Convening - Less Art than Science

Spend a couple Google-minutes and look up “convening.”  After the requisite bad matches and charlatans, Google, Bing or your search engine of choice gets you to some worthwhile information.  I did this recently to reassure myself of what I know to be the basics of convening, something SCOPE works hard to be good at.    

First let’s consider why convening matters. 

John Soleau, an Episcopal clergyman, speaks about it in the Ministry of Convening.  You see, convening has roots in the faith traditions and in the city-states of ancient Greece.  Rev. Soleau says, “Convening well done puts people and groups in touch with each other and rebuilds community life. Convening clarifies relationships among groups and aids collective decision-making. Convening raises a community's level of consciousness. This restorative work needs doing.”

Soleau goes on to identify three functions for convening.

1.       “Convening brings together people representing different interests and perspectives into a discussion over common concerns.

2.       Convening explores and develops constructive thinking and discovers new solutions.

3.       Convening builds motivation and the will for common action.”

These are powerful and important for our community, for any community.  We need to be convened around the tough issues.  We need to be deliberative about solving problems, and about getting out in front of issues both to head off difficulties and to generate possibilities.  Convening is about being able to inspire action even when the entire community is not in “crisis.”

Who can or should convene?

Brad Spangler from the University of Colorado program called Beyond Intractability says that, “The convener's main role is to identify and bring all legitimate stakeholders to the table. Since it is up to the convener to persuade them to participate in the resolution process, he/she must be seen as credible, unbiased, and trustworthy.”

Rev. Soleau weighs in on this role as well.  A convener is one who is able to call ‘to assembly’ the leaders and the led, elected officials and voters, professionals and receivers of services, rival political and interest groups, and institutional executives in the public and private sectors.”

There are other important distinctions about who can convene that neither Rev. Soleau nor Mr. Spangler touch on.  They are important in our community.  Credibility and faith in the convener are essential and are gained not by position but rather “…earned day-by-day over time as one lives, works and serves in the community.” (Rev. Soleau)

The convener who is also a direct stakeholder raises suspicion, as does the convener who wields significant power by virtue of financial resources or political favors that can be meted out. 

SCOPE as Convener

Over the past 24 months, SCOPE has been commited to the development of the national think tank and innovation center temporarily called the Institute for the Ages.  However, as Mark Twain once remarked, the reports of our death (as a convener) are greatly exaggerated.  SCOPE is not the only convener in Sarasota County, but is well situated to be a relevant convener of significant community concerns and opportunities.  It was, in fact, this very convening capacity that delivered the Institute, and we look forward to opportunities to nurture innovations in our community that grow out of our future contributions as a convener as well.