Many conveners believe that just by getting people into the same space means that genuine interactions, collaboration, and action will take place. While it definitely improves the chances of this happening, conveners can use the Awareness, Alignment, Action framework to better ensure that their work of bringing people together will catalyze into actionable steps beyond the convening. Below we outline this framework, which has been designed to make sure your participants are connecting, aligning their intentions and interests, and then launching into action.
The first and often overlooked or under-resourced phase is “Awareness.” It is important to invest in creating enough time in your agenda for participants to understand who is in the community, what their priorities are, and what their work involves. Once these are established, then alignment/affinity starts to emerge, which is when you can have more focused convenings or conversations.
When building awareness the goal is to balance interpersonal sharing as well as professional context – without having folks just resort to their stock pitch.
3 ideas to try:
- You can provide organization profiles in advance of a convening so that folks get a sense of who will be in the room. This saves time in the room and provides a resource for participants after the event.
- Use facilitation techniques like Madd introductions or Impact Journeys conversation starter cards.
- Break intros into small groups and have people introduce their partner to the room. One challenge is that people have trouble remembering the intros for a whole room of people when shared round-robin style. If you are going to have more than 15 intros in a row, it can help to break introductions into multiple parts with folks talking to one another between each round of introductions.
Once alignment or affinity interests emerge you can leverage a range of other convening formats like specialized calls, small group conversations, breakfasts, and other containers where folks can show up and share their interests and projects. This also includes naming where alignment exists (or not) – this enables you to identify if the alignment is real.
3 ideas to try:
- Birds of a feather dinners
- Project interest form enabling you to find a host and gauge if people want to just be informed, if they can show up for calls, or if they want to lead a project.
- Use a software platform that matches people into small groups based on interest including Mixtroz and Collaboration.ai
For the Action phase, there needs to be an investment of time in defining the action for the working group. There are some core questions that the group will need to answer to have a clearly scoped action project.
What is the action we want to take?
- Do we have the agency to achieve this action?
- Do we have the right people in our group to accomplish this action?
- Do the people in our group have the decision making authority to commit to the action?.
This will help you take actionable next steps towards developing something concrete and lasting with ownership and buy-in from the participants in the group.
How Long Does This Whole Process Take?
Taking your group through the Awareness, Alignment, and Action phases can take a couple of years to a couple of days – it’s a question of structure. When you are working virtually the process does take longer.
It’s also a question of how much of your participants time can you actually ask – sometimes people are far more willing to give three more days of their time if it means going to an in-person convening vs three hours during a series of virtual calls – in a three day convening you can move through the process if it’s designed with that intent upfront. Folks will tend to give you more of their time if they see the benefit of in-person time and networking out of it in a way that is much harder than for virtual calls.
Having a host who is trained to help lead groups through this cycle is really powerful and the connective tissue between convenings that keeps people moving forward and maintain momentum between the annual events.
- Gather: The Art and Science on Convening – free report on designing effective conferences
- The Networked Nonprofit – Jane Wei-Skillern & Sonia Marciano
- The Art of Gathering: How we meet and why it matters – Priya Parker