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.

Posted by John Bell on June 8, 2006
Tags: Putting Community In

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