(originally posted in Eldis Communities)

How easy is it really hear and be heard by each other when we passionately build ideas together? How can we speed up the process of synthesising knowledge created by large groups without loosing consensus? At the ShareFair at IFAD in Rome today it was great to be able to propose that the Gift Garden method can help on both these points.

Gift Garden is a method developed originally for an interactive session on climate adaptation for 80+ participants at a conference in Ethiopia earlier this year. It brings together elements of large group facilitation from approaches including World Cafe and Open Space with playful approaches from Applied Improvisation. What is distinctive about the Gift Garden method is that it enables large groups to build new ideas quickly, collaboratively and creatively drawing on individual experience.

Sharing the method to today and running through the process with a group of really generous and knowledgeable facilitators lead to new insights and suggestions for improving the method. I’m always amazed how despite the anxiety I feel sharing new ideas, how quickly people put one at ease and give of their own experience so selflessly. Today was no exception and the suggestions for strengthening the Gift Garden Method included:

  • What to do if you have a very vocal person? Maybe have butterfly role to include equitable participation
  • Can you have multiple topics in the gift garden? Yes if you have more than one topic you can have just one round per topic as more topics provide opportunities for people to be both bees and butterflies
  • It would be logical to use the ‘Yes And’ Rule for the report back sessions to and that would encourage even more synthesis – Great Idea!
  • Maybe have post-its for each idea shared in report back and then add these to a big flower at the end of the session – nice idea but could be in tension with the idea of having lots of freedom to improvise as people will be thinking about what to write during the discussion sessions rather than actively listening to each other.
  • Having equal numbers of butterflies to bees seems like it could be too much – on reflection it still seems a good idea as butterflies need to support each other to play the active facilitation role they are charged with (with few butterflies they may not feel empowered).
  • If you want to make the outcome of the Gift Garden more action oriented you can ask a more focused question at the report backs – like “What should we do next to move forward on the topic discussed?”
  • The ‘Yes And’ rule experience: created a very positive atmosphere; challenged us to move beyond Yes But; showed how difficult but important active listening is; showed that silence in the discussion is positive as it allows time to reflect on what has been heard and respond in Yes And mode.
  • How to move the discussion from the natural end of one set of ideas and the starting a new set without breaking the Yes And rule needs thinking through as not clear yet in the method.
  • The Butterfly’s role needs to include actively asking Bees to repeat what was last said if they feel Bees are not actively listening or building on each others’ ideas.
  • Butterflies moderating dominant speakers in Bee groups is a tough assignment. It would help to empower Butterflies to have a huddle of people in this role to share tips on how to facilitate and encourage huddling through out each round to compare notes and decide if an intervention is needed to get bees back on track.
  • If someone really doesn’t want to be a butterfly then allow them to opt out, but don’t offer this up front as it may encourage people who just want to be Bees so they can push their ideas to take this option.

For a full explanation of how to run your own Gift Garden session and explain it to others please see the Gift Garden Session Outline developed for the ShareFair. If you’ve got ideas and suggestions about the Gift Garden method please let me know. For video overviews please see interviews in English and French.