After two years of organizing feminist and political education events and providing a location to groups and individuals that want to offer a workshop, class or art performance, but don’t have a space themselves – we went on a 3 day retreat together. In this article we’ll talk about how the retreat was setup, what the outcomes are and what we learned along the way.
Running up to our retreat we had some discussions about how much planning and structure there should be. Some members of the group had a need to use the time away to clarify some open questions about the way we are going about things. Others cared more about hanging out together and spending some quality friend’s time. We settled on a surprisingly perfect middle road.
On the first day we all arrived by noon, settled into the space, had a snack, with enough time to chat and catch up with everyone (we were 8 in total). Once we all felt good to move on we gathered for an opening circle, where we all shared our needs for the weekend (I will keep referring to these days as a weekend, when actually it was Monday through Wednesday, but that’s what it felt like during the event). Since two of the group members were going to leave Vienna right after our retreat and others where going to stay and wanted to keep developing derknoten.wien, needs ranged from wanting to spend quality time before saying goodbye, creative time, going for a swim and cooking together, all the way to wanting to have a workshop on our role structure, talking about inspirations for the time to come or holding the general assembly of our association. Once everyone had a chance to share what they needed and how they felt, we started writing down these things on post its and set up an open space like agenda together.
What came out was a loose plan for some fun things like, going to our hosts art studio in the neighboring village for a creative session, going to a public swimming pool the next day after some morning yoga, cooking together and having bonfires at night and closing it all with a long harvesting circle. This turned out to be especially valuable, since a lot of important conversations happened in smaller groups and the harvest circle was a chance to bring the outcomes of these conversations back to the big group.
Most of these important conversations happened at night around the bonfire, without much structure or anyone facilitating, but leading to some really valuable outcomes and insights.
One of the big topics that we talked about a lot was, how do we become more inclusive as a group and with our offerings? How can we share the resources we have available with more people and groups, without the workload for us going through the roof? How can we share our connections and social capital with each other, to increase possibilities for us as a group and all the members?
This conversation centered a lot around befreiraum, which we organize once a year. We agreed that it would be cool to follow an action research approach for the development of the concept for next years befreiraum. We want to invite diverse stakeholders into focus groups and panel discussions to share their experience with their experience at different intersections of identities and discrimination and provide a container for their knowledge and wisdom on how to fight those structures best, to surface and be made visible. The result of this process would be the concept for that year’s workshop series, on the basis of which we would start fundraising and applying for grants. The criteria for the admission of workshops to the program would be done based on a more rigorous criteria catalogue, that is also based on the results of the consultation phase.
Another outcome of this conversation was a wish for more informal networking opportunities, for all of us to invite people we know, that are doing interesting stuff. This eventually led to the creation of our first open house evenings which will happen in November (follow us on Instagram or subscribe to our newsletter to get notified when this will happen).
Over all the conversations around the bonfire produced a lot of inspirational ideas for things we could do in the future. They also led to a very clear common understanding, that our current structure is not enough to realize these ideas. Where it was difficult in the past to agree on how much structure was necessary or to much, now we all seemed to have an intuition about the kind of organizational structures that are needed in order to organize effectively and with ease.
The minimum viable structure for an event like this can be very minimal. When a group is familiar an there is a lot of existing social fabric and trust, the important conversations can just happen around a bonfire and it doesn’t need a lot of systems to keep everyone feeling safe and connected.
What was most valuable to the light and easy experience during these days, was that we all trusted each other to have the groups best interest at heart. This created an atmosphere where all of us were able to be fully present and truthful about our feelings and needs. This atmosphere was fertile soil for courageous conversations about our work and experience in the group.
One of the biggest takeaways is: going on a retreat together is the best thing a group can do to speed up its development. Spending some intense time together like this can be a catalyzer to so many important processes, that might be ready to happen, but if there is no space, no container in which they can, they might stay under the surface or appear way slower than they would in this environment. We will keep going on retreats together twice a year from now on and we are all already looking forward to the next one in 6 months.