I will admit that my first conception of a large group intervention for the community in focus in this paper was one that involved being more directly connected with the larger community. I was framing the intervention as one where the specific community would make an intervention into the larger community. I have over the course of this application inquiry come to realize that the primary intervention needed at this time is one that is an internal intervention for the community itself. This change in direction has implications for the application, and I am constantly finding myself returning to the issues of good faith and the question of sustainability. If the application is primarily internally directed, then the concern about methods being undermined by a lack of good faith is less important because the community has a sense of good faith with itself.
However, with the re-direction to an internal intervention, the issue of community sustainability comes to the foreground. The issue of building community seems to naturally become foremost and building a vision for the future comes in a close second. It is in the problematic issue of getting everyone necessary to the table that is the primary cause of future visioning coming secondary. If the community is in and of itself stronger, and is in better communication with itself, then the knowledge of who needs to be part of a future visioning process is potentially made much more possible and intelligible.
At first glance the Open Space method appears to be ideally, or at least the most, suited to this particular application, and certainly of a completely different quality and character from the other methods with which it was grouped by Bunker and Alban. I think a great disservice has been done to the Open Space methodology in an attempt to make it palatable to organizational leadership, because Open Space is a vast and powerful methodology that offers important praxis for much of the theory that I find behind my own dialogical practice.
However, in spite of the apparent utility for this application, I believe this feeling of obviousness belies a very important difficulty. There is an obvious similarity between the existing structural organization of the community as affinity groups plus allied individuals and the method’s engagement in self-determined topical groups. Therein, I believe, is the difficulty, because the structural similarity between the way things are already in the community and the method of engagement does not offer enough of a distinction between the ordinary and the special space in which the process is to take place. There is too much similarity to create a necessary mental space for transformation. Even if it were true that once engaged in the process the method would prove to be distinct, it may not be apparent enough that the activity will be distinct such that the participants are willing to take the time to find that out, taking the process as just more of the same as what already exists and leaving it unexperienced, unimplemented.
The existing affinity groups, based as they are on self-organized groups which may or may not bring in allied individuals and dissolve in a way that mirrors Open Space’s principle of “two feet”, are in some ways already enacting the principles of the Open Space method, so an application of the method would be at least nominally redundant.
Essentially the primary benefit of Open Space of encouraging and surfacing group interaction is not that far from the benefit of the community’s own process, but the trouble of translating Open Space into actionable decisions is also present in the existing community process. The existing community process possesses many of the same advantages and disadvantages of the Open Space method. In many ways, the structure of the community is already Open Space like. Thus, while the method fits well with the community, and of these methods it is the one with which I personally have the most practical experience, it is far from clear that implementing the method would result in any benefit that the existing process would not be fully capable of producing.
In fact, it might be argued that the existing community offers a functioning model of consensus leadership leading divergent group process toward decision making that appears to be less developed in the Open Space method. As I have experienced it, the consensus model in the Reclaiming community helps move from planning and design to decision and action in an overall environment that offers a safe place in which people can challenge themselves to explore their own edges as practitioners and members of the community.
It seems to me that “Large Scale Interactive Events” is a rather abstract inclusion here. Bunker and Alban offer:
“This method can be adapted to all kinds of problem-solving and cross-functional coordination issues.” (1997, p 155)
Which is hardly helpful because, as it is not so much a method as a specific tool taken from one of the other methods, this statement could be made for any specific tool taken out of the overall context of any of the methods in their survey. For example, mind mapping or creating a shared timeline could both be “adapted to all kinds of problem-solving and cross-functional coordination issues.”
Of course, on a purely abstract level, the match of “Large Scale Interactive Events” with “Open Space” seems appropriate if for no other reason that the sheer difficulty in finding a niche, I’m confused a bit on how these two fit with Simu-Real and Work-out, which are both, apparently very closely tied to problem identification and practicing process to address that problem. “Large Scale Interaction” and “Open Space” are both apparently very open and willing containers for whatever one wishes to contain. To say that these all four share “participative work” experience is to ignore that every large group method includes participative work, and it’s not clear to me how any of these methods is more or less “whole-system” than any of the others, unless, in the case of, for example, “Open Space” that “whole-system” means, though I do not think that it does, these can be “adapted to all kinds of problem-solving and cross-functional coordination issues.”
This “method” is no more or less a useful container than any of the other events, whether they are classes or ritual, that are already native to the community in focus for this application paper. At this point, I fear I may have decided to focus on the wrong set of methodologies, and might be best served by going back to the original list and picking out specific tools that seem useful from the other methods I can adapt.
As merely a container, I do not see that there is a significant advantage to using this method over the already existing and native methods used by the community in focus.
The “Work Out” method is targeted at specific problems, and thus seems ill-suited to the community building on which I had hoped to focus. Bunker and Alban offer:
“He [GE CEO Jack Welch] wanted people to operate in flexible, cross-functional work teams that would meet frequently to fix work-flow problems.” (1997, p169)
However, hope for this method is rekindled when I find that:
“The first Work-Outs were run as town hall meetings. Conducted off-site, they involved a cross-level and cross functional group of employees from a division, led by teams of external and internal consultants.” (ibid, p170)
This certainly appears to be a relevant technique, if I forget for a moment that I’ve still not gone through a process that would identify who the participants would be and how I would transport the community to an “off-site” away from the community. I am beginning to wonder how this method, seemingly very facilitated and structured, is rationally grouped with “Open Space” …
Then, I have my hopes dashed:
“… during the Work-Out, groups of employees were asked simply to generate any issues that they thought were dumb, were a waste of time, or needed to be changed.” (ibid, p 170)
And, I’m at a loss to see how this is significantly different than implementing a Quality Circle, or for that matter simply putting up a plain old suggestion box. This is clearly not a useful method for the purposes I had hoped.
Key reasons for not using Simu-Real are outlined in The Change Handbook (Holman & Devane, 1999) and these are the case for this application: the task is not clear, there is not agreement on what actions need to be taken, and there is complacency.
Simu-Real also seems to be designed around an assumption of a goal-oriented organizational entity, which is not the case for the divergent community in this application. The suggested participants are microcosms of the whole, (Holman & Devane, 1999) and that is both not easy to determine and far too likely to exclude rather than include members of the community necessary.
Simu-Real’s intention to offer practice leading to understanding and skills for the future is exactly the kind of work that the community in focus for this application paper does with itself for each event, whether that is a ritual or in the setting of a class. The specific community does already offer itself the opportunity to collectively experience, many times over the course of a multi-day event, the visioning and action of ritual events. This has made me realize that it is possible to think about each event and ritual as a large group intervention process, and a specific method native to the community. I will also explore another native large group method practiced by this specific community later in this paper.