There is a methodology that was developed in Olympia for a specific event, which I would like to suggest as an interesting, and important method of large group intervention within communities, especially when good faith is uncertain to be present. Although this method was designed for an issue that is not directly related to the specific community in focus for this application paper, the method is one that was developed in the greater community in which the specific community resides, as therefore it seems reasonable to consider the method for this application.

I participated in the application of this methodology and, while I was not part of the overall planning committee, I was part of the planning and facilitation of the dialogue groups that were part of the method. I also was a member of the panel that presented our experience of this innovative methodology to the National Conference of Dialogue and Deliberation in Denver, CO, 2004.

This event was a series of lectures, several weekly events over the course of a month. Each lecture was two speakers who, at least nominally, were representatives of different opinions about the conflict. The lectures were followed by a period when a moderator would filter questions from the audience for the two speakers together. Then, the community was invited to participate in one of several dialogue groups that were formed and facilitated. During the series, I was one of the dialogue group facilitators. These groups were inspired by the philosophy and theory of the Compassionate Listening Project.

I attempted to distill what I believed was the essential philosophy of the Compassionate Listening Project by saying:

“Compassionate Listening is not about an emergent shared meaning, but is about reawakening shared humanity.” (Bell, 2004, p4)


“The foundation of Compassionate Listening then is not that it is a step toward dialogue or reconciliation. In the face of emotionally charged polarization, dialogue is part of the problem not a solution because listening compassionately, without judgment nor agenda, must re-humanize and connect humans in conflict.
Polarization then is not the problem, but a symptom of something more primary – a lack of awareness and awakening to the fundamental and positive interdependence between humans that is larger than our conflicts and our skills at reconciliation or dialogue.“ (Bell, 2004, pp 4-5)

So, if this foundation is effective, then it follows that the awakening of shared humanity would help lead to the greater connections I hope to develop through the application in this paper. Further information about the ideas and tools of Compassionate Listening are available in Carol Hwoschinsky’s Listening with the Heart. (2002), but as I admit elsewhere, the Compassionate Listening project was the inspiration for the groups, but in practice they were a mélange of techniques brought to the event by the facilitators.
I primarily see this methodology as a community building process, where the community is able to develop a stronger relationship with itself over time and also to learn more about itself. Primary benefits of using this methodology are that it takes place over a period much longer than the typical LGI method, over several weeks instead of days; that the multi-modal engagement allows for participants to be engaged at a level with which they feel comfortable; and, of especial importance for this particular application, participants are able to engage with a level of anonymity or self-identification with which they are comfortable. A corollary to the last, is that this particular method, along with notable few others, such as Open Space, do not require that the facilitators know the participants or need the participants to self-identify in order for the engagement to take place.

For me, some of the most important elements of the "Searching for Peace" series were the mixture of engagement technologies used, the extended relationship the community formed with itself over the month and the reflective practice that I engaged in with my colleagues among the facilitators. By the mixture of engagement technologies, I mean the way in which large and small groups were organized to encourage different modes of engagement by the participants.

These two examples are reflected for me what I have been able to read of the Whole-Scale Change methodology. Specifically, but not exclusively, I mean the Converge-Diverge model. In the Whole-Scale Change Toolkit, the Converge-Diverge Model is explained as a "flow that integrates individual, small group and large group work." [DTA, 2000, p 7] In addition, the terms "differentiation" and "integration" are used. The most obvious model in the western tradition for this is the alchemical "solve et coagula" or to break apart and put together. The alchemical model implicitly includes transformation between this pair. Taking this as an antecedent for the "Converge-Diverge Model" is to understand that there is an opportunity for transformation in the process of flowing from differentiation through integration and back and so on.

From all this I mean to say that I have come to believe that large scale engagements are a series of events within the context of a relationship that a community has with itself. This series is also in the context of sub and super communities in which the community is connected and related. That is to say, trying to forget for a moment my dislike of the notion of microcosms in methodologies, that a community is a microcosm of a larger community and comprised itself of microcosms. Each community is a fractal of larger community in which it participates.

I suspect that large group interventions should have a mixture of engagement methods within the context of a long relationship. This dialectic between the immediate event and that event's context in a larger pattern are what I see echoed in the Whole-Scale Change methodology through the Diverge-Converge Model.

During the dialogue sessions attached to the lecture series, and the month that we held them, I think the primary reflections shared between the practitioners were our disappointment with an apparent of a lack of diversity present in the groups. This relates to the topic of "radical inclusivity" I have mentioned and to the notion of "widening the circle" from Axelrod. (2002) In our post event reflections as we prepared to present ourselves as a panel at NCDD '04, I think some of the biggest realizations were that we were not being as compassionate with ourselves and the our ability in the work as we were willing to be compassionate to the others, the participants, in the work with us; another realization was that dialogue, which can occur without radical inclusivity and without crossing thresholds, can be more problematic and disconnecting than a radical approach to listening, such as that practiced by the compassionate listening. There were many important and amazing things within the experience and through the reflection that came out of our preparation and presentation at NCDD.

In summary, the use of an event, a large group intervention, modeled on the “Searching for Peace” method might be useful for engaging the divergent communities in Olympia on a variety of topics.

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

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