Monica Manning, PhD
Nova Group, Incorporated, aka NovaLearning
79 Western Avenue North, Suite 300
Saint Paul, Minnesota 55102, USA
What is an underlying question that gives form to your work or interest in this field?
My work and interest stem from deep pragmatism. We frame
our work at NovaLearning as Institutional Formation – how members
co-create and care for the institutions to which they belong. Because
our focus is specific to higher education, our core question is:
How do we draw on collective wisdom to create the kinds
of institutions of higher learning that serve society well while providing
faculty, staff, and students the opportunity to develop their gifts
and talents for productive, rewarding, professional and personal lives?
What is your personal experience of collective
wisdom in groups?
My interest is in the “so what?” aspect of
collective wisdom: How is the world different because collective wisdom
has been drawn on? What I recognize as an experience of collective wisdom
in my work is evidenced by what results when a group goes to deeper,
more authentic levels of relating about meaning and purpose in their
institution. I agree with Charles Beard that “The truth of an
institution is to be found not at its center but at its circumference
– where it touches the lives around it.” To achieve the
highest truth of the institution as it touches the lives around it,
we need the energy, capacity, and collective intelligence and wisdom
of its members.
At NovaLearning we have found campus-wide “conversations
of consequence” are important contributors to discerning and living
this truth. Processes of collective inquiry and collaborative learning
provide the foundation for catalytic change, i.e., change that progresses
through the institutional body in an organic fashion. Working with groups
from 20 to 800, our role is to help to create the space where the knowledge
and insights of the stakeholders of the institution can be surfaced,
understood, and used to form healthier, more viable institutions of
I make no claim that collective wisdom emerges
in every experience, but the potential is there. When participants join
in holding the space open for truth and wisdom as they engage in purposeful
conversations about meaningful issues, they create a conducive environment.
The passion is palpable when they accept the invitation to work to unite
their deepest longings with needs in society they can fulfill.
What is it about the work in this field that excites
you and connects you to your own deepest self?
I am excited to find colleagues exploring all aspects
of collective intelligence and collective wisdom. The core of my life’s
work is supporting learning – my own learning and that of others.
While today’s educational structures focus on individual learning,
we are coming to comprehend learning as a community experience. The
next step is to find the ways to draw on the wisdom of the community
to support the best uses of our learning
My passion for working with institutions of higher learning
stems from a belief that too many colleges and universities fall short
of their potential. Not only is society not well served, but the institution
also fails to nurture its members’ gifts and talents. I have found
that much of the knowledge, insight, and perspective we need to create
the best institutions already exists in the individuals who comprise
them. Sadly, we rarely create the space where members can share what
they know and use it to form healthier, more vital institutions.
Often my work is focused on creating the space
to explore an institution’s vocation, that is, discerning what
society needs from this particular college today. Vocation is not static
– for individuals or institutions. The more I learn about finding
ways to sustain the collaborative efforts that draw on collective wisdom
the greater the likelihood that the resources and power invested in
our institutions will be used for the betterment of society, even as
society continues to change and grow.
Please provide a brief storyline or snapshot of
what brought you to this work.
There have been so many influences on my work, among
them: Peter Vaill, Harrison Owen, Parker Palmer, Peter Senge, Margaret
Wheatley, Walter Wink, Richard Broholm, David Cooperrider, and, most
especially, my NovaLearning colleagues. My learning comes by struggling
to apply their provocative ideas in the academic environment.
Years ago, I became concerned about the disconnectedness
– even animosity – that I found on many campuses. My core
question initially arose as: “Why do good people who come together
with good intentions of serving good purposes, so often end up abusing
As NovaLearning introduced large-group, participative
processes to higher education, I found something important was going
on “in the room.” Connections were being made through meaningful
conversations; commitments to actions were made and implemented. In
trying to understand what was happening, Walter Wink's scholarship led
me to contemplate the possibility of an inner landscape – or collective
spirit – of institutions and to explore how people are co-creators
of their institutions.
Although my original question struck a responsive
chord on many campuses, it often took work in the wrong direction. People
became overwhelmed by the interdependence of problems. Our client gatherings
now begin with questions that draw out the best in the people and their
institution. We need to evoke the highest aspirations and surface the
collective intelligence of people to establish a compelling vision and
to renew their commitments to support viable institutions through which
they can use their talents to serve society well.
How would you like to be available to others in
I enjoy a combination of on-line interaction and real-time
conversation that supports authentic sharing with colleagues. Several
papers commissioned for different purposes are posted on our web-site,
and I value receiving people’s responses as well as learning about
what they are discovering in their work.
Much of my work at NovaLearning is facilitating “conversations
of consequence” at colleges and universities, so I love to learn
with others who are exploring how we might draw on the wisdom traditions
to create and sustain more vital institutions of higher learning.
My current focus is looking for evidence of the inner
life on an institution: If there is a collective spirit, what might
be its manifestations? How do we know it exists? Given my pragmatic
bent, how do we nurture it and draw on it to support the vocation of
the institution and the individual vocations of its members?
Links to this site or others:
The Nova Group,
Articles by Monica
the Inner Landscape of our Academic Institutions
Formation: Agreements of Belonging
Education for our Life's Work