January opportunity #1: Can Conversations on Crises Change Civilization?

Powerful conversations have a track record of impacting individuals and systems in significant ways. Thus, for many of us who practice and promote such conversations and who are aware of the emerging global crises, it is natural to ask how these practices might help transform the political and economic systems and cultural assumptions that are generating these crises in the first place. Once one realizes the nature and urgency of climate disruption and serious resource depletion, it becomes obvious that some very profound shifts are needed soon to create a sustainable civilization and avoid disaster. A small group of conversational practitioners have designed a series of virtual dialogues in January to explore how we can upscale the transformational impact of our field – and you are invited.

An intriguing opportunity is coming up for some people in the co-intelligence network.

In October I posted a message on the discussion list of the National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation. Dozens of people responded, among them Ben Roberts and Linda Ellinor with whom I’ve now been working for a couple of months. With two dozen others in several conference calls we have created what could be a breakthrough series of conversational opportunities for our fellow practitioners and advocates of powerful conversation. Our purpose is to clarify together what we in this field can do to help transform the political, economic, and other social systems and cultures that threaten to ultimately bring down civilization even as they even now exploit, degrade and destroy so much of life on earth – systems and cultures upon which so many of us ironically seem so dependent!

If you are passionate about this inquiry and the transformational possibilities it offers, I strongly encourage you to join these conversations in January.

These are different from physically in-person conversations and conferences. As intimate and powerful as those can be, they demand a level of expense and mobility that prevent them from being affordable and ongoing enough to create the kind of impact we seek. So we are experimenting with highly evolved conference calling technologies like MaestroConference and Zoom which allow both simple participation by phone AND advanced video conferencing capabilities, as well as the ability to be in breakout groups (both random and interest-based) where we can see and hear each other. The capacity to raise our hands and vote on options straight from our phones – and, if we’re online, to simultaneously chat in text – all this opens up powerful possibilities normally limited to face-to-face meetings.

Ben Roberts has been hosting World Cafes and Open Space gatherings on MaestroConference for years. We are now going to extend this remarkable expertise with Ben Levi and Linda Ellinor facilitating virtual Bohm Dialogues as well. This means we now have the ability to explore the depths and breadth of a shared topic with dozens or hundreds of other people in small groups and plenary gatherings – and in real time to find and collaborate with those special folks who share our precise passions within that topic – all without leaving the comfort of our own homes. If we add to that the capacity to also do all this in writing asynchronously (i.e., at different times, at our convenience) using a wiki-like participatory “hackpad“, we begin to have the potential for major ongoing collaboration and movement-building, for both serious inquiry and serious action, for rising effectively together into the existential crises and opportunities we face.

So this upcoming January’s opportunity is a pioneering adventure in the fullest sense. We are advancing into a territory most people are either unaware of or unwilling to face (the crisis-led need for systemic transformation) using leading-edge collaborative technologies. More remarkable is that these technologies allow each of us to participate in ways that suit our personalities – simple ways (talking on the phone and through email) all the way up to complex orchestrated engagements (juggling visual conversations with written chats and collaborative document creation, synchronously and asynchronously). This enables creative participation by any and all of us, and the opportunity to learn – and develop! – new ways of working together when and as we wish. The potential exists here for us to evolve as both a transformational community of inquiry and practice and an inclusive activist movement for fundamental systemic change.

Below is the invitation our convening group has crafted. Given the circumstances, I think of it as a call. You will, of course, know if it is a call to you.


PS: I am developing some specific thoughts on the transformational potential and mission of powerful conversational practices – about which I will say more very soon.

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Dear colleague (with apologies for cross-posting),

As we move into 2015, are you profoundly concerned about climate change, serious resource depletion, and other major threats to civilization? Do you believe that we face an urgent and challenging opportunity to transform our social systems and cultures that are generating those crises? Are you interested in what conversational professionals – mediators, conveners, facilitators and your other fellow advocates and practitioners of dialogue, deliberation, and process – could do to catalyze powerful collective shifts that address these disturbing and exciting transformational possibilities?

If so, know that you are not alone. We and many others feel as you do, passionately. So many people responded to a post about this by Tom Atlee on the National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation discussion list that three of us called for further conversation and more than 50 signed on, half of whom participated in an initial conference call on December 15. With this invitation, we’re reaching out to thousands more in our field to see who else feels called to this vital adventure.

So now we ask you to join us in pioneering a dialogue and deliberation (D&D) “community of inquiry and action” during January 2015, online using the “hackpad” platform and live virtually (using phone and video conferencing), to more deeply pursue this urgent question that a few dozen of us have already begun exploring:

What do we, as members of the dialogue and deliberation community of practice, have to be and do to enable our most positive transformational impact, in the face of emerging global crises which fundamentally challenge our business-as-usual habits and systems?

We know there are a number of ways to come at this question, so we are using January to explore different possibilities, while building relationships among those of us who have passion about this topic. You’ll see below that we’ve scheduled a number of virtual meetings, using different methods, all in this one month—both in direct audio/video dialogues and in online written conversations—in an effort to meet all our different needs as D&D agents of social transformation.

You are welcome to participate in as many or as few of the “synchronous” events listed below as you like—and you are encouraged to participate any time in the online dialogues underway in the hackpad forums we’ve provided. Each virtual event can stand on its own, and each may have different outcomes—some perhaps quite unexpected—but we suspect that insights and energies emerging in each one will reverberate in all the rest.

January 6, 2-3:30 ET — a virtual World Cafe for continuing whole-group exploration of our convening question (above), and other related ones, in stimulating small groups. The optional “harvest” at the end will continue until 4:30 pm ET. Later in January we’ll have another virtual World Cafe, at an evening or weekend time to be announced. Before, during, and after these events, you can also share ideas on the hackpad (starting now).

January 9, 20, 30 (various times—see the hackpad) — three virtual Bohm Dialogues, providing space for deeper reflection and relationship building, available on a reservation basis.

January 13, 2-3:30 ET — a virtual Open Space event to enable anyone to convene a group to pursue an inquiry or activity about which they have passion. If you have such a passion, you can introduce it on the hackpad before, during, or after the audio-video event (starting now). Later in January we’ll have another virtual Open Space event, at an evening or weekend time to be announced. Immediately following each virtual Open Space event there will be an additional hour of virtual group sharing and group reports.

As we go through the above activities together, we’ll be gaining first hand understanding about how processes we have usually experienced in person translate into virtual environments, and about the pros and cons of the on-line tools we will be using —topics about which we expect to reflect more later in January. Bearing in mind that this environment and these online tools may be new to many of us, we will go out of our way to provide as much technical support as we can in this process. And, we also beg in advance your forbearance and honest feedback as we explore this new territory together.

More information about these offerings, as well as ways to get started in the community of inquiry right now, can be found here on the Welcome hackpad.

What happens beyond January—with all of us together and/or in various subgroups—is up to each of us. As hosts, we are designing the January experience to encourage various follow-up opportunities to emerge according to their own energy. This particular cycle of engagements will end at the end of the month, having provided value to all who have been part of this community during that time. But what happens next will depend totally on the passion felt by you and the other participants, and the responsibility and creativity you bring to your conversations with the other passionate folks you meet in the process.

So we welcome your participation and look forward to what will emerge here. The more of us pursue this, the more we will learn and the more action will result, moving us all forward. Let us know if you have questions or comments.

And make sure to register here if you think you may participate in any of it, so we can plan for how many of us may join the adventure.

Ben Roberts and Linda Ellinor
(for the “convening team”)

PS: Alongside this collective inquiry and our associated community-building efforts, we are offering a self-organized daily opportunity to explore the deeper meaning of randomly selected cards from the Group Works deck set of life-enhancing conversational design principles. Our recent experiments with this have been delightfully engaging.  If you wish to be on the email list for notices about this, please let Ben Roberts know at ben.roberts [at] charter.net with “Can Conversations on Crises Change Civilization?” in the Subject line.

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