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"The Mycelial Cafe"--a virtual and/or hybrid re-imagination of the WC form

This process is inspired by work I've started with the good folks of the Mycelium School, including World Cafe Community stalwart Ashley Cooper. We're talking about what it means to "work mycelialy," i.e. like the network of tiny threads that make up the main "body" of a fungal organism (and play a key role in composting dead plant matter as well as being the source of mushrooms).

This has led to my realization that WC is a wonderful process for weaving lots of threads together and thus a great candidate for putting the mycelium metaphor into action. Here's what I just proposed to our little group, that can serve as a point of attachment for a more concrete conversation around what might be possible if we reimagine the WC form for virtual and hybrid contexts:

“Mycelial Café” (just made that up!) would involve a number of people hosting one or more small group conversations (in-person and/or virtually) over perhaps a week’s time. During and/or just after each one they create some kind of harvest (“tablecloth”) online (Hackpad is a platform that could work well for this) that could be shared with other participants. We would have one or at most two questions that everyone discussed. We could come together a week after the Talk Purpose event* for a final conversation on Maestro where we did perhaps one more round of small group dialogue followed by an extended harvest.  In that closing full group conversation, we would value and appreciate the weaving we have done for its own sake, talk about what we’re learning about working mycelialy, and, yes, hunt for “mushrooms. ” No pressure or expectations that they will emerge, just a comfortable knowledge that, if the conditions were right, they will be there, and perhaps even in profusion.

*Note: Talk Purpose is a regular "fishbowl" style conversational gathering that Ashley and Co. convene. In this example, it serves as a conversation starter. That seems like a nice add-on, but not necessarily essential to the form.

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Super! :-)

This experiment is about to get going in what might be a significant way! On Tuesday, 9/10,116,000 people will see an announcement about "a national conversation on poverty and wealth in america" in the e-newsletter of the Compassionate Action Network International. It will direct them to a Hackpad page for more info, as well as an email I created for inquiries. I have also scheduled a MaestroConference call for Sat, 9/14 at 8am Pacific/11am Eastern to introduce/orient people to the conversation and host at least one round of small group convos.

I'm working on the Hackpad landing page today and tomorrow, and would really like to see at least a few juicy asynch convos going by the time the newsletter hits.  I also have some questions that I would love this group's help with as I seek to create some hospitable space!  I'll post them each separately to keep this conversation clearer.

Question 1: Is "mycelial cafe" too strange and erudite a name touse as the public face for this conversation? I'm thinking I should simply call this "a national conversation on Poverty and Wealth in America," as billed in the e-newsletter.

How about "Poverty and Wealth in America: an experiment in dialogue?"

Question 2: per Amy's point about simplicity and clarity of question framing resulting in better dialogue... For the first Hackpad-based small group conversation that I created based on Robb's desire to jump right in, I asked three questions. I figured in asynch, that makes sense even though in a live setting, we would only ask one at a time. One of them was Amy's suggested question from above: When you imagine a national dialogue about poverty and wealth in America, what question(s) would you most like to explore with others?

The second question is currently framed as follows: What information or ideas would you most like to share?  The purpose here is to have the participants provide the contents for a wiki-like set of "background materials" that can help ground the conversation--a sort of crowd-sourced :"briefing book" if you will. But the first two responses were about ideas only, and not information. So I added a note as follows:

Note: this question was meant to prompt you to share materials such as articles, books, videos, blog posts etc., as well your own thinking. How can we reframe the question so that is clear? Also, it wold be helpful to have people provide a brief excerpt (or one or two sentence explanation of why this piece is important) as well as information on how to find the complete piece.

Can we come up with a more elegant way to handle this request?

I'm now trying out a single question (Amy's above) plus this additional request:

Other ideas and information you want to share
In addition to exploring the question above, we are compiling a set of resources and key ideas that will be shared as a sort of crowd-sourced "briefing book." What information and/or ideas would you most like other participants in this conversation to be familiar with in order to have an informed conversationNote: if you suggest written materials, videos, etc, please provide a brief excerpt and/or a sentence or two describing why you feel this is important.


Question 3: on the Hackpad I also asked the following: Who would you most like to have this conversation with?  My thinking was that, in this first "framing phase" of the dialogue, it would be valuable to get people thinking about the invitation process and that this might spark some energy for bringing a greater diversity of voices into the room.

The question was interpreted as referring to specific individuals (e.g. Van Jones), so again I offered an awkward clarifying note: 

Note: this question is meant to prompt suggestions not only for specific individuals but also for more general types or classes of people

Does it even make sense to ask this question at all? And if so, how might we frame it better? I'm suddenly thinking about some of the "questions for all seasons" from the World Cafe book. Maybe something that works with the "someone who has a very different set of beliefs" framing, or perhaps "what is possible and who cares?"

The deeper question here (for me) is what we might ask that will generate convening energy among the "first followers" so that the invitation process can cascade outward in a "mycelial" fashion, like this:


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