24 hours of emergent agenda setting

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With Danish elections and a new Danish government forming in June, just before the summer holidays, the new Minister of Culture, Joy Mogensen, and the Department of Culture had little time to plan and think about the annual event which by tradition is held mid-August. I was pleased to assist the Ministry conceptualizing, planning and facilitate the 24-hour meeting. In a short time, we worked together to turn the themes set by the Culture Minister into an actual summit program and appoint participants to deliver inspirational talks within each theme. But how do you succeed in facilitating a meaningful summit when timing hasn’t allowed the leader (in this case the Minister) to consider and prepare a vision and strategy? Would it be smarter to postpone until the strategy – or policy – is in place?

In this case we chose to go ahead and use the opportunity to involve stakeholders in an emergent process, developing different views and perspectives within a well designed structure for the 24 hour meeting.

Nikolaj Stagis trying to direct the group of participants at the annual Rødding meeting for the traditional group photo in front of Rødding Højskole. Photo by The Danish Ministry of Culture. 

Framing a confidential and democratic dialogue

For the past few years, it’s become tradition for the Danish Minister of Culture to host an annual 24-hour summit for some of the most influential directors, board members, politicians, and artists within the field of culture and the arts. The event is called “Røddingmødet” – the Rødding meeting – and is placed in Rødding Højskole, a folk high school itself constituting a significant part of Danish cultural history as it was the first school of its kind founded in 1844.

The positioning at the folk high school frames an informal atmosphere where equal democratic dialogue is possible across different actors of society, especially the cultural institutions, artist associations, foundations and politicians participating in the event. The content and views discussed in the meeting are confidential (which is the reason I cannot tell you what they were) and stimulates the opportunity for the participants and the Culture Minister to exchange ideas, opinions, and concerns and possibly use the meeting to inspire future initiatives. In other words, it’s an open arena for different parts of the cultural community to set agendas and share concerns and visions between a range of stakeholders.

Facilitating non-scripted, emerging content

Kicking off a new four-year term with a new left-wing government, and everyone’s expectations of a shift in cultural policy, my aim of the summit was to maximize the interaction of the participants. I was making sure everyone was introduced to everyone else and setting different configurations of participants to help them exchange and develop views on contemporary matters. As we set out on the first day, nobody – including myself – knew the content and the end results. It was defined by the group rather than scripted. But as we progressed different views and themes developed. Small and large group discussions, sprints of selecting the most pressing issues today and developing ideas to solve them gave the group a varied and dynamic journey through their collective 24 hours.

What was already in place was three themes selected by the newly appointed Minister of Culture, her own talk to set the overall agenda and introduce herself to some of the most important stakeholders and six kick-off talks of only 3 minutes each by very different participants. After that the remaining 23 hours was an overall structure for interaction and focusing agendas. In a brief and simple form, this is the design of the summit:

  1. Define contemporary societal issues that the cultural arena should be concerned with
  2. Create first draft of ideas that would accommodate or solve these issues
  3. Plenary discussion of ideas and initiatives
  4. New group constellations take ownership of ideas to enhance and focus them
  5. Presentations of inspirational ideas for the plenary group, handing over suggestions to the Minister

If you stimulate your participants and let them co-develop what’s urgent and relevant for the field, meaningful content will emerge. Of course, that only happens if you allow a process that doesn’t over-coordinate and control every moment of the process.

Illustrate and indicate rather than document

In the spirit of the open and informal agenda, I had an illustrator draw and write significant points and quotes on a 6-meter wide paper banner. Rather than a formal report of the discussions the cartoon-like illustrations and sentences help remind of the discussions, still reflecting the inspirational (rather than deciding) character of the summit. Now the participants have the wide illustration in digital form and the Culture Minister the original paper illustration as a reminder of the many ideas and discussions.

Maximize the effects of your next strategy summit

The Danish Ministry of Culture got very positive feedback after their annual 24-hour summit with help from Stagis. If you want to know more about the process and how your organization could benefit from getting a concept, program, and execution of your next leadership event, seminar or strategy process, look at the article 6 ideas for designing a successful leadership seminar or contact us for inspiration or advice.