December 10, 2014, 5:30 pm. Mostly in clusters of two or three, cheerily recognizing familiar faces, we slipped through the doors of the brightly lit offices of The Moment. The party fare was potluck, a melange of dishes from sushi to Caribbean plum pudding that soon covered the buffet table. The evening’s plan was to hold off on snacking until strategic conversations were done, but the eclectic menu like the more than decent selection of wines, proved irresistible.
So the annual DwD retreat began, a little behind schedule, with an introductory check in. Each of the roughly 40 participants was asked to recall most memorable 2014 moments from DwD or sister groups. The flow moved quickly from personal touch points to broader discussions over universal challenges to all DwD group mandates as imagined and reimagined within or between sessions. A recurring concern appears to be gap bridging, whether between theory and practice, among oppositional ideas, or, as we are hoping to address right here, more writing about what Design for Dialogue is about.
A half decade ago the still fledgling Design with Dialogue community substituted group retreats for regular December sessions. Invitees (frequent attendees and curious guests) gathered to reflect on where this community had been and where it might go in the year ahead. Over the months between Decembers we had a chance to see what our ideas looked like in action. Over time DwD spun off interest groups that now include Systems Thinking Ontario, Unify Toronto Dialogues, and Visual Thinkers. (Each is well described on our site).
Later at this year’s retreat we formed breakout discussion groups along interest lines as reflected either by DwD itself or its branches. Within the breakout groups you could hear words of passionate enthusiasm. After all, each participant freely chose to join that particular conversation.
As revealed by multi coloured stickies later positioned on a designated whiteboard, common wishes included the desire to connect with and know more about the other groups. Within conversations participants naturally demonstrated variety in emphasis, some seeing new skill acquisition or procedural approaches as paramount, with others seeking greater clarity on content or aiming for substantive outcomes, a record of followup or research emerging from sessions.
Our convenors expressed their own aims for the new year. More participation from the OCADU student (and undergraduate) community would be welcomed as would be an outreach for social innovation projects & practices. Continuing to explore the wider community building ties to areas of expertise with resonance for Design with Dialogue is another given, as is the strengthening of cohesion within our informal community. Participants by and large appeared to like all these suggestions and expressed approval.
How did this retreat differ from sessions gone by? The deliberate focus on key themes and an overall deeper sense of commitment stood out as distinguished from previous more concrete planning outcomes. This feels more authentic and probably will prove to be – if we do the work.
Thanks to Donald Officer for authoring this piece, Greg Judelman for the photographs, and Erica Bota for the live sketching.