Future Search The Method
Building Communities in Siberia
by: Elena Marchuk, and Jan Secor

"Change is disturbing when it is done to us, exhilarating when it is done by us." I often start our future search conferences in communities with this quotation from Rosabeth Moss Kanter of the Harvard Business School.* Through these conferences we try to empower people, to help them find enthusiasm in themselves, to change their lives from passive into active ones.

For many years in our country, initiative was punished. It was better to behave yourself, to act "normal." Today we still see the same reaction in people as if initiative is still punished, though in different ways. Now people can speak their ideas, open their minds, but they still want "somebody" to realize their ideas. They often say: "Why don't YOU. ..." And often their ideas are expressed as "YOU should do this or that. ..." This is why the future search conference has worked very well for us. The idea that people are wise enough to solve their own problems is what initially attracted me to the FSC.

Of course the main difference in FSCs is the "whole system" in the room. The previous conferences we led were training for representatives of different organizations. In doing training on strategic planning, we helped them share ideas of different organizations and learn new things from each other. But it became obvious that this was not enough to get them to move plans into action.

There are other differences in FSCs: ways of analyzing the past, trends of the present, defining the desired future. The great difference we saw in this new kind of work was involving people emotionally -  not with their "heads" only, but with their "hearts" as well. Emotions are what move people, though we often try to hide them.

New Projects

In our last article, ("Future Search Comes to Russia", FutureSearching #19, Summer/Fall 2000) we described three future search conferences and the many obstacles we had to overcome to present them. We indicated that a fourth conference was scheduled for November 2000. This was "Women-Leaders of Siberia: Strategies of Collaboration."

I still remember the noise in the room, like in an airplane, as the discussions were very emotional, but what surprised all the women was that they were also very productive. In the closing session, they said it was hard for them to start listening, as all of them were women-leaders. They wanted to talk. They did not want to listen to others first. But on the third day in the planning session, which was held with Open Space technology, it was just natural to work on questions that every woman wanted. They learned that their desired future would come sooner if they started doing something today, so they worked on joint projects. Women said that they did not quarrel with each other, but even fell in love with each other.

Before the FSC, women in many cities saw each other more as competitors than partners. When our participants said that "we became friends," it was the best compliment for us, together with the words that they like working using our technology.

The projects were mostly designed as networking of different organizations in different cities of Siberia. Many organizations had a lot of experience in working with crisis centers for women, in gender research, in healing breast cancer, with women, children and family support projects, and some others. The women constructed the whole list of conferences that they were going to do separately at first, but then they invited other women to participate and made joint projects on the topics.

We enjoy hearing that these projects are developing and many activities take place between different organizations from different cities of Siberia: Novosibirsk, Tomsk, Irkutsk, Barnaul, Ulan-Ude and Gorno-Altaisk. They worked separately before; now they cooperate in a network. The network of women's organizations provides a lot of new ideas, the exchange of information, and empowerment to all organizations working in the network. We meet these women at conferences and see how the world of colleagues and friends is growing.

In January 2001, we provided the first FSC for one organization: Medsanchast-168. This is a "private" (privatized) clinic/hospital, which is counted as one of the best in the district of Novosibirsk but which was pushed out of the medical insurance system because of being "private." We started with no enthusiasm at the beginning of the conference. Well, you can imagine: the end of the week, the end of the day on Friday, and the prospect of working on Saturday and Sunday. The faces were the same - white as the smocks. On the third day, the participants made six projects, which, to their surprise, solved some of their problems in promoting their service and making their work more effective. And, most important, they understood that they could solve their problems themselves; they did not need to wait for somebody else to solve their problems.

Working with a Whole Community

The call from the city Rubtsovsk of Altai Region was the first in a series of external calls. Their question was: "Can you do something with a mixed group of representatives from the city council, city administration, municipal organizations, NGOs, educationalinstitutions, business, health care, mass media, and last-year students in the management faculties of universities?" Yes! It was the best group to use FSC and to try to find common ground!

"Rubtsovsk in 2005: Search for Future and Strategies of Development" was a very interesting meeting. The organization sponsoring this conference is called "Evolution" ("Development") and they had German sponsors from the International University for Adult Education.

The good news was that it was not the first conference, and the representatives of all groups were ready to come and work for three days. Of course, there were some people who left because they had lectures or seminars in their institutions, but most people worked all three days. It was so nice for us that most representatives of the city council and city administration were so eager to hear the "end of the story" that they worked up to the end. It was very unusual for them to meet in such a group with diverse stakeholders.

The head of the city council said that when he saw the group the first day, he thought, "What can we discuss in such a group? And now I know I will miss everybody very much." He invited students to come to his office as they were ready to prolong the discussion and were working on plans. There was a lot of enthusiasm. One student was so wise, that everybody cried: "He should be elected as the mayor of the city."

During the conference, different groups had different opinions, which were constructed to a desired future on a common ground. Students agreed to visit administration to learn about the work of it and to find out what is possible to do together. The municipal organizations found partners among NGOs and educational organizations working in the same field with them. It is so strange, it looks very simple to find partners in our conferences, but the problem is that these people never meet in the usual life.

It was our first experience of working with a community, with the "whole" city, the population of which is 100,000 people. Of course, there were only 60 people at the conference, but this was a cross-section of the very active people who knew the problems of the city and who wanted to change life for the better. It was very interesting to work with these people, to observe how they discuss the trends and make their common picture of the future; to watch them make plans together though they met here for the first time and might never have met in real life.

The presence of a youth group, we think, is very important. They made courageous ideas and supported their positions: for example, to make an international airport. The "wise" vice-head of the administration, responsible for economics of the city, repeated: "It is not real. ..." After several iterations of carrying the paper "international airport" from common ground to unsolved problems, I asked the representative of the administration, "You don't want the international airport in Rubtsovsk, do you?" He answered, "Well, I do want the international airport. But it is not real!" "Can we leave it here in desired future then?" I asked. And he agreed.

This is a simple example of finding common ground, of defining what we want. But it helps to understand that the real dialogue of the stakeholders is the first step, and really the necessary one, for the civil society, which we are working to create. We need to use democratic principles. And democracy - it is a dialogue.

More Conferences

In October 2001, we provided FSC in Noyabrsk (Yamalo-Nenetz Autonomous Region): "Communal Service: Development, Quality, Effectiveness." Representatives of the City Duma, city administration, and municipal enterprises met with representatives of NGOs, business, active citizens, and so on.

Participants from NGOs admitted that they heard about the problems of the administration for the first time. Now they will explain them to other people. They made several joint projects, which they are going to realize. The head of the administration tried to participate in the work of the group the entire time, which he called unusual, but some absences from the joint work, I guess, did not allow him to understand that the participants came to real dialogue, understood mutual interests, and meanwhile created 10 projects. On the other hand, the participants got this and were very grateful for the conference.

At the end of November, we gathered in the Altai Republic. The topic of the FSC was: "Sustainable Development of the Altai Republic: The Development of Tourism." The ministers of economics, culture, and tourism worked as equals with the representatives of tourist firms from other regions, as well as their own - organizers of rural tourism, ecological, and other NGOs.

It was very cold in the pension, a tourist base "Katun" in the village Cheposh where the FSC was held (outside temperature was 25 C). We worked on the summer veranda, the windows of which were covered with material, and from time to time a very noisy heater was switched on for some warmth. The participants worked in winter coats. We, the facilitators, thought that nothing would happen, the participants would get sick, they would not come tomorrow. There were 12 projects made. Everybody was very satisfied with the work, with the fact that they could hear each other, that they worked effectively together. They learned the problems they needed to solve and did not forget to support nature and to make the resorts so that the tourists and the local people can understand each other.

"The Spirit of People"

It was really the unity of souls, finding common ground, and also making joint plans for the future, which they showed very nicely in sketches. Everybody said that Altai Republic is another Switzerland; that the success of development of the Republic depends on development of tourism.

You can tell legends about the exotic places, unique traditions, and interesting people who live here. There are a lot of mysterious places with inexplicable phenomena and burial places where they found not long ago a mummy of a woman, probably a priestess, who lived 2,500 years ago on land that is called in local legends "the motherland of all people on the Earth." These places are still well known only to specialists, scientists, historians, and a few very knowledgeable tourists. The community participants feel in such a meeting that there is something which goes far to the soul, to the spirit of people. You can never describe why and how it appears among the people who were involved in this procedure; you need to feel it.

This work with the Altai Republic was not the first one and may not be the last. In the FSC "Women-leaders of the Siberia" there were several participants from the Altai Republic. However, only a few of the women who wanted to attend from the Altai were able to attend in Novosibirsk. So they asked us to provide a FSC for the women-leaders in Altai Republic.

I was out of the country, so my colleague, Marina Tyasto, made the FSC for them alone with the help of participants who had already experienced the method. It was a productive conference and led to the tourism conference. Some people working on national parks attending the tourism conference understood the possibilities of using FSCs and said that they would like to work in the same way on their particular question. They propose to gather specialists and local population to ask them what they want and how they can work together on development of their region while preserving the nature of it. I hope that it is at least the start of understanding the necessity to work together in communication and collaboration.

"What Is, Not What Will Be"

In the city Snejinsk (the city of Snow) in the Ural mountains, the women's organization "Women ZATO" was holding its five-year celebration. We provided the FSC "The Role of Women in City Policy." The participants and the invited guests discussed problems of closed scientific cities, contradictions in solving social tasks of closed cities in the market economy, and solving problems with socially unprotected groups of people such as women with disabled children, homeless children, orphanages, families with problems. They discussed problems of home violence, ride-therapy for the children with paralysis, and so on.

We had difficulty finding understanding with the organizers before the conference. They asked us to make analysis of the past, the trends of present time, but they said that after that they want to use drawing as the method of communication and storytelling as empowerment for participants. The word empowerment was the key word for the meeting. We explained that the FSC is a method of empowerment but the organizers were not hearing us. We argued against stopping with the present - how would you feel, without the future?

The organizers said that they didn't want to change from the methods they find effective in empowerment. So after working the first day, analyzing the past, and making the mindmap of the current trends that influence changes in the roles of women in city policy, and a part of the next morning on mindmaps of the stakeholders' groups, we had a two-day break for roundtables on different problems. They were very productive discussions and sharing experiences when the participants of the city council and administration as well as from the militia and court were present. Then they did the drawing and telling fairy tales. However, this was all still answering the question: "What is?" And not "what will be?"

From books that my friends gave me, I did learn that "solving problems" leads participants to depression, apathy, decrease in enthusiasm. In contrast, the method of FSC, when people focus on future and common ground and projects, gives great inspiration, enthusiasm, and leaves aside all the conflicts. Watching this great process, I was thinking of empowerment, whether we will use all the possibilities of empowerment, if we just stop here in the present.

One of the deputies of the city council said that he was trying to persuade the head of the Women ZATO organization to campaign for the city council. She said, "No. The problems of children, women, families are not solved there. The conditions for women-deputies are awful, including frightening them from the stage of running the campaign. We need to find other ways of doing things," she and her colleague from Moscow said. They and the women in the organization "Women ZATO" are so brave, they made so many great things.

And to leave it like it is: "No Future?" We had an agreement that the last two days will be an Open Space Technology meeting for all the organizations that couldn't participate during the week. We do know that Open Space Technology is great, but leaving future search without the Future - I did not feel okay. But we lost all the energy of the FSC after the "prouds and sorries." The celebration, with a lot of songs, poems, presents, and guests - did it take the last energy from people? And there will be new people, who did not participate at all in the previous work. The people will be from different fields and organizations, so it will not be the union at once. So what to do?

After some discussion, Marina and I decided that we better start with the future. The next day, we started at noon returning to doing FSC: "The Role of Women in the City Policy." We did ask the organizers if it is okay. And they agreed - the two days are yours! Actually a day and a half, but that is what we needed. We started again with forming groups -  mixed groups with representatives from different fields of activity. We asked, "How do you see the future of the role of women in the city policy?" We did try to explain briefly what we did before, though I don't think it helped a lot to those who just came. But then we asked if they could imagine themselves in the year 2010 and write a letter to their children, grandchildren, or relatives about what they were seeing in this desired future.

Khi-Khi, Kha-Kha

It was silent for some time. We were afraid it could be that all energy had dissipated during the celebration. But then from here and there we heard: "Khi-khi Kha-kha" [Hee-hee-ha-ha," laughter starting - Ed.] The work started, the presentation of future scenarios was so much fun. So we finished the day putting statements of the future on the pieces of paper and left.

Classification was a little bit harder than usual; it is always not easy, but here there was not a lot of dialogue and we felt the tiredness of participants. But after the coffee break, with the help of Open Space, we saw so much excitement and willingness to work and heard such good words in the closing session, so we did feel it was a right decision; it worked. We did show the people that they came with problems and go back home with projects. Is that not building communities? Feeling excited, feeling shoulders of your friends/partners, feeling that you are not alone, though the work is not easy...Being proud of yourselves and feeling new Open Space in a new world.

The democratic way of dialogue, which is possible through the future search conference, is a form of deep learning and one of the primary achievements of this kind of work in our country. Our people don't have experience in democratic ways of solving problems. They don't have experience in constructive dialogue. Many are surprised at the effect of collective consciousness, which we achieve in future search conferences. So I do believe this is a first step in community-building and in networking. At least as I understand it. My hope is that we can move quickly by using FSC and OS technology.

Let's do it!





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