The Gift Garden is a method originally developed by Carl Jackson for an interactive session on climate adaptation for 80+ participants at a conference in Ethiopia in 2011. It brings together elements of large group facilitation from approaches including World Cafe and Open Space with playful approaches from Applied Improvisation. What is distinctive about the Gift Garden method is that it enables large groups to build new ideas quickly, collaboratively and creatively drawing on individual experience.
This session aims to share the building blocks of the Gift Garden method and inspire you to use and adapt it in your own work in organisations, networks and communities.
How We’ll Do It
In the next ninety minutes you’ll get an overview of the method, a case study and the opportunity to experience Gift Garden for yourselves.
Overview of Gift Garden Method (30 mins)
Gift Garden enables large groups to build new ideas quickly, collaboratively and creatively by adopting one rule and two roles.
The ‘Yes And’ rule for discussions in the Gift Garden is that you must build on what the last person has suggested. Yes And is core element of Applied Improvisation, an approach to serious play that draws on creative practices in the fields of drama, comedy and music. One way to understand this is to think about the difference between classical and jazz music. In jazz improvisation follows the Yes And rule by each musician taking inspiration from the preceding saxophone riff or drum beat, accepting the new variation on a familiar tune as a gift and building on it with additional improvisations. The Yes And rule provides the structure within which jazz musicians are liberated to be more collaboratively creative. By way of contrast in classical musicians in an orchestra each have set scales and melodies to play within an established musical structure guided and reinforced by one individual – the conductor. Variation and improvisation is strongly constrained so that a familiar work can be replicated again and again.
The two roles that are adopted for discussions in the Gift Garden are Bees and Butterflies. The Bee’s role is to work together to build new ideas drawing on individual experience. People adopting the role of the Bee cluster around flowers in sub-groups to discuss a topic the whole group wants to explore. Bees adopt the Yes And rule to positively accelerate the creative flow of new ideas and work collaboratively on each other’s experience. The Butterfly’s role is to see that the bees uphold the ‘Yes And’ rule by travelling between groups observing their discussions and reminding them to build positively on each suggestion made. Bees are not allowed to criticise or question. Each idea is a gift that the next bee builds upon.
To start the gift garden split the group into bees and butterfly’s by getting participants to call off bee, butterfly, bee, butterfly etc round the group until each person has a role. For the second round all the bees become butterflies and vice versa. Have sheets of flip chart paper with a flower drawn on each and the discussion topic spelt out. Place these around the room and ask the bees to cluster in sub- groups of 6-8 people around each flower. So for a group of 40 that would be 6 flower sheets. If you have a group much larger than this you should consider running two Gift Gardens in parallel (with a facilitator and raporteur for each garden in separate spaces). Otherwise the report back sessions will be too lengthy.
The first person to speak briefly states what their idea is. One person speaks at a time (either going round the circle or cutting across). Whatever someone suggests you have to say in response “Yes, And”. For each topic the whole group wants to explore two rounds of discussions are run so that each participant gets to be a bee and a butterfly. The fact that butterfly’s hear more than one group’s discussion also helps to transfer learning between groups and rounds.
At the end of each round the facilitator invites brief responses from each group to the question “what was the very best idea you heard?” A Raporteur collects the ideas on flip chart pages or in whatever method suits them best. This recording enables a report to be prepared that can be distributed to all participants following the Gift Garden. As this is a large group activity it is important to moderate the responses to avoid one group taking up too much space. Keep the report back session lively by moving between each group response by response. That way if time permits you can come back to groups for a second or third response but each group definitely gets to feedback.
Close out the Gift Garden by thanking all the participants for following the one rule and two roles, stating that the report will be circulated by email (Nb. check you have everyone’s email) and leading a round of applause.
Depending on the time available to run the Gift Garden it is recommended to spend half as much time
on each discussion round as on would be:
So if you have 2 hours and one topic that 15 mins 15 mins 30 mins 15 mins 30 mins
That leaves 15 minutes spare that will be taken up moving between each stage in the process and closing out the Gift Garden.
It is possible to explore more than one topic in the gift garden. This can be done either by assigning different topics to different groups in parallel (e.g. half the groups discuss topic 1 and the others topic 2) or by running topic groups one after the other. If you do this it is important to make the topics complimentary so that in the report back sessions the ideas shared will have things in common. If you do explore more than one topic you can save time overall by just running one round per topic because over two or more topics participants will get to be a bee and a butterfly.
To run the Gift Garden the essential resources are: Flip Chart Paper to draw a big flower on with the discussion topic spelled out and to record the ideas in the feedback sessions; Marker Pens. An optional resource is a PA system and two radio microphones to help with feedback sessions so that 2 people can easily hear. If not available just get the groups to come close together in a circle so that hearing is easier.
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