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Hosting Circle Online

We’re going into the last week of The Circle Way Deep Dive with Tenneson Woolf now, and it’s been a fabulous ride. Last week our focus was on subtleties, and the group was all over it. Part of our conversation centered (ha!) on how to host circle online, or in other environments where you can’t actually SEE the circle.

Time restraints made it challenging to really go into anything but the most immediate ideas then, so I’m bringing the overflow of my response here where we can keep talking if there is interest.

First, looking at circle as a shape – a round or circular form with a center and a circumference – reveals some interesting patterns that map across spatial limitations.

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The “Lineage” of Questions

I recorded this video of one of my very favorite people in the world, Helen Titchen-Beeth, when my colleague FireHawk Hulin and I were interviewing her for the World Cafe’s 20th Anniversary celebrations (clicking the link will download the 1.8M Harvest Report).

The exchange in this short excerpt particularly took my fancy, as Helen was having great fun describing the impact of powerful questions, digging back into the lineage to find the “mother of all questions”. Full disclosure compels me to say Helen had just had a bicycle accident and was laid up in bed recovering, which makes me wonder if perhaps pain killers had a hand in the hilarity?? No matter – for all that her comments are very funny, they are also very wise. (I love it when that happens!)

Harvesting Our Courses


One of the things I am particularly excited about in the work Rowan and I are doing is our commitment to harvesting the experience and results of our courses, so that what we are learning together can be shared more broadly. To wax poetic, our intent is to distribute the results of each crop (course), so that it can be eaten (used) and in so doing return again and again (in an ongoing learning loop) to the collective soil that nourishes us all (the collective).

This commitment to sharing our collective discoveries takes many forms, and showed up at a variety of levels in our recent Harvesting & Collective Sense-Making course. At one level there was the formal Compendium we designed for course participants, built from extensive notes taken in each of the nine sessions. (This document is currently being formatted into a concise WorkBook we’ll be making available to the public).

At another level there was the significant number of “harvesters” we invited to pay attention at the meta-level and share what they were seeing. This commitment is reflected also in our relationship with Viola Tschendel who provided a visual “red thread” to the process with her insightful and distinctive “potato people” graphic harvesting.

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Questions as Seeds

Preparing our next course on The Art of Questions, I am reminded about the clear connection between questions, harvesting and sense-making.

The questions determine the conversations we are having, the reflections we get, and the results of our meetings.
Some of the reflections I have been having thinking about:

  • What does the question open up?
  • Where is the question leading?
  • Where does the question come from – why are we asking the question?
    There are so many questions that come from fear and insecurity, how can our questions open up possibility and point us towards the future that we want?
  • How do we create containers where curiosity and a willingness to listen is present?
  • How can we connect to what is really relevant to the people around us?

Connecting to this last question, I think the answer is very simple. As Bliss Browne said as we were preparing for our first session about questions: “The most powerful question is often to ask people what questions they really care about.”

Along this line of thinking the most powerful harvest we can have from a conversation is often new, better-informed questions that reflect what is really important for the people who are part of the conversation.

PLUME: 5 Principles of Harvesting

During our course on Harvesting and Collective Sense Making we (Chris Corrigan, Amy Lenzo and Rowan Simonsen) were exploring the most essential principles for collective sense making and came up with five, which felt surprisingly complete. The 5 together make the mnemonic PLUME.

PLUME outlines five harvesting principles to apply in complex systems when you are using participatory methods to make sense of emergent and unpredictable processes.

Taken as a set of practice principles (heuristics), these principles can be used as the first forays into designing a strategy for harvesting from participatory process.

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