Search Conference 2012

Our search conference drew together people who contributed unique knowledge and also everyday experience to envision and plan alternative, desirable futures for “women transitioning from prison”. Each person asked to attend brough a piece of the puzzle to this community planning initiative.

A Search Conference is not:

  • a visioning process that creates abstract statements
  • a training workshop
  • role playing exercises


A Search Conference is:

  • a visioning process that rivets people’s attention on real action
  • an opportunity to develop an action plan based on futures that the group decides to make happen
  • real people working on important tasks
  • an opportunity to come together as a new planning community
  • a learning environment with equal and open participation, regardless of people’s outside position
  • an opportunity to reclaim a tradition of oral culture and discussion


The rationale:

Women released from prison face so many hurdles in their attempt to transition back into the community that the process either takes years or results in their return to prison. The experience with social enterprise in Italy, Quebec and increasingly in Winnipeg suggests that businesses and co-operatives that support the needs of the whole worker are financially sustainable. Our challenge is to come together to envision and act on the development of social enterprises that will lead to greater success for women in various stages of transition from prison.


Aims of the Search Conference

  • To create an ideal learning environment over a day and a half
  • To support and promote oral culture and discussion and the development of a learning community
  • To search our past and present experience to envision and act on desired futures to which we can commit in some tangible way


Overview of the process:

The 25 people we have invited have an interest in some or all of the following topics: justice, literacy, social enterprise, community-university engagement.


Within the group we discussed:

  1.  the history of events that that have brought us to the current situation
  2.  characteristics of the current situation
  3.  desirable futures
  4.  factors and wider environment that would frame a new business or social co-op for women transitioning from prison.


Having combined our group knowledge we proposed to:

  1. develop our desired future into specific strategies which support them
  2. identify what we are willing to do to make it happen


Our event featured two speakers:

Dr. Ann Hoyt (University of Wisconsin): Social Co-ops in N. America and Italy, Dec. 6

Dr. Simone Weil Davis University of Toronto: The Inside-Out Program, Dec. 7


If you would like additional information on Search Conferences, the following online resource by Robert Rehm and Nancy Cebula, adapted from Merrlyn Emery’s “The Search Conference: State of the Art” is useful.