"The means is dialogue, the end is learning, the purpose is peace." ~ Founder Dr. Jane Vella

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Thinking Forward Together: Helping Organizations SOAR!

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Why do 60 to 80 percent of organizational change efforts fail?[1] Most fail because they do not engage those most impacted by the change and therefore do not generate the energy needed to create the change desired. The practice of Appreciative Inquiry encourages us to: “Imagine an organization where there is a shared vision, and everyone helped create the plan to move towards that vision.”

Global Learning Partners Certified Dialogue Education Teacher (CDET), Jay Ekleberry, has guided numerous organizations through a powerful, Appreciative Inquiry-based SOAR (Strengths, Opportunities, Aspirations, Results) process. Through this process, an organization employs a variety of methods and connects with as many stakeholders as possible to:

  • identify current strengths,
  • name ways to build on those strengths, and
  • co-author, with its community, how those strengths and opportunities inform what the organization should aspire to be.

The shared accountability and commitment created during the process provides the energy needed for the change effort to have impact after the process.​

This dialogue-based process has been proven successful across a wide range of both for-profit as well as social-benefit organizations, large and small. One inspiring case study of the Thinking Forward Together process comes from the Wisconsin Union. Through the process, the Union worked closely with the broader community to define a strengths-based vision for their future and create results measures that they renew annually.

Recently, The River Food Pantry completed a SOAR process that included development of new succinct statement of their Mission (what we do), Vision (what we reach for), and Values (what motivates us). Using an appreciative and inclusive approach, the team named aspirations and goals for each aspect of their priority work together.

Data now confirms what we knew intuitively: positive emotions resulting from a focus on strengths can promote an upward spiral toward optimal individual and organizational performance.[1]

There are a variety of ways to engage in the SOAR action research process, from a one-day summit to an extended, multi-month data gathering effort. Each organization needs to decide for itself what will work best given its context.

Two things that make the SOAR process work for any organization are:

  1. Scalability- Appreciative Inquiry, and the SOAR process, have proven to be scalable to any size organization, having been successfully applied to small staff local community programs up to immense human systems like the US Navy and the Canadian national healthcare system.
  2. Approach- Every SOAR process should be customized for the human system using it – this is not a one-model-fits-all process. One of the axioms of Appreciative Inquiry is “as many people at the table as possible.” SOAR is best accomplished when an organization commits to learning the principles of the process and conducts the inquiry while creating a variety of engagement methods throughout the process. 

 

Who do you know that can benefit from this sort of process?

* * * * *

Jay Ekleberry has been a Certified Dialogue Education Teacher (CDET) with GLP for many years. Recently, Jay completed his tenure at University of Wisconsin, Madison, where he guided the Division of Social Education’s organizational development processes, assisted in student leadership training and directed a variety of non-credit programs. He is the co-creator of a two-day course “Introduction to Appreciative Inquiry” that he has facilitated for many groups over the last decade. The course (of course!) is grounded in principles and practices of dialogue-based learning as taught by GLP.

For more insights into guiding such an approach in your organization, or to inquire about support for that process from Jay, email him at jay.ekleberry@wisc.edu .

[1] Journal of Change Management, 12/2011, Volume 11.4

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Creating the System: We Make the Road by Walking

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I have the honor of working with Matthew Norman from Barcelona, Spain – a colleague and Certified Dialogue Education Practitioner (CDEP). He is teaching pastors in his church community how to use Dialogue Education in designing and delivering sermons. This is important work! Part of the content for the course is about the system we call Dialogue Education:

I suggested as part of the LNRA, that Matthew invite the pastors in his course to name and describe the best sermon they ever gave and to identify the things they did to make that sermon work so well. These factors from their experience could then be added to the content of Matthew’s course.

I have often said context is content: What these pastors bring to learning the elements of Dialogue Education from their wide experience of preaching is vital! I see that each time we teach a course using Dialogue Education we create the system by using it in a new context. Learning tasks are then custom-designed for each particular group of people, in their unique situation. That’s why we need to do a solid learning needs and resources assessment: to discover WHO needs WHAT and WHY. That is the context: the content we must learn thoroughly before we design and teach!

What an immense responsibility we carry into every classroom or workshop setting – we make the road by walking. Dialogue Education is an emerging system, evolving under our hands as we design and teach in new contexts. Please share your stories and indicators of learning, transfer and impact – we need to celebrate and learn, together.

I take immense delight in receiving learning designs, challenges, questions and celebrations. Thank you to all those who have been emailing me over the years! I continue to be here for all practitioners at janekvella@gmail.com, and offer my time to you with great joy!

 

What question do you have for Jane?

*****

Dr. Jane Vella is a celebrated author, educator and founder of Global Learning Partners. 

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Getting People Talking When Working in Rural Africa

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Every teaching or meeting situation is unique and offers its own challenges. I work in rural Africa and have found the follow seven tools especially helpful for engaging community members.

  1. Use appreciative inquiry. In every community some things have worked well. It is therefore important for facilitators to appreciate and build on what is already working. In this way people are encouraged and feel ownership of the new initiative. People will talk about what is working and feel pride in it – start there. Resistance will be minimized, and next steps may be relatively easy to imagine.
  2. Agree on pre-set rules or a set the standards. Before any community meeting, facilitate a conversation about meeting rules or agreed protocol. For instance, begin by informing the group that “no answer is wrong, and no question is stupid.” Rules may include “no walking around during the meeting, no phone calls and no mini-meeting during the training.” The most important thing is that the rules come from your participants and are agreed to by everyone. Checking in on these rules from time-to-time can help keep them top-of-mind – one good time for this is at the start of each day in a multi-day event.  
  3. Manage the power in the group. Your ability to manage those with power or privilege in the community is crucial to the success and participation of others – some of these may include the chief, unit committee member, the rich, and men. Your event stands to risk being high-jacked by the most vocal or privileged unless you have strategies for equalizing this power. Some ways to do this are: solo work, pair work, small group work, and inviting in specific voices at specific times i.e. “Let’s start by hearing from those who live past the hospital, and then we will hear from a few people on the other side of the river.”
  4. Use energizers. People come to meetings and events with many things on their mind and with different levels of energy. Make use of energizers to keep participants active and engaged. They should be purposeful and easy to execute. However, sometimes it is helpful just to have some fun and be a little less focused on the goals of the day. Learning takes energy, so monitor it carefully.
  5. Schedule events at participants’ convenience. Meetings should be scheduled at the preferred time of the community members, especially to suit women to encourage their participation. As much as possible, market days should be avoided since most women go to the market daily. If market days are selected as the best time to meet, keep the discussion short and focused. It is better to have a successful 1-hour meeting than to have a half-day session with little participation.
  6. Share real-life stories. There is no better way to get people talking than through story. Invite them to share a personal story with a partner, to share through a proverb, or to create a song with a small group. Stories are powerful tools for learning and can take many forms.
  7. Ensure safety. If the community members don’t feel safe they will not want to share much with those at the event. Greet them as they arrive, check in with them often, ensure they know why they are invited and their input is of value, and engage them in meaningful ways.  

 

What tips or tools can you add to this list?

 

Augustine N-Yokuni (an-yokuni@canadianfeedthechildren.ca) is Ghana Program Manager of Canadian Feed the Children, based in Ghana.

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Maximize Successful Community Engagement: Tips from Africa

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Safety and respect are key to ensuring community engagement. This is as true in rural Ghana where I work, as it is in most places in the world. Here are some tips that I have found helpful for the African context:

  1. Understand the cultural dynamics. It is important that while entering a community the facilitator or community engagement person has a clear understanding of the “go and no-go zones,” as well as the totems and taboos of the community. These need to be honoured and respected during the period of work with the community and will increase the possibility of success.
  2. Stay away from party politics. In general, community members in Africa are passionate about their politics. In addition, many politicians have made huge promises and failed to deliver. They are not always trusted. To be safe, explain who you are and who you work for, and that you do not have an affiliation with any political party. Wisely and clearly decline political discussions and make relevant input devoid of politics.
  3. Know the religious dynamics. This is a sensitive area and should be managed carefully during your stay in the community. People are equally passionate about their religion as they are their politics, and therefore religious conversations or examples should be avoided. However, to maximize safety and respect honour people’s religious needs during your events as much as possible i.e. prayer time, food preferences, etc.
  4. Establish rapport. Entering the community should involve and engage all the relevant stakeholders in the project. Make sure your contact persons in the community are people respected and trusted by that community.
  5. Introduce yourself or team to traditional authority. The team/officer should introduce himself to the traditional authority on the first day of entry to the community. You will be more warmly welcomed and protected by the community when you are known by these leaders. Note: Meetings with chiefs sometimes involve you giving gifts. Find out what is expected and ensure you have exactly what you need to visit the chief or other community leaders.
  6. Know the community. It takes time to get to know a community. However, doing some research in advance can give you important knowledge about the people, their religion and culture, issues of concern and challenge, strengths and resources, as well as leadership practices. Do your homework.

 

What do you do to ensure safety?

 

Augustine N-Yokuni (an-yokuni@canadianfeedthechildren.ca) is Ghana Program Manager of Canadian Feed the Children, based in Ghana.

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Learning about Dialogue in Middle School

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I first learned about Global Learning Partners (GLP) and Dialogue Education about ten years ago when I started working for them. Since then I have applied the principles and practices not only in my work life, but also in my personal life. Most recently, I started using it in my role as Student Council Advisor at my local middle school.

Since our staff and consultants work globally, we deeply value any in-person time we get with each other. In 2017, we had one of these valuable face-to-face work sessions in Raleigh, North Carolina. During this trip Dr. Jane Vella invited us to her home for a mini-learning session. There we were asked to participate in a learning task about a concept from her book “On Teaching and Learning.” The concept of resisting vs. suspending immediately resonated with me. I instantly started jotting notes and planning ways I could introduce this concept to my politically diverse family members and to the Student Council I was involved in!

I spent the next few weeks designing a Student Council activity for 7th and 8th graders. Here’s what I did:

  1. I began by having one of the Student Council members read the following excerpt from Jane’s book “On Teaching and Learning.” Then, we discussed it to ensure everyone in the group understood the text.

“When we listen to someone speak, we face a critical choice. If we begin to form an opinion we can do one of two things: we can choose to defend our view and resist theirs. Try to get the other person to understand and accept the “right” way to see things (ours!). OR we can learn to suspend our opinion and the certainty that lies behind it. Suspension means that we neither suppress what we think nor advocate for it.”

     2.  Next the kids brainstormed a list of current “hot topics” they were interested in. Their list included:           

a.      Building a border wall along the United States/Mexico border

b.      School dress code

c.       Is Big Foot real

d.      Should 7th and 8th graders be allowed to have recess.

     3.  I asked two 8th graders to model resisting and suspending using helium balloons. They picked one of the hot topics and began a dialogue. Pulling the helium balloon down in front of your face modeled resisting and lifting the balloon above your head modeled suspending opinion. (See above image.)

          They wrote their position on the hot topic on their balloon. When they modeled resisting, the words were in their face indicating defense of their own view and resistance of the other’s view.

     4.  Then, I asked the kids to write examples of evidence of dialogue on Post-it notes. Some of their examples included:

a.      Hearing what someone says

b.      When people are talking and listening

c.       A conversation.

     5.  Next, we discussed what exactly listening is and what are actions associated with listening. Once again, they jotted their ideas on Post-it notes and took turns presenting their answers to the group.

     6.  Finally, it was time to practice what they learned. The kids split into groups of four (with two teams of two) and picked a hot topic of interest. One person in each team held the balloon and the other person engaged in dialogue. If the kids engaging in the dialogue started to show signs of resisting, the balloon holder would pull the balloon down as a reminder that they weren’t suspending or truly listening to the other person. The student would then work harder to practice modeling suspending.

I was so happy to see the Student Council kids truly engaged in this activity from start to finish! The learning was powerful and impactful. Days later, I had teachers approach me to let me know that kids were still talking about resisting and suspending in their classrooms.

I’m excited to continue using the principles and practices of Dialogue Education to enrich the work and learning of Student Council this year!

How do you engage young people in their own learning?

*****

Rebecca Kerin-Hutchins (rebecca@globallearningpartners.com) is a co-owner and Finance & Contracts Manager for Global Learning Partners. She is also the Student Council Advisor at Barre Town Middle & Elementary School. She resides in Vermont with her husband and four children.

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