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Monica Manning, PhD

The Nova Group, Incorporated, aka NovaLearning
79 Western Avenue North, Suite 300
Saint Paul, Minnesota 55102, USA

651-222-2915 (fax)



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 higher learning.

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 each other?”

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 this field?

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, Incorporated

Articles by Monica

Exploring the Inner Landscape of our Academic Institutions
Institutional Formation: Agreements of Belonging
Liberal Education for our Life's Work

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