Tuesday, August 12, 2008

So? Did it work?

Some time ago, after the folks planning the Lambeth Conference announced the process around which it was built, called "Indaba," I wrote that the Indaba process struck me as an appreciative process. It called to mind some of the techniques and goals of Appreciative Inquiry.

Well, now that Lambeth is done and in the books, the question arises: Did it work?

I think the answer is a "yes" and "no." It is a mixed bag. What worked worked very, very well. But where the process was overly managed and pre-ordained, the full power of the Indaba was undercut.

From everything that I have read, the participants gave the Indaba process a resounding two-thumbs up. An atmosphere free of politicking (or at least where the importance of politicking was reduced), where people could truly listen and engage one another on tough issues, appears to have accomplished what it was designed to do.

Bishops came away knowing one another (or at least their peers in the Indaba groups) better and on a much deeper level.

There appears to be a greater appreciation of the different pastoral contexts that exist in different parts of the globe.

Where there might have been the creation of adversarial voting blocs; instead, relationships were established. These relationships make dealing with differences easier and in some ways more important because instead of an idea at stake, there is a person.

In short, Indaba appears to have succeeded as an appreciative tool because it built on our strengths as a Communion rather than focusing on our liabilities. And insofar as that process was allowed to grow and move unfettered, it succeeded.

Let me note also, that this whole conference must been gruelling. Like running a marathon. If everyone did everything scheduled, the Bishops would have been at work from about 6 am to 10 at night. Free periods were usually about 90 minutes long. There was very little down time. This kind of intensity is very hard to take. The introverts must have found it to be sheer hell. The extroverts and process-freaks would have eaten up every minute but would still have been exhausted.

Now I realize that I am making educated guesses, but as much as I dig "process" and love to work in groups, looking at the conference from afar and watching it unfold in the media, this is my sense of how it went: it was intense, remarkably open and different with many strengths; but the conference was also tightly managed both for content and, it appears, outcome.

The immediacy of the groups may have masked the behind-the-scenes management that was driving towards a desired outcome.

This management appears to have been a critical element to the shape of the Lambeth Conference. I believe that it also undercut the appreciative power of Indaba. I spoke of this in an earlier post and also noted it in my summary post on The Lead on the Episcopal Cafe. This element ultimately steered the direction of the conference and undercut some (much?) of the potential for the Conference.

The Windsor Continuation Group fed material to the Indaba grops discuss and who then sent feedback (through the recorders) back to that behind-the-scenes group. This turned the listening aspect of the Indaba into a forum to see who saluted what proposals and why.

It did add voices to the WCGs work, but which side informed what? Did Indaba really inform WCGs thinking or simply help them refine their work to make it more palitable?

Instead of the Bishops listening to each other, it appears that the Bishops spent considerable time discussing materal fed to them.

Instead of the Archbishop listening to the mind of the Communion, he was asking the Bishops to respond to his mind and the mind of the WCG.

Instead of the Communion being shaped by the voices of the diverse bishops in the many contexts of the Communion, the voices appear to have been directed towards a desired end.

I can't say if this is consistent with how Indaba is supposed to work. Maybe in Africa, when the parties sit down to listen and engage each others disagreements, some chiefs are in the backgroud feeding them ideas and proposals. Doesn't sound right to me, but I could be wrong.

But I do know that the process--with an listening groups out front and a working group in the background directing the substance-- is not appreciative. It is not inquiry. It is may be a kind of problem-solving, but the WCG succeeded in wrestling this large group of Bishops away from our strengths as a Communion and towards what we do worst: legislating solutions.

I find the inability of the Archbishop of Canterbury and the WCG to trust, really trust, the process they set in motion extremely disappointing.

This ultimate lack of trust shows up in many ways. It appears in the Indaba process he set in motion but held in check with the WCG. It appears in his apparent inability to trust himself to lead from his own conscience but instead out of what he believes everyone else is thinking. It appears in his mistrust of the synods and conventions of the several provinces to operate without the steadying hand of "wiser" primates and bishops.

I wish that the WCG and the ABC could have held off their grand ideas and just listened to the groups.

I wish they could have had the group leaders ask probing questions that could have allowed the groups to go even deeper.

I wish they could have left open any serious work on plans or content until after the process was done, and then followed up another appreciative process, perhaps using representatives chosen by each group to flesh out the meaning and direction of what was heard.

But none of this happened. Instead, the Important People in the back room fed material to the Indaba groups and the ABC gets to say "Here was our idea and the groups had no real problem with it" and this passes for consensus.

In my view the promise of Indaba was undercut by the need for a solution that was so great that it diminished the ability of the organizers to trust the groups to work through hard material together. The final document does give us a better feel for what Bishops think and feel in broad, general terms and that is good. But the outcome of the conference appears to have been set out elsewhere rather than from the groups themselves. Where this will lead, no one knows.


Fr Craig said...

Andy - thanks for this. I am eager to hear +Paul's thoughts. I was stunned by the ABC's last minute bomb and truly angered. He truly doesn't seem to understand that we are not a 'church' but independent churches who are friends. As a long time admirer of ++Rowan, I am hurt and confused. Does he really think our Gen. Conv. will simply knuckle under to some offshore 'curia'? How can he 'not understand' our polity? Baffling.

Andrew Gerns said...


Perhaps I have been far too charitable. It may be that the process amounted to a deliberate sleight of hand--distracting the audience with the Indaba process while the real outcomes were being acted out of sight until "viola!" the trick is complete.

I think my "two personalities" theory makes more sense, because while I think these players work on a big stage, I don't think they are that organized. My hunch is that they really believed they operated the process with integrity (pardon the pun) in trying to make two contradictory approaches work.

Whether a deliberate manipulation or not, the outcome amounts to the same thing.