By Dan Kahl, Assistant Professor, Department of Community and Leadership Development
There is a level of attention to detail needed to bring people together effectively. As our communities become more and more fragmented, the practice of convening can become a powerful process for bringing people back together again. Convening can create “a spot at the table” for otherwise unheard voices. It can establish an environment conducive to meaningful interactions. Effective convening can also serve to create a relational bridge between individuals and organizations, and strengthen the community network.
Before facilitating a group, attention must be paid to convening. Convening begins the process of thinking through how to purposefully bring people together. While step two may be facilitating the interactions of the group, the facilitation effort can be wounded from the start if convening is not done well.
While convening is often talked about in context of bringing people together to address an issue, it need not be. The practice of convening can extend into many areas of community or organization building. Cooperative Extension has a history of convening public groups that dates back to the creation of the Land Grant System. The Smith-Lever Act indicated in Section 4 (c) (2) that each extension plan of work shall detail “the process established to consult with extension users regarding the identification of critical agricultural issues in the State and the development of extension programs and projects targeted to address the issues.” The role extension educators serve as conveners and facilitators to identify community issues is fundamental to extension work.
A guide was recently published through CEDIK to support the process of convening. This guide is intended to support work with community groups, action coalitions, or project teams. In Extension, it may be used to support efforts to convene people about SNAP-ED Policy, Systems, and Environment work, Farmers Markets or local food work, or to address community youth involvement. You might also consider sharing it with other groups or collaborative efforts going on in your community.