Conversations Conferences Design Philosophy

The Conversations Conferences on Nebraska Environment and Sustainability are designed to foster lively conversations in which people are compelled to speak up and listen well as they engage with one another to expand understanding, examine assumptions, explore new thinking and generate innovative ideas for solutions and focused action.

Drawing from open space technology approaches, participants are invited to create their own agendas within parameters of stated meeting purpose and navigation guidelines. Such freedom allows for exploration of issues and challenges and experimentation in generating innovative solutions for action, while responsibility insures that both will be pursued with rigor. Everyone is required to participate in some way: to present an idea, to show off a project, to join in an action development conversation, or just to ask a lot of questions. What unfolds can be unpolished and raw, because participants speak about topics they’re passionate about, not ones in which they are necessarily established experts. The power is in the fluidity of self-determination.

Five breakout conversations will be convened concurrently throughout the day, each focused on one of five designated Nebraska resources—land, energy, water, food, and materials. All participants will engage in one conversation per each resource during the course of the day.

Navigation Guidelines

You are in charge of your day and the value you derive from the day’s proceedings.

Throughout the day, you will join in conversations in which you will have an opportunity to learn new information while sharing your views based on your own experiences, contributing to others’ learning.

Toward the end of the day, you will be invited to join with others in integrating the learning, making recommendations for new direction, and committing to action.

Creative conversations are characterized by rich interaction among people with a variety of backgrounds who come together to focus on a shared topic of interest.

When engaged in topic conversations throughout the day:
   Briefly clarify the purpose
   Agree on simple ground rules
   Explore questions that matter
   Suspend judgment
   Follow curiosity; seek to understand, rather than persuade
   Question assumptions; look for new insights
   Encourage everyone’s contribution
   Connect diverse perspectives
   Listen together and notice patterns
   Share collective discoveries (debrief at the end to elicit meaningful discoveries, essential learnings, and suggestions for action)

Pre-conference Conversations

Creative conversations are ongoing by nature, ebbing and flowing with new information, emerging clarity, interactive responsiveness, and intended outcomes among participants. Conversations for the CCNES conferences began in 2008 with the first Nebraska Sustainability Leadership Workshop (NSLW). They continue among CCNES conference designers, host committees, State Resource Coordinators, local resource specialists and former NSLW participants.

This interaction will expand during the online pre-conference conversations preceding each conference gathering. Prior to the scheduled conference date, participants can join in the online discussion forum on this website, in which they will find conversation threads for each of the five resources. Each State Resource Coordinator, with knowledge and expertise a one of the five resources, will initiate an online exchange of ideas related to his or her resource area. They may do so by posting a provocative perspective, a question to start the ball rolling, or implications of the current facts surrounding the resource. Conference participants are invited to respond, challenge, as questions, offer critiques. Together, the conference participants and Resource Coordinators will explore relevant observations and concerns as they expand their knowledge and understand of the critical resource.

The pre-conference conversations will flow directly into the conference conversations, thus creating continuity and coherence for overall discourse leading to understanding and action. The pre-conference conversations will serve to identify themes, problems, questions, and gaps in understanding and issues that merit further exploration.

Conference Conversations

At the conference itself, we have designed a series of modules around each of the five topics. Participants will be free to choose where and when they participate in a given conversation, as long as they participate in each of the five topics by the end of the day. During each module, participants will have many resources including the resource specialists, an information sheet on the resource and some guidelines for the conversation.

High-quality conversations are built from the individual contributions of participants and the collective accomplishments of groups. As individuals move through conversations on each of the five topics, they will find themselves beginning where others have left off. Our design includes specific measures to capture the conclusions and observations of each conversation so that as new participants join, they will be able to build on what has been discussed.

Finally, we believe high-quality conversation occurs when participants leave feeling satisfied about what they have accomplished. Minimally, participants will have a much richer understanding of the five resources and how these resources are critical to people from all walks of life. Beyond that, we will create space for participants to reflect as a whole, to propose actionable projects and to comment on local policies in the presence of local policy-makers.

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