Hosting Conversations about Questions that Matter
Last Saturday my partners and I hosted over 120 community leaders at an Open Space Community Meeting here in Monrovia, Liberia. My small non profit, Global Citizen Journey, in partnership with the Liberian organization, Population Caring Organization, are launching the Liberia Peacebuilder Initiative to help grow a network of leaders that cut across all of the many divides here: traditional, Christian, Muslim; 16+ ethnic groups; men/women; youth/elders; educated/illiterate; ex-combatants; returning refugees. We have recruited 35 leaders from the Interfaith Council of Churches, Tribal Elders Council, National Council of Tribal Governance, and several NGOs plus the Kofi Annan Graduate school of Peace Studies. These 35 received a 5 day training in Compassionate Listening, Restorative Circles, Trauma Healing, Forgiveness & Reconciliation – and I will return in 2 months to continue this train-the-trainer program. One of the components they will learn is how to facilitate Open Space and World Café, so they will have these powerful tools to share with their communities and bring their groups together in dialogue. To introduce them to this practice, they were invited to attend with their invited guests to a Community Meeting last Saturday with the convening question,
“It’s up to us – you and me. We have challenges and opportunities.
What can we do now to begin to create the Liberia that works for all of us”
(Note -For the first week of my visit, I was accompanied by a group of students and two professors from Salem State University (in Massachusetts) – led by Dr. Greg Carroll, chair of the Intercultural and Peace studies program there – and we offered a 3 day training to the Salem students plus students from the Kofi Annan School of Peace Studies at the University of Liberia. They all also attended the Community Meeting)
For the community meeting, we started the morning with a World Café – to help connect everyone across the diverse groups present in the room – and to begin giving them the experience and skill of dialogue, i.e. each person having a turn to have their voice heard, each person listening to one another, weaving together thoughts into a dialogue – vs. their usual habit of orating, with each speaker giving their own little speech without connection to the speaker before or after. We had three rounds with these questions:
Round 1) What do you love about Liberia?
Round 2) What keeps us from making Liberia what we want it to be?
Round 3) How can we begin to work together to make these ‘better Liberia’ dreams come true?
Before we began the first round, we had everyone move around so they would be in a circle that included men and women and people they didn’t know. This took a while, but with help from the Salem students and PCO staff, we got them into the small groups of 4. I introduced and explained the use of a talking object (we had stones picked up at their beautiful beaches). After I explained in my US English, a local party translated into the local vernacular creole (“everybody talk small small time with ‘talking object-o’ and listen each other-o”). Still, there was clear lack of understanding – this was out of everyone’s experience – so we went around to each group to help them get it: so someone would actually pick up their talking object and begin – and pass it around, no cross talk… It was fascinating to see how –by the third round—everyone in the room had caught on to the idea – and the groups were fully engaged, one round with the talking object, then really juicy and connected/coherent conversation… We had a great debrief and discussion… I'll add some photos in the next week or so, including notes from the debrief (we did not have a graphic recorder).
Then we moved into a large double circle and I introduced Open Space – so thrilled to tell them how it was really coming back home to them – since Harrison Owen learned so much from Liberia (where he was the head of Peace Corps) that he wove into the process…
They were very responsive to step right up and offer topics… After creating the market place, we had lunch with some fabulous Liberian drumming and dancing… and then moved into the first session. Again, it took a while for them to really understand how they could move from session to session – and how they could choose a session to attend – not just their own topic! But by ~15-20 minutes into it, everyone was fully engaged in a topic of their choice…
For the Open Space, 26 topics were generated:
Since there were no computers available and many people do not write, we had a helper in each group help create a flipchart with key points discussed and any action steps identified. Our Liberian Partners will create a report that contains much of this information and will disseminate it to each of the key groups that sent participants. I’ll keep you posted on outcomes we hear of. Though already we heard there was quite a buzz about what a successful and engaging event it was – and how people are introducing the idea of circles and talking objects to their communities.
All for now,
Founding Director, Global Citizen Journey
4425 Baker Ave NW
Seattle, WA 98107
www.susanpartnow.com Partnow Communications, Organizational Development, Consulting & Facilitation
www.compassionatelistening.org Sr. Certified Facilitator
"When we seek for connection, we restore the world to wholeness. Our seemingly separate lives become meaningful as we discover how truly necessary we are to each other." --Margaret Wheatley