Convening in a Complex World

Now that you are clear on the intended impact outcomes for your convening there are a series of design levers that you can adjust to optimize towards having the greatest impact.  
But first, we have to take a step back and better understand creating impact in complex systems.

We live most of our lives in the realm of the routine, simple transactions are the foundation for our society where cause and effect is clearly understood, mapped out, and predictable.  Some of our lives are spent in the realm of the complicated. These are areas where the “expert” is most at home. Cause and effect can be known, it’s just difficult and requires special training.  If my plane breaks down, I may have no idea how to fix it, but there is such a person as an aeronautical engineer who can know the answer through years of study and practice. 
This brings us to the realm of the complex.  Every UN SDG represents a complex problem. No one person, organization, or even country is going to be able to just end poverty or hunger or eliminate gender or economic inequality.  By their very nature complex problems are those where we can ONLY know cause and effect in hindsight. There are too many variables for anyone to map out, they are constantly moving, and their relationships to one another are frequently changing. 
Why does this matter?
Because conveners live entirely in the realm of complexity, especially when it comes to understanding how to evaluate the impact of convening. At with our vantage point of seeing across the landscape of convenings, participating in hundreds of events, and accessing a myriad of practices from our community, we’ve come to understand the importance of shifting away from the traditional evaluation frameworks that at like impact is strictly routine – that you could attribute to any event the impact created by the participants.  
The importance of ripple impact for complex systems
There are no solutions to complex challenges (you may have also heard of these framed as Wicked Problems) one can only seek to improve conditions for those who are within that system.  We will never SOLVE quality education, but we can improve the quality of education over time using a variety of interventions appropriate to a variety of contexts.
Convening is one of the most important levers for change when working on complex challenges.  
By their very nature, all complex challenges require a continuous process of exploration and focus, of mapping, engaging, and testing hypothesis and seeing which interventions will create the desired impact (remember you can ONLY predict cause and effect in hindsight, so one can never predict with certainty what the outcome will be from any intervention).  This also means that the relationships involved in these interventions must occur over time – once again making convenings, especially recurring convenings, an integral part of the process. 
Not all convenings are the same, and we are purposefully using this term broadly to refer to everything from a small 20 person working session to a larger multi-thousand person conference.