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An Introduction to Zegg Forum

The Austrian quantum physicist, Anton Zeilinger, demonstrated with his ‘double slit experiment’, that we can change the way reality behaves just by observing it. I believe the same idea applies to the dynamics of a group. That a group can change the way it behaves, simply by, observing itself.

What type of tool is Zegg Forum?

There are two distinct but complementary fields of behaviour in every community that must be sharply separated before people can trust each other. The community must make a clear differentiation between problem solving and decision making on one hand, and processes designed to make ideas and intentions transparent, on the other. Zegg Forum is a tool to deal with the latter – a process designed to make ideas and intentions transparent.

Who uses Zegg Forum?

Forum is currently employed by a wide-variety of groups, communities and organizations all across the globe. One such community is the permaculture based Heathcote Community, near Baltimore, MD. You can find them on the web at heathcote.org. A community since 1965, Heathcote, is a group of 14 adults, 3 teens, and 1 child. The majority of Heathcote's members have lived at Heathcote or in community for over 10 years. It has also been introduced at Twin Oaks, an old, well known, community in Virginia. It is also widely used in a community known as Network for New Culture, a non-live in community, that holds events all over the US and Hawaii. It has been introduced in many communities in the US and world-wide.

What is Zegg & who invented Forum?

Zegg is an acronym which stands for Zentrum für Experimentelle Gesellschafts-Gestaltung, which, translated from the German means The Center for Experimental Cultural Design. The Zegg Community was founded in 1991 and is currently active in Belzig, Germany. Zegg came out of the 1960s and early 70s peace and environmental movements in Europe. These early communitarians, including Dieter Duhm and Sabine Lichtenfels, found that their work was futile in the face of their own limitations both personal and cultural. In 1978, Zegg Forum was invented by a community that preceeded Zegg, called The "Bauhütte" (Bow-who-tuh), which means ‘hanger’ or ‘construction shed’. The Forum proved an essential tool for the continuation of ZEGG and an offshoot of ZEGG, it’s sister community, Tamera, in Portugal. These early community pioneers found that questions of power, trust, love and sex, if not transparently brought forward, can create paranoias, distrust, feelings of alienation and cliques can arise that can undermine a community’s problem solving ability. They used Forum to reveal their patterns of power and rank, and lay bare what is happening in their love lives, and to bring awareness to their real intentions, sharing both the light and the dark.

A meaningful Forum needs a mental-spiritual basis among the group utilizing it. This is part of ZEGG’s research into finding the mental, spiritual and social conditions where humans are able to live together in truth, solidarity and freedom. Zegg asked themselves, “What is the source of violence – and how can we create conditions for a non-violent world?” This forms the basis of The Forum, which therefore, becomes a school of life, a classroom devoted to the exploration of life and truth.

What is Forum used for?

The Forum is used to create transparency in relationships, to reduce social tensions and to create group bonding. It is like an existential stage, which includes the whole person with their physical and verbal expressions, their mind, their creativity and their feelings. Allowing each group member to express authentically strengthens the social fabric. The idea IS that social systems and individuals profit from authentic self-expression and supportive feedback. Forum is not therapy as it does not deal with the past except as it relates to the issue in the present moment. And, the purpose of Forum is not to resolve issues and as you will see – there is not always a happy or neat ending to every piece.

What are the roots of Zegg Forum and how does it work?

Forum has it’s roots in Contact Improv, Dr. Jacob Moreno’s Psychodrama, Gestalt therapy and encounter groups . It is playful, but also has a structure, which makes it easier to share thoughts and feelings that may be hidden. It is a social process for groups of 12 to 50 participants. The circle is the audience -- the person in the middle is called the presenter or performer -- and the presenter’s sharing is called their “piece”. Everything is welcome in the middle – and I encourage you to bring your joyful celebrations of life and your accomplishments, as well as your frustration, anger or grief. We applaud the performer at the end of a piece, to show our appreciation for their courage and vulnerability. We also applaud, to finish off one piece, and prepare the space for something new.

What is the purpose of Forum?

Forum is designed to work with people who are living together, sharing a common vision and who are committed to certain values such as trust, truth, love, solidarity and responsibility. A central and essential value for Forum is trust. As I mentioned, the goal of Forum is not directly to resolve conflicts. The goal is to make transparent the background – the emotions, experience and thinking that lets a person act in a certain way. Once it is visible to the presenter and the surround-ing circle -- a basis is created on which conflicts can be disclosed and observed by the performer and the group -- as trust is built.

The analogy with drama or the theatre is intentional. Like a town newspaper, the purpose of Forum is to provide a framework in which a community can see and understand itself. Another, purpose is to simply be entertained. But, the most important purpose is the belief that each of our personal issues are merely examples of a universal human theme. Forum elevates these personal issues, by putting them onto a common human stage. Therefore, each performer coming into the middle, does their work for the entire group, and as such provides a gift to their community.

Valuing experimentation

A critically important value at Zegg and Tamera is the value of research, experiemental design and data analysis. The Zeggites and Tamerans spend much of their time involved in research projects. They value research and learning deeply. Their fundamental position is that to learn about something they must be open-minded, throw out pre-conceived judgement, and use the empirical method. I really like that position -- that I don’t know – but with an open-mind and open-heart I am willing to experiment, collect data and analyze results. And, when you think about it, if your intention is to create a different culture – you would need to take that stance – that the old knowledge, beliefs and systems aren’t of much use in creating an entirely different culture.

And, that is how I encourage you to approach Zegg Forum – that it is an experiment, that we are collecting data and we’ll analyze our results. And, in fact, at the end of Forum we will do just that with a Forum De-Brief. This will be an opportunity for you to ask questions about the process and give me feedback about facilitation.

© 2014 by Yvonne Shevnin. All rights reserved.

©2017 The Playful Circle. All rights reserved.