The True Cost of Holding Non-Participatory Events – Episode 33

In this episode, Beth Cougler Blom talks with Mansi Jasuja about the many impacts of hosting events which exclude individuals from participating, including social, environmental, psychological, and economic considerations, and how groups can be more intentional to foster inclusivity and invite participation.

Beth and Mansi also talk about:

  • the psychological safety needed to engage groups
  • matching the diversity outside the room inside the room
  • cultivating emergent wisdom
  • why Q&As are problematic
  • key considerations around harvesting and followup

Engage with Mansi Jasuja

Other Links from the Episode

Connect with the Facilitating on Purpose Podcast

Connect with Beth Cougler Blom

Podcast production services by Mary Chan of Organized Sound Productions

Show Transcript

[Upbeat music playing]

[Show intro]
Beth
Welcome, to Facilitating on Purpose, where we explore ideas together about designing and facilitating learning. Join me to get inspired on your journey to becoming and being a great facilitator wherever you work. I’m your host, Beth Cougler Blom.

[Episode intro]
Beth Cougler Blom
Hello, how are you doing today? This is Episode 33 and I’m so glad you’ve chosen to listen to this episode today. My guest today is Mansi Jasuja. Mansi tells me that she feels fortunate to have lived an unconventional story that brought her from practicing architecture in India to being a practitioner designing and hosting meaningful conversations and processes in Europe. Mansi and I met online through a group called The Art of Hosting, which she will tell you a little bit more about in the episode, but basically the short story is that she posted an image about something that she was thinking about, I got really excited about it and I asked her to be on the show.

I won’t go farther than that because she’s going to tell you, and we’re going to tell you in the conversation, what the image is all about and why it’s so important for all of our work. I will only share with you the title of the image Mansi created because it is the title of this episode. It’s called The True Cost of Holding Non-Participatory Events. We’ve put a link to the image that Mansi created in the show notes so you can choose to either go download it now and have it in front of you while we have our conversation. You may not need to do that. I think it’s probably easy to listen to the conversation, know what we’re talking about and then follow up and go look at the image later. But, either before or after, go check it out in the show notes and then you can see the work that she has created and explore it in more depth.

Without further ado, here is my conversation with Mansi Jasuja. I hope you enjoy the show.

Beth Cougler Blom
It’s so great to see you. Thank you for joining me on the podcast today.

Mansi Jasuja
Thanks. I’m really excited to be here. Thanks, Beth.

Beth
I’ve been really excited myself to have this conversation with you. I have to say that this is probably one of my most favourite topics, what we’re going to be talking about today. I mean, all topics are really good in terms of designing and facilitating learning or meetings but this one around participatory events is, I hope, really going to grab people that listen, because it’s been grabbing me waiting for this conversation with you. So, happy to see you.

Mansi
Yeah, I guess it’s really important because it’s really not about the events, right? It’s really about people coming together and how do we do that? So yeah, I’m fairly excited myself. [chuckles] Thanks.

Beth
So let’s start by just hearing a little bit about you. Who are you as a facilitator? If you could tell us just briefly what kind of work do you do?

Mansi
It’s one of my favourite questions: not saying ‘what do you do’, but ‘who you are’. I’ll try to answer that briefly because last I checked I had 27 professions. I aim to have about 70 by the time I’m age 70, but for now I’m really only at 27. But I started professionally as an architect and I did a masters in Urban Environmental Management in the Netherlands. I grew up in India and studied architecture there and I’ve been in the Netherlands since 23 years. And after doing the Urban Environmental Management, I moved into the regular workspaces like United Nations and the European Commission. I’ve been working for myself since around 14 years after a cathartic moment of eco grief, which was actually a three month moment.

Since then there’s a lot of things I do which includes being a speaker, which includes being a mentor, which includes being a facilitator, host, and I see myself more as a host – also as a practitioner of the Art of Hosting and conversations that matter – which you are also a practitioner of. Yeah. For me hosting seems to be very dear to my heart. But what I also do – more and more – is a practice of being an artist and a sense-maker through my art, which is what brought us to this particular conversation today.

And of course I do want to add one thing. I am a mother of two amazing teenagers and I think that adds like a certain quality to who I am. So that’s really an important part of who I am.

Beth
You sound like a very complex human as well, and as we all are, but I love that you have all of these different things that are coming together to make you you right now and in the past and in the future yet to come. That’s wonderful.

Mansi
Yeah. Or maybe I’m just somebody who cannot decide who I want to be or who I am! [laughs] I’m just looking, and I’m actually a very curious human. Everything has been around the ‘why’ for me. Why do we do this? Why do I have to be this? Why is this happening the way it’s happening? And in that quest, I have become who I am and I’m becoming who I might still become.

Beth
I like the word sense-making that you said, and maybe that’s the beginning of why we met is that you were doing some sense-making around a particular topic and you did use your graphic or your visual skills to create something that I ended up then seeing in a group that we’re in. This group is the Art of Hosting group. Can you just share a little bit about what Art of Hosting is? Because I know some people haven’t heard of that yet, but we were both in there together. Tell us a little bit about Art of Hosting and then I’ll share a little bit about how we found each other.

Mansi
Yes. So the Art of Hosting and Harvesting Conversations That Matter, it’s really a group of practitioners who – it starts by following a training, but it really is around participatory leadership, about how do we come together, use collective intelligence and collective sense-making and co-create to find new and emergent solutions for the complexity which is there in the world. Because when you have complexity – and we have a lot of complex challenges – there are no simple solutions and no one person or a group of people can find the right answers or the right path forward.

So how do we do that as a community? How do we come together? But more importantly, it’s what are the conversations we are having and how are we holding them in a meaningful way, but also in a non-hierarchical, horizontal way? How do we show up? So it is about inclusion. It is about equality and equity. And harvesting is an as important part of this process as hosting is.

And then there are many different ways of harvest, as you know, the visual being one of them. So for me, it’s my base community and I feel very, very privileged and very happy to be there because for me it’s also a pathway to so much learning. And I like to learn.

Beth
Me too. And I probably haven’t engaged in the community as much as you. I took Art of Hosting just before the pandemic, I want to say, so I haven’t really had a chance to be ensconced so much in that community, I think. But I do appreciate being part of the Facebook group and I see people sharing that way: looking for help, sharing ideas, and then doing that kind of – it’s a not as nice as the way that you’ve put it – but crowdsourcing [chuckles] of ideas and getting input from others.

So let’s go to what you posted in the group, and this is the thing that I saw that helped us meet each other. Can you tell us a little bit about the image that you created and why you did so?

Mansi
Yeah so the image was titled – the funny thing is that most images I create, and I’ve been in this practice of artistic sense-making since a couple of years – but this particular image is very different than the ones I usually create, which are a lot more abstract usually. But this one is full of words and it’s really starting – it’s almost like an infographic. And the title of this as I gave it, is The True Cost of Holding Non-Participatory Events (Non-Participatory or Non-Inclusive / Useless Events) – which is of course subjective. And the image, it did come about after being part of yet another event where the audience was just captured and was just sitting and seat-fillers, and the intention or the invitation had been inviting people into a process of collaboration. And I would have thought…that’s what attracted me to go there. And I would have thought that if that is in the invitation, that would happen. But then after 90 minutes of sitting there, nobody asked you who you were, why you were there, and what interest you might have to be there or what you might contribute – and not just me but also the 130 people who were there with me.

This is nothing new. We all know events like this. I’ve been going to events or have been part of them since the 1980s or 1990s. Somehow recently I haven’t been part of a lot of them so I was a little bit taken aback that ‘how is it possible that in…’ – this was last year, so 2023, ‘we are still holding and hosting events like this?’ And I know a lot of them happen. And not only that, a lot of these events – especially, I live in the Netherlands, I’m Indian so I grew up in India and I’m brown, I’m a person of colour and I live here – and a lot of events here are hosted locally but the Netherlands – at least the part I live in – it’s a very multicultural, a very mixed-race group of people. Almost 50% of the people living in the cities we are living in are non-Caucasian. You would expect that there would be, in events like this, which are especially around public work – there would be a lot more diversity present in the room and that this diversity – which is outside – would be in there and listened to. But most of the times it’s not there. So, you know, you feel really marginalized and the minority. It’s already difficult to voice your voice when you are the minority in a certain country, but when it’s so poorly represented and there’s no space given for it and there’s no understanding – there’s also this kind of energetic holding and hosting of the space – but it doesn’t feel safe to speak.

I think, ‘how are we hosting events where we could draw, perhaps, the wisdom from everybody in the room?’ And what a missed opportunity.

So the graphic was really exploring – it was more an inner exploration, which I do like in the form of art of – OK so what kind of economic impacts does it really have if you invite so many people to a certain event but actually you never listen from them. What are they doing there? Why are they even there? What kind of environmental impact it has? What kind of social impact does it have? What kind of psychological impact it has? All of those factors.

So I was just starting to explore them – and by far this drawing is not complete. And, you know, after putting it in different places, I got more input back on it. So I’m intending to have a version two and a version three. But yeah, it was interesting how much it resonated with a lot of people.

Actually I’m curious like in that drawing or in that infographic, what was it that you noticed – I mean there are many things, but maybe you want to name a couple of things.

Beth
I know there’s so many things that I want to jump off on in what you just said, but first of all, thank you for sharing your experience. And I know that’s just the start of – the tip of the iceberg, so to speak, of your experience across the years of being in these types of events. And for that, I am truly sorry. It just drives me crazy this kind of situation because I’m not Indian. I am a white woman living here in Canada and sometimes these things – well often these things don’t happen to me, right? I look like the people often in the room and so – but I can empathize and continue to want to learn more about other people’s experience. How do we all learn from this and do better? And encourage our colleagues and our clients and whoever we’re working with to do better.

When I saw your image I think the first thing that that jumped out at me was the words ‘the true cost’. Because I talk a lot about, ‘oh we should be participatory, we should be active, active learning and activities, and Liberating Structures’ and all – like these are things that are part of my world too in both meetings and learning events that I facilitate and my work with clients.

But when you said the ‘true cost’, I think it was the first time that I really saw something so – it’s comprehensive, but as you say it will be a living document that laid out so many reasons why these types of non-participatory events are costly to not just the organization – it’s not a budget thing – it’s so much broader – the ‘true cost’ is what you’ve got in this image. It just gave so much more power to why we need to be participatory.

Then I started looking at it and going, ‘yes, yes, yes’. And this whole inside part here – maybe that’s this, I don’t know – you said ‘psychological’ which actually – I’m not sure the word ‘psychological’ shows up on it, but it’s that whole inner piece, isn’t it, where you go into more depth around inclusion and marginalization and so on. And I really appreciate that because, as I say, I have my own social location. Some of it is not this, and so the more I can learn from other people’s experience the better. Does that bring up anything for you to think about next?

Mansi
Well it certainly does. You started by saying like the economic thing, that it’s not just about the budget. I think that’s really interesting. It’s absolutely certainly isn’t, and that’s why I wanted to put it. But the interesting thing is I thought if we would actually – speaking about true cost – if we could actually monetize, if we could actually – or rather I don’t know if that’s the right word here – but if we could actually figure out what it actually costs to bring people together and not using them – that might be a good reason of not doing it. That might take the attention of some people who would otherwise not give a shit about if there’s psychological safety – sorry for the language – or if they wouldn’t care about the social or the other reasons, but maybe the economic cost would be the one driving force.

It’s the same with sustainability. Sustainability is not just about economic cost, it’s also social and environmental and all of those others. So it doesn’t matter why you do it, as long as you do it. But if you look at even just the economic cost of any event, it’s like the travel cost of the people. People came maybe with cars, maybe with trains, maybe with whatever means, you know. They spent a lot of time. So that’s a lot of human hours that we are speaking about. And each – let’s say if it’s somebody with a certain rate per hour, it’s a really expensive event. Just for that.

And if you don’t hear them speak what they are, what they are bringing, what they know, I think that’s really such a pity. I mean we pay so much money to consultants. Then there’s just the pure travel costs, the fuel that is burned in the process, then the space and material costs. You are inviting them, you’re hiring a certain space for a certain size, you are giving a certain amount of drinks and coffee and tea [laughs a bit].

I mean it’s just pure logic for me that if you want to host an event where you don’t want to listen to people, you can also just make it into a video and just let people watch it from home. I mean that was cool about the pandemic, right? We discovered people could join in if they want. Even then just being present, physically present is not enough to have a generative conversation. You know, how do you really include them?

Beth
Yeah you’ve got the – I think it’s the upper part on the right, the checklist. You’re saying, ‘why are you really holding this event? Could it be an email, could it be a YouTube video?’ Those are the things I end up asking people too. I encourage people to say to themselves, it’s got to be worth it. You know? ‘What’s it going to take to be worth it?’ To ask people to come together synchronously – whether virtual or in person – here has to be a ‘worth it’ factor to use the experience of the people in the room. I mean, what you just said about all these folks coming into a room and sitting there and just listening to someone talk, and you think those are all – they could be – all individual consultants like yourself who make X number of dollars per hour or day rate or whatever you’re talking about. Just the sheer waste of that kind of brain power is so sad, isn’t it? Yeah, so ask ourselves a question about ‘is it worth it to just bring all these people in there and then not engage them, not involve them, not ask them anything about what they think or feel about the thing you’re trying to do?’ (Yeah.) So sad.

Mansi
Yeah. So as you know in the practice that we are both part of, when we start organizing or dreaming about any gathering or any conversation, it always starts with a question or an intention. There needs to be clarity of: OK what is it that we want to have? What is it that we are trying to answer or what are we trying to reach? So that purpose – that is the starting point, right, on anything. And from there you move on. Who should be the people who are there? Would that be part of this purpose? It’s the, eight breaths of design. Or the chaordic stepping stones – which is ‘who are the right people? What do we need to be there? How do we define the context? Who’s the core team?’ And then you sometimes maybe have all of those and you go back to the beginning and say, ‘oh is our question really the right question? Who are the stakeholders?’ And then you can – finally when you have a conversation, then it’s really around ‘who are the people who show up? How do you invite them?’ So the art of invitation is there. So it’s all of those things.

But a lot of the events which take place in the world are missing this fundamental conditions or parameters of having good, meaningful conversations. I wonder if it comes from not knowing, or not caring.

Beth
I hope it’s not knowing, but I’m sure there’s a little not caring. But I don’t know. I mean, you were saying that where you live it’s quite a diverse community and so you think it’s obvious. I mean maybe it’s because of the work that we do – bringing people together – you’d think it’s obvious that your inside of the room should look like your outside of the room. You kind of said those sort of inside/outside terms. It seems obvious to us, doesn’t it? But maybe it doesn’t to everyone else. How do we get them to take the blinders off? I mean, your image is certainly helping in that direction. We just have to get it in front of the right people I suppose. We hosts and facilitators, we know these things – or we should know these things. How do we get it in front of the people who hire us or convene meetings and then invite people to it, and so on?

Mansi
Yeah. I think what you’re referring to is something really, really fundamental to this conversation. Before I come to that – it brought up another visual image in me when you spoke about the inside and the outside matching. I thought ‘it doesn’t match because of that wall or that transition between the inside and the outside’, of course, because that transition is meant to keep some people out or meant to keep some people in. A lot of it is based on the power and the privilege, which people don’t want it to change – certain people. So part of it is not knowing. Part of it is indeed – if you don’t know something, if you have not experienced something you don’t know what you’re missing, right? So it’s not somebody’s fault.

A lot of people talk about co-creation and participation. It’s the buzzword. It’s the new thing. But really if you have never experienced true participation, true co-creation, true feeling safe, or true creating something together – well-hosted spaces, you wouldn’t know what you’re missing. So it’s not their fault.

At the same time there is a little bit of not caring. You know if you are at the top of that pyramid why would you care about who’s at the bottom and inviting them? That is then the very fundamental part of the colonialization, the dehumanization of certain groups of people, the capitalism which keeps that pyramid in place. And so we come to the really fundamental issues of our times.

Beth
Absolutely. And the Pollyanna in me goes, ‘why do we have to be like that?’ But of course it is like that. And it’s slow to change and all the rest of it, isn’t it? Yeah. Thank you for helping continue to remind me about power and privilege in – as you said – in all of that. Tell me – let’s think about being inside events where you’re not being asked to engage. Some of these middle pieces of your image go into what minority or marginalized groups probably feel all the time in all sorts of different types of events. Tell me more about what that looks like, feels like, to be not engaged when you could offer so much.

Mansi
Of course it’s the fundamental of the psychological safety, right? If you don’t feel seen or heard, you don’t feel safe. If you don’t see people on the stage – and there are quite often stages in events like this, they’re not circles which are more or less events that I organize – if there are people on stages who do not look like you, you do not feel that you should be speaking, or you don’t see the role models or you don’t see that mirroring of you. Even if there are a few of them who are there who look like you – which is great because more and more people are realizing we need to be diverse – you know it’s like every marketing video now of big companies, they find the two brown people or the two black people or the whatever, the two marginalized people for those videos and their photo promotions and so on.

Is that really true representation? You know, so a lot of time you feel that, right? You feel when it’s true and you feel when you’re really listened to. And what I notice is it takes me a lot of energy – even networking events which are more flatter. Let’s say just invited to drinks – and I used to go to a lot of those at some point in my life where – because I like people, I’m an extrovert and I believe fundamentally in equality because I’m from a minority religion, Sikhism –where the fundamental values are equality and equity, so I thought the whole world is like that. But, you know, it’s not. So I used to go to these networking events and it used to cost me a lot of energy. I didn’t really quite understand at some point until I heard the idea of – or learned about code switching – about how minorities, marginalized groups – we tend to change ourselves, adapt ourselves to reflect who else – the dominant or the majority in the room, right? We tend to want to take on those shapes and those ways of speaking or dressing. But that is actually really killing the diversity and then you are not who you are. And if you’re speaking the same way, the same things which people expect you to speak – because if you speak something different, they don’t hear it in that way – it’s not considered valuable or original – then at some point you stop speaking, or you switch completely and then you lose your identity, or you dilute it. Right? The same happens – it really takes a lot of your energy away if you keep on doing these things. So I actually totally stopped going to these events. I just can’t. You can’t get me out of my couch to go there [laughs].

What I also feel is it’s the same old, same old. If you don’t hear diversity of voices, there’s not a lot of innovation or innovative things coming up. But when conversations or events are really, truly participatory, first of all there’s a lot more connection which gets made between people. It becomes a lot more memorable. You come home – there’s a certain energy and a certain charge in the room because you are not just sitting still consuming for whatever hours and you kind of go into this dead zone – but you are really seen and you behave like a living being, and stories are shared. There are a lot deeper connections that get made. It’s just a completely other buzz and a life in the space. I totally miss that if the event is not inviting people to be truly engaging there.

Beth
The wrong word is coming to mind, which is repercussions, but it’s more of a positive repercussion. There’s probably another word there, but yeah, you coming home from an event where you’ve been integrated well and asked for your opinion and you’ve been connecting with people, and ideas are being shared and you’re being innovative, you’re talking about things you’ve never thought of before, that just goes and spreads – maybe back to your family and your friends – and that we want more of that. We don’t want the opposite of that, that’s for sure. We want that kind of energy in the world.

Mansi
Yeah. And also to a different level of diversity, I worked in different sectors like the water sector, the housing sector, the environmental energy sector, and the problem with events there is they are very siloed. All of these sectors are so siloed. If you are in a water event, there’ll only be water engineers there, or people working on water, not on housing, not on land, not on energy. While there’s also innovation happening there, but that slows down the actual innovation because you’re not learning from each other. There’s no cross-pollination going on over there. So you’re missing out [on] a higher level of learning. When you invite in the diversity – I don’t mean only of colour but also of sectors of – you know neurodivergence – about the whole spectrum – and you actually not only invite them but you actually give them the opportunity to engage and contribute to the centre – you are basically building that systemic solutions and approach and higher innovation.

The art of hosting and harvesting is all around emergence, right? An emergent wisdom only comes in from all of these different pieces when you come together and then magic happens. So it’s like a completely failed opportunity if one doesn’t move and do these things.

At the same time there are also events, maybe, which shouldn’t necessarily need to be participatory. It’s about – coming back to the purpose and discerning which event serves what and what is needed in that thing? What is it going to do?

Beth
Yeah. I have the same conversation with my clients and just say, ‘listen I’m not saying that you can’t have a lecture now and then, or maybe someone in the legal field needs to share legal updates and then they ask questions about that and that’s OK, because they know what they’re coming to and it’s short and whatever’. But again, what is the purpose of what you’re trying to do with whom, and let’s get the right processes in place to help them get there. Absolutely. (Yeah.)

I want to ask you about a couple of things in here because I think these are missteps that people often make that you’ve identified in your image, where they think they’re creating something participatory but there are sort of problems around it. These are the ubiquitous Q&A [laughs], and then the networking/ coffee and drinks stuff that you were talking about. Why can these things be problematic when we think we’re being participatory?

Mansi
Yeah. One of the things I hear a lot from people is ‘our program is going to be extremely participatory because after every speech we’ll do a Q&A’, and I kind of go like ‘ah, no…’ [laughs] Because Q&A has become connected with participatory but it’s not. Because research has proven that Q&As don’t really work unless – in certain conditions they might bring out certain things, but in the way it’s held most of the times it’s always – quite often – the men who speak. So the women don’t start – the first one to ask questions. Then of course we are all – the way our brains work – it’s different. Some people – let’s say you finish a very interesting presentation. People still need time to digest what’s really – there’s a lot of information which has been thrown at them. We process things differently. An extrovert and an introvert or a neurodivergent brain processes things differently. So if you do a Q&A, you’re basically inviting one way – one kind of brain – which is sort of the quick ones – to come up with questions.

Also quite often it’s a big ego who speaks, which says ‘ooh there was the speaker on the stage but actually I know better’. And so it becomes a little bit of back and forth conversation. I’m not saying it always happens, but these are – I have seen this occurring again and again and again in different ways. So it’s ego driven. Only a few people get to speak. Usually the speech takes up the majority of the time and there’s a cursory 7 minutes, 5 minutes, 3 minutes, maybe 20 minutes, if you’re lucky, left for the Q&A. It’s quite often not interesting enough, because lot of different people – imagine a hundred people listening to a thing – there will be a hundred different triggers and inspirations which those stories would’ve popped up.

A much better way would be to let people – give time to reflect and digest, and give the people a good question to reflect on. Maybe turn to a person next to them or, you know, depending on the space, maybe one or two other people and have a little conversation. And then ‘popcorn’ it from the audience or let them harvest it back in a different way through using some kind of technological ways of getting it back. So you get a much richer harvest and a much deeper engagement instead of a Q&A. It takes a little bit longer, but people feel a lot more activated and engaged and also the one who has given the speech or the presentation gets a lot back from it so they can improve and become even better. There are so many ways.

You know, I hate panels, for example. There are other things which I always say, you know, you can use stories to hack the panels. There are tools and methods we have in our practice which can turn panels into a much more engaging ways of listening.  So there’s that.

And the networking thing, again – there’s this thing, ‘oh our events going to be very, very engaging because in the coffee break, in the dinners and the lunches people will network’. Well, that’s beautiful. The best conversations at events are usually around coffee breaks and around lunches. If I see people in events not listening to the official program but sitting outside talking, I know that’s a meaningful conversation going on there. The more that is happening – also that gives you a pulse of the audience, right? This is what they want. You know, unless you’re held captive, like sometimes we are in certain programs. We can’t go out. [laughter] So that’s really …

Beth
I found that too. If you walk outside the room you’ll see these little clusters of people talking and you’re thinking, ‘what’s going on over there? That looks really interesting’ – right? (Yeah.) And they’ve sort of open-spacing themselves. (Yes.) Aren’t they? Doing their own thing. (Yeah.) I love it. (Yeah.) I’ve seen it too.

Mansi
Yeah. And then there’s – I didn’t put it in the graphic yet, but timing. There’s something around timing of when you place an event which can really keep out a whole group of people. We had this thing in Spain where they were doing a lot of business events in the evenings. And they were like, ‘but we can’t get any women to participate’. Well of course you can’t get them to participate. That’s bedtime for the kids.

Beth
Or 7:00 a.m. breakfast meetings for the business networking is the (Yes) opposite, same problem, isn’t it? Yeah. It’s like ‘we can’t get out at 7:00 a.m., we’re getting kids ready for school’. (Yes.) Or whatever it is.

Mansi
Yeah. Inclusion has to be at so many different levels. If you are serious about it, you have to do some really serious effort and work to do it. And I’ve also seen participatory events which are done in a very, very good way but really still not really, really authentic because then the harvest – which is really picked up – is still from a certain group of people. By all means it’s not that just because event is really, really participative and you’ve used the right tools and methods that the result of that would still be ideal, because the ones who are harvesting, the ones who are following up on it and taking it further – how you are listening – which means there needs to be already diversity in the team hosting the event. I know we are kind of not going in any kind of linear way here [laughs] but I kind of – I like that (I love it!) flowing through not in linear fashion on how this might go – but that is the – who are the people hosting, who are the people inviting? And if there’s not enough understanding and not enough richness within them, of picking up the results of the participatory event and taking it and imbibing it and using that to shape the future, then it’s also lost.

Beth
That is such a great comment because how many times have we seen a subset of the group say, ‘oh well we’ll just take it further from here and finish it up, or come up with the – put it on the Gantt chart or the task list or whatever they’re going to do …’ and who are those people and are they representative of the group? Yeah. Thank you for mentioning that too.

Mansi
And that is so dangerous because you lose trust with the community then. There is this thing: ‘we went there, we participated, we contributed, but we didn’t see any of that reflected back’. You see this a lot with the municipality, right? Because then there’s the hidden lobby, there’s the invisible lobby of the – I don’t know – the developers or whatever, which is a game you just cannot play, you know?

Beth
Yeah, the tables that you can’t quite get invited to, because they’re tiny little tables (Yeah.) and they’re not a group table. Yeah.

There’s so much before, during, and after to this kind of planning and intentionality. I mean, we’re bebopping all over the place of all these nuances related to this question. But they’re really – you have taken us from the early idea of ‘maybe we should talk to people and bring them together and do something together’ right to ‘how do we follow-up and take it forward and who’s doing that’? And so there’s really an arc there that people who are planning any kind of a group thing have to go through. It’s intentionality all along the way, isn’t it?

Mansi
Yeah, absolutely. It’s interesting because some of the comments I got on these posts – this was one of the comments, for example, ‘aren’t we all participating anyhow, whether we like it or not, just by being there?’ That brought me to this question of – I’m adding yet another dimension to our conversation where – how are we participating by just being there? What is that quality? What could we bring in? Yeah, it’s really interesting because like I said, I have [had] 27 professions at the beginning of it, which I noted down a couple of years ago when I was just doing a little check for myself. And one of them also read ‘just being in the room’ because that’s part of me being who I am, that I bring in a certain energy by just being inside a space, even if I’m silent, even if I’m not contributing in any direct way at the stage or not. So there is a thing with that. And then a friend of mine joked, ‘but have you ever actually been …’ and I have been paid for being in the room. That’s really something I really enjoy [laughs] – but a friend of mine joked, ‘but have you also been paid to not be in the room? [laughter] To leave the room?’ – which is also to say: How are we participating by not being there?

Beth
That’s interesting. (Yeah.) It feels like kind of an ‘at least’ to me, I can see what you’re saying that there is a value of you being there, even if you’re not invited to speak or share because just you looking as you do can make a difference in a room full of people who do not look like you do, for example. But I don’t know, it feels like, ‘well, at least you got in the room’, you know? Like, it’s not enough. It’s not enough by far. So, I can kind of see the point, but it’s not good enough, is it? We have to do so much better.

Mansi
No. And sometimes it can also be a strong representation of reminding people that ‘hey there’s just one of her. Who else is not here?’ You know, so it can play actually a really powerful part by just being one.

Beth
If someone asks the question though. Someone has to ask the question, don’t they? So the onus is upon you, I suppose, or your friend or whoever, right? The other person over there – or someone that’s also in the room organizing – someone has to say something, don’t they?

Mansi
Yeah, and isn’t that always the case? We are all responsible for our own growth and our own being. So it is practical. I am not born to teach other people how to learn or what they learn. I can only be myself and learn things I need to learn. So I don’t want to take that responsibility. But my being there and me being who I am and me modelling that kind of leadership can spark those questions or those ideas in others and that is my only hope. But that doesn’t mean I want to go – to be honest – in all kinds of white-only meetings – well especially male, just to ‘awaken’ possibly [laughs] those things in people because it cost me a lot of energy.

Beth
Oh, I get that. Yeah. I mean – I am so grateful for all of the conversations that I have like this where someone else is sharing with me – you are teaching me things that I don’t know about, because I don’t experience those things in my own life. I’m very aware of my gratitude for those kinds of conversations. And I’m also aware that you don’t have to have those kinds of conversations with me, or other people don’t have to have those kinds of conversations with me, to teach me stuff, as a white woman. Like, there is an onus upon me to do something as well to extend my own learning, to keep going.

I was reading the new book by Lee Ryan and Viv McWaters. Do you know this book? It’s called Radical Acts?

Mansi
No, I don’t know this particular one.

Beth
It’s a slim little volume: Radical Acts: Unconventional Wisdom for Shaking Things Up. Anyway, they have a concept in there that they called ‘Aboutism’, and I hadn’t heard that before, that term. Maybe they made it up. I’m not sure. Maybe someone will correct me if it’s been around for a while. But it says, ‘you can’t just keep talking about this stuff – whatever this stuff is – you have to DO it’. And I thought, ‘wow that’s such a great term for us all to be aware of’. Like we can’t just have conversations about this stuff. So what does it take to make radical acts and do something about it? (Yeah.) Whatever the thing is. Yeah. Here, we’re talking about making non-participatory events participatory, but there’s all sorts of other things we could be doing to be inclusive in our events.

Mansi
And they are interrelated. It’s like this little interwoven tapestry of – you can’t just make – like we already spoke about it – you can’t just make a participatory event without having clarified purpose, without having a clarified team, without creating the conditions for people to join without making clear discussions around who is going to be included and who is going to be excluded and what is the purpose of it and how do we want to listen? And it’s one big, complicated, complex mess [laughs]. We are all trying to do better I guess. So yeah, I’m actually quite curious what the version two of this graphic is going to look like.

Beth
I am too. I hope you keep working on it and keep sharing it with the community. I think the one thing that I wanted to say – because we haven’t said it yet – that’s at the bottom of the image: if you don’t do anything else maybe think of this thing which Mansi said, “consider putting stuffed animals in seats instead if you’re [laughs a bit] not going to engage people – like, if you could swap out a real life human being with a stuffed animal and it still kind of has the same success for your event, I think we have a problem.” There’s a problem there, isn’t there? So I love that little test. It’s a funny, you know, I don’t want to make light of all the serious things we’ve talked about before, but that’s a good test for some people to think about as they plan their events.

Mansi
You know, it’s part of my humour which is just coming through here which is kind of saying, ‘yeah if you just want us for seat-fillers, just put stuffed animals or plants. But to take it bit more seriously, it is also true that in events or in conversations, there is something about having empty chairs or having space for the ancestors who haven’t been there. This is like my favourite analogy, I always bring it in more or less every podcast [chuckles] or every conversation. It’s the metaphor of the three chairs, where you have the one chair for the ancestors, you have the one chair for the voices which cannot speak for themselves which is the trees and the animals and the stuffed animals and the plants [laughs]. Then you have the third chair for the children that are yet to be born or the young children who cannot yet speak for themselves, so the future generations. And I think there’s also something in a participatory event to make that more visible, those things. So of course here it was really meant as a joke, you know, but more from frustration, but there is also something around taking that symbolically to a deeper level.

Beth
Hmm, I like that. Thank you. Sometimes I’ve thought about the empty chair, but more as ‘who’s not there that’s alive right now’, or our colleagues or whoever. But that’s so much more broadens my perspective around that empty or silent chair. Thank you. (Yeah.) Where do you go from here, Mansi? What’s next for you in your work and what are you looking forward to as you leave here today and go back out in the world?

Mansi
Well, I’m going into a lot of learning in this coming period. More drawing and more learning. I made a huge list of topics and themes that I want to dive deeper into this year. I need this year to be equivalent to five years. So ‘2024: you can do it – you can be there for me!’ [laughs]

But what I’m particularly excited about is I’m going to be in Sweden in two weeks, attending a course by Dr. Vandana Shiva on biodiversity, on food sovereignty and regeneration. So I’m really pumped to hear her and – my kids say I sound like a fangirl when I speak about her, but let’s … [laughs] Let’s see. Yeah, I’m very curious.

Beth
That sounds exciting and you said it, you’re curious. I mean the 27 careers you’ve had, all of the diversity that you have and just the things that you’ve done, I think across your career, I think we’re really benefiting from it today because you’ve been able to put something out into the world here based on your – I don’t know, disparate things coming together and seeing things in a new way. I want to thank you for not just having these thoughts inside your head, but sharing it with us to help us keep expanding our knowledge and go further. Thank you for that.

Mansi
Well, thank you. And also the rest of the community for creating that safe space that I felt safe to – over the years – to share these things and teaching me so much. A lot of this is not me it’s just all of us becoming together and it’s coming out like this. So yeah I would like to thank you also for seeing it and for reaching out. I really enjoyed both the conversations we’ve had to prepare for this call and also this one.

Beth
Me too. I feel like I’m going to podcast forever because it brings me into people like you and your world and I am just so grateful for that. So thank you again for being here with me.

Mansi
Yeah. And thank you for doing that and for bringing different voices into the world. We need it. Thanks.

Beth
We do. We’ll keep going. Thanks again.

Mansi
Thank you.

[Episode outro]
Beth Cougler Blom
I feel really fortunate that I got to have not only this conversation with Mansi that you just heard, but as she mentioned the pre-conversation that we had when we were talking about what we were going to talk about [smiles] in the podcast episode. You don’t get to hear those conversations, but often I do meet with a guest ahead of time and we sort out some details about how the episode’s going to go and often we have to say to ourselves, ok, let’s stop talking about it now [laughs] because we’re basically getting into a lot of meaty conversation around the actual content of the episode. And that was the case with Mansi, absolutely, and I still hope that you found a lot of value in the actual episode that you just heard because I know I did. And of course, we were able to take our conversation so much further and have such richness within.

A few things I’m still thinking about around what Mansi said, and encouraged us to keep thinking about, is around the innovation that is lost when we don’t engage people in the room. And she mentioned the term ’emergent wisdom’ and I really love that. It’s a term I really haven’t heard as much and I know she engages more in the Art of Hosting community than I do and maybe if you’re from that community too, it’s something and maybe if you’re from that community, you’re very well aware of that term and you use it all the time. But for the rest of us to really think, OK, how am I intentionally creating opportunities for wisdom to emerge within the room? Wisdom that we didn’t even know was going to be a result of bringing this particular group together whatever the event is.

There are just two reasons for us to be very aware of the importance of bringing people together: that we can be more innovative and we can create things together that we didn’t know were going to happen. And those kinds of things don’t happen when the content is over controlled and it’s only coming out to the audience and not involving people as participants in the actual session.

The other thing I just want to highlight again were the two things Mansi said about harvesting and follow up. We didn’t really explain what harvesting was in the episode. That might be a term that’s very familiar to you, but if it’s not, ‘harvesting’ is a word that we use to talk about how we’re going to capture the discussion, the learnings, the ideation, the content, whatever we write down that emerges from the group in the session – that is harvesting. And we have to pre-think about how to harvest in inclusive ways so that we can involve everybody in the room.

So the involvement and the inclusion and the participation doesn’t just happen in the verbal contributions that people make. It’s the stuff that gets written down during and after the session, what happens with it, that Mansi is helping us remember to be also intentional about.

So who does the harvesting, how it’s done. Who does the follow up, how it’s done, these are really, really important things for us to keep being aware of and they are part of the design of whatever the meeting or workshop is that we are working on.

Again, I want to thank Mansi Jasuja for being with me on the show and I invite you to go take a look at the image she’s drawn. If you didn’t look at it during the episode, then please go take a look and check in on it from time to time to see how she’s iterating it from now on.

On the next episode of the podcast, I interviewed Barbara Pedersen. Barbara is a facilitator, conversation host, and trainer living in Calgary, Alberta. She specializes in group facilitation and team building with organizations, teams, and communities. Barbara has been a facilitator for about 30 years and I talk with her about what it looks like to have a career in facilitation and some of the learnings that she’s had along the way. So if you’ve ever wondered, how do I get into this field? What does it look like to work in this field for 30 years? And what if I’m in my late sixties and I want to keep going? What does that look like? Barbara answers all of these questions and so much more on the next episode. We’ll see you then.

[Show outro]
Beth
Thank you for listening to Facilitating on Purpose. If you were inspired by something in this episode, please share it with a friend or a colleague to help them expand their facilitation practice too. To find the show notes, give me feedback, or submit ideas for future episodes visit facilitatingonpurpose.com. Special thanks to Mary Chan at Organized Sound Productions for producing this episode. Happy facilitating!

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