From the archives: “Something like that happened to me recently…”
  • From time to time, we’ll be highlighting blog posts from our archives. We’ll start by focusing on those we wrote in the first couple of months of Organization Unbound’s existence, before we actually had a readership. The following post was originally published on February 28h, 2010 .


    We are talking to our friend Andrew Woodall, someone we can always count on for a spirited conversation. He has spent the last five years running the Millennium Scholarship Foundation.

    After a pleasant, wintry morning tramp up Avenue du Parc in Montreal, we are hanging out in Em Cafe, discussing Organization Unbound over tea and toast.

    Andrew is getting excited. “Our last ‘Think Again’ conference was an example of that kind of expressive shift.” Think Again is Millenium’s annual gathering of scholarship recipients. It is a several day collection of provocative workshops, presentations and conversations on civic engagement and social change. Andrews says that over the last several years, Millennium staff had been feeling less connected to and energized by the conference. However, this changed when, this past fall, the they brought in facilitators Alicia Pace and Dan Séguin to organize the conference.

    “One of the first things they did was get the whole staff together for a meeting. They said, ‘What do you want out of this conference? What are your expectations? We had never asked ourselves those questions before. They said, ‘This event is for you too. Your experience of it matters.'”

    Andrew says that the staff had previously focused mainly on the logistics of delivering a great conference for the “primary” attendees, the student scholarship recipients. Alicia and Dan catalyzed two shifts in everyone’s thinking:

    1) They asked people to think about the experience they wanted to have at the conference, which is a different sort of question than asking people what they wanted the conference to be about or for.

    2) They emphasized that the conference was for everyone involved, not just for the students (see “The Giving Field” post).

    These two shifts represent the fundamental turn in expressive thinking. And what’s intriguing is how dramatic the results of this turn proved to be. Andrew says that the conference ended up feeling more vibrant than ever. One of the guest speakers said, “There’s something going on at this conference that I’ve never seen before.”

    Andrew is quick to point out that it wasn’t simply Alicia and Dan’s initial question that caused the shift, but that the ground was ready because of the trust that had already been nurtured on the team. Alicia and Dan were also skilled facilitators who were great about making things transparent, checking in with the staff regularly, and being honest about what could and couldn’t be done. But it was the expressive perspective that they brought to the process at every level that unleashed a different kind of energy and caused such a palpable change in the way people experienced the conference.

    Note: The Millennium Scholarship Foundation was conceived and funded by the federal government as a 10-year project and so closed its doors in March 2010. Andrew Woodall is now the Dean of Students at Concordia University in Montreal.

    October 5th, 2011 | Tana Paddock | 2 Comments

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  • Anonymous 10.05.2011

    Hiya Kishor! I’m glad it helped feed your reflections. The important piece for me about what Andrew shared is that as organizers, we often forget to see ourselves as important participants in the event we’re organizing…we get trapped in a servant mentality, where we see ourselves simply as instruments to create a great event for others, and forget that a big part of what will make it come alive is the degree to which we as organizers see ourselves as full participants in receiving what the event is being created to give…It gets back to the idea of dissolving the distinction between giver and receiver, conference organizer and conference attendee. I certainly felt that at the Learning Societies gathering. It felt that the organizers were just as much participants as they were organizers and in a way participants became the organizers too.

  • Thank you for sharing this wonderful insight. In my journey in the last 4 months I too was engaged with India Japan Global partnership summit at Tokyo and in that I felt something in the NGO track that I put months of efforts to fructify. It was more focused on the logistic part than working in a design that was organically shaping itself. What was missing was the energy of the people being tapped into and harnessed. It merely ended up as a showcasing of ones own achievements and people seeking validation than getting into a progressive dialogue. What emerges from your writings is that I must have missed the mark by inches in undertsanding that facilitation and community dialogue was not given its due care to culminate into an effective engagement. Since we didnt ask them in a collective group as what they expect or want to experience out of it… merely ended up as a transactional encounter.Your insight here makes a lot of sense.How things can be improved.

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