It was two days before I was to begin the eight day-long Designing for Social Innovation and Leadership (DSIL) Global immersion course, and I still hadn’t received an agenda. Had I missed an email? Was it an oversight? The rest of the course materials arrived appropriately in advance and contained considerable detail, but the course agenda was conspicuously absent.
I had registered for the course—a significant investment of both time and money—because it came strongly recommended by several alumni and I was impressed with DSIL’s CEO and the course facilitator, Katy Grennier, who I had met at a workshop the previous year. I felt confident I was in good hands, but not having an agenda made me anxious.
It wasn’t an oversight.
When the group gathered on the first day, the missing agenda was addressed. We were asked to “trust the process"-- invited to lean into the ambiguity of how the course would unfold and use the unknown as an opportunity to stretch our control-prone selves. We spent the first few hours crafting clarity around our individual purpose for being there (using Liberating Structures Nine Whys, among other tools) and found our purposes varied considerably.
The DSIL course is intentionally designed and facilitated to allow for emergence. Emergence is the way complex systems and patterns arise out of a multiplicity of relatively simple interactions. In time, small connections between humans emerge into intricately woven societies, and forms a collective that can do together what each individual could not do on their own.
There is no fixed agenda in emergent spaces. Rather, the facilitator creates a container for the group to come together in community, build authentic relationships, and see what arises from the conversations, connections, visions and needs of the collective. People are prioritized over process, always.
I had never been in a space quite like that before, much less facilitated one. Most facilitators develop an agenda ahead of time and then impose what conversations need to happen and how long those conversations will take on the larger group. It is no wonder the people we invite into such agenda-driven gatherings so often feel unheard.
In the DSIL spirit of “learn forward, teach backward,” here are a few insights I gleaned into how to practice Emergent Facilitation, with huge thanks to Katy Grennier for generously providing a ‘peek behind the curtain’ on the last day of the course:
I plan to write several posts in the coming weeks on my learnings and reflections from the DSIL course. In the meantime, please feel free to reach out if anything resonates with you or you want to learn more! Also check out https://www.dsilglobal.com/innovation-leadership-course #dsilstory
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