Survey of LGI methodologies

So many of these LGI methods assume that the entity involved is a relatively static organization for which both membership and relationships between members is either known or knowable by the facilitators. This is not the case for entities, like most communities, which are at least as divergent as they are convergent. Any method that relies on the representative sample or the identification of the most important people in the entity is presuming knowledge that perhaps should not be taken without suspicion. It seems to me that information about the “way things are” is more than likely to be a reflection of the espoused structure and organization than an actual self-reflective assessment. Within a community, especially, the readily available information about structure and organization is likely to be biased in favour of political reality instead of physical reality.

I would point out that every method seems to leave unstated any ethical concerns or warnings. Mary Parker Follett suggests “one of the chief obstacles to integration” is “the undue influence of leaders.” (Graham, 1995, p84) To this I would add that by “leaders” one must include the facilitators, and so many of these methods rely on the skill and ethical transparency of the practitioners. The self-knowledge of the practitioner may not be enough because, as Follett points out: “Moreover, even when the power of suggestion is not used deliberately, it exists in all meetings between people…” (Graham, 1995, p84) The issue here is that for any method that overly relies on a form of leadership or facilitation, there is an inescapable danger that there will be undue influence on the participants and the outcome. Here I may be clearly showing my personal bias toward dialogical processes in which the leadership and facilitation is as removed as possible, as appropriate to the dynamics of the situation.

Bunker and Alban (1997), divide their exploration of large group intervention methodologies into three categories, large group methods for: creating the future, participative design, and whole-system participatory work.

Methodologies designed for “Creating the Future” often seem to assume an organizational alignment that just can’t be assumed when the entity is a community, especially as the scope of community in focus becomes larger. While I definitely feel that the specific community in focus for this application paper is in need of a sustainable vision for the future, I think that the community of practitioners primarily needs to be more connected to itself and that the future visioning could be the next step. Methods included here are The Search Conference, Future Search, Real-Time Strategic Change, and the ICA Strategic Planning Process. (Bunker & Alban, 1997)
“Participative Design” methods look to change the underlying organizational structure, (Bunker & Alban, 1997, p 148) and this is just not possible in this particular community. Although I feel I must mention the important contribution of the walk-thru process as part of The Conference Model as an excellent and important tool for connecting these intervention methods with the larger context in which they take place, in general I am not looking to re-design the community, but rather to build the community connections to itself and other levels of community. Methods included here are The Conference Model, Fast Cycle Full Participation Work Design, Real Time Work Design, and Participative Design. (Bunker & Alban, 1997)

“Whole-System Participative Work” methods seem to hold the most promise for engagement within an entity that is a community, as opposed to a goal-oriented organization. However, the focus on “bring[ing] the system together to do real work in real time on problems, issues and agendas that need to be addressed” (Bunker & Alban, 1997, p 155) seems to me to be, again, very myopically directed toward dysfunctions in hierarchical, goal-oriented organizations. Since the primary goal of this application inquiry is the community building, sustainability and future visioning of the community in focus, this goal-oriented, organizational mania is not appropriate. However, I suspect that this is primarily a bias in the reference materials, not the methods themselves. Methods included here are Simu-Real, Work-Out, Large Scale Interactive Events, and Open Space Technology. (Bunker & Alban, 1997)

I will also detail later in this paper two large group methods that are native to either the Olympia community, in the case of “Choosing Peace,” or to the specific community, in the case of “Witchcamp.”

Because “Creating the Future” and “Participative Design” methods, taken as a whole, as opposed to specific elements of each that might be useful, seem to me prima facie inappropriate for the application envisioned by this paper, I will therefore focus my examination on those “Whole-System Participative Work” methods.

It is also important to recognize my own bias toward dialogical processes such as methods in which the facilitator can step out or can become merely another participant before their own conceptions become a barrier to group progress and activity. I will, as a practitioner, likely gravitate toward and prefer methods that are not as heavily reliant on an active facilitator because of my preference for the dynamic and pragmatic leadership within dialogical processes, instead of, for example, those within the category of methods for creating a future which seem to me to be both highly structured and also rigidly reliant on facilitation.

The dialogical leadership (Isaacs, 1991) embodied by a facilitator of a transformative process seems to be exactly the transformative leadership that is in Heifitz (2003). Creative intervention means a kind of mix of constructive verisimilitude and pragmatic technique on the part of the facilitator, enough of the situation to get the client to move, but not too much that they shut down or too little. However, this must be balanced by the facilitator’s willingness to leave space, perhaps even more than is comfortable for the facilitator, that is not controlled and allows for the participants to determine their own constructs which may reach beyond the facilitator’s ability and understanding.

Large Group Intervention for building community & future vision

While I have become increasingly conscious of the fact that the Reclaiming community in Olympia is engaged in large group interventions, through it’s own native processes, in the larger community and with itself, I cannot help but wonder if a process for self-knowledge and visioning of the future, but primarily for community building, could be used from the variety of methodologies in use by practitioners outside the specific community.

Pagan songs with other pagans

A circle of practitioners, which includes myself, are starting up what looks to be a regular gathering to sing songs from Reclaiming tradition and other sources. We have arranged with a new book shop in downtown, The Smoking Gnome’s Workshop, to hold the gathering there, in an open and public place without any cost to the group or participants.

Pagan Songs with Other Pagans

We had been talking about this idea for some time, over a year, in fact. As we were working on the maypole decided to make it happen.

It’s public because we thought that would create more connections with the community for the witches and Reclaiming related events, like the classes, and also for the annual Spiral Dance at Samhain.

Songs and chants are part of all the Reclaiming classes and events in which we’ve participated. So, not only is the action an action in and of itself, but we wanted to have more opportunity to practice and experience the songs and chants from Reclaiming through the year.

By engaging in this action, by putting on this event, we hope that there is an opportunity to strengthen our own practice and also to develop a greater engagement in the Reclaiming community as well as more opportunity for the Reclaiming community to be engaged with the greater community in which it participates.

Maypole at mayday

Rituals and passages and rites provide anchors in cyclical time. Culturally or individually bound strategies of marking time in a place as expressions of the collective humanity in that place.

A Maypole on Mayday
A Maypole on Mayday

I volunteered myself to organize a maypole at the annual May 1st labor rally in Olympia. I helped make it happen for the first time last year, but the group I helped didn’t seem interested. So, I brought it up in conversation with a new group, that put on a ritual I attended. In a fashion entirely typical to the community, by mentioning interest in the event, I ended up having it suggested that I make the event happen. So, I nominated myself to make it happen.

Here’s a journal entry from just after last year’s event:

May 2nd
Yesterday, I participated in a rally in Sylvester Park that was arranged by the local IWW group and several other labor groups, including EPIC (The Evergreen Political Information Center). A combined plan between two campus groups, Common Bread and the new Pagan group my partner and I started, to create a maypole on red square was relocated to Sylvester Park to coincide with the May Day festivities. This created a space in which multiple groups from different “disciplines” met. Further, this activity is another example of crossing the town-gown division, as it involved campus groups and community groups meeting in the community. The maypole activity went well. It was well received and quite fun as part of the whole event.
It was also a darned nice day in the sun!

Bringing a maypole to the May Day rally is an action that does what I keep calling “crossing community thresholds” by bringing together people that don’t normally come together, and is also a community ritual expanded to include more community members. May Day happens to be a very important nexus of events historically, and so it seems appropriate that this nexus be recreated.

On one level, the nexus of May Day is about the changing seasons. Certainly this has always been something I missed about my time on the east coast: real seasons. I have imagined that to have an experience of a place would require an experience of that place as it goes through a yearly cycle. So, some day, instead of just a few weeks, I want to live in a place outside the US for a full cycle of seasons. An action on May Day, bringing a maypole is an example of marking the passage of time in a collective way.

But, these markers are not just part of the response of nature, but also our own markers. For example, “in a place” means that Seattle has a way of marking time that is different than “Olympia” and “Antioch” has a different way of marking time than “Evergreen” just as examples … In Seattle, there’s the Sea Fair, but in Olympia there’s the Procession of the Species. At Antioch, there’s the World Market, but at The Evergreen State College there’s Super Saturday. And Antioch occurs within the larger community of Seattle. And Evergreen occurs within the larger community of Olympia. Further, both Seattle and Olympia participate in larger contexts which connect and contain them both, such as Cascadia, the Pacific Northwest, the West Coast, etc …

Maypole 1

To say that an event or action occurs “in a place” is open to interpretation in the same way that “Bio-region” or “Community” would be … I remember having an extensive conversation about whether it is possible to be “in community” with our built environment and how many degrees of separation from the Soda machine on the first floor at Antioch were required to not be “in community” with it. This is an example o how the interpretation and context are important when discussing relationship and community and place.

Maypole 2

In spite of this indeterminacy, the action of bringing a maypole to the May Day rally was a success. A group of friends and I constructed and took a maypole on May 1st.
We didn’t get nearly as many people as I had hoped, but part of that is just simply the last minute nature of my planning. The previous year, the interfaith coordinator at The Evergreen State College had been in contact with the organizers and we were part of the actual May Day rally. This year, when I talked to people involved it became clear that there was a whole committee that had been formed this time and the schedule included a number of additional speakers … so I felt uncomfortable inserting myself into the schedule at the last minute.

We didn’t make a mention in The Olympian this year, like we did last year, but I noticed that there was an article on Portland Indy Media that mentioned our maypole this year:

“Hundreds Celebrate May Day in Olympia
Today in Olympia, WA, hundreds gathered to celebrate May Day and send a message to the government: Hands off immigrants, workers and families. The gathering started at Sylvester Park at 2:30 when a small gathering danced around a May pole. The crowd began to swell as music came on around 3:00 and continued to grow speakers began around 3:30.” (Portland Indy Media website, 2006)

Through this action I have learned specific practical skills, such as how to actually construct a maypole and also developed a greater understanding of the nexus of meaning to the event itself. If I can do the event again next year, I’ll be able to build on this foundation, as a feedback loop through time. There is a deep and richly textured reciprocity in doing an action like this. Not only do I create a deeper connection with and experience of my place in the world, but I am also co-creating that place, as a complex that includes the physical landscapes as well as the mental and spiritual spacialities, with others. This is a wholistic feedback loop that I co-create with others.
The nexus of the action includes the maypole as a richly textured sign for the union of opposites. The meaning of the activity is iconic, indexical and symbolic. The crown and maypole are iconic representations of opposites that are united by the weaving of the ribbons. The activity is indexical of the generative act of love. And, the activity is symbolic of a story of divine union between feminine and masculine principles in nature. I also think that the maypole is a metaphor for healthy community, and suggests that when a community comes together, embracing diversity, great and creative energy is released. The diversity is not lost in this union but celebrated and ennobled. The whole becomes greater because of the distinctiveness of its parts.

Where do we go?

The realization for the need for the community to support itself with more stable individuals able to bring events into the greater community has led me to attempt to provide some of this additional stability. This quarter, I have, with others, made several attempts to develop events in the greater community as part of an overall commitment to the Reclaiming community, as an attempt to become exactly the additional structure of stability in the community that I see as necessary for sustainability.