Facilitating the National Citizen's Convention

A Reflection on a Citizen Centre Approach

The 2nd National Citizens Convention (NCC) was held on 24-25 September 2019 in Harare. It was a historic process, which defied the prevailing polarities and the paralysis in Zimbabwean society. Zimbabwean citizens from all walks of life – progressive citizens, civil society organizations, informal workers, students, women’s groups, artists, faith groups, and business leaders met under the banner of Citizens’ Manifesto which includes at least 23 organisations and many communities to reiterate a shared vision of a better Zimbabwe for all. Far from ‘your usual meeting’, the process was a deep response to a profound existential crisis in Zimbabwe. This article describes the way the convention was structured and designed to truly be a citizen led engagement.

In September we were part of a collaborative effort to host the second National Citizen's Convention. The first one was two years prior in the Harare Gardens where the Kufunda team facilited our largest World Cafe yet with 1500 participants. This year we made it smaller and longer with close to 300 people instead of 1500 and two days instead of one.

It was a wonderful and strong convention with people from all of Zimbabwe from different organisations and background coming together to explore how to move forward in our challenging but beloved Zimbabwe. Kufunda played a strong role through our partnership as Gateway Zimbabwe stepped into lead the process and facilitation of the two days.

The convention consciously made a commitment to practice a participatory approach. We are inspired by the approach and suite of tools coming out of The Art of Hosting network (the Art of Hosting and Harvesting Conversations that Matter; www.artofhosting.org). There are several underlying assumptions giving rise to the Art of Hosting. In this piece, we explore some of these alongside a summary of how we allowed these to live and breathe through the convention.

Conversation is the way humans have always thought together.

This is our core assumption from which the convention was designed. In conversation we discover shared meaning. We often listen to experts and leaders. Expecting them to guide our path. Although their insight is critical and important, it cannot replace the act of ordinary people coming together in dialogue and exploration to find their own way.

For communities of people to generate shared meaning out of which collective action can develop requires conversation. The convention used simple collaborative conversation methods including the World Cafe and Open Space Technology. World Cafe allows multiple conversations to take place simultaneously and to be woven together through simple cross pollination of people from different groups sharing and building deeper insights. It is a bit like a bee hive where hive mind is generated. By the end of a world cafe one can have an idea of the five most important ideas emerging around a theme that several hundred people have been exploring together in small sub groups of 4-5 people!

Open Space is a method that allows for self-organization where participants create the agenda for themselves and self-appointed facilitators lead and record the resulting discussions. This is often used when moving towards action. Both of these approaches enriched the convention.

People act most responsibly when they care

What we care about, we commit to and work for. It is therefore important to ensure that we are working on issues that we care about. For this reason, the convention began with a World Cafe exploring what people care about and what they dream for these areas. What emerged were simple essentials: Basic social services: Education, health, water, electricity; strong co-creative and safe communities, people centre governance with active youth participation, freedom and unity, a healthy sustainable economy with entrepreneurship and employment and on-going care for the environment. It was striking how so many of the things that people care about, and the dreams that emerged out of the citizen convention are in fact basic human rights. Our dreams as Zimbabweans are not outlandish. They are asking for what in many countries is commonly accepted as the foundation for life.

What we Focus on Expands - Focusing on what’s working gives us energy and creativity.

This might seem almost impossible in today’s Zimbabwe. The focus is often on all the things that are in disarray, which is an almost endless list. Although we have to be pragmatic about what is not working and need to analyze and understand these aspects, much can be harnessed through looking for the places of light; and finding examples of progress, and shift. We have much to learn from these, and as we focus on these we begin to see where things are already in movement in our communities and systems. Part of the convention specifically focused on working with the enormous resource which we had of people coming from many different backgrounds and parts of the country. We used this extended network of people to identify what is working in different domains and regions. This gave us insight into places of opportunity. If we can find ways to strengthen and expand these we can grow new possibilities out of health.

We used a systems map which shows the Zimbabwean context and overlaid it with bright spots - places where change is already happening.

People support what they have been a part of creating - Flow of the Overall Process