The last few weeks have provided me with many opportunities to look back on my time with the Group Pattern Language Project so far, and to reflect on where I might want to go next with it. Between working on projects, attending the Seattle session, and following the work of the core team, I’ve had a fascinating look inside the workings of a small, working-board nonprofit. I have also had the opportunity to get involved with and participate in the community that has developed around this deck and these people. Frankly it’s pretty inspiring what 91 ideas on a deck of cards – and people who care about those 91 ideas and what they stand for – can do.
I feel from my observations that the project is in a bit of a transitional period – moving from a focus on growth and establishing an identity to more stewardship and caretaking. Dave made a note at the Seattle workshop that at this point the deck is mostly selling itself – and we’ve all noticed that there is significant energy from people who want to host workshops in their local area. As a result, the core team is largely ready to focus on supporting others, rather than driving growth themselves, which seems to me like an appropriate place to be in the life of this organization.
As I’ve gone through the Reflection-Action Cycle – both my own and the project’s – I feel like I’ve learned a lot. It’s clear to me that I am better suited to some of the roles I tried on in this internship than I am to others. In particular, the event support and planning was exciting and very enjoyable for me. Spreading knowledge of the deck to new folks was a great experience, and Seattle drove home the notion that there’s a ton of people out there who already love Group Works and have great ideas for what to do with it. Some of the things I tried were challenging for me; for example, realizing that it was going to be very difficult for me to write about Calgary without having been there. I believe that Story needs to be told in a beautiful way, and I am afraid that I would not be sufficiently able to convey what happened with the time I have to give. I enjoyed learning about the distribution system for the deck, and coming up with a workshop activities guide felt very productive.
What comes next feels like it goes in a few directions at once, and my goal is to Follow the Energy as best I can. What I feel most enthusiastic about with the Group Pattern Language Project is the network that it has created – both in terms of spreading that network and providing opportunity to Celebrate. I would love to help spread workshops to new places, and the idea of an un-conference of Group Works users is perhaps the most exciting thing I’ve heard. At the same time, there’s part of me that is hesitant to make such a firm Commitment to the project when my life path over the next two years is so turbulent with thesis work, graduation, and re-entering the working world. What is 100% clear is that I will continue working with the deck in whatever I do – which at the moment looks like working with youth groups and nonprofits – to see how it works in various settings. And if things line up right and there’s a connection between what I am most excited about and what the project needs next – well, I will Trust the Wisdom of the Group, and Dive In.
From the time I began this internship onward, the Seattle work session, games night, and workshop served as a sort of horizon. The plan was that it would be the last thing I did as an intern with the project, and as such I spent a lot of time looking forward to it. In the end, participating in the work session – and helping to host the games night and workshop – turned out to be a great experience and a fitting conclusion to the official internship. Now that the original horizon has been reached, my question is: what’s next for my involvement with the Group Pattern Language Project? For now I’m going to focus on the three activities in Seattle though, and save that question for the next journal entry.
The Seattle work session began with an evening at Sue’s house. We started out by Breaking Bread Together, and then delved into some general topics around the project’s Trajectory for the coming few months. The general feeling was that the core team is ready for a period of relative Rest, and to focus more on supporting Shared Leadership and Roles from other members of the project’s network. Those discussions continued when we re-convened the next day, interspersed with two conversations with guests. The first meeting was with our new distributor team, who we had the opportunity to delve into some logistics with. The second was with Peggy Holman; who after a lunch conversation around nonprofit life development did some Guerilla Facilitation and provided the core team with an opportunity for a conversation about current Priority Focus. It was a great meeting, with many insights from members of the core team. We did face one struggle in getting the Whole System in the Room: Daniel (who could not make the Seattle work session) wound up unable to participate in some of the key discussions, and I for once felt his absence. Since it was a short work session with an absent member, no firm decisions were reached, and the team set many agenda items for the next meeting on Bowen Island in May.
For both the games night and the workshop, I had a balance of support, participation, and facilitation roles. During the game night in particular I was able to facilitate one game – the Best Fit game. It was a ton of fun, and I was reminded that one of the most powerful things about the deck is how easily it lends itself to Playfulness. I was impressed with the turnout to both events – we had folks from as far away as New Mexico and South Africa, and several participants had been involved with the deck from very early on. As compared to the Eugene workshop (where most participants were new to the deck), this one felt almost like we were Celebrate-ing, because so many were already deeply invested in the Group Works community. I understood their motivations in coming to a second or third workshop: as I got the opportunity to participate again – or sit back and observe – I saw and learned things about the patterns that I had not previously gotten. Overall both the workshop and games night were a load of fun and a great opportunity to participate in the Group Culture surrounding the deck.
There is one project that has been a bit of a trouble spot for me in the course of this internship, yet is one of the more important projects I could take on. That is; the case study of the Calgary cultural transformation project, which used the Group Works deck as an essential component of an overall civic conversation. I am considering trying to extend the internship in order to be able to do it justice.
I began my Inquiry into the Calgary project by sitting in on a webinar hosted by David Plouffe, who was one of the primary team members there. The webinar was hosted by the International Association for Public Participation (IAP2), and was the result of the Calgary Cultural Transformation Project earning the IAP2 Canada’s Core Values Award for Project of the Year. David discussed the group works deck in detail, and it was very cool to hear him describe how the deck gave an entire city’s worth of public servants the common language to arrive at a shared direction for future management. He also discussed how it may have contributed to the effective recovery in the aftermath of major floods. I hope to engage with David further in order to Go Deeper and really tell the Story of the project and how it relates to the Group Works deck. It’s an excellent example of how useful these cards can be.
A major unexpected project emerged mid-way through the internship, which was that GPLP’s fulfillment provider decided that they needed to back out of the arrangement (we were not producing enough profit for them to justify keeping us). The core team met via phone and began examining a range of options – thankfully we had three months or so to find a new distributor. I agreed to help, though it was not one of my listed projects, because it seemed like a very useful skill for future work with nonprofits. There are many abstract, facilitative components to good group process, but sometimes things need to be shipped and it seemed useful to me to learn how to make that process as effective as possible.
I chose to investigate Amazon.com, for a variety of reasons. First is that fulfillment through Amazon is a sort of default, and thus provides a useful basis for comparison against other options. Second is that none of the group (myself included) had much experience with or knowledge of Amazon and so we didn’t have a clear understanding of how it would impact the project. Finally, I was intrigued by the possibility that Amazon, being a large and well-established provider of fulfillment services, might provide a degree of stability and thus reduce the burden on the core team. I have not yet explored other options but will be doing so as part of the ongoing internship. In the end I suspect we will Follow The Energy as to which supplier to go with, because cost is only one consideration among many.
As a critical part of the internship process, we needed to complete a mid-term review. Right after the workshop for UOSP2, Tree and I sat down and did a review of my performance, and the first experience of having an intern. Tree was adamant that the review process go both ways, so I provided some feedback that I hoped would be useful for the second half of the internship and for working with potential future interns. We also discussed current challenges within the project and investigated some ways forward. I was particularly impressed in both areas by both of our ability to remember that the discussion was Not About You, and for us to both activate our Self-Awareness and engage in Taking Responsibility.
Many of the points that emerged from the review process were familiar to me, but a few were new. In particular, we discussed that I could continue to grow in trying to Balance Process and Content, leaning toward more process than might be optimal and needing a degree of push to get work completed. We also discussed the notion that Tree is very into good Hosting, which combined with my talkative nature, means that the front and back end of each work session have been relatively inefficient. However, we also determined that I was well-suited to being the first intern for the project, both because I had an already existing skill level in a variety of areas useful to GPLP, and because of a willingness to learn. We were happy to find that the goals I had for the internship continued to match the needs of the project, and I noted that I felt I have learned a lot from observing and participating.
One of the original goals that I set out to accomplish as part of the internship was to arrange a workshop around the Group Works deck. Initially I hoped to offer a casual workshop with former colleagues of mine on a trip to Florida, but circumstances did not work out and I had to cancel. Instead UOSP2, a student group I am involved with, invited Tree to conduct a mini-workshop and discuss her experience as a facilitator. We scheduled the date for February 24th, and promoted the training through the club and program channels.
In the end we only had 5 participants, and Tree skillfully adapted her planned agenda (designed for a group of about 16) to fit the smaller sized group. We focused on personal development as opposed to group development – which I personally found excellent because tools for self-work are comparatively rare in the CRES program. The students who attended were all very engaged and several requested that we integrate the cards into our weekly meetings. I checked in personally with several of them afterwards and many said that they were impressed by the content and by Tree’s facilitation: overall it seemed like those who attended benefitted. One participant described the sense of validation from reading and using the cards as like seeing a movie that particularly resonates. “This is the thought I’ve always had, and now it’s in a movie [or in our case: it’s on a card in a deck].”
The first major project I took on as an intern for GPLP was to condense the existing workshop segments into one document. Over the course of the project’s existence, roughly a dozen workshops had been offered, each with a slightly different agenda and composition of activities. In the short term, the goal of the segment collation was to create one document for future reference when planning workshops. In the long term, the workshop segments were seen as a logical starting point for an eventual guide to activities with the deck.
The first thing that Tree and I did when essentially Mapping and Measurement: she wrote down all of the segments she could find and built a grid describing each segment with various characteristics. This was pretty cool for me to watch, because it gave me a further sense of the logic behind the deck, and some concept of some of the important elements to consider when designing a process. Initially we toyed with the idea of trying to Go Meta, setting up the segment guide using descriptive terms based on Tree’s diagramming, but eventually settled on just conveying the purpose and usual place in the agenda. I found the whole exercise very useful in thinking about process design, which is an important skill for facilitators to develop.
One of the first things I did as part of my internship experience was take on a role as an “ambassador” for the project, using and sharing the cards with people as appropriate. The added benefit of this experience was that I gradually became more familiar with the patterns and connections. I began to track meetings and trainings that I attended using the cards, and by doing so quickly found out that there are some contexts in which the cards are better suited than others. I got several very interested questions from folks near me in meetings, and had an opportunity to share the tool in that context. I tried using the cards to track a class once: not a good idea, at least in that particular context (they proved a distraction).
I also investigated the GPLP website, looking for interesting stories that I could add to my discussion of the cards. One point that keeps coming up, both from my own experience so far and from the postings submitted to the website, is that the cards give a “common language” for groups. This is a critical point: having a shared set of understandings of how a group can or should operate is a common goal of group process and the deck provides a very interesting tool for achieving that. One thing I discovered early on was that I was better at identifying the pattern in use than I was at coming up with what should come next. An early look at the workshop segments suggested that both are part of the teaching of the deck, which makes sense.
In a sense my internship with the Group Pattern Language began as soon as I joined the core team at Tree’s house, because I got the opportunity to watch the project in action from that very first day. One of the oddly self-referential components of this internship is that I am hoping to learn from an example of a small nonprofit with a working board, but said working board (the core group) is trying to practice how best to involve new volunteers. The early discussions I was involved in with the core group on that first day largely dealt with the latter topic: how I (and two other volunteers) could best get involved in the work of the project. Lots of ideas were floated, and it was obvious that any work I would do must be done in context of existing needs for the project. I asked for a day to check in about internship requirements and think about it, and returned two days later ready to commit.
The second meeting was much more nuts and bolts, and included a great deal more discussion about the overall direction of the project. I was very impressed by the Courageous Modelling shown by the core team working with these critical topics, and how they were willing to Dwell with Emotions and Go Deeper to really get to the heart of the project’s strategic direction for the next year. By the end we had discerned a few key places where I could be most of use. The first project was helping Tree with the collation of previous workshop teaching segments in anticipation of a potential activities book. I also agreed to explore a case study where the cards were used by the city of Calgary for their Cultural Transformation Project, and to investigate potential opportunities to promote the deck elsewhere. I also agreed to investigate potential options for specialized curricula and to help test some new games using the deck. Throughout the project it was agreed that I would help with some of the day-to-day functions of the nonprofit and attend phone meetings whenever possible.
One thing that we were very careful with during the discussion was that the internship experience be a Right Size Bite: we were all clear that every one of us would be busy in the upcoming few months, and wanted to make sure that I did not take on too much, because that could wind up being a burden on not just me but on whoever was supervising the project as well. We agreed that Tree (since she lives in Eugene) would be my primary supervisor, and that I would work with each other core team member on at least one part of the project. I was thoroughly impressed by how quickly the team opened themselves to my involvement, brought me in and made me feel like part of the team. Soon after the meeting, we filled out the papers, and my internship with the Group Pattern Language Project officially began.
I had heard of Group Works before November 15th but attending the training that was offered in Eugene that day was my first real exposure. Previously I had installed the app on my phone, and while I found it interesting in concept, I didn’t really have any frame of reference for what it was supposed to do. I purchased a deck from the trainers a few days before the workshop, and was immediately impressed with both the design of the deck, and the content. Just glancing through the cards it became obvious there was a system, and that many incredibly important group process concepts were contained in this deck. I was pretty excited for the training day, and was pleased when I arrived to discover that I already knew three people there: two from the Conflict & Dispute Resolution Masters Program (CRES), and one from University of Oregon Students for Public Participation (UOSP2).
The training itself was excellent: all four trainers contributed their unique perspective and delivery style in a way that felt very wholesome. The participants in the training ranged from students to professional facilitators to some of the folks involved in Occupy. Because many of the exercises called for us to switch groups, I got to meet a variety of people, all of whom seemed enamored with the deck of cards. As we began using the cards, we worked into the language gradually: first with just one or two cards, when with more complex patterns and arrangements. Most prompts involved picking a card that reflected an important part of some group or personal process. Over the course of the day, we not only used the cards, but we saw them in action. There was lunch provided (which it was noted was connected to Breaking Bread Together), we worked in Subgroup and Whole Group, and throughout we had Experts on Tap, to name a few.
By the end I felt like I was beginning to understand why this deck of cards was not just a neat toy, but also a language. The facilitation team ended by inviting all of the participants to join in and help out in whatever way they felt moved to, and because internships were on my mind in a major way, I went ahead and asked one of the team (I honestly can’t remember who) if the team might potentially have use of an intern. They seemed intrigued, checked in with the rest of the group, and gave me an Invitation to stop by the core team work session the next day. I left with a profound sense that I had just found a tool that would be highly influential for my work with groups, and optimism for the opportunities of the next day.