The Art of Convening: Authentic Engagement in Meetings, Gatherings and Conversations

Art of Convening

Today I read the book written by Craig and Patricia Neal with Cynthia Wold, called The Art of Convening: Authentic Engagement in Meetings, Gatherings, and Conversations. I have wanted to read this book for many reasons, one of which is that I feel that the facilitation of groups is a skill that needs purposeful practice and reflection in order to become better at creating meaningful relationships that move systems forward to action. Another reason is that Craig and Patricia are better known in our home as “Bop and Nana”, as they are the grandparents of my boys’ best friends.

It is interesting when you read a person’s work, versus just talking to them about what they do. I found that when I first posted on my blog, many people commented to me about how they never knew what the degree of my passion or experience within schools was – despite knowing me for a long time. There were not occasions to discuss it to that degree, and reading on my blog brought them to a new understanding of what I do and why I do it.

 Unlike my experience of putting my work out for public eye, this book reads very much like the authentic conversations that Craig and Patricia have day to day, with anyone they come into contact with. The conversations I have had with them are mirrored in their work and in their writing. It was wonderful to read how historically they have come to this rich understanding of the Art of Convening groups in meaningful ways through their work at Heartland Circle, and their acclaimed Thought Leader Gatherings. Additionally, I enjoyed reflecting deeply about the specific framework that they have put forth, their hope being that others can emulate and use the understanding of their life’s work.

They describe convening as “the art of gathering and ‘holding’ people for the sake of authentic engagement”, and describe how authentic engagement shouldn’t be draining or tiring, but that “it is, simply, a genuine expression of what is true for us, and an attentive listening to what is true for another, or others” (p. xii). They go on to describe how that can look and how to attain that within our relationships, our meetings and our gatherings, based on their framework of the Convening Wheel.

Art of Convening Wheel

The convener has a special role to play, is aware of the inner and outer considerations that are at play within any group or relationship. They detail not only the different parts of the process that lie within the group itself  – but the parts that the convener owns and manages to keep the group moving forward in authentic and engaging ways – with action of the group towards a goal at the end of the process.

Reading this book has affirmed my thinking about groups, and the facilitation of them in meaningful ways. It has also caused me to think about meetings and relationships I have had in the past that have gone well, as well as those that I walked away from feeling like they could have gone better and wondering what parts could be improved in the future. Their use of essential questions in each chapter, meant to inspire deeper thinking about what is happening at each stage of the Convening Wheel are very useful in my thinking about my work, and I believe they will be tools that I use to guide my meetings in the future. Additionally, I especially liked the suggestions they have for journaling and other exercises for strengthening the Aspects of the Convening Wheel.

I have read and thought about many frameworks and ways of being and leading within groups and relationships. This book has a different approach, in that it focuses on the human aspects first, finding our personal “center” as to why we are doing the work we set out to do, and being intentional in the sharing with one another and establishing a relationship around it in order to move ahead together.

I loved reading this book, and I can only imagine what it would be like to be in a group with Craig and Patricia and watch them work their magic. I am anxious to use this framework in my thinking and planning, and convening in the future. I would highly recommend you read it and see how easily you can add it to your toolbox as well.

1 thought on “The Art of Convening: Authentic Engagement in Meetings, Gatherings and Conversations

  1. Edward Eggleston

    Convening meetings needs leaders who know the basic ingredients to bring out the best from those who attend. This process presented with the AOC book needs to become part of the ‘open meetings’ agenda!!
    Thanks, Jennifer for this excellent summary of the book. The ingredients of which we all need to find our own recipe to make this life a better place!!


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