‘groan zone’ in the middle. So the first thing that occurred to me was that harvesting for divergence and convergence are likely to differ markedly. One of the points of divergence is to stimulate and gather diverse contributions, and in many techniques and exercises people write on sticky notes and put them up where they can be seen. Then people can start to make sense by grouping them, moving them around etc. But at that stage, the vital thing is to see it all.

On the other hand, harvesting convergence with a diversity of sticky notes would make little sense. If people are converging on an agreed way forward, the harvest is likely to include a formulation of what is agreed, and clarity about who is going to do what. Not unlike a traditional business meeting minutes, in fact, though the process of getting there is so different.

Change perspective a bit here, I've also been thinking a lot recently about online forums. What's the point of most of them? And I am starting to recognise that there is often very little tangible outcome from many forums. That may not be a problem, where they are not designed for any tangible outcome. But if not, what are they designed for?1

Help! the field keeps broadening out in front of my eyes! What is feedback for as well? And social media in general? And much of social life? And why, particularly now, do these things seem particularly problematic?

From my days in cohousing I learned at least one surprising truth: that people feel secure and safe less often than I had imagined, and when they feel unsafe, threatened, insecure, they most likely will not be collaborating much, may not be listening much, may not be in a position to give empathy, even in what is framed on the surface as a reasonable decision-making process. And in the present, polarised social and political landscape, people may feel less safe than for a long time.

So I'm adding this all up; and a very rough list of generic purposes of interaction with others comes to my mind. Here is my very quick list. I'm sure you can make a better one if you spend some time on it. The point here is just to illustrate the range, and they may not be in a logical order, though I'm seeing faint echoes of an upside down Maslow's ‘triangle’ here.

Looking at this list, all of which are things that I see some people doing sometimes, an obvious fact stares me in the face. The kinds of interactions which serve some purposes can be very different from those which serve other purposes. So what happens in social interaction? In unstructured face-to-face life, we tend to look out for and gravitate towards those people who want to interact with similar purpose. And we may be unaware of ourselves doing that.

But are online places useful for all these purposes equally? Certainly not, I would say. And it may be an illustrative exercise for anyone to take each purpose in turn, and think what kind of online forum or platform best suits it. And conversely, take each platform in turn and think which purposes it suits more, and which less.

Back to the Art of Hosting networking meeting. Which purposes was it trying to achieve? Did it? How can we tell? What did people harvest? I am really not sure, but I know what I feel called to do. It is to follow on my helping to guide through the process of creating an Art of Hosting page on Wikipedia, by contributing towards our (who?) putting together a fuller, richer and livelier learning resource for Art of Hosting, and of course Collective Presencing. You can't learn to do these things by self-study, but I believe learning about them can help motivate and greatly speed people's learning and development. And then on to other areas. I hope to write more about what that might involve, soon.

Inviting people to consider what they would create together, if they were free to do so, is, I suggest, a great way to help them towards clarity about the purposes that really matter.


1: I started to write about my doubts a while back


Topics: Collective Presencing; Complex psychology; Commons and collaboration; Personal development


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