Four Levels of Harvest

A few thoughts on harvest from a piece I started to write three years ago.

Content, Process, Relationships, Energy
Tenneson Woolf ( — August 2010

There are many people in deep practices of harvesting from conversations and other forms of connection. Many of us are finding it helpful to name categories for that harvesting. To help make learning available to ourselves and to others.

Below are a few ways of thinking about harvesting. The first, reflections after working with a health care organization for three days. The second, by friend and colleague Chris Corrigan, a helpful piece on interior and exterior harvests.

Four Levels of Harvest

1. Content — Most of the time, I feel that people are focused on a content level of harvest. What is the work? What is the solution? What facts do we know? Reports. Recommendations. Proposals. Data. These are all important. It is quite amazing to think of the tools we have for harvesting that were once far less accessible — cameras, blogs, social media sites, etc. — to animate content.

2. Process — Less commonly harvested is process. The simple methods and designs behind collecting content. Circle, World Café, Open Space Technology, and Appreciative Inquiry are some that I use often. Describing process, the “how” helps add life to the content, the “what.”

3. Relationships —  A third level of harvest. I like my friend Chris Corrigan’s reference — “we convene conversations and harvest relations.” When we have better quality of relationship – a commitment to curiosity even in difference, we have better chance of doing our work in healthy ways. We shift from extremes of cajoling to invitations to create together. We shift from force to support. If people leave in friendship, more work will get done and with more imagination.

4. Field — Field is a fourth level of harvest. It is the more difficult to voice, yet may be the most important. It is the feeling when good relationships are taken to scale. When the sweetness and effectiveness of one relationship transcends into the relationship of the whole. It is the space where trust abounds, and where information needed also abounds. It starts to feel metaphyscical, and I believe is. At some point I sense we will all find more language for this – building on what is already there, for example, when we speak of strong culture – that shows us something present but hard to see in our current habits.

Interior and Exterior Harvests

“Just a thought in the harvest piece…For me there are many ways to harvest, but they all come down to either being interior harvests or exterior harvests. Exterior harvests are the ones we see and use to communicate with others, what we sometimes call artifacts. These can be notes, graphics, films, photos and other things that are portable and objective. They may be designed for a broad audience or only for those who were there, as a reminder of the experience, for example. I use all kinds of artifacts, and with most events I do now there is usually more than one.

The interior harvest – the learning and the collective story – needs special support to be useful. For me I use the shorthand of “feedback loops” to think about the ways in which we might create ongoing containers for these interior harvests to be revisited and refined. For example, setting up reflective practices to revisit learning, or setting a future schedule of storytelling sessions to continually work with the meaning arising from an event. These things use strategies of conversation and social technology as well as personal reflective practice to continue to work the interior harvest.

A holistic harvest scheme is an important part of the design of any event – it needs to meet needs, and sometimes that means a reductive accounting of time spent along side the establishment of a presencing practice to revisit personal learning.

It has helped a lot with clients when I say that we are planning a harvest and not a meeting. The meeting simply helps us arrive at the harvest that is needed for the group I am working with. Sometimes the need is just learning, and no external harvest document is necessary. Sometimes the need is a plan.”

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