around our common ground. We use creative tools where participants actually take part in a skit or a day in the life of the future. Or, if they choose to do a more conventional panel, they can do that as well. But they then step into the future and share that vision as clearly as they can. In the case of the dairy-industry summit, we saw visions of completely green renewable energy powering all the farms in the United States. There were visions of new agricultural methodologies that led to sustainable soil and sustainable farming methods. There were new advertising and marketing programs that helped consumers think in more ecologically advanced terms.
Each group looks at and identifies that long-range future that they most want to create. It is a very exciting phase. And then we can go into a typical conference mode in the afternoon, with workshops, breakout groups, panels, and keynote speakers.
Day Three: Design
This is the Design Phase, where overnight the steering committee, who had designed the summit, lift out — from all the dreams collected from the tables, notes, and presentations of people's images of the future — the most positive, valued, and dynamic images of what people wanted to work toward. And then they look for common ground. They list the concrete ideas, and maybe anywhere between a dozen to 25 opportunity areas start emerging.
At Sustainable Cleveland, after the Dream Phase, you could see that there were real opportunity areas: offshore wind energy, taking local foreclosed lands and turning those into urban farms, creating green urban spaces, creating renewable energy power for automobiles and city vehicles. In this case, we came up with about 20 concrete areas that some creative group could start designing. We use design-thinking tools like rapid prototyping, so that the groups come out of their design work with more than just words on a piece of paper, more like an action plan. One group came up with the business-plan design and the five stages to establish offshore wind energy — where they would develop a northeast Ohio wind-energy corporation that would go after government grants, and so on.
At this stage, they actually prototype and build models or storyboards of those initiatives. We are learning a lot from design firms and design thinkers — people like architects — on how important it is to create a tangible representation of the opportunity area. What happens is that gives a tremendous momentum then for coming out of a summit with enough concreteness that the odds of following up go way up.
So the people in Cleveland, coming together to design this Green City on a Blue Lake — one group designed kind of the constitution for that. Or the dairy industry, one group designed the constitution, the principles, behind a sustainable dairy.
These folks felt very much like the early designers of our country in the sense that they knew that they were collaborating on something that would have reverberations for decades, perhaps centuries.
We have not had a lot of experience in harnessing the universe of strengths in a whole industry or a whole association or a whole city. That's what this Appreciative Inquiry approach allows, because it is so positive, so focused on assets and solutions. It allows for the very best in human beings to come out quickly. And it allows for large groups to come to closure with collective-action opportunities that are in many cases truly astonishing. It really speeds up the progress that whole industries or associations can take.
In the final stage in the summit, the Deployment Stage or Destiny Phase, groups are invited to continue working on their collective action area and also are invited to think of who else needs to be involved and where else these innovative projects could partner with coming out of the summit. For example, one person from each of the groups becomes part of a council that guides this forward. And so, if you have 20 working groups, you have then 20 people on this leadership council whose job it is to really help nurture the synergies between the groups, help speed the flow of success stories and innovations, and to help the groups remove obstacles. And very often what emerges is the recommendation that we should do this again next year or every other year to keep the momentum flowing.
People want more out of their conferences and conventions now. They do not want just some good networking. They want action and they want to be part of something bigger than themselves.
There's tremendous opportunity for associations and industries to be able to help propel whole industries or whole associations forward. As human beings, our sense of purpose goes up when we are given these collective-action opportunities to have legacy impact.
Learn more about the joint conference of the Council on Michigan Foundations and the Michigan Nonprofit Association at cmfmna2012.org.
For more on the Council of Michigan Foundations, visit michiganfoundations.org.
‘Forced Out of Our Traditional Conference Box’
The website welcome page for the joint Council of Michigan Foundations (CMF) 40th Annual Conference and Michigan Nonprofit Association (MNA) Super Conference, held Oct. 8-9 in Dearborn, promised attendees a different experience. And not just because the two organizations had joined forces to host “Strong Partners for a Strong Michigan” -bringing together more than 1,000 nonprofit leaders from grantmaker and grantseeker organizations. “You will be invited to be a builder,” the welcome message read, “to help construct the 2013 road map for a stronger Michigan nonprofit sector.”
CMF President & CEO Robert S. Collier's impetus to make this a highly participatory event came from reading Convene's interview with Appreciative Inquiry (AI) pioneer David Cooperrider. Collier was already well-versed in AI and had trained his staff to use this leadership approach, so it seemed logical to use it as a framework for the conference.
The CMF/MNA joint 2012 annual conference began with six speakers presenting rapid-fire five-minute “Tool Talks,” each addressing a different theme beginning with the letter “I” - investment, impact, inclusion, information, involvement, and innovation — to help ignite attendees’ thinking (see “The I's Have It,” at right). The goal was for participants to build “a roadmap” around those six themes, Collier said. Approximately 700 people were broken into 12 groups; each group had two facilitators - one from MNA and one from CMF. “We had two discussion groups on each theme,” Collier said. “And first, they did two discussion sessions. Monday afternoon, right after the plenaries, their charge was to identify five strengths, three opportunities, and a vision around that ‘I’ word, whether it be innovation, impact, etc. And then during the same discussion time, the next day on Tuesday, they focused on and each came up with three action steps - so we now had 36 recommended action steps. And out of that group, we identified one for each that we talked about at the closing plenary.”
At the closing plenary, a graphic illustration of the six I's was presented for the group (above), “and it said, based on what you all have done in these construction-zone discussions for the last two days, we've now given some action steps which we are committed to going forward with - and here are some examples,” Collier said. “So we were able to give them a good teaser.” After the conference, Collier and his team wrapped up the details with the facilitators to “put all of this up on our 2013 roadmap website” for the nonprofit sector for Michigan.
How was the AI approach received? “I have no qualms about saying it was a great strategy for us to introduce,” Collier said. “I had people