Why I Wasn’t In Bournemouth

“This is odd, I’m nervous. It’s been long time since I went to a conference where my main feeling is trepidation.” Such were my thoughts as my train trundled towards Roffey Park for the second annual conference of the fledgling OD Network Europe. Why trepidation? I recognised just three names on the list of 130 participants; only one was from a university. It’s a long time since I was so thoroughly among strangers. I also have a scientist’s aversion to the tortuous and woolly language of some of the ODN abstracts and articles. Well, that’s good. I’m an introvert who came here to broaden my horizons and get out of my comfort zone. Notice what you’re feeling, it’s all about the whole self, right? I was going to blog comparatively about this and next week’s UHR conference, but this stuff is so bursting out of me that I have to catch it now, as I trundle back again.

 Roffey was itself a comfort zone, as usual, but boy were my horizons broadened. In a good, scary way. Immediately evident were the networks that already exist, often rooted in the various expensive and committing qualification programmes people had been through.  But of course we’re a warm, humanistic community, so it’s hard to be friendless for long. The range and depth of experience and knowledge in the room were breathtaking, and I got a sense that many were grounding their practice more explicitly in the underpinning scholarship than I do. It was like happily pursuing a profession – geologist, say – having done an A level, then finding yourself in a room full of geologists with degrees.

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Among the wide-ranging sessions a recurring theme was the emergence of a “next generation” OD frame, taking in complexity, connectedness and non-linear systems. In keeping with the conference theme of “collaborating and innovating in social systems,” there were highly resonant tales of successes and challenges in dialogic, co-creative approaches. One session that used art to tease out our own development journeys gave me two major “ker-zzzingg” moments that I hadn’t expected (like a-ha moments but more fizzy). An “innovation” sampler was the loudest, funniest, happiest workshop group I’ve ever been in, but also deeply educational. Mots du jour included “constructive deviance” and “rhizomatic,” but beware: “engagement” has joined “empowerment” in the bucket of jargon terms to make knowing, ironic jokes about.

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Someone commented that there was a sense of excitement, potential and experimentation, which they found absent from the slightly grandee-dependent meetings of the larger US parent network. This momentum is being tapped by a set of action-research clusters that we formed in the final session, hubbed by Roffey but aimed at turning ourselves into a community of researchers in the support of practice.

 It’s proposed to take this European network to the mainland next year. Will I be going? Oh, emphatically yes, even if it means (gulp) missing ODHEG again. The world is wide, and I seem to have found my learning edge.

 (Twitterati can check out @ODNEurope, #ODNE2014)