Successful convening – planning the surprising elements

November 05, 2014 | Blog-Admin1 | Learning Elsewhere, Methods & Tools |


Rating: 4.3 out of 5

Dorothee Lötscher

Coming home from an exciting meeting with a brain full of new ideas and useful contacts is a good feeling. So is organising an attractive event. The guidebook “Gather. The Art and Science of Effective Convening” by the Monitor Institute is an easily readable document with the right level of detail, in which you can find inspiration for planning an event or that can serve as checklist. Its focus is on co-creation: exchange and joint learning that leads to open-ended outcomes and creates surprises and excitement. What means co-creation practically? Find some thoughts below. 

By Dorothee Lötscher,  EDA

Surprise bags for convenings


Suprise bags for convening_1

Surprises are exciting. Do you remember the coloured grab bags that can be bought at kiosks? As a child, they inspired my ideas of the nice things I was longing for. Years later, as programme officer at the Global Forum for Rural Advisory Services (GFRAS), I have tried to create a similar excitement for the participants in the GFRAS Annual Meetings. From my own experience I know that unexpected insights can have a long lasting effect: A funny exercise on thinking out of the box, a small cartoon, and a clear typology that were presented at events still guide and structure my work. I observed that surprising elements in meetings, combined with sound content, create interest and commitment, contribute to reflection and learning, and initiate thereby follow-up actions and change. Even medium brilliant ideas make the difference to usual conferences.

Alternative formats for events, conferences and meetings?

Surprises can often be thought through in advance. The guidebook “Gather. The Art and Science of Effective Convening” by the Monitor Institute is a useful help to plan events that are exciting and “different from common formats” –so called convenings. In the centre of a convening are diverse stakeholders that serve a shared purpose. The guidebook’s authors favour a co-creative approach that fosters exchange, joint learning, and the creation of connections as contribution to open-ended outcomes.

Co-creation is used as a perspective throughout the event organisation: The meeting design is done in a way that enables a participatory and exciting convening. The organising team prepares the conditions for interaction and joint learning. Participants are carefully selected to form an appropriate learning group. The structure of the work keeps participants and their exchange at the centre. And the follow-through makes sure that the convening leads to outcome.

Co-creation during network convenings

In a network such as GFRAS, co-creation even has to serve as attitude. In the planning and implementation of the GFRAS Annual Meeting, co-creation starts with identifying and defining a purpose and continues after the event with joint follow-up activities. Today, the GFRAS Annual Meeting’s concept is elaborated and implemented by an organising committee, based on consultations with GFRAS affiliates. The meeting host is one of the core actors in the process. Meeting participants contribute with inputs, wrap ups and reports of group work and field trips. In future, side events that are organised by affiliates might even be the core of the GFRAS Annual Meeting. For sure, this process comprises challenging elements and moments. In the same time, co-creation – or participation – increases ownership and broadens outreach tremendously. It contributes to a strong community with commitment to continue joint efforts in longer-term processes.

surprise bags for convening_2

Your own event might have a different purpose and context. It might be an independent, shorter-term activity with less open participants. This will influence your decision on the level of co-creation. Still, at the end, you will be glad to see your participants’ excitement and commitment. The guidebook  “Gather. The Art and Science of Effective Convening” helps to achieve this. With its easily understandable graphics, examples, tools, and a list of further readings, the guidebook is useful for day-to-day work and gives a real value added. The guidebook can serve as an inspiration throughout the planning process that will support your own creativity. You can also use it as a checklist to keep in mind the bits and pieces to consider when planning an exciting event. If you have the time and partners, try it out and jump into the process of co-creation. I am sure, you will encounter exciting surprises!

How do you create ownership during your convenings ?

Further reading


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