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Notice Process & Content: My New Favorite Agreement

Sarah Layton, Director of Finance & Operations

At If/When/How’s recent SCPOC Working Group Retreat, one of my first jobs on Saturday was to introduce our community agreements for the weekend. While many of the agreements were ones I had worked with before, I was not very familiar with “notice process and content,” an agreement that initially seemed a little hard to grasp. But as I thought more about it throughout the weekend, I realized that process is so easy for me to take for granted, yet so important to attend to thoughtfully.

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Author introducing community agreements during the Working Groups Retreat

I was first reminded of the importance of process later that day, as we reflected together on the cultural habits of white supremacy. Many characteristics of white supremacist culture, such as urgency, quantity over quality, objectivity, and “only one right way,” are all about process, specifically the ways that our dominant cultural processes do or do not make room for different modes of learning, expression, and experience.

As we tackled difficult topics together in the Working Groups, some conversations took longer than slated in the agenda, and some wrapped up very quickly. As facilitators, we made adjustments to our schedule and our planned process throughout the day to support the needs of our group – a reminder that it wasn’t just the information being shared, but the how, where, and why of the conversations that had an impact on our experience and our ability to learn together.

Paying attention to our shared group process during the retreat also got me thinking about my own learning process, and how I am often less aware of it than I would like to be. For example, when I first understood the reproductive justice framework, it felt so obvious to me that I almost couldn’t remember what it was like to not understand it. I don’t know exactly how I reached that place of understanding: I know roughly what books I was reading at the time, who I was interacting with personally and professionally, but I’d be hard-pressed to reconstruct the journey. While my own learning had sunk in quite deeply, my lack of awareness around the process – how did I get here? – made me a pretty terrible teacher as I tried to share my new knowledge with others in my life. If I had spent some time noticing process along with content, I know I would have been a stronger advocate for my ideas and beliefs.

Noticing my own learning process also allows me to appreciate those who have, directly or indirectly, taken the time to teach me. Crediting folks for their work is critically important, but often overlooked. If an article helped shift my thinking, I want to be able to name the author (and maybe even contribute to their PayPal account!). If a particular line of questioning from a friend or colleague helped me see a new perspective, I want to thank them for investing the time in our conversation and speak to their expertise in situations where it may benefit them. In short, I want to lift up all the people who teach me, but that first requires an awareness that I am learning.

Thus, I’m going to work extra-hard going forward to notice process and content, and pay attention to not only what I’m learning, but how. And I’ll start the appreciation right now – thank you to everyone who joined us at the SCPOC Working Group Retreat, participants and facilitators, for all that I learned from you.