The sharing movement, with its collaborative ethos, is an ideal platform for convening. Not to mention that getting together is essential to expand the sharing network, refine our thinking, and move things forward. But simply putting people in the same space does not ensure a good result. We’ve all been part of a well-intentioned snoozefest. Great gatherings are the result of vision, design, and hard work.

Ouishare and the Mesh are high-profile examples of sharing organizations that use participatory gatherings to strengthen their work, and the sharing movement is rich with participatory gatherings of all shapes and sizes.

A new report, titled Gather: the Art and Science of Effective Convening aims to help people produce effective, participatory gatherings. Created by the Rockefeller Foundation, along with the Monitor Institute and Monitor Deloitte, Gather is a detailed and insightful 80-page report, that guides readers through hosting an event, from the idea stage, to the event itself, and into the follow-up.

Designed specifically for social change leaders who believe in the power of collective intelligence, Gather is organized around the following building blocks of a successful gathering: Choosing to Convene; Defining Your Purpose; Forming Your Team; Assembling Participants; Structuring the Work; and Planning the Follow Through. As the report states, convenings can “reshape how we see a problem, deeply influencing our perspectives on what levers are most effective for creating change.”

Here are some key points from Gather:

  • Purpose. Can the purpose of the gathering be clearly articulated? Is the issue ripe for meaningful progress? Is there sufficient energy to “tip” to a new level of insight or action?
  • Assemble the Right Mix of People. Who should be at the gathering? Stakeholders? Consultants? Community members? Thought leaders? Keep in mind that participatory gatherings work better with smaller groups of people. Gather recommends a maximum of 80 people for meaningful interaction.
  • Use Time Wisely. Forget the hour-by-hour meeting agenda. Participatory events require flexibility to explore good ideas when they emerge and move on if something isn’t working. Draft ahead of time what you want to get accomplished in each segment and create a “designer’s agenda” to stay on track, but plan to improvise to meet the group’s needs.
  • Bad Gathering vs. Good Gathering. Bad gatherings tend to be the aforementioned snoozefests with one person droning on over a powerpoint presentation while the audience sits in perfectly arranged rows of tables. A good gathering is lively and participatory with plenty of breakout sessions, physical activity and space for making connections. Keep participants at the center of discussions and engage different learning styles and personalities. Suggested activities include Fishbowl, World Cafe, Human Spectrograms and Jigsaw.
  • Follow-Up. Once the gathering is over, reach out to participants to gauge the impact and effectiveness of the convening. Short-term follow-up involves surveying participants, following up personally with them in order to keep conversations going, and providing seed grant money for developing ideas that emerged from the event. Long-term follow-up includes assessing progress made at the convening, sharing takeaways and breakthroughs with participants, gauging if the dialog around the issues is changing, developing any tools or ideas that emerged from the gathering, and keeping participants informed about follow-up gatherings.

What would you add to these tips? Please share in comments.

Cat Johnson


Cat Johnson | |

Cat Johnson is a content strategist and teacher helping community builders create strong brands. A longtime writer, marketing pro and coworking leader, Cat is the founder of Coworking Convos and