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Harvesting is the documentation of valuable information exchanged during gatherings. The purpose behind harvesting process is to empower both individuals and the collective group to derive meaningful insights from conversations, which is achieved by framing the documentation around specific questions. This can also be thought of as planning a meeting while keeping what you want to share back in mind. 

Research has consistently shown that many of us are naturally visual learners, capable of better connecting with, internalizing, and retaining information when we can see it. For this reason, harvesting efforts are centered around visual representations of the content discussed and presented. A common method employed is graphic/visual note taking, but other tools such as taking photos, videos, and various written notes can also be leveraged to ensure comprehensive documentation of insights gained. 

The ultimate goal is to capture the essence of the meeting, recollect significant details, recognize patterns, and derive meaningful conclusions. The meaning is then made visible and accessible to others within the relevant context, fostering a more informed and connected community of participants. 

Materials (these will vary depending on the size of group and type of project):  

  • writing Markers: red, blue, purple, green, black an brown, black 
  • highlight/ Illustration Markers: gray, yellow, orange 
    • recommended marker brands: Nueland, Prang, Steadler, Copic 
  • black liner pens (I.e. .5-1.5mm Steadler or Micron pens) 
  • butcher paper for larger harvests (I.e. flows, recording panel discussions) 
  • large Sticky Note easel pads for segmented harvests ~25” x 30” (I.e. categories, segmented discussions) 
  • loose leaf easel pads for participant harvesting at tables ~25” x 30” (I.e. world café templates) 
  • blue painter’s tape for hanging posters 
  • Sticky Note pads: 
    • 3×3 sticky notes for participants 
    • 6”x8” sticky notes for greater visibility 
    • 11” x11” sticky notes for big ideas 


The steps of Harvesting can be understood through an agricultural metaphor. This is meant to be an act of reciprocity and care for the collective, as opposed to an extractive practice. The following are the Eight Stages of Harvesting: (Harvesting Visual in link below) 

Stage 1 – Sensing the Need:

Everything begins from a need, and the way we hold it and invite others into it informs the harvest that we take at the end of the day. The person who voices the need to a larger group is the ‘caller’. 

Stage 2 – Preparing the Field:

In some cases, the caller creates the readiness of the field by creating awareness around the need. Others with a similar need will recognize the call.  

In preparing the field – sending out the call, giving the context, inviting etc.– we set the tone of the whole process – the seriousness and quality will determine the quality of what we reap. The work of readying a field for planting can take a whole year during which we condition the soil, clear the rocks and prepare things. What we are doing here is actually harvesting a field so that the seeds can be planted.  

In other words: start thinking about the harvest from the very beginning – not as an afterthought. 

Stage 3 – Planning the Harvest:

Planning the harvest starts with and accompanies the design process. A clear purpose and some success criteria for the process of the harvest itself will add clarity and direction. What would be useful and add value and in which form would it serve best? Translated into a simple check-list, it becomes: 

  • What intent are you holding?  
  • Who is going to benefit? 
  • How can you add most value to the work at hand – how will the harvest serve best? 
  • What form or what media will be most effective? 
  • Who should host or do the harvesting? 
  • What is the right timing? 

Stage 4 – Planting the Seeds:

The questions around which we structure the hosting become the seeds for harvesting. Gardeners and farmers know that planting seeds depends on the time and the conditions. You can’t just plant whenever you want to. You plant once the conditions are right to maximize the yield. 

In hosting practice, this means being sensitive to timing when asking questions. 

In sowing the seeds that will drive the inquiry – identifying and asking the strategic and meaningful questions – you determine the output. So in planning the harvest, ask yourself:  “What it is that this process needs to yield? What information, ideas, output or outcome will benefit us here, and what might take us to the next level of inquiry?” 

The process itself is ongoing. During each part of the process, you harvest something. Some of it will be used immediately to lead you into the next process others you will be need later. 

So, part of planning the harvest is also knowing for whom, when and how you will need to use it. Think about which format the harvest will serve you best. 

Stage 5 – Tending the Crop:

Protect the integrity of the crop. Nurture the crop as it grows, weed it and thin it to keep the strong plants growing and get rid of all that will not nourish or serve. This involves a combination of feeding the field and letting it grow. But it also involves just sitting in the field. Holding space for what is emerging and enjoying it. 

During the process, enjoy seeing your work unfold in all its complexity. The more you can welcome the growth you are witnessing, the higher the quality of the harvest. Now you are in the pulse of noticing both the quality of the field and the quality of the crops. 

This is where we engage in conversation and exploration – where the richness of the harvest is born. The richer the conversation or exchange, the richer the harvest! 

Stage 6 – Picking the Fruits:

Picking the fruits corresponds to recording or creating a collective memory. The simplest way to harvest is to record what is being said and done, the output of the conversations, etc. This creates a record or collective memory. 

Recording can be done in words. 

  • your notes, which will be subjective 
  • or transcripts of output from conversations recorded on tapes, etc., which will be objective. 

Recording can also be done with pictures / photographs / video / film. Pictures evoke and recall feelings, atmospheres, situations. Or you can video the conversation – record both verbally and visually. 

It is helpful to give some thought in the planning phase to how you want to harvest. What kind of records, templates, etc. will help you gather the relevant information or knowledge? 

Stage 7 – Preparing & Processing the Frutis:

Creating a memory is the first step. As we pick the fruits or seeds for processing, some will be used right away, some will be used for further processing and some will be used as seed for the next season.  

The second step is making collective sense and meaning. This is where we add value and make the data useful. There are many ways of doing this. The general idea is to take loads of bits of information and transform them into “holons” – wholes that are also parts of greater wholes.   

Stage 8 – Planning the Next Harvest – Feeding Forward:

Most harvesting is done to bring closure to a process or bring us to the next level of understanding. More importantly, it helps us to know collectively, to see the same picture and share the same understanding together.

  • While planning a meeting, identify what you hope to walk away with at the end. For example: 
  • Greater context and understanding around challenges participants are facing. 
  • Ideas for how/ where to start on a complex challenge. 
  • Ideas for how to further work that has already begun. 
  • Gain contacts and connections for a community of practice. 
  • Generate questions for engagement to help participants hone in their answers to your questions. 


  • The 8 steps of the harvesting metaphor should be done beforehand for the most effective results, as a part of designing the whole process. 
  • Harvest in a systematic way. Ask collectively: What did you notice? What gave sense and meaning to you? Notice the patterns – they indicate what is emerging. 
  • Use metaphors, mental models and stories to make complex issues simple. 
  • Use drawings and graphics to make complex issues manageable and visible. 
  • During learning processes, individual harvesting can be done intentionally by using a journal as a learning tool. 
  • Harvesting the intangible is much more subtle and subjective that dealing with the cognitive or more objective, tangible parts. A qualitative inquiry into what we have noticed, what has shifted or changed in our relationships, in the culture or the atmosphere may give us some information about the softer part of the harvest. 
  • Harvesting is subjective. Choices on what is recorded and how it is represented are made during the process. This is not representative of every individual in the room, and it is not necessarily meant to be. The following are some strategies for ensuring the harvest is as true to the representation of the collective as possible: 
  • Harvest in pairs – two people are more likely to record what is shared than one. 
  • Set up frameworks for the harvest. If there are conversations or sections of the convening that are anticipated, create a framework to harvest within beforehand. This way a live harvest is more ‘plug and play’. 
  • Open up the harvest to critique by participants during the convening. 
  • Invite participants to take part and contribute to the overall harvest with their personal notes, drawings, and sense-making.


  • (2023). Leading Courageously in Higher Education: The Art of Hosting and Harvesting Conversations that Matter. Seattle, Washington. Daniel J. Evans School of Public Policy & Governance.
  • Art of hosting | and harvesting conversations that matter. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Downloads & Links

Art of Hosting: Harvesting