The Invitation Conversation and the Power of “A Small Group” of Committed People

More than two years ago, Gary Robbins, Meagan Lauer and I got together after an ASG [A Small Group] monthly gathering and decided to work on a few common interests together. One item was to develop a workshop where the three of us would teach the Invitation Conversation to interested neighborhood and organizational folks. The project evolved as we practiced the six conversations ourselves and explored various learning and teaching modalities. Soon we began to integrate Art of Hosting practices into our work; it correlates well with the six conversations.

After months developing a workbook and planning, we decided to host a series of gatherings.  We would create a civic topic and invite passionate civic sector people to come join us for conversations that matter… We partnered with Liz Blume of the Community Building Institute at Xavier University and Katherine Keough Jurs. Both Liz and Katherine have a background in planning. Since we were all interested in Civic Engagement and Participatory Practices, we formed an informal association committed to supporting each other’s work.

Just over 18 months ago, we designed and hosted a civic sector gathering, at the Xavier University Cintas Center. The purpose was to: a) build connections among the people who showed up, b) have a gifts and commitment conversation, c) create the conditions for people to declare a future possibility. Our methods included an Appreciative Interview at the beginning, Open Space Technology (two rounds) and then following a teach on Art of Hosting – Fifth Organizational Paradigm, we invited any group(s) that formed that evening to “step up” and publicly declare a future possibility.

That evening, Sue Wilke, Peter Hames and Jeanne Knightingale stepped up together and declared a future possibility for Citizen Engagement in Cincinnati! The Small Group that formed that night has evolved into that is now called CEAT Citizen Engagement Action Team. Check out a recent email communication and a memo to City Council both resulting from CEAT, a small group of committed people who declared a possibility for Citizen Engagement in Cincinnati:

Citizen Engagement Update



We learned quite suddenly late last week that the City Manager’s office has prepared the required report in response to the March 11, 2014 City Council resolution asking for same regarding our CE recommendations.  Attached is a copy of the report which we did not see in advance. This report was discussed at the Rules and Audit Committee this past Tuesday but no action was taken.  Based on the report, there is a $155,000 price tag on the items we have recommended.  However, the report left out a number of things we have suggested to raise funds and deferred to Council on the passage of our policies and principles.

We plan to meet with Kevin Flynn who is spearheading this effort to find out what the next steps are in the process as this is unclear.

At some point, Council needs to address the policy and principles recommendations and we know they will only meet once in July and August.  You will note in the report Interim Manager Stiles is planning to change the title of his Communications Director to Director of Communications and Engagement.

We also learned that he has hired Rocky Merz who comes from the Health Department into this role.

He starts this week and will of course will need time to familiarize himself with this project.

This project about engaging citizens is now 18 months old and unfortunately has had to weather changes in council members, city manager and now the communications director but we continue to plug away.  I believe there will be more work for our committee once the path forward becomes clear. Please stay tuned and let us know if you have any questions or concerns.


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About the Lead Author

Dan Joyner
Dan Joyner
Dan Joyner is a management consultant and facilitator based in the Cincinnati area. His expertise is in the criminal justice system, government and non-profit management / frontline leadership, community / organizational change management, building collaborations and strategic planning. He is active with Cincinnati’s A Small Group, a citizen-created initiative that seeks to build a restorative and reconciled community.

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