Guide to Organizing and Hosting Summits
Summits are a very particular form of meeting and will not be appropriate for all groups at all times. However, they are remarkably well suited to Pagans. They allow all attendees to participate, build consensus, and engender collaborative action around shared goals rather than shared beliefs. This last is very important. Rather than focusing on theological differences or trying to enforce uniformity of belief or practice, summits focus groups on common goals. These goals are often based in the desire for religious freedom, but can be anything which Pagan groups care about. By focusing on our common goals, we discover how we can help each other, as well as how our diversity is a strength and a blessing.
Determine if your event should
be a summit
A summit is not:
Summits allow all attendees to speak as equal partners in meetings focused on particular topics. They must utilize skilled facilitators.
Determine your goals
Determine your audience
The drawback of hosting an open event beyond the local sphere is that many attendees will not be in a position to speak for organizations. While you may have their personal input and commitment, you may not gain the critical mass necessary to achieve your goals. The drawback of setting requirements is that those who do not meet the requirement may feel left out. This issue should be carefully thought through and discussed with co-organizers. Goals should be adjusted if necessary.
Select a time and place for the
Choose a date away from Pagan and cultural holidays, and away from major national or regional festivals. Choose a date during a season where travel will not be impaired by bad weather.
Choose a town or city which is easy to find and near major highways and airports. Choose a place which is Pagan-friendly if possible. The location should have plenty of options for accommodations and dining, taking into account all income levels and eating preferences.
Select a venue
Meeting rooms should be comfortable for conversation and offer freestanding chairs so breakout groups can rearrange them to meet their needs. They should also include flipcharts and/or wipeboards for people to take notes on. They should also not have a lot of "echo;" a "live" room can make it difficult for the hearing-impaired to hear clearly.
For a small event, the public library may offer suitable space for free, but make sure you can bring in snacks and drinks for attendees. For larger groups, try hotel or convention center meeting room services, which often offer catering services as part of the contract.
Choose a name
Plan the agenda
The agenda should include adequate time for meetings, social interaction, breaks, and ritual activity. For small group sessions to be effective, they generally should not consist of any more than 12 or 13 people (including the facilitators).
For the Pagan Summit which I organized, my original agenda was as follows:
This allowed for large group sharing as well as small group discussion.
Each small group had a facilitator who kept discussion focused on that
However, on Sunday morning people's energy was high, an approaching storm meant many attendees had to leave the summit early, and all attendees wanted more large-group interaction. I revised the agenda three times and then eventually chucked it altogethera lesson in being flexible! I consulted with my co-facilitators and we agreed to a large-group sharing where each person committed to a particular project (whether new or long-standing) and invited others to assist. We used a "talking umbrella" and each person had a time limit of one minute. This ensured everyone had a chance to speak and be fully heard.
By the time we'd gone around the circle, energy was very high and we took a 15-minute break so people could follow up on the many projects they were interested in. We then spent the final hour on the closing, which consisted of thanks, a sharing where each person said what s/he would be taking with them from the Summit, and then an energy raising and final blessings. We ended an hour early so people could get started on their trips home, but those not in a hurry were invited to a post-Summit lunch at a local eatery.
It is important to find a balance between focused work, networking/socializing opportunities, and ritual. All 3 are essential for group cohesion and effectiveness. The agenda for the Pagan Summit was very successful in this regard, but your event may have different needs, so adapt accordingly.
Send out press releases and invitations
For help on writing press releases, see PEN's publications list for "Getting What You Want from a Press Release" or numerous other Web resources.
Summits are a wonderful way to move beyond talking about all the things that "should" be done and into concrete action plans and goals. Using skilled facilitation, they steer clear of theological differences and focus on common ground. Compared to festivals and conferences, they are also relatively easy to organize. However, the importance of skilled facilitation and clear goals cannot be overestimated. With mindful planning and adequate resources, summits are a great way to move the Pagan movement towards greater collaboration and effectiveness. I hope this guide helps you on your way. Good luck to you!