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ODN Europe

ODNE 2023: That’s a wrap!

ODNE Board Members at Conference

As I had the privilege of delivering the closing address at the ODNE2023 conference last week, I have a handy page of notes that I can turn into a retrospective!

The conference got off to a fantastic start with a connection bit (don’t say “icebreaker”!) that even some of the introverted types enjoyed – finding similarities and differences. Connection was followed by content with some provocative AI challenges from the brainy and entertaining Nicola Strong, and a deep dive into the future of work post pandemic and the possibilities of ‘Omni-working’ with Gwen Stirling Wilkie.

We started Day 2 asking who gives a duck… Mark Emdin does! He kicked off the day by inviting us all to take a handful of Lego bricks and get our brains and hands fired up. No instructions, just build a duck in 1 minute! The sigh when we were asked to dismantle our ducks was devastating. My next session was with Sophy Pern and Andrew Day of Metalogue, sharing their research into the triangles formed between internal and external consultants and clients; and after that a fascinating and illuminating exploration of complexity and leadership through the lens of Chinese philosophy, with Jeff de Kleijn.

In the afternoon, I joined a fab workshop with Carolyn Norgate and Tony Nicholls of Mayvin seeing trends in our environment and organisations, and using appreciate inquiry story-telling to understand who we are and what we do, working in disruption. OpenSpace options including Street Wisdom with Sarah Storm, organisational connectivity and social capital data with Gabriel Petrescu, and dreaming about the future of ODNE before the celebration BBQ on the terrace at the wonderful igluu.

On the final morning Mark Emdin responded gracefully to the emerging needs prompted by the artificial intelligence discussions, and hosted a practical session in Open Space looking at applications of AI. There was an “ooooh” when we saw ChatGPT’s ability to generate a comparison between two OD models… and now in plain language… and now in a table… in just a few seconds. We even saw “ChattyG” doing coaching, and while it’s not the most brilliant or insightful coach … yet … some of us started to feel the fear of no longer being needed. The challenge for us as OD practitioners now is to get a handle on this and start considering the implications for the organisations, work, and people of the future. The final session built on the findings from Tony and Carolyn’s enquiry into trends and practice questions, inviting us each to consider and discuss what we will take from the conference, and how we can use practice-based questions to live and work in a place of enquiry.

And so to the close. Every conference has a flavour, and ODNE2023 in the Hague was a distinctive experience. Not just because the bright sunshine, blue skies and beautiful location made it feel worlds away from my day to day existence!  There were a lot of new folks at this year’s conference, as well as experienced and familiar faces, and it was really heartening to feel that there is a new generation of OD practitioners joining the community.  There was tension, as there always is in events, generated by bringing together a group of people with different wants, needs and expectations. Some brought a desire for deeper connections and conversations spanning the history of the field, the role of OD in society and human endeavour, and our broader responsibilities to the world we share.  Others were seeking practical tools, approaches and case studies to advance their own practice.  For me this just demonstrates the richness of the profession we have chosen. If this were a conference for accountants, there may not be a lot of discussions about the role of money and debt in society. And maybe the stereotype of accountants would be different if there were! I feel incredibly lucky that my job doesn’t just require a conscious use of my self, but constantly invites me to consider my impact on others. Within a community as diverse and flexible as organization development in general and ODNE in particular, I believe there is space to hold these different expectations and find ways of connecting together that meet our needs for intellectual nourishment.

Each year the conference provides an opportunity for us each to consider how we contribute to our professional community, and what we need from it.  In previous years this has included the formation of local, regional or national groups, peer to peer online community, and more visible presences to build awareness of OD and ODNE.  This year as part of the closing session we invited participants to suggest offers to other members, and requests that others may be able to fulfil.  What a wonderful surprise that the list of offers was about three times longer than the list of asks!  This has provided us with a great opportunity to build our community and engage our members in the learning and growing together, and ensure the conversations started at the conference are kept alive.

As we closed the conference we reflected that this is an exciting time for ODNE: a new webinar program is about to be launched, we have a growing list of regional and national groups, and as always members benefit from access to the OD Review journal, mentoring, and other resources.  We now look forward to next year’s conference, and my invitation is: if you enjoyed it, tell your friends; if you didn’t, join the organizing committee for 2024!

Finally, it was a joy to thank everyone who made the conference happen: the ODNE Board, without whom the organisation wouldn’t exist; all the fantastic facilitators and contributors of sessions who brought their ideas, insights and creativity to our three days in the Netherlands; Michelle and Sandra from CJAM and the team at igluu who kept us organized, fed, watered and energised; the organizing group, particularly Mark Emdin and very particularly Griff Griffiths who made it all happen; and each and every one of the attendees who brought the whole thing to life!

As Griff remarked to me on the final day, a lot of the good things that happened were not planned, and to me that’s just another way in which the conference represented the best of our practice.  People came together and something new was generated that had never happened before and will never happen again.  We each brought something unique to the Hague, and took something unique away, to reflect on, build on, and transform until it’s time for ODNE 2024.


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