Stories for Europe Kick-Off - From Purpose to Design Principles

The purposes of the event

Bringing together different and diverse people to share their individual views of Europe, to connect these views and to inspire new stories about the futures of Europe was the major purpose of the Kick-off event.

A second and related purpose was to jointly think about how an initiative like “Stories for Europe” can develop.

The two days at the wonderful Akademie für Handwerksdesign in Aachen was an exciting and inspiring journey - for the facilitators as well as the participants.

The future of Europe is open. As this, it is a land of opportunity. With Stories for Europe we want to contribute to dream about what is possible and create visions and stories of how this future might look like. We want to contribute a space to hold conversations that matter and invite the different voices and dreams that are there to express themselves.

And we believe that such a process needs to invite diversity and polarities as a source for creativity. We need to map the field with all its diversity before we come to new ideas. This general openness is based on one shared vision.

The future of Europe needs to enable new ways of relatedness and conversation. The process and the program should enable a way of relating to one another that adheres to the values of tolerance and diversity. It should reflect the vision that we are able as human beings to hold the space for ourselves and for others – no matter if they accept or agree with our points of view. 

This puts responsibility into the hands of the facilitators.

I hold a special gratitude to Mary Alice Arthur for her advice and commitment in preparing the event with the hosting team. And I want to thank the hosting and harvesting team on site, that created and cared for the space we created together: Yannis Angelis, Christine Erlach, Joanna Sell, Chené Swart, Karin Thier and Silvia Zulauf.

Additionally, there were colleagues that made this event happening through their advice and contributions before the event: Wolfgang Tonninger and Stephanie Bachmair.

From purpose to design principles

From a hosting perspective, the program for the two days had to serve three different aims:

  • Create a space that holds the diversity of viewpoints and provides a safe space for people to express their opinions

  • Make the process personal so that participants can relate to their experiences and dreams about Europe

  • Be open to allow for self-organization

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Create a space that holds the diversity of viewpoints and provides a safe space for people to express their opinions:

We did not know who will – in the end – participate in the event. When we discussed in the hosting team who we want to participate in the event, my answer would be everyone, even if they do not share my views, attitudes or general outlook on life. From my point of view this is important for two major reasons:

  • Everyone holds different views, opinions and feelings towards Europe. If we embark on a joint journey to articulate a somehow “shared” vision or narrative of Europe, we need to engage with the people that are different from us. The diversity of viewpoints that goes along with a concept like “Europe” can also be found within us. Through extending the invitation to everyone, it is possible to get the diversity into the room and work with it.

  • In the current political climate shouting often replaces dialogue and listening. With Stories for Europe we want to create contexts in which it is safe to express one´s own opinion, no matter what they are. If people feel restrained to express their view, they cannot enter dialogue. And if people have the feeling they are not accepted with their view of the world, they might hang on to it no matter what. To transform and change our point of view and bring light to our own blind spots, we need to invite all voices. The only prerequisite to that is to be willing to listen and take a step back and reflect your own views.

Make the process personal so that participants can relate to their experiences and dreams about Europe:

Europe is an abstract concept. While the regulatory decisions of its political institutions can be felt in many ways, Europe often seems far away from the everyday life. Europe is not a thing like a table or a flower. We need to call something “Europe” or “European” to make it part of our experience of “Europe”. This is especially true if we equate Europe with the European Union and its political and administrative bodies.

Therefor it was key to us, to enable a setting in which the participants can relate to their experiences and tap into not-yet-verbalized images and feelings about Europe. For a concept or idea to enter a conversation it needs to be languaged. But this language becomes richer, if it is connected to our experiences and emotions.

This had two major consequences:

  • We provided a variety of media to work with at the event. From printed images to acrylic paint, we provided materials to let us guide from our associations to conversation.

  • We worked with moments. The “Moments Portal”, an approach by Chené Swart, is a powerful way to connect people to their experiences. Moments stand out in our memory, because they are significant and emotionally charged. It is in emotional moments that we form our opinions, convictions and belief. Using moments as entry points to conversation brings these feelings and emotions into the conversation. Talking about moments we connect with Europe, makes it personal and tangible.

This led to rich and diverse discussions. And it also enabled the conversations to flow from one theme to another without a definition what the “Europe” is we want to talk about. In place of a definition of what Europe is we set a process to let it emerge: from tangible moments and the associative exploration of our images and experiences.

Openness for self-organization:

We planned for emergence and self-organization. We didn´t really know what everyone brings to the event. And we didn´t have a goal for the event except to start a conversation about what Europe means for us – in the past, present and future. Therefore, we needed to balance structure with openness and a dynamic setting that can accommodate the questions and topics that emerge during the event. Together with Mary Alice Arthur we developed an overall frame that accommodated the required openness based on the World Café and Open Space Technology. A decision I am very happy about.

We plan to do a couple of short writings to summarize and highlight the topics that emerged while witnessing, hosting and participating in the event; both from the role of a facilitator and from the role of participant.