Setting the Table Part 2: How we got going

As a designer whose practice focuses on social challenges, over the course of my career, I have been proximate to many projects and different ways of organising that make space for the ideas, skills and talents of many. My craft sees me create spaces for many different people to participate in design processes together. In my work, which has taken me to many places, I have been blessed to experience the richness of true collaboration, the kind of collaboration where big ideas are experienced, tasted or manifested only everyone in the room has been able to contribute. In this world of design, there is no hero, no central figure from whom all knowledge and power flows, but rather the conditions are created where creative genius is unleashed collectively. 

Over the past 10 years, Myself, Keiran Mckenzie and my brother Houston Blyden each as designers in our own rights have approached various ministry initiatives and venues over the years with a more specific design mindset inspired by the creation story in scripture. Global Potluck has been no exception to this treatment which we hope to share more about in a session soon.

In the previous blog post, I started to talk about how the idea for Global Potluck was conceived but here I want to open a bit more about the approaches that have made it possible to give a little insight into what it’s taking to organise something like this in the hope that this might be useful to others. Essentially so far it has taken 3-4 phases of co-design activity making use of digital tools such as zoom, groupmap and miro along with the design and production skills of the team. The following sections will go into a little more detail about what these co-design phases looked like.

Co-design Phase 1 – July 2020

Back in July 2020, we started to build momentum around the idea of The Global Potluck by creating a slide deck invitation which we sent to people we have been inspired by in the church community around the globe and invited them to join us for a series of open co-design sessions, to build on ideas and surface the things that are bringing them hope, healing and imagination in these strange times. Over the course of these sessions, we welcomed more than 35 people from a number of different countries, and backgrounds to shape initially what the Global Potluck could look like which at first we were thinking about as a 3 day festival that would take place in September 2020.

This first co-design session was a gamechanger for us as we began to see that even the very act of bringing this group together to share ideas felt really significant. In this meeting we created the space for everyone to hack the brief itself and scrutinise the idea itself, start to map ideas around themes and topics we would like to see as part of the global potluck, who would like to see as speakers and contributors and finally how we might generate interest and support for the idea beyond this group. We then clustered and organised these ideas onto a miro map which has since begun to serve as a reference point for the types of experiences we would like to test. We also identified some key design principles for the Global Potluck.


Co-design Phase 2 – August 2020

Between Co-design Phase 1 to Phase 2, significant time had passed and there was a delay with the follow up of everyone who had joined the first phase largely because we had underestimated the level of enthusiasm and ideas we would have to process but also because of life commitments and time constraints. In any case, I personally felt really bad for this, it felt like a loss of momentum, but in reality it was a wake up call to the significance of what we had undertaken. As the initiating team, we recognised the amount of relational work that would need to be done to pull off a truly global festival which was far too much to complete in just over a month, and so it was at this point that we decided to propose that push the festival back until Spring 2021 and focus on designing a season of activity that would gradually build the community and momentum needed to pull this off. 

Phase 2 kicked off with us sharing a summary of the outcomes from the previous sessions. A key piece of feedback from phase one was that we don’t want to create a festival or conference that centred the same faces we are used to seeing and we want to create spaces which are much more participatory rather than being talked at. We needed space to explore what we like and experiment with what’s possible for this 3 day festival and it was on this basis the idea of the Meal Prep season was born. The concept behind the Meal Prep season is that everyone who is a part of this global potluck community can be a ‘chef’ serving up sessions that create space for others in the community to partake of their creative experiences and the things they care about. Every person with their creative gifts, talents, thoughts and ideas are welcome as part of the ‘priesthood of all believers.’ So Co-design Phase 2 saw the beginnings of people bringing forward their ideas of sessions they would like to taste test with others in the community. These ideas were added to the outer edge of the miro map and then we followed up with individuals to start to get them scheduled in between October – December 2020. 

Co-design Phase 3 – September 2020

Throughout September, we met weekly, openly co-working and designing the Meal Prep Season which would take kick off in October. The Miro map continued to grow and the cross fertilisation of ideas was amazing as people began to discover our presence online and new faces began to join the community. There were moments when we know that the holy spirit was moving, as synergy around ideas led to lots of ‘me too moments’ of connection and a sense of validation and healing for people in the group. By the first week in September, the calendar of taste tests for October was already full and by the end of September, we had a range of tangible experiences ready for all to come and experience. 

Co-design Phase 4 – October – December 2020

Meal Prep Season kicked off on the 4th October with a Creative Reflective Session called ‘The Rearview’ hosted by myself. Throughout the final quarter of 2020, we will be continuing to hold space for the many ideas that the community want to test and develop. This is just the beginning of the journey and we are open to many more to join the community and taste test any ideas if you like, in preparation for the festival. Your ideas are more than welcome!

Key reflections on Getting started

When Shelley and I had initial conversations about this, we had no idea how things would turn out, but holding the intention and sticking at it, being open to twists and turns along the way has been key. We wanted to create a spiritual community that doesn’t feel pressured to engage with but that people know when you engage you will get something out. Being open, transparent and present to respond to others has been a key mode of operation throughout. 

We have also learnt the challenges of trying to coordinate across many time zones. This is one we still haven’t cracked and probably never quite will, but for me personally, engaging with this phenomenon has expanded my capacity to think beyond my own world. The potential rewards for this in terms of learning continue to be bountiful. 

We have also learned how much our dreams and imagination for our churches and spiritual lives really do matter, they are God-given and we need to take them seriously. In the first phase of design for this community, we felt a sense of responsibility to every suggestion that came through and we continue to hold and reference them as we move forwards. If we can hold this to be true in our global church community, I truly believe we can go a long way.