Monday, November 26, 2007

Open Agenda Conferences (Sometimes referred to as a Search Conference or a Futures Conference)

To identify and engage stake holders. Detect and determine issues. Discover, create, and initiate solutions. Encourage follow-through, and accountability. Set and complete goals and objectives.
An Open Agenda Conference is a unique experience. It is perfectly suited for multiple agencies, entire communities, or a single large or merging corporations or agencies.
The conference can include everyone who is a part of a particular corporation or agency, or even a very small community. It can bring together an entire organization, such as a school district, company, or business, or most of the employees in a single division, encourage and allow them to discover issues and solutions, and create action plans with accountability. It can also search out specific key individuals from a larger group. This search process identifies key groups (stake-holders), then key individuals within that group. (Locating and engaging stake holders may be an important exercise for the over all collaboration, service, or corporate system, that you are be involved with. Solutions are sometimes like a mystery that needs to be solved. Each stake-holder or stake-holder group may have a clue to the mystery which is unique to them. Without all the clues, it may be more difficult and sometimes impossible, to solve the mystery.) The process allows for the identification of key individuals that may not normally be considered (by those outside the group) principal leaders within the group. This process identifies those who are seen from the outside to be the most influential members of a particular group, and then allows for those individuals to identify those they consider influential and key.
The conference itself does not have a preset agenda; however, it can have a preset theme. It allows the agenda to be set by the participants according to interest and energy. The process has been compared to a potluck dinner, providing both opportunity to put forth issues and concerns, and helping to mold and implement a strategic plan for growth and amelioration. This concept requires a leap of faith and can produce, and has produced, remarkable results.

This concept can be used in corporate or community settings. The following are phases for a community "Youth Search Conference." The information below can easily be adapted to corporate, agency, or other settings.

Open Agenda/Youth Search Conference, Phases

There are some who have come to believe that solutions should be quick and easy. Sometime they are, but this is not always the case. This process is not quick. It is simple, but it is not easy. It takes work and time and it is thorough. This process is powerful and it produces results.Open Agenda Search Conference
An Open Agenda Search Conference can be used in many settings and for many purposes as noted on the previous page. The following pages have information specific to an Open Agenda/Youth Search Conference. Another type of Open Agenda Conference could use a similar format. Portions of this process can be used for specific activities such identifying stake holder groups and natural leaders among those groups.

Open Agenda/Youth Search Conference

There are six phases to the conference. Each is essential to the optimal success of the program/process. The goals of the conference are generally; to open communication between and amongst informed and influential youth and adults, to identify assets and obstacles, to learn skills and organize, and to identify, empower, and support, people and solutions. The outcomes will be specific, measurable, and observable. Individuals invited to participate in the process need to understand that the is a participatory process with additional work required outside the specific meetings and conference. This is especially true for those involved with Phase 2, 3, and 4.

Phase 1 Adult, pre-conference meeting. (Set agendas need to be used in phases 1, 2, 3, and 4)
This can occur in more than one session, but should include a local superintendent, mayor and/or county commissioner, and police chief (or equivalent) and/or sheriff. The purpose of this meeting is to explain the conference process, goals, and objectives and obtain a high level of support and commitment to participate. In order for this process to be successful these people need to not only support, but also attend and participate in at least 2/3 of the actual conference. The message must be clear that this is important enough for these people to take time out of their busy schedules to listen and participate. Places, times, and budget, also need to be discussed and set in these meetings. The ages/grades and geographic location of youth to be included needs to also be set. In addition, four to six youth, with recognized leadership qualities and from a cross section of the youth population need to be identified in these meetings. These four to six youth will be invited to the Phase 2 meeting. There are a couple of options for inviting youth to Phase 3. One is to have the youth involved in Phase 2 identify and invite them all, and the other is for the youth in Phase 2, to only identify a segment of youth and allow school principals to also identify some of the youth who will participate in Phase 3.

Phase 2 Youth, pre-conference meeting.
This meeting is for one or two adults and four to six youth identified in phase 1. The purpose of this meeting is to explain the process to the youth, obtain their opinion, support, endorsement, and commitment. If this is not obtained at this point, then there are three choices, try another group of youth, try again at a later time, or drop the idea. Youth are almost always excited at the prospect of this conference and process when they understand the potential outcomes and opportunities for open communication. This also provides a great opportunity for these four to six youth to develop leadership and facilitation skills.All or part of phases 3, 4, and 5 will be conducted by the youth at the meeting in phase 2. You will probably need to provide for some one on one follow-up meeting with these youth to help them to prepare. You want them to have the skills, knowledge, and confidence to have success. You may want to allow them to practice every aspect where they will be assigned to speak or facilitate an activity. They need to understand the process as thoroughly as possible. You also need to let them know that there will be support and back-up in case they need assistance. If the youth wish to only run part of the meetings and conference, support them in doing what they want to do and fill in the rest with a qualified adult.At this meeting these youth will need to be assigned to identify a cross section of youth that will participate in phase 3. These youth should not be their friends or associates, but should be leaders in the community and/or school. Assignments for specific aspects of the remaining phases and conference will also need to be negotiated with these youth attending. They may also want to suggest another youth who they believe would fulfill an assignment well. Listen to and consider their suggestions. These youth will also need to arrange for refreshments/food for phase 3 and 4.Decisions will need to be made in phase 1 and 2 about invitations to phase 3. As much as possible, youth should be brought to phase 3 by principals and counselors who will also be attending.Adults and youth from phase 2 will need to work together between phase two and three to assure that invitations are sent out, youth and adults are invited in writing and in person, and that food, facilities, and materials are arranged. Youth who are invited need to clearly understand that this event is sanctioned and supported by the school and that they will not lose credit. Schools may want to request that students prepare a paper on the process in order to be credited for their time in the process.

Phase 3 First Pre-conference Joint Planning Meeting. Approximately 4 hours, preferable during school hours. Start with eating. Have snacks to snack on during the meeting.
This meeting should consist of 20 to 35 youth and 15 to 25 adults, with more youth than adults. These youth should represent a cross section of youth in the community. If there is an alternative high school in the community, youth from that school should be represented. Some youth may be chosen by adults who wish to assure that younger youth or certain groups are represented. Key adults to attend would include ranking Law Enforcement, Juvenile Justice/Probation, City and County officials, Principals, Counselors, Mental Health, Child Protection, members of the organization/council/commission identified for phase 6, and the media. Other identified key stake holders can also attend and add a great deal of support to the process. It is recommended that phase 3, 4, and 5, be filmed for use in future conferences.

Introduction and Welcome Preferable this will be handled by a youth; however, if the youth has never attended an open agenda/youth search conference, it would good to also have someone who has, to tell a little about the process and answer questions. During this introduction phase, the facilitators will introduce themselves, and the process. If there is a video that talks about this process, this is a good time to show the video. Please let everyone know where the bathrooms are and that there will be formal breaks. Everyone can dismiss themselves as needed, and return as quickly as possible.

First Activity The first activity is an ice breaker and a mixer. Although many activities could be used at this point. My favorite is to have everyone stand and then instruct them that starting at one corner of the room, they are to make a circle around the room, circling according to birth day (not year). Starting with January and going around the room, ending with December. This activity should create a circle according to the day and month of birth of each person attending. To make the activity interesting, instruct everyone that they can not speak during the activity. If you want to make it really interesting, tell them that they can not speak or write. This activity will cause the group to mix with youth and adults spaced throughout the circle. The groups that will work together during phase three and four will then be created. I prefer to have groups of four to six members in each group. You should end with eight or nine groups. Start with the person with the first birth day in January (or the first birthday in the year) and count the first four to six people. These people will make up one group. Do this on around the room. This will almost always create groups with a mixed cross section of youth and adults. Have the groups sit together, preferably at separate tables.

Second Activity The purpose of the second activity is to continue introductions. Take a few minutes for people to get to know their neighbor, the person sitting next to them. Pair up in twos, (with one group of three if necessary). Have each person tell a little about themselves with their partner taking notes. After a few minutes, trade and have the other person tell about themselves with the other person taking notes. Go around the room and have each person introduce their partner. This can be made more interesting by asking everyone to tell something that they would love to do but have never done, or having everyone tell one particular quality that they have, or a hobby.

Third Activity The purpose of the third activity is to identify stake holder groups within the community. This is a brainstorming activity. Explain what a brainstorming activity is all about. Tell everyone that there are no right or wrong answers. Explain with a stake holder group is. Have a person write every idea on a board or somewhere that everyone can see. Begin to brainstorm on what all the stake holder groups might be in the community. You may need to help the group to get started. Some stake holder groups might be the Chamber of Commerce, teachers, coaches, churches, senior citizens, school board members, band members, et. etc. (These groups should consist of a very wide range of groups within the community.) This activity should take 30 to 50 minutes.

Fourth Activity The purpose of this activity is to identify informed and influential individuals within each of these groups. Each of the identified stake holder groups will be assigned to two of the eight or nine working groups that have been organized. Go through each of the identified stake holder groups and ask for two working groups to volunteer to take that group. Groups should be distributed evenly amongst the eight or nine working groups. The working groups should then identify and write down the names of three or four individuals who they consider to be informed and influential and/or leaders in each of the groups. Two working groups taking each of the stake holder groups provides for more thorough and accurate results. These names will then be divided amongst the individuals in the working groups. Their assignment will be to call the identified individuals and ask who the informed and influential individuals are amongst their friends and associates. (A suggested script for calling is listed below.) These individuals being called should not be identified as belonging to a particular group. These individuals need to be called (or personally spoken to) before the next planing meeting. The names provided by these individuals need to be brought to the next meeting or preferable provided to a designated person in advance of the next meeting. If the names are provided to someone in advance of the next meeting, the names should be alphabetized with a number beside each name showing how many times each name was mentioned in the calling. You may chose to invite only those individuals whose names were mentioned more than one time, or you may chose to invite everyone who was mentioned at all and all the people who were called. (All of the people attending the planning meetings need to be invited.) You may also wish to advertise the conference and invite additional interested individuals. You may want to consider how large you want the conference to be or how selective you want it to be.

Fifth Activity Additional assignments need to now be given to each of the working groups. Let them know what the assignments will be ahead of time, and then ask for volunteers. (1) One group should be assigned the food for the conference. They will need to be told what their budget will be, and how to arrange for payment. (2) Another group will need to be assigned the task of coming up with the name of the conference. (3) A third group will assigned the logo and art work. (Groups two, three, and four will need to work closely together.) (4) A fourth group will need to be assigned to write the letter of invitation. This letter is very important and this group needs to have an individual or two especially talented in this area. (The letter of invitation should be signed by such individuals as the mayor, county commissioner, and superintendent.) (5) A fifth group needs to be assigned to arrange for materials for the conference. (6) The sixth group needs to be assigned to arrange for computers with a word-processing program so that each session in the conference can be recorded. (7) A seventh group needs to be assigned to video tape the next planning meeting and the conference. They will need to arrange for appropriate equipment. (8) The eighth group will need to be assigned to publicity. If it is decided to open the conference to people not specifically invited, this committee will arrange for this kind of publicity. If it is decided to keep the conference closed to only those individuals invited, then this committee can arrange for publicity to raise excitement and expectation about the conference, increasing the chance of good participation. (9) The ninth group will take then names provided by everyone making calls, alphabetize, and tabulate. (If you decide to do this step.)

Script for Calling Script for calling or speaking to identified individuals in order to solicit names of informed and influential leaders among their peers and associates.
'Our community will be holding an Open Agenda/Youth Search Conference, on _____, with a cross section of leaders from throughout the county (community). We want to include as many of the most influential people as we can from every segment of our community. In a recent planning meeting, your name was suggested as someone who would know who some of these people are. Among YOUR friends, (associates, or colleagues) who are the two or three most informed people who have influence and seem to be able to get things accomplished (done).'Please get additional information. If a student, please write down what school they go to. If an adult, please get a phone number or address if possible. If home schooled, also please get a phone number and address.This information needs to be collected before the next planning meeting.
'Thank you for your help.' (We suggest that you provide a place where additional information can be obtained, such as this web site, or local people who can be asked.)

Phase 4 Second Pre-conference Joint Planning Meeting. (Approximately three to four hours. Preferably during school time, start with snacks.) Return and Report Make calls and arrangements to bring back as many of the participants from phase 4 as possible. Make arrangements for replacements if necessary.

First Activity One of the youth leaders should arrange for an ice breaker activity. It is recommended that they speak with someone such as a school counselor for ideas, suggestions, feedback, and approval.

Second Activity Review all assignments. Discuss and provide feedback and additional support where necessary.

Third Activity - Review Names for Invitation Names for invitations can be handled in a couple of different fashions. All of the participants in all of the previous phases need to be invited. In addition, and depending on how many names you have and the desired size of the conference, you may want to invite everyone who has been contacted. You may want to invite only those people who were names as informed and influential, or you may want to invite only those who were named as informed and influential more than one time. You may also want to add a general solicitation through the media. Remember that in most situation, you will need to invite from 30% to 50% more people than you wish to attend. If your goal is to have 200 people in attendance, you may want to invite 400 people. Though unlikely, be prepared for everyone to attend. Prepare to send out invitations. If at all possible, a phone call or personal visit should follow all invitations. Invitations should be formal, calls and visits do not need to be. Invitations should be signed by the Superintendent, Mayor, and County Commissioner, if at all possible. Another person of similar status may also sign. Invitations should emphasize the importance of the conference, the significance of the invitation, and the expected benefit for the community or organization and for the individual who attends. Everyone should know that that the whole conference is very important, but that if they are not able to attend the conference in it's entirety, they are encouraged to attend and participate as much as they can.

Fourth Activity Quickly review all assignments, arrange for support as needed, provide for a system to assure that all assignments are completed prior to the conference.Phase 5. The conference.

Pre-Conference Setup Three or four computers need to be set up with a word processing program. A large wall will need to be set up with an agenda (market place), showing an outline of places and times for conference sessions, breaks, and meal times. (This can also be done on large tables.) Each session on day one and two should last approximately 60 to 90 minutes. Sessions on day three should last approximately 90 to 120 minutes. Paper (generally a light color other than white) with markers needs to be set out so that individuals can write a topic, the name of the facilitator and scribe, and tape it to the large agenda posted on the wall or on tables. These papers can be taped to the agenda or use self-adhesive sticky paper. Food should be set out for snacks for each day with meals brought out with appropriate plates and utensils at appropriate times. Easels with pads to write on and markers need to be set up in each meeting location. Chairs should be set up for the orientation in a circle or semi circle with additional circles of chairs as needed. Chairs for the sessions need to be set up in semicircles around the easels. A large poster with the conference name and logo needs to be set up in good view of everyone present. Video cameras need to be set up with people designated to record. Someone may want to roam during the conference and get shots though out the event. A sound amplification system should be set up as needed. Two large posters should be set up in the main meeting room with "Rule #1, Rule of Movement, Go Where Your Passion Is" on one and "Rule # 2 Treat Everyone With Dignity and Respect" on the other. Arrange for a sign in sheet for each day. This can be used to help with followup and for attendance for students.

Conference Day One (Generally this works best during school hours) Orientation and Introduction As much as possible, this should be carried out by one of the youth leaders, with additional questions being answered by an adult, only as needed. Welcome everyone who is in attendance. Set a positive tone of expectation for the conference. You can discuss things that might be changed, improved, or created, where you are (as a group, organization, or community) where you've come from, how you got here, and how the world around you has an impact.. You may want to provide a few examples of possible discussion areas, assuring everyone that they may discuss what they would like to discuss. If the group is not too large, take time for brief introductions around the room. Explain the process which has brought you to this point and what the process will be for the rest of the conference and phase 6. Explain again that there is no preset agenda for the conference and that the participants are invited and encouraged to facilitate sessions during the conference. Explain that there is a schedule on the wall (or tables) for the three day event and that everyone who would like to, can facilitate a discussion on what ever topic they would like. (Generally there will be a theme for the conference which will give the participants subject ideas.) Encourage participants to focus on solutions, positive growth, and changes. Those people (youth should be especially encouraged) who would like to facilitate a discussion will be invited to pick up a piece of paper (right after the introduction) and write a topic that they would like to discuss, their name as facilitator, and the name of a scribe (if possible). They will then tape the piece of paper to the schedule (market place) in a space representing an available meeting time and place. (Hopefully there will be many discussions going on around different topics, in different places, at the same time.) Facilitators should be encouraged to schedule their discussion as early as possible in case there are additional discussions warranted, as a result of their discussion. The first two days of the conference should be available for scheduling discussions. The last day of the conference will focus on setting goals, objectives, and action plans. Explain that everyone needs to participate in a discussion session during all of the sessions of the conference. If there isn't a discussion that they are interested, then they can create one. If someone enters a discussion that does not keep their interest, then they are free to move (Rule # 1) to what ever discussion they would like, or go to the agenda (market place), and create a new one. Everyone is to treat everyone else with dignity and respect (Rule # 2). You may want to ask a few people what this means. You will want to let the participants know that a discussion topic may need to be extended beyond one session, and they are welcome to add additional sessions if warranted. There may also be spin off discussions which will be added after the first few sessions. Anyone can be a facilitator or scribe. We have seen excellent discussions facilitated by youth as young as thirteen years old. Adults may also facilitate. When the time is up for a discussion session. The facilitator and scribe need to go to one of the computers and enter the name of their discussion, the names of the facilitator and scribe, the names of participants (which they will have collected during the session), and what was discussed. Someone should be at the computers to help the people entering the information and making sure that it is saved and backed up in a way that can be accessed later. Because this process usually takes a little longer than is scheduled for a break. People who want to facilitate more than one session should be asked not to do two in a row.

Conference Sessions Invite people who would like to facilitate a discussion to come up and place their item on the schedule (market place). The first time that I went through this process, it was a bit nerve racking and seemed like an eternity before anyone took a piece of paper to set up a discussion. In reality, it was probably not more than two or three minutes. You may want to encourage some of the participants in phase three and four to think ahead of time about possible topics and help to begin the process. Break for a light informal meal sometime during the sessions. Some one needs to be assigned as a time keeper during the sessions, letting all the sessions know when they have ten to fifteen minutes remaining and when the time is up. Allow approximately ten minutes between the sessions for bathroom, snacks, and chatting. Let everyone know when it's time to start the next session. Remember that there will be multiple sessions going on in different places at the same time. Do not worry that one session has more participants than other sessions. Allow people to attend where their passion lies. Even very small groups may surprise you with significant results. Wrap-up About a half an hour before the end of the first day, bring everyone back together to process what has happened so far. Get some feedback, take notes on how the process can be improved in the future and any modifications that may be needed over the next two days. Ask for a few people to recap as many of the discussions as possible for that day. If there is room for more people, invite those attending to bring others for the next couple of days and quickly go over the schedule for the rest of the conference. (If they are students, this would need to be discussed with school administrators, who may not want additional students to be released from class without previous authorization).

Conference Day Two (This is usually a good day for late afternoon and evening sessions, allowing for some people to attend who could not attend during the day.) Introductions and Recap Briefly recap the previous days events and the schedule for this day. Introduce yourself and those who are helping with various activities. Sessions Invite participants to continue the process started on day one and begin the conference. Break for a light informal meal sometime during this day's sessions. Wrap-up Wrap up as in day one. Be sure to leave some time for a brief synopsis of the days events, and feedback from the participants. If there is room, again invite those attending to bring additional people the next day. (If they are students, this would need to be discussed with school administrators, who may not want additional students to be released from class without previous authorization). The people previously assigned will need to print out the information on each session at the end of this day. The results need to be copied that evening or the next morning and brought to the conference on day three. We suggest that each participant be provided with a copy of each session and with the name of the conference and theme on a front cover. These can be stapled or put into binders.

Conference Day Three (The sessions on this day can be held during the school day or a late afternoon and evening.) (Remember to provide incentive for invited students to attend as much of the conference as possible. You may want to provide multiple extra incentives meaningful to the various students who will be invited. This is a valuable educational event.) Introductions, Recap, Present Information on Sessions Briefly introduce yourself and those helping with activities if there are any new people this day. Briefly recap what has happened so far. Handout the booklets or folders with the information from the previous day's sessions. Allow for time for everyone to look through the booklets. Voting Review all of the issues/project from the previous two days. If there is more than one issue/project which is similar and if the entire group agrees that those issue/project should be combined, then combine the issues/projects. After combining the issues/projects, write them all down on a very large piece of paper on the wall (or on tables). Each issue/project should be written in a section of the paper with lines drawn between the issue/project, creating a large box or rectangle around each topic. Give each participant four dots of different colors. Attach a value of four points to one color, three, to another, two to another, and one to the last one. Ask all of the participants to place their dots on the issues/projects of their choice. If they want, they can place all of their dots on the same issue/project, or place them on all separate issues/projects. Have someone tally the results. You will want to focus on the top three to eight issues/projects. This does not mean that a small group can not work on an issue/project which did not receive as many votes. They are free to do this if they wish and may find great success. Goals, Objectives, and Action PlansTake some time to discuss goal setting. Ask the participants to explain the different between goals, objectives, and specific action plans. Clarify or add to the discussion as needed. Explain that their next assignment is to decide where they are going, how and when they are going to get there, and who's going to do what. Explain that they will be reporting on their progress as outlined in phase six. Sessions Before starting the sessions, you will need to find volunteers to be a chair person, a CO-chair person, and secretary/recorder for each of the topics/issues. These people will need to be willing to follow through with the process of creating goals, objectives, action plans, organizing the committee, following through, and reporting as outlined in phase six. It may be helpful to have a mix of youth and adults, but the primary chair person does not need to be and often should not be an adult. No more than three topics should be discussed at one time for this segment of the conference. Allow one and a half to two hours for these discussions. If you have chosen to deal with more than three topics, break and start again with your next session, et. etc. Make sure that the chair and CO-chair have the name, phone number, and possibly e-mail address for every member of their group/committee. Wrap-up Before leaving have everyone sign a commitment sheet. This should include their name, address, and phone number, and e-mail address if they have one. This should also include a line where they might write anything that they would be able to donate in money, materials, or time. There should also be a line where they can write the committee(s) that they are willing to serve on and/or chair.Allow for time for feedback. Take notes and use those notes to improve the next conference that you hold. Please send copies of your feed back to us at this web site so that we can improve the information that is provided here.

Phase 6. Follow-up, implementation, and accountability.
Were you to conduct a successful conference with only the first 5 phases, you would find that you will have opened communication between youth and adults and created an environment of increased communication and understanding. There is great value in the first 5 phases alone. I have heard many youth say that this was the first or one of the first times that they had felt that an adult had really listened to them. The first 5 phases; however, are not enough. Its great to be heard, but even better to be empowered.Phase 6 requires follow-up, implementation, and accountability. Before phase 3 ever begins, you need to arrange and plan for phase 6. There needs to be a credible organization within the community to which the various project chairs coming out of the conference have some accountability. This organization should be able to provide support and feedback and possibly resources to the individual committees developed through the conference. This may be a community council, a city council, a county commission, or higher management in a corporation or agency. Each committee needs to report their progress to this organization on a regular basis, with the first report being within a month (at the very longest) of the conference. The purpose of this reporting is for feedback, accountability, and support. It is not to take over the project or allow the project to be handed over. At some point, a member of the support organization may want to offer to attend a committee meeting for each of the committees. The purpose here is again, not to impose, but to support. Should a committee need to be reorganized, as much as possible, support the committee in reorganizing itself. Training resources can also be provided, to the committee to help them accomplish their goals and objectives. When committees are passionate about their purpose, feel empowered, and have the resources and skills to accomplish their goals and objectives, amazing things will be accomplished. (Often times amazing things will be accomplished even without many of the traditionally recognized skills or previously recognized resources. The committee will simply go out and find or create new resources, and find ways to get the job done.)
Good luck! Let us know how it goes.


barcia said...

Very goof article!


C.R. Petersen said...

Thank you, please share with others. There are many applications.