Café, croissant and facilitation – and balancing the social process in Paris

This article was reprinted in ICA:UK Network News, issue 49 and ICAI Winds and Waves, issue 3.ParisThe annual ICA European Interchange is an informal face-to-face gathering for networking and mutual support, open to everyone with an interest in the Institute of Cultural Affairs in Europe. A total of 14 people from six countries participated in this year’s event, held from March 15-17 2013 in Paris.

The gathering was kindly hosted and led this year by Lan Levy, Technology of Participation (ToP) facilitator of www.coactiv.fr, in her office in central Paris. Lan also kept us well fuelled with café, croissant and pain au chocolat! Also from Paris were Lorraine Margherita, Pascal Dubois and Marc Enguix, recent graduates of Lan’s ToP training courses and members of her local facilitation community of practice. From Luxembourg was Elisabeth Wille, long-time Associate of ICA Belgium. From ICA Spain were Catalina Quiroz and Iman Moutaouakil. From ICA:UK were Alan, Shelley and Oliver Heckman, plus Derek McAuley and me (mostly this time from ICA International). Joining us briefly by Skype were John Miesen of ICA Australia and Linda Starodub in Austria.

We shared introductions, and reports on our last interchange in Vienna, and on the ICAI global conference and meetings in Nepal last October. In sharing reports on our ICAs and our own activities we noted many instances of beneficial past collaboration and mutual support, arising from previous interchanges and otherwise.  Among these were two joint EU-funded 5-day courses of ICA:UK and ICA Spain in the past year. After attending last year’s interchange and one of these courses, former ICA Croatia director Zlata Pavic has now begun work to re-activate ICA Croatia. Michael Pannwitz & Mia Konstantinidou of ICA Germany had facilitated strategic planning with ICA Netherlands, who have ToP courses now coming up in April.  Larry Philbrook of ICA Taiwan had led ToP courses in Paris with Lan, and will lead an Imaginal Learning course in Paris in June. I reported on my own collaboration with ICA Ukraine and ICA Tajikistan, in preparation for my ToP training at the IAF Russia conference in Moscow in April.

We looked in some depth at ToP training materials used in France and the UK, and how ToP had been applied to religious diversity training by ICA Spain in its EU-funded Belieforama project. We were excited to learn of Elisabeth’s work with EU institutions in Brussels and Luxembourg, and the opportunities she sees emerging there. We looked at the ICA International 2013-14 business plan that I had circulated globally a few days before, and reflected on the state and direction of our global ICA network and the role of Europe in it. We shared our own involvement and experience with IAF, the International Association of Facilitators, and our aspirations for that. We also enjoyed snails, tripe and other classic French dishes at dinner at a delightful local restaurant next to Lan’s apartment! Most of all, we drew from all of these discussions to identify numerous opportunities for further practical collaboration and mutual support.

A key thrust of our plans for future collaboration are to revisit previous plans for a European international ToP training of trainers programme, informed by our now greater experience of successful fundraising from the EU for such work.  We agreed to share and publicise our own and each other’s training schedules and training of trainer opportunities. We agreed to explore ways to engage further with ICA International, and with IAF, and to collaborate to deepen our understanding of ICA and ICA methods beyond ToP – for example by means of an online Courage To Lead study group.  We agreed to use the longstanding ICA Europe yahoogroup as a means of communication and a forum for exchange, so as engage as well with other ICA colleagues in Europe and beyond who were not present in Paris.

Although fewer ICAs were directly represented at this year’s interchange than in recent years, I myself was very excited by how the gathering seems to draw in new and returning people each year – and how each year we hear of more collaboration and support going on, and even greater appetite for more in the future.

A key insight for me in my role as ICAI President came in a side discussion with one of our new Paris colleagues, who seemed quite intrigued by what they learned of ICA.  I had briefly explained our historic global mission, and our name the Institute of Cultural Affairs, in relation to ICA’s Social Process Triangles model – as seeking to bring balance to the social process by strengthening the cultural, meaning-giving dynamic in society.  We had earlier been reflecting that perhaps too much of our attention, together in Paris and more broadly, was at the level of the business of facilitation and facilitation training rather than at the deeper level of mission, values and spirit. It occurred to me that in our own global network we might well conclude that we have allowed our economic dynamic to become dominant, the political to be allied to the economic, and the cultural to be collapsed. In contrast I suspect that in the 1970s and 80s, at the height of ICA’s global reach, we might conclude that the cultural dynamic was dominant and the economic collapsed in relation to it.  In recent years at the global level we have necessarily devoted much of our collective attention to the economic and political dynamics of our international network, and there remains much still to be done to put these on a strong and sustainable footing.  If we are to collaborate and support each other effectively to have impact at the global level, however, it will be the cultural dynamic that mobilises and sustains us in doing so. Details of ICA’s Social Process triangles can be found in ICA Canada’s ‘The Courage To Lead’.

We were all asked to write a few lines of text for Winds & Waves before we closed the meeting.  Reflections included:

  • Good time together, Stronger connection with ICA Europe. Practical actions to take forward. Thank you for coming! – Lan, Paris
  • Saturday I went to Paris and participated in part of the European Interchange. It was really a very inspiring day, lots of interesting project and nice to meet people from UK, Spain and France. Quite a lot is actually happening in France, very interesting! – Elisabeth, Luxembourg
  • First of all, I’m very glad and pleased to be in my first ICA European Interchange. It was really exciting and very interesting, gathering where we could know about each other in a personal and professional level. The most exciting point is that we created a great network in order to collaborate and participate all together.  There were a lot of new ideas and projects that were born in this gathering! I’m looking forward to start co-operation with all ICA members – Iman, ICA Spain
  • As a recent ToP student/trainee, I was invited to join the participants of the ICA European Interchange meeting for the 3rd and last day. I was happy to hear what other chapters of ICA in Europe are up to, and to learn more about the story of the organisation, its mission and values. It was great being part of the conversation about the ways ICAs could co-operate. We came up with practical ideas. I’m looking forward to sharing more ideas and insights with other ICA members throughout Europe – Lorraine, Paris
  • We had fun hanging out, building and sustaining relationships. We learned from and were inspired by each other. We made practical and realistic plans to keep doing things together and supporting each other – Alan, ICA:UK
  • It has been a very inspiring Paris gathering. Key information shared and reviewed for well-informed future decisions on a European and international level. Key questions raised about our mission and values beside the added value of ToP in our network. Great step in having ICAI’s ‘Plan de Trabajo’ in different languages! Very nice having French colleagues joining on Sunday and letting all of us refresh and learn more about ICA and our history – Catalina, ICA Spain
  • It was very interesting to see so much enthusiasm for learning and exchange in Europe for ICA values and ToP methods. Nice to see concrete actions coming out of three days of talking! – Shelley, ICA:UK
  • A very positive and action-oriented ICA Europe gathering in Paris.  Good to meet new people and look to the future – Derek, ICA:UK
  • A great day with wide open minds and ideas to contribute to an enthusiastic human-oriented project! With enthusiastic people and a lot of energy. Big action plan and quite exciting possibilities
  • Meeting nice people. Impressed by the process to handle the implementation part of the meeting. Long way to go…

Many thanks indeed to Lan and everyone for a great event!

Anyone wishing to connect with the ICA European network is invited to email ICAEurope-subscribe@yahoogroups.com.

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