At Friendship Train Foundation (FTF), we seek to bring people together united by a common interest in a healthy, supportive, educational and self-sustaining way to improve quality of life. The goals are set by the needs of the community and its members, and if they align with FTF’s mission a partnership is formed. For example, this has involved connecting people and providing the support to nurture goals such as creating access to educational opportunities in underprivileged communities, incubating new non-profit organizations, and even recovering from Hurricane Sandy. But first thing’s first… how do you even get people in the same room to identify common goals and open up the possibility of making positive change? An engaging and impactful method to do just this is called Open Space Technology (OST). In the 1980’s, Harrison Owen developed OST upon discovering that the most productive parts of meetings and conferences occurred during coffee breaks and other informal interactions. Since 2009, Creative New Jersey has been utilizing this method, transforming the way people gather and collaborate in creative communities across the state including Camden, Asbury Park, Highlands, Trenton, Atlantic City, and more.

Have you been to a Creative New Jersey “Call To Collaboration” in your community? If so, you may identify yourself as either a buzzing bee or a graceful butterfly. You may even transform from one to the other during the course of a convening. For those who have not been yet, keep reading! While this insect analogy may seem unconventional and even a bit silly, it is actually quite effective in understanding how open space technology works at Creative New Jersey. At a Call to Collaboration, the meeting participants actually set the agenda themselves, choose the topics and groups they want to engage with in the “Marketplace”, and are welcomed to move to a different group if they are not contributing or learning. This meeting style is the essence of Open Space Technology. Topics can range from education to housing to arts access to opportunities for youth and more; it all depends on the needs of that specific community.

As Creative New Jersey Director Elizabeth Murphy explains at the start of each convening, these are not your typical gatherings. They are not about sitting in a chair all day, listening to different speakers perched high up on a stage, behind a podium with a powerpoint presentation looming above them. There is a time and place for those kinds of meetings too. But for the purposes of bringing different community members and stakeholders together to communicate, identify common goals and begin to create a roadmap to change, identifying with the nature and value of the bee and the butterfly is key. The busy, buzzy, cross-pollinating bee moves from one group to another, gathering golden nuggets of information and spreading them around. Upon first glance, the butterfly doesn’t seem to be doing much except looking beautiful while it “lounges at the pool”. They might be seen just listening to conversations in a group, or taking a break over coffee in the hallway with another butterfly. However, meaningful and productive connections can occur in these instances too. What does a Call to Collaboration participant really look like? They are anyone in a community that cares, from any and all sectors. They are you.

You can read about the impact that Creative New Jersey has had across the state in the areas of commerce, government, environment, arts and culture, community, and youth engagement  here. There are stories of new initiatives that came out of Calls to Collaboration, as well as initiatives that were in their early stages of development and received the nurturing they needed to grow because of a Call to Collaboration. Next up on June 6 & 7 is Newark’s two day Call to Collaboration, where over 300 diverse people will gather under the central guiding question: How can we work creatively and inclusively to grow healthy and sustainable neighborhoods, create inter-generational connection and economic opportunities for adults and youth, and encourage community planning that is transparent and equitable in order to continue growing a vibrant city?

To learn more about Creative New Jersey, visit www.creativenj.org.

Interested in learning more about Friendship Train Foundation and what we do? We’d love to hear from you. Email us at contact@friendshiptrain.org, or visit our website: www.friendshiptrain.org Be sure to connect with us on Facebook and Instagram.

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