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Facilitating World Café and Open Space Technology events for nonprofits, neighborhood groups, coalitions, and private/public partnerships.

World Cafés are an excellent planning method for groups who seek strategic direction and want to engage a broad-range of stakeholders. They set the key themes of an organization’s future. They do not produce a detailed work plan and need to be supplemented with business plans that are specific and measurable.

In a World Café conversation, participants sit in groups of four or five at small tables or in conservation clusters. Tables resemble those found in a coffeehouse, often with red-checked tablecloths, vases with flowers, and newsprint and markers for taking notes. Participants explore “questions that matter” where collaborative thinking can really make a difference. At regular intervals, a host stays to share highlights from the previous conversation as others move to new tables or clusters, cross-pollinating ideas and insights. As the conversations connect, they spark new discoveries. Innovative opportunities surface. Collective knowledge grows and evolves. After several rounds of conversation on one or more questions, participants offer their insights, learnings and opportunities for action through a “harvest” of the conversations in the whole group. See www.theworldcafe.com for more information. (Learning Center)

Open Space Technology

Choose Open Space Technology when the power of a whole group needs to be harnessed and more specific results are needed. When the gathering is diverse with many interest and skills, Open Space Technology engages the genius and perspectives of everyone. If silos plague your business or nonprofit, choose Open Space to gain specific measurable results.  When a community group needs to create a strategic plan in a short time with excellent buy-in and enthusiasm, Open Space Technology is your solution. Your group can be as small as five and number into the thousands and Open Space Technology will work. Learn more about Open Space Technology here http://openspaceworld.org/wp2/what-is/

Facilitating and writing strategic plans

Strategic plans are not dead. When properly designed, facilitated and clearly written, they are a proven management strategy for organizational revitalization. They set priorities, focus energy and resources, strengthen operations and ensure employees and other stakeholders are working toward common goals with specific outcomes. They help an organization respond to the rapidly changing environment with finesse.

Decisions made through strategic planning guide what an organization is, whom it serves, what it does, and why it does it. The focus is on the future. Effective strategic planning identifies where an organization is going, the actions needed to make progress and especially how it knows it is successful.

Facilitating retreats and summits

A well-designed retreat or summit builds energy and distills strategic focus. When combined with centering, the right ice breakers, creative questions and a format that maximizes the contributions of all, these events galvanize organizational vision—a picture of where your organization wants to head.

Coaching in nonprofit best practices

The essence of executive coaching is listening well and asking the right questions. With thirty-five years of nonprofit management experience, Mark Smutny can help you strengthen every dimension of your organization’s needs from managing personnel to raising funds, board development to customer engagement, marketing and promotions, to strategic change and advocacy.

Advocacy Training

Providing direct services is not enough. Nonprofits need to engage in advocacy to generate support and funding for their mission. The strongest nonprofits recognize advocacy as an essential part of their mission. Getting caught up in the demands of service delivery is no excuse for not advocating for policies that address the issues you work on every day. There are no better spokespersons for the homeless than the homeless and those who work side-by-side with them. Seniors are in the best position to advocate for seniors. People with special needs and their caregivers are best at advocating for transportation services that address their needs. Civic Reinventions will provide training and support to design and invigorate your advocacy program.


Facilitating respectful dialogue on divisive issues.

Facilitating gracious dialogue in troubled, polarized times requires emotional intelligence and a carefully crafted design. Whether the topic is immigration, racism, gun violence, the provision of health care or the growing phenomenon of homelessness, facilitating respectful conversations is an art and skill. Mark Smutny and Civic Reinventions, Inc. will partner with you to design a gracious, respectful dialogue on issues that matter to you and your community.

Finding Calm in the Chaos

Great meetings begin with centering. People separate from the stresses they bring and become fully present. Business author Kevin Cashman calls it “The Pause Principle.” In volatile and chaotic times, beginning a meeting with silence, meditation and deep breathing helps groups become more productive. All religious and philosophical traditions recognize this truth. Whether called mindfulness, prayer or meditation, great meetings begin with finding calm in the chaos.


Icebreakers are a way for strangers to become more relaxed. When designed well, they help a group plunge into the day’s topic with energy, humor and, sometimes, poignancy.

For example, if you’re in a gathering where transportation is the focus, ask “Tell the story of the most exciting trip you ever had.” If you’re working with a group on homelessness or affordable housing ask, “When did you first learn about homelessness in a personal way?” If your group is dealing with racism try something like “When did you first realize you were different?”  With gun violence ask, “How has gun violence affected you in a personal way?”

A good icebreaker contains a theme consistent with the topic that brought the group together. Alternatives like “What animal would you like to be?” might be fun but hardly help people jump into the theme of the meeting.

Covenant Agreements

Often called ground rules or guidelines, covenant agreements are a set of practices that govern group behavior. In polarized times and times when groups are diverse, the best covenant agreements strengthen understanding and communication across cultures. They are like roadmaps. They help groups navigate the hazards of cultural misunderstanding and group dysfunction. The best encourage empathy, listening and taking responsibility in order to strengthen mutual understanding.

My favorite covenant agreement for strengthening multicultural understanding and communication is RESPECTFUL Communications Guidelines developed by Episcopal priest, Dr. Eric Law. Built on the acronym RESPECT, it is easy to remember. When used consistently, RESPECTFUL Communication Guidelines help build respectful, inclusive organizations.

R = take RESPONSIBILITY for what you say and feel without blaming others.

E = use EMPATHETIC listening.

S = be SENSITIVE to differences in communication styles.

P = PONDER what you hear and feel before you speak.

E = EXAMINE your own assumptions and perceptions.


T = TRUST that greater truth comes through diversity

For more information about RESPECTFUL Communications Guidelines (see link to Learning Center).

The Art of Strategic Questions

Ever notice how the right question can ignite a room of people into a beehive of buzz, energy and insight? Imagine these questions at your next dinner party: “What core value embedded in the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution, needs the most emphasis right now?”  “What question, if openly discussed, would bring the greatest health and well-being to our neighborhood?” “If we decided to solve the problem of homelessness in America, what bold steps might we choose?”

The right question helps a group’s imagination take off. Hope and strategic direction emerge. When discussed in an environment of mutual respect, asking the right question is like a bright light in a cave, illuminating the steps that can transform your business, neighborhood or organization into greater prosperity and success.

A set of powerful questions can be found in The World Café: Shaping Our Futures through Conversations That Matter, by Juanita Brown and David Isaacs. (Link to Learning Center).


A free thirty minute consultation begins our work with you. We listen to your organization’s unique needs and aspirations. Honed by decades of work in public, nonprofit and for profit sectors, we want to understand the challenges you face and design a plan tailored to you.

We believe in a whole system approach. Especially when designing a strategic planning process,  facilitating a retreat or working in a setting where unproductive conflict inhibits success, we believe all stakeholders should be represented on the planning committee. Inviting the perspectives of neighborhood stakeholders, direct service employees and volunteers, as well as boards of directors and senior management, sets the conditions for system-wide change. With patience and the right tools, the culture of your agency can change. We believe success is guaranteed when all voices are heard, especially those most commonly ignored.

We believe in clarity. We will work with you in facilitating and writing clear strategies that produce specific, measurable results. Our work products are written in simple, easy-to-read English. Jargon and long, wordy reports are out.

Furthermore, should we not be able to help, we will assist you in finding the right resources.

Call for a thirty-minute free consultation at 626-676-0287 or by completing the form__________.

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