PLUME: 5 Principles of Harvesting

During our course on Harvesting and Collective Sense Making we (Chris Corrigan, Amy Lenzo and Rowan Simonsen) were exploring the most essential principles for collective sense making and came up with five, which felt surprisingly complete. The 5 together make the mnemonic PLUME.

PLUME outlines five harvesting principles to apply in complex systems when you are using participatory methods to make sense of emergent and unpredictable processes.

Taken as a set of practice principles (heuristics), these principles can be used as the first forays into designing a strategy for harvesting from participatory process.


If we are working with participatory processes, where the wisdom of the group is important, then our harvesting practices should be participatory. This is not about the host or facilitator running the show. If making the sense of the data is done by one person, it is not done right. Invite the participants to make sense together.

As a facilitator, we often impose our own views on data, or the meaning of a conversation, and we don’t always see through the lens of the group.
Harvesting, hosting and sense-making should be integrated, and participatory.

Guiding Questions

  • What can I do to make this harvest more participatory?
  • How can I host participants in processing the data and making meaning during the meeting?
  • How can we integrate participatory harvesting into the longer-term process?


The harvesting of a process produces information and processes that serves learning.
We bring diverse voices together to challenge ourselves out of our comfort zone and into innovation.
Working with complex problems our goal is to learn about what’s possible, what we might try, what the system is ready to do.  We gather diverse voices together so we can be challenged out of complacency and enter the sphere of innovation.  

Guiding Questions

  • Is the harvesting we are doing contributing to the collective learning about the topic we are exploring?
  • How will we gather diverse voices together?
  • How to make our learning visible to increase our capacity?
  • What are we learning about what is possible?
  • What are we learning about what the system is ready for?
  • What is possible with this group? What might this group try?
  • What is this system ready to do?
  • How will the learnings from the meeting be incorporated / implemented?


Usefulness is very context-dependent and it happens across different scales.  There is harvesting that is useful in the moment, such as small group reflection on a process, sketchy notes drawn on the back of a napkin, or information dropped into a process to stimulate creativity.  Our choices have to do with the mode of the harvest, understandable to the context. We should have a way to use it after the process is complete.

Guiding Questions

  • How do we make the harvest useful for people who need to use it?
  • What form(s) should the harvest take?
  • How could we support action to give ideas and relationships space to grow after the event?


With the growth of participatory processes and the accessibility of media technology in the last 20 years, we are seeing entirely new fields of harvesting practice spring up.  There are jobs now that didn’t exist even ten years ago: graphic facilitators, digital video editors, social media curators.  We have at our fingertips a media-rich environment in which to share the learning we are generating.  Harvests should therefore be multi-modal. We should take advantage of these rich tools to make learning visible and useful.  And like the previous principle, we need to be aware of the modes we are using within meetings and afterwards as well.  Within meeting participants have many different learning preferences, from auditory, visual, and kinesthetic, to introverted and extroverted.  Using tools and modes that work for a variety of learning styles enhances the ability for all voices to contribute in a process.  And capturing the results of your work in different ways allows it to speak to different audiences with gravitas and influence.

Guiding Questions

  • What tools / modes will support the collective learning of these participants?
  • What about social media? Graphic Recording? Videos? Themes? Reports? Recommendations?
  • What modes of sense making makes the harvesting useful?
  • How do people interact and what modes supports their learning?
  • How to harvest both the tangible and intangible results of your process?


Finally, we need to be aware that in participatory work, the harvest is Emergent. While we may have a good sense of how we are going to harvest and capture the learnings, insights, actions and data from a process, we need to be operating in a container that allows for the content to be emergent.  This is easier said than done, especially in a world that passes off “sell and tell” for legitimate engagement and co-creation, or where strategic plans and change initiatives are rolled out top-down by mandate.  If we are committed to co-creation then we must truly allow for emergent content to arise.  That doesn’t mean that we can’t provide directionality to our work, or provide guideposts and boundaries to the conversation.  But it does mean that we need to stay aware of where we are overly controlling the group’s content.  Don’t give into the temptation to make sense of things for a group.  Let them do that together and see what is learned.  That way insight and capacity grows with the group, where it belongs.

Guiding Questions

  • How will I stay aware to what is emerging in this group?
  • How can I be aware of where I am overly controlling the group’s content?
  • How do I hold a strong container for participant’s voices to emerge?

See Chris Corrigan´s blog post for more on PLUME.

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