An important part of planning a participatory gathering or meeting is the harvest. I like to explain this as what do we want to harvest in our hands (the tangible – reports, photos, videos, sculptures…) and in our hearts (the intangible – togetherness, team spirit, clarity, passion, new relationships…)? In fact, we aren’t planning a meeting, we are planning a harvest.
The harvest process is about making meaning of the gathering and how will we tell the story and feed forward the results so they have an impact. When working with a core planning team I like to use the harvest questions from the Chaordic Stepping Stones, and depending on the need, will sometimes create a full Harvest Plan.
Here is an insight on harvesting that I’ve been working with recently:
Just as invitation is a process, that it takes multiple levels of invitation (emails, personal phone calls, short paragraph tags – three to four levels of follow-up invitation work) to attract people fully to the gathering, it is the same for harvesting.
Teams that compile a beautiful and meaningful harvest artefact (like this example from the XYBOOM Conference), and then send it out with one mass email to their participants, will likely not see the full potential impact realized. The email will get lost, sit, languish, lose context, people won’t be sure exactly what they are supposed to do with it…. So I’ve begun to encourage core teams to think about levels of sharing the harvest, in the same way that the invitation has different levels and activities. Some ideas for this:
- Don’t necessarily wait until your whole harvest artefact is complete. As soon as some pieces are available, share them out. If you did an Open Space, getting the Book of Proceedings back into people’s hands as quickly as possible is important to support any energy and momentum generated. If you had a graphic recorder get their images into people’s hands as quickly as possible as they help tell others the story of what happened. If there were photos taken, share those out. This way you keep the stream alive.
- This is where having a harvest plan is very helpful – ahead of time you will have thought about how you will be sharing this information out. Can it live on a website and you email people when something new is available? Did you collect everyone’s email addresses, including those who wanted to attend but couldn’t? Did people join a Facebook or LinkedIn Group or some other online community as part of the registration process?
- Think about key people you want to connect with personally about the harvest. With one core team there were a number of influencers in the community that attended the event, and it was beneficial for a member of the planning team to call them. It was a chance to thank them again for attending and bring their attention to the harvest and how they might help share it or act on it. Or personalized emails to sub-groups of participants (like your volunteers – celebrate and acknowledge their contribution with a special email and include the harvest – look at what you contributed to creating!).
- In any of these interactions, include what you hope people will do with the harvest. Is it feeding into the invitation process for another gathering, and you would like them to reflect on it before they return? Is the hope they will share it with their friends, colleagues etc to spread the word? Or to cross-pollinate ideas and the experience? That they use different pieces of it – perhaps integrate some new ideas or concepts into their work and community? Offer these specific invitations or suggestions on what people can do with the harvest.
- Don’t be shy about sharing things multiple time over a period of a few months. Social media can be very useful for this. Imagine two months later a tweet or Facebook post of “Did you see the photos from our gathering…?” It is easy to miss initial posts and emails so the repeat isn’t a bad thing! In one particular harvest document we had videos of various content from the event: videos, interviews, photos, Storify harvest from Twitter, graphic recording images, write-ups, process information and more. Each one of these could be something shared out every few weeks over a period of three or four months post-gathering.
So harvesting is a process on the other side of an event, the way that that invitation is a process leading up to the event – multiple levels, over a period of time, personalized and varied to specific audiences. In invitation we ask ourselves “What will it take to get people to walk through the door?”, so then in harvesting we ask “What will it take to get the harvest back in the hands and attention of our participants, and others?.