A dream about developing people’s strengths through positive and transforming conversations with other New Zealanders is behind The 4 Million Dreams Project of facilitator, Mary-Alice Arthur, guest speaker at the Conversation in the Pub last month.
What if the place you lived in was a place where you could find and build on your strengths, where you were supported to reach for your highest dream and where you learned from every conversation? Mary-Alice asked those participating.
Too often our conversations are transactional—the ‘what shall we have for dinner?’ conversation—rather than transformational—looking at possibilities for a positive growth.
The project’s focus lies in using transformational conversations to move beyond the issues and challenges we face and look towards the future together.
Mary-Alice believes New Zealand is uniquely placed to achieve this positive dreaming process with its ‘two degrees of separation’, the highly connected nature of this country.
The idea came from Mary-Alice’s experiences around 9/11 and her work as a facilitator. The project was seeded in a series of interviews last year with young people about their visions of New Zealand and their dreams for the future.
This was called ‘The 100 Dreams Project’.
‘We found power and wisdom in people’s stories, but there was also something profound in the way that interviewers and interviewees connected.
‘We began to ask ourselves what would happen if all of New Zealand was involved in a positive conversation about our future and what might change if people supported each other to live their dreams. This was the start of The 4 Million Dreams Project.’
Using such interactive methods as the Appreciative Inquiry process used to gather people’s stories in preparation for Synod 2006, Mary-Alice and her team are working to co-create a set of principles and a way of working that will support community groups, organisations and individuals to foster and conduct the kind of transformational conversations that will dramatically improve their success.
The process builds on three ‘foundation stones’—questions, conversation and dreams.
‘The questions we ask and what we choose to focus on are of paramount importance,’ Mary-Alice says. ‘We ask people to take a strengths-based approach, focusing on the possible, on what they do rather than don’t want’—moving away from the fear and a quest for safety towards possibilities.
‘Since reality is created in conversation, it is the simplest and most basic form of working together. We can initiate new types of conversations. We can create the space for people to come together in new ways and we can listen well to each other—that’s where perceptions will shift.’
Mary-Alice talks about the ‘power of improbable pairs’ – bringing ‘really different’ people together that ‘will shift perceptions for both of them’.
’Keys to the process can be summed up as ‘see, be, do’. First, choose your focus and how you will ‘see’ what’s in front of you. Looking for things to appreciate or value gives you something to build on.
Look for the possibilities—ask ‘what if …’ more often. Look for what you could create—what could happen if you did?
Next, decide who you will ‘be’. Work from wholeness—ask ‘How can we include as many people as possible—those who do not usually show up at gatherings’—so that they too can be part of this learning/dreaming/growing process.
Another key is to be open to emergence—let go control of the process, let it unfold. It’s a powerful stance to be the change you want to see.
The doing part of the project comes through asking powerful questions, starting conversations that focus on strengths. Finally it is important to create opportunities for people to awaken their dreams, and in which people find support for their dreams. ‘When we value and support each other, we call each other into greatness and we create interdependent community.’
For more information or to participate in The 4 Million Dreams Project, email firstname.lastname@example.org