Earlier this month, The Rockefeller Foundation – in collaboration with The Monitor Institute and Monitor Deloitte – released Gather: The Art and Science of Effective Convening. In its opening pages, this report describes itself as a “guidebook for people who want to change the world [for] social change leaders who understand the power of convening the right group of people, and who believe that collective intelligence trumps individual smarts when it comes to solving shared problems.” It offers a rich resource for anyone taking on the role of a lead convening designer by providing an array of very practical how-to guides and tools for thinking through each of the seven building blocks of effective convening.
The seven building blocks are defined as:
- Choosing to Convene – The resources in this section aim to help you decide whether convening is the right tool for your situation at this point in time.
- Defining Your Purpose – What is the point of your gathering and how co-creative or traditional do you want it to be? This section helps you to define your gathering’s “north star.”
- Forming Your Team – This section maps out how the work of convening is typically divided and helps you establish a team structure to get it all done.
- Assembling Participants –Determine who will be interested in the gathering you are hosting, who you should invite and how you can convince them to come.
- Structuring the Work – This section helps you to ensure that once you’ve got the right people in the room, they will accomplish some specific work together. It answers the question: what are the activities that will support the group who are gathered to achieve their intended purpose?
- Planning the Follow-Through – Assess the success of the gathering and move into actions on important next steps.
- Tying It All Together – Translate your general principles about your gathering into a specific experience with a clear plan on how to create it.
In addition to offering practical tips and tools, Gather does an excellent job clarifying important distinctions between workshops, conferences, meetings and convening. Convening is distinct from other common ways of bringing people together “in one important way: for the duration, the attendees are participants in a collective effort that serves a specific shared purpose.”
Every convening has three defining characteristics:
- Diverse Stakeholders – Convening involves a diverse mix of stakeholders – often from different organizations – who represent a range of perspectives on a topic.
- A Clear Purpose – Convening is intended to drive towards alignment, decision-making and/or reaching intended outcomes.
- Co-Generation of Insight and Action – Convening relies on all participants to generate insight and action so that – together – the thinking of the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
The impetus for Gather emerged from the Rockefeller Foundation’s recognition that, while convening had been a critical tool in its own work and evolution, the Foundation had not “formalized our skills and training in this core competency.” In 2011, this led to the launch of an internal Foundation project focused on documenting and strengthening convening skills within the Foundation, its immediate colleagues and its grantees. Gather built upon this work and was developed as a resource that could be shared widely with the Foundation’s colleagues, partners and grantees.
Gather provides three reasons for why its authors believe the skill of convening will become increasingly important in the future:
- People have simultaneously become more globally connected and also more fragmented into silos.
- Many of the challenges we now face are larger and more interconnected than ever before.
- Social solutions that will be needed in the future are larger than any single organization.
What convening offers is an opportunity to tap into collective intelligence and accelerate change. Noting that the power of convening has “grown dramatically over the past two decades,” the authors also observe that “this convening power is still not tapped to its fullest potential.” And so, in addition to offering a practical toolkit, Gather issues a challenge to anyone wanting to work with others to change the world: “build your convening muscles and make the headway we all need against today’s increasingly complex challenges.”