Transformational Social Dialogue Conference planning worknotes:

Note: "Tom" is Tom Atlee of the Co-intelligence Institute, "John" is John Abbe of the Center for Group Learning, "Jane" is Jane Deer, co-founder of the Bay Area Open Space Network, "Rhodes" is Rhodes Hileman, your host, and "MaryAnn" is MaryAnn Gallagher, who now works with Tom on the opportunities for co-intelligence presented by Y2K. As of the close of 1998, these notes are now almost three years old. I still think they are interesting, even if only for the points about group process which they bring up. I'd still be up for doing one of these. Rh.


  • Diversity issues
  • Open Space group and diverse group (How do we relate to them?)
  • Where and when this conference might be?
  • Urgency
  • Skills needed
  • Urban ethics dialog and beyond
  • Problems with judging/evaluating people (better than / Chomsky / etc.)


    We are learning it by doing it. We want others to have this experience.
    What are the barriers; how do we overcome them?
    How do we conceptualize this for people? (Can we?)
    How can we establish trust with those who experience social injustice?
         Through talking with others - realizing something (social dialogue) 
         needs to be done.
    What is a facilitator? What is facilitation?
    What is our process? 
    What ideals/norms/characteristics are we operating on? Do we want to 
         continue them or change them?
    Characteristics we note so far (in this small group):
    There is a tension between goals people & process people; dealing with 
         pressure and urgency  -  being conscious, flexible, negotiating and 
         balancing these forces.
    This group has been closed to new members, so far.
    We notice we have a pleasant anticipation of attending the sessions, and 
         that we expect the whole group to attend each one.
    We notice the men are assertive and the women are quiet. (a problem)
    We talk about gender, class, and diversity issues.
    We talk about our process.
    Tom has been the convener.
    We have not asked anyone to leave.
    There is a high level of trust and affinity (alleged).
    We recognize the functions of silence. Then we talk about it.
    We record the sessions on tape.
    We don't talk at the same time.
    We are getting to know each other.
    We don't yell at each other or throw things.
    We stay in our seat (when we're angry).
    Our seating pattern evolves and then stabilizes.
    We don't show a lot of emotion.
    We make an agenda bridge to the next meeting.
    We do a "check-out" at the end of the session, (a personal response to the 
         session, how we're feeling, a meta-view of any dynamics noted, etc.).
    We take time to think out what we want to contribute.  We have  permission 
         from  ourselves  (the  group) to struggle with  half-baked  ideas 
         until they ripen. [...and we feel free to mix our metaphors]
    We take issue with what others say and do. 
    We use "I-messages" to communicate responsibly.
    We  believe it is important to speak up - and we practice this -  on 
         the salient/remarkable dynamics, the "good" and the "bad", of group 
         process, especially that which alienates the participant from the 
         group. (blocks his/her ability to engage creatively with the group.)
    We believe the group has a responsibility to set an atmosphere of welcoming 
              such (disturbing) commentary/processing.
    We practice watching for and using the opportunities presented to us by 
              difficult, outside-the-norm behavior and perspectives which 
              appear in the group.
    What we like about what we're doing:
    We have a place and time to go and be with the group.
    We go around the circle, listening to each in turn.
    We do things together other than the assigned task.
    We don't play games.
    We allow time to process our interactions, or lack of, and to get 
         information from others.
    We explore and discover together. We recognioze that we are all learning 
         something new.
    We come back to issues not explored.
    We like disclosure from each person - speaking from the heart.
    We like to make art together - to know other sides of people.
    We prefer not to have unspoken stuff between people.
    We like people to stay, to stick with us.
    We encourage people to "go meta" - to reflect on the whole process, which 
         we are doing, and which we can observe.
    We like to get people's stories.
    We check in with those not speaking; balance the air-time.
    We check with everyone before proceeding.
    We start with a "check-in" where we talk about how we're feeling right now 
         and what has been happening since our last session.
    We usually assign someone to be a facilitator.
    We use a chart pad or big sheets of paper to think on.
    We have the chime ("bonger") for silence.
    We have a special object, a "baton" or crystal, which anyone can pick up 
         when a special turn to speak is needed.  Often this is to make some 
         observation on our process at the moment; sometimes it is just to get 
         a turn to speak when a participant "can't seem to get a word in 
    We often use a timer for the procedure of going around the circle.
    We have breaks, or other ways to meet physical needs.
    We like start/end times to be a little flexible. (?)
    We develop, and refer to, our agenda.
    We need and value humor.
    We like food and socializing.
    We would like a bigger space.
    People say what's on their minds.
    We want to have people who slow or speed the process, who are aware of pace.
    We want to have a vibes watcher, a mood monitor.
    We go back to check what was missed; turn every stone.
    We believe social dialog is characterised by:
         Group coherence. 
         Understanding that everyone's learning to do this better. 
         Creating network.  
         All stakeholders present. 
         Everyone speaks their piece.
         People listen.  
         Self and group awareness.
         Decisions by ~consensus.
         Commitment to learning.
         Parallel between this group and social dialog conference.
         Conference is a micromodel of the (desired) end result.
    A couple of experiences were mentioned that indicated that:
         A heated (verbal) conflict and a successful resolution of it in a 
         group seem to precede a lively and productive meeting.  
    Maybe we can use this?

    --METAMAPS --
                   A map of HOW TO GET FROM HERE TO THERE:               
    (Note: TSDM = TSDialog Methods;  TSD = TSDialog itself.  Obviously, the two 
    interact.  Arrows & dashes represent influence, inheritance, or creation.)
                              The folks Tom invited 
                 Open Space group on designing the TSDM conference
        v                  |                       
    Net node on            v                       
    TSDM design                                           
        |--------The TSDM conference                 
        |        (an OS event on methods)                   
        |------------------|--------------TSD conference    
        |                  |            (an OS event on issues) 
        |                  |               |-------------------Net nodes on
        v                  |---------------|                   TSD (issues)
    Net node on            v               |-----------------------|
    TSDM design                            |                       |
        |--------The TSDM conference       v                       |
        |        (an OS event on methods)                          |
        |------------------|--------------TSD conference           v
        |                  |            (an OS event on issues) 
        |                  |               |------------------- Net nodes on
        v                  |---------------|                    TSD (issues)
                           |               |-----------------------|
    Repeat and improve forever ........
        |                  |               |                       |
        v                  v               v                       v
                        TSDM          Public Centers          The world we
    Net dialog -->  Conferencing -->  for social thought -->     think up.
              We all ride off into the sunset together, happily ever after...
    Phases of the group life-cycle:
    Cycle            Nickname      Issues               Results
    ----------       ----------    -----------------    -------------------
    Security         Forming       Structure&process    Policies&procedures 
    Trust            Storming      Testing the above    Flexibility
    Identity         Norming       Ownership,freedom    Fragmentation
    Conviction       Performing    Recommitment         New vision
                                                        (Reboot ...)

    Why are we doing this?  What are we doing?  What is essential to this 
            conference? :
         Infrastructure for cointelligence social dialogue
         Drawing people back into democratic process politics
         Relate to politics but keep open to bigger perspective, 
              open to wide political perspective.
         Vision - alive attention. "Without vision the people perish."
              To acheive less government, we will need cointelligent 
         Who is going to do the long term work? Others will arise to meet the 
         How to use language that will be inclusive, specific, political.
         We should be inviting people whose work is to bring people together.
    Is this a conference on methods of cointelligence or on issues of society?
    (Tom: Methods;  Jane: Issues.)
    Tom: > I see the conference focussing on creating the infrastructure for 
              societal cointelligence.
         > I believe that society's problems would be resolved by these 
         methods/institutions. So I think we should back off from the issues 
         long enough to create a tool. 
         > We should make an Open Space conference about the creating of this 
         [RH: Inmos, a chip maker in Bristol, England, decided to make the 
         Transputer, and set up a department of fresh graduates and about two 
         veterans, to design it.  They determined it would take them about 
         three years with conventional methods to do the job.  So they 
         designed a new CAD system to work with. The CAD system took them 
         about nine months to get working. The transputer then took three 
         months to complete!  Sometimes taking the time to make a good tool 
         pays off big.]
    Jane: How do we keep the conference in tune with the values we have stated? 
         The conference process itself is not value-free.
    Tom: Discuss the issues in terms of their relevance to social 
    Jane: What are the obstacles and the strengths?  
    Tom: How do we communicate the element of co-intelligence so it can become 
         a lens with which to examine issues?
    Jane: The interference of social dysfunction is multi-dimensional.  
         "The whole world is caught is the crossfire."
    Tom: All issues are connected.
    Jane: For some people the important issue may be extemely specific.
    Rhodes: Any issue (of perceived significance) could illustrate the problem 
         of creating a cointelligent infrastructure in our communities.  
    Tom: Come to the conference if you grok the theme. (...and don't if you 
    Jane: Do we say "Come think together about how these processes work?" 
         - or -  "Come think about your issues in terms of these processes?"
    Tom: Society (society reflecting) has the ability to generate solutions to 
         its problems. How is society "thinking" like I can feel myself think?  
         Through its scientists, pollsters, talk shows, public dialogue, media, 
         bars, lunch-hour conversations, cultures in collision, feminism, ....  
         These are voices available for society to think with.  Social dialogue 
         is society thinking for itself.
    Jane: Voices that have been silenced are not available to social thought.
    Tom & MaryAnn: The conference needs a self-reflexive function.  How we say 
         it is as important as what we say.
    MaryAnn: We need to be able to "call" [people on their] defensive thinking 
         as soon as we see it.
    Jane: We should have a de-briefing open space about the conference process
         some time part way through the conference.
    Tom: We could have elders planted in the conference as butterflies to 
         observe the dynamics in the sessions and speak up about them when 
    [RH: ...and brave and psychic folks who function like Turetters to
         broadcast the subconscious radio.]
    Jane: Open space can include some sessions with really bad process. Maybe 
         this is not the best thing.  How do we influence this positively? 
         Our behavior, imperfect as it is, will provoke [defensive/angry] 
         responses.  We can't make the conference perfectly "safe" [for 
    Tom: Long term [on-line] network conferencing gives us time to digest 
         mistakes and improve process before it's all over. 
    Jane: We need to promote the idea that this is on-going process before, 
         during, and after the conference.
    MaryAnn: We need to say explicitly, "There will be mistakes.  We will try 
         to identify them and learn from them.  If this is not happening, 
         something is wrong."
    Jane: Topics that someone FEELS are important ARE important - that's their 
         point of entry into the dialogue.
    Jane: Your media/method doesn't work because __________(issue).
    Tom: Passion: I would like to have society more able to reflect/learn/re-
         invent itself. This includes tools, obstacles, dynamics, visions, ...
    John: (to Rhodes) What do mean by "methods"? Why is it important to your 
         concept of the conference?  Are we all in agreement here?
    Rhodes: "Method" is means, means of reflecting, communicating - process 
         viewed independently of content.  "Issues" can illuminate methods. 
         They can illustrate the strong and weak points of process, and show us 
         where the obstacles to consensus are.  
         The process we choose is not value-free; it implies certain political 
         I recently read a book by Christopher Simpson, The Science of 
         Coercion, which documents the social science area of communications 
         research in the last fifty years.  The presumption of these scientists 
         has been that the experts in government know what's best for the 
         country and that the function of communications research in this 
         democracy is to find out how to manipulate public opinion for the 
         convenience of the government.  When a conference is created from 
         this perspective, the methods of thinking together, the process of the 
         conference, is much different from a conference which we would 
         envision because our political assumptions are much different.

    Individuals' sense of purpose:
    Rhodes: I want to assist communities in planning their futures. 
    ( Tom & John suggest Marvin Weisbord's Future Search Conferencing, and Tom 
    refers Rh to "Reinventing Limestone" a vtape on the process of the Center 
    for Consensual Democracy. Both references turn out to be just right for Rh).
    Tom: For me its important to "go meta" :  How do we make the links between 
    the communities* that need to be envisioned, the people with passion, the 
    resources ...                                * geo. interest organizations
    Jane: I want to use the group to think, clarify our individual missions, 
    see how the conference works, how other groups work in our mission.
    Later addendum (4/7): Listening to people is important -  without judgement, 
    open-minded, with good quality attention.  This enables me to BE who I am. 
    This group is valuable to me when it does that.
    John: Dilemma: Moving on with same group  vs.  opening up the group now.

    How do people get invited? (to this group)
    Do we want more people? Yes.
    How to bring them in?
    Why would we want more people? 
    What are the criteria for selection?
                        (race, class, age, gender, sexual ID, politics)
                   shared vision
    Pros & cons of numbers. 
            (from a group of 15-20, 12 max at any one mtg)
    Before/after end of Feb, different policy?
    What makes us (in the group) different from
    them (outside the group)?
    What do we do to prepare for the people we're inviting?
                   (to planning meeting #1)
    Are we inviting more people? Yes. If so, whom?
    What do we say we're (they will be) doing?
    Where/when is meeting of new group?
    Points to remember as we invite people:
    People we invite may point us to new people.
    What size should the group be and why?
    What process do we use for picking people?
              (they'll select selves out)
    Balance between the constituency they represent and the skills they have to 
    To what extent does an individual represent a constituency or a point of 
    What place - accessible location ( esp in re size of space/group)
    Will / how will these people get along? How far afield can their 
    How does this group expand?  What are the problems and principles of 
    Tom: Building capacity to generate coherent self-aware group-mind.
         Self reflexiveness.
         Ability to reflect.
         We're currently slow and impatient in 
              group awareness / self reflexiveness
         Proposes we bring other people in when we have coherenet / self 
              reflexive mind.
         If we bring in new people and lose cointelligence, we may ask them to 
    Proposal:  Thumb group. Outer circle group.
         Self selective?  Criteria for joining, for leaving?

    We need to make an invitation:
    "Would you like to join us to design a conference on transformational 
         social dialog ?"      - or -
    "Let's create a conference on transformative social dialog !"
        "We hold a basic belief/value/trust that there is a kind of social 
         dialogue that will, over the long run, result in constantly improving 
         social solutions, visions, and actions, and that people will identify 
         with, and take responsibility for, what they have created through such 
         dialogue.  This is societal learning.  
         This conference is an opportunity to explore the nature of such 
         dialogue, the obstacles to it, and what opportunities and tools are at 
         hand to get it to happen.  We will try to exemplify these values in 
         this conference.
         This conference is an opportunity to
              > explore what that kind of social dialog is and could be, might 
              look like.
              > practice it
              >learn about it
         The format of this conference will reflect our efforts to live these 

    -- MAILING LIST --

    A brainstormed list of people we could invite:
    All species representative, People working on labor issues People of color, People born in California, Wealthy people, Rev in SF (alt econ) Poor people, Older people (70+), Republicans, Gay people (and lesbian, trans, bi, HIV+), Libertarians, Local Politicians, Open Forum people, Laney Community College people, Someone from Street Soldiers, People under 25yrs old. SF Mime Troupe, Homeless, Computer Net residents, CEO of local hitech company worth over 10M$, Improv musician, People in local media, People with disabilities, [This list has many specific names in it which do not show here.] ..... (but not the) END.