Toward a Paradigm of Connection: How Circles and The World Café Can Foster Transforming the Lives of Children

©2003, John W. Travis and Meryn G. Callander (A work-in-progress)

Most powerful social movements are the result of paradigm shifts that begin with a small number of dedicated pioneers (innovators) who attempt to present their ideas and experiences to the public, often facing resistance and ridicule. For those small audiences who are eager to grasp the new paradigm (early adopters) the presentation model is useful, but for those invested in the status quo, listening to lectures and presentations is not very effective at changing beliefs.

Before new paradigm can sweep through a culture, the innovators and adopters need to work out their differences, a step that often fails and the movement dies. A first step in its success is for the innovators and early adopters to sit face-to-face with each other to explore their own differences and to build a harmonious choir. Often this is attempted using the lecture/presentation approach, and is referred to disparagingly as "preaching to the choir"&emdash;when, in fact there usually is not yet a choir, only a collection of lone voices and small (but vocal) groups trying to make a difference.

Creating a choir can be done more effective by using an approach called the Paradigm of Connection, a term we use to describe a shift in the way people are coming to view a variety of subjects, from health to parenting. We believe this paradigm is fundamental to transforming the lives of children, and to work effectively, it requires the use of a circle format more than a lecture format.

aTLC began as a small circle of innovators, and has continued to conduct most of its work using circles. aTLC now stands at a crossroads where must find a way to continue to use a circle format as we initiate and facilitate social change with larger groups. Once a critical mass of innovators and early adopters has learned to sing in harmony, an unstoppable transformation usually sweeps through the culture.

If disparate groups can be brought together to explore controversial issues, posed as questions (e.g., "What common ground do right-to-life and pro-choice advocates share?"), is less threatening than each side attaching the other with their rhetoric, and often produces remarkable transformations in groups holding disparate worldviews.

Working with Larger Groups

We have discovered just such a technology--called The World Café. This model has the ability to create the "magic" of small circles within large groups of individuals (fractal circles). One of its foundations rests in the willingness of participants to suspend their belief that someone (usually an expert in front of a lecture hall) already has the answers. A World Café experience fosters a process called Appreciative Inquiry, which asks open ended, provocative and evocative questions of the whole group--questions such as:

Fundamental to appreciative inquiry is the hypothesis that human systems grow towards the questions they ask and seek to answer. For an excellent review/summation of the field of Appreciative Inquiry, download this paper (a 20-page Word document) or a quick edit of the juiciest portions (4 pages) of the same paper.

A Café experience uses Appreciative Inquiry and the Paradigm of Connection by encouraging us to become connected by and through going into the unknown together, asking what is it that we don't already know.

Some Highlights of The World Cafe Model (from The World Café Website)

What if:

The Principles of the World Café:

For more information on how Cafes are structured, download and print this resource guide from the World Cafe

Conversation--the Primary Tool of Connection and Relationship

An assumption of the Paradigm of Connection is that the primary tool of all social interactions is conversation ("What if all of life is a conversation?"). How best can this tool of language, seemingly unique to humans, be used to enhance wellbeing?

When in problem-solving mode, conversations tend to reflect the Paradigm of Control, where participants/students/children turn to an expert/teacher/parent for the answers, and remain disconnected from their innate healing potential and wisdom. When groups engage in this model, the nature of their interactions tends to be transactional (you do this--I'll do that) This tends to hinder or limit mutual inquiry.

Possibility-Seeking/Collaborative Learning is at the heart of the Café Model, where conversations are transformational ("what would we learn if we do this?")? No specific outcome is anticipated, but rather the magic of a circle is invoked, producing a result larger than the sum of its parts. What if it were true that when power is shared, amazing "solutions" can emerge from the collective whole

Note: People may feel less comfortable with the Café process if they are attached to a specific method of driving their agenda and getting the outcome they want.

What if the foreground is not the content of a meeting, but instead it is our being in community in the context of a learning conversation? If this were true, the Café Model can best used as a background that supports the co-evolution of collaborative learning conversations.

We look forward to hearing about your experience as we co-evolve our work within the Paradigm of Connection.