Nesting wooden Russian dolls, symbolizing a journey inward to self; exquisite Korean paintings representing a love of travel; a metal sculpture of a wise old owl with reading glasses and a book – all about teaching and learning; a small hand-blown glass piece called a penis fly trap (and no, there isn’t a spelling mistake there), an illustration of incredible talent; a coach’s whistle representing youth in sports; a beautiful rock to hold on to during heart-felt dialogue.
These are just a few of the “artifacts” that participants in the last Defining Diversity: Creating Community (DDCC) course brought to share with others that illustrate their individual gifts – part of an exercise intended to define and celebrate our amazing diversity.
This new addition to the course came as a result of Alison (Taplay), Janet (Newbury), and me meeting together to review the outcomes of the three previous DDCC courses, and to create alternative approaches and test the outcomes of these new approaches against the earlier course outcomes. A “quality improvement session” if you will. 😉
All DDCC courses are divided into two segments: The Defining Diversity segment, which is exploratory; and the Creating Community segment, which is action oriented. For those of you who attended one of the first three courses, you will remember that on Day One there were a number of activities and dialogues that related understanding diversity at a deep level, about recognizing and celebrating our sameness as well as our differences. The majority of Day Two was dedicated to identifying community development initiatives that would benefit from our diverse contributions, either individually or collectively, and to take action.
Janet, Alison, and I wanted to see if we could tweak the course to stimulate more robust action responses on Day Two. Additionally, we were excitedly riding the Groundswell (!!!) and wanted to incorporate the exploratory framework used in the conference, as well as use some of what we learned, to bring the DDCC course and Groundswell outcomes and initiatives closer together. (Use this link for more about Groundswell: http://wordpress.viu.ca/ddcc/groundswell-conference/)
The major changes to the DDCC course were made to Day Two. However, to set the stage for these changes, we also added the activity described above. At the end of Day One, participants were asked to do some homework. They were asked to think about all their unique and individual capacities, assets, and/or gifts, and choose the one – any one – to share with the group the next day. They were also asked to think of one or two words that described that gift and write it on a piece of paper, and to bring an “artifact” that represented that one gift.
The result was amazing. Sharing these gifts and artifacts, often in the form of personal stories, created tender moments for all of us. We saw each of ourselves in others as we related to parts of each other’s journeys; we celebrated the special and significant unique gift each one brought to the group. We marveled at the artifacts, knowing each was the perfect representation. And we laughed a lot. (Read as: “A what kind of fly trap?”; “He isn’t really going to stand on his head, is he?”; “What language was that??!!”; “Earth Mother…indeed.”)
Following the sharing of gifts and artifacts, we turned our attention to the action segment. It was time to think about how these gifts/assets/capacities might be used in building a healthy and vibrant region.
Instead of breaking into small groups and exploring potential action using Open Space Technology as was done in the first three courses, in this fourth course we stayed together as a large group. (Use this link to access more information about Open Space Technology: http://www.chriscorrigan.com/openspace/) First, we drew three big circles on the white board, one each for the three spheres of sustainability – economic, environmental, and social – which was a focus at the Groundswell conference. Next, we took turns going over to the artifact table and picking up a piece paper with the word or words describing one participant’s gift, and using it for the brainstorming activity described below. The trick was, participants did not use their own gift, each picked up the paper describing someone else’s gift. Additionally, we tried as much as possible to just focus on the gift/capacity/asset, not the person. The intent was to think outside of the box. We are often limited by our own ideas of who we are and what we think we or others are capable of. By brainstorming how this specific gift might be used in a number of different community development activities, it opened up possibilities for many of us. We would think to ourselves, “Yes, I could do that!”
One by one we explored the gifts and brainstormed all the ways that gift might be offered and then appreciated around our community. Each idea was entered into one or more of the sustainability spheres, to illustrate the wide-reaching potential of this gift. Following the group activity, we spent about 10 minutes in silence, each reflecting on our individual ability to offer these gifts to the community. We quietly considered our “two next steps” or “two new steps”, and charted our personal community development plans. Some of these were shared at the end of the session.
I have been fortunate to participate in three of the DDCC courses, once as a participant and twice co-facilitating with my friend and colleague Brendan Clark. Each experience was unique and meaningful; each experience contributed in its own way to this intertwined Defining Diversity: Creating Community initiative. Without a doubt, my number one take-away from all three of the courses was the sharing of gifts and artifacts. In my opinion, this activity symbolized the best of recognizing and celebrating diversity and the best of asset based community development. (Read more about asset based community development [ABCD] and the Asset Based Community Development Institute via this link: http://www.abcdinstitute.org/)
I was privileged to be part of this session, and hope others have the opportunity in future to learn about friends and neighbours in such an evocative way.
I’m so looking forward to whatever is next on this DDCC journey! See you there…