Friday, November 18, 2022

Getting ready for the first PNI Practicum courses

Hello people of the world.

PNI Practicum logo
So I have these two online courses coming up in January, project-based courses in participatory narrative inquiry. I'm pretty excited about them. If you don't know about them already, you can read about them here.

To my surprise, seven people have signed up (or just about) for the PNI Practicum II course, the one that covers larger-scale PNI. Only one person has (so far) indicated an interest in the smaller-scale course. (I'm surprised because I thought it would be the other way around.)

That one person is willing to take the larger-scale course, but I would be happier if I could find at least two other people to take the smaller-scale course with them. If I can get at least three people in that course, I am willing to run it.

As many know, I am not fond of self-promotion. I prefer to do my work quietly and hope that people will find me, evaluate what I have created, and make their own decisions about it. But this time I have a deadline to meet, so I am forcing myself to be a little proactive for once. 

So: Rah! Rah! Join us! It'll be amazing! (It actually will.)

EDIT: Guess what, one more person has signed up for the PNI Practicum I course! So I'm definitely going to run it. It would be great to get at least one more person in the cohort, though.

SECOND EDIT: A third person has signed up! Hooray!

If you have any questions about the PNI Practicum courses, you can send them to me at

A little history

My previous post about the PNI Practicum courses was short and to the point. It was so much not my usual long rambling thing that it might have surprised some of my long-time readers. I did write a long rambling thing, of course. But I deleted it in the service of, well, you know, the rah-rah stuff.

However, I never really delete anything. In the same way that every book has its unbook, every blog post has its unpost. So, when I went to write this "there are seats still left!" post, I thought: 

Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe there are people who would like to read my long rambling explanation of where the PNI Practicum courses came from. Maybe it couldn't hurt to say "read this or don't, as you like." So, for those who are interested, here is a bit of the history behind the PNI Practicum courses. Read this or don't, as you like.

I started thinking about an online course soon after finishing Working with Stories in 2014. I wasn't sure what I wanted to do or what sort of course people would want to take. But I did know one thing: it would have to be a practical, project-based course. I spent six years of my life figuring out how to explain PNI in WWS, and I didn't want to follow it up with a lecture course. I wanted to help people do PNI.

I first tested the waters in 2015 with a blog post about a potential project-based course. I got some positive response to it, but not a lot. So I kept the idea in the back of my mind and moved on.

Not long after that, I was contacted by Jen Mason, a PhD student who wanted to do a "practicum" academic course with me as an outside advisor. (I hadn't thought of using the word "practicum" before that.) I was happy to coach Jen through her first PNI project, on which she did a great job. Her university paid me the grand sum of $250 for it. But Jen herself gave me lots of helpful feedback. After that course was over, I thought a lot more about what a real PNI course might look like.

I wrote about that experience in a second blog post. Again there was mild interest, but I was not sure if it was worth putting more time into. I have a tendency to fall into projects that take a huge amount of time and pay next to nothing. So I continued to coach people one-on-one as they did their first PNI projects. As I did this, an online course was never far from my mind; but I was wary of plunging into yet another losing business venture.

Speaking of projects that take a huge amount of time and pay next to nothing, I spent about two years (from 2019 to 2021) writing Confluence. I am so glad I got that book out of my brain. It had been banging on the doors for ages. Now it's out in the world walking in the sunshine and making new friends. I couldn't be prouder of it. I hope it has a wonderful life.

After Confluence was done, though, I needed to get back to doing things that made money. So I started coaching and consulting again. And ... it wasn't long before I had to admit to myself that it wasn't working, never really had worked. Not well.

I love doing consulting work. I hate getting consulting work to do. It seems like about ten percent of the potential projects I talk to people about actually happen, and it seems like I spend several times more time getting work to do than doing work. That's par for the course in consulting. Also, I know lots of successful consultants who manage to improve on these ratios. I'm just not one of them. 

After twenty years of wildly fluctuating income, I had to confront the fact that I am not very good at consulting, and I don't like it either. The truth is, I need to find more stable work in my field, or I need to leave my field - my 23-year investment in PNI - and get a "real job." There are no real jobs doing PNI, not yet. So if I stop consulting, I'll have to get a job doing some unrelated thing, research or programming or writing. Which is fine work, and I'd be happy to get it, but...

I don't want to abandon PNI. Not while it still needs me. I want to keep helping it grow, both as a field and as a community of practitioners. I want to keep helping people help people get along with each other and find better solutions together.

So, about a year ago, I decided that it was finally time to build that online course. 

I started full-time work on two courses in January. I had already thought a lot about what I wanted to do. But I didn't feel ready to just give a course. Not just like that. I wanted to practice giving a course before I was ready to offer it to the public. Yes, I needed a practicum course in doing a practicum course.

So I cast around among my friends and colleagues for people who might be willing to take a pilot PNI course in exchange for feedback. My old friend Rob Peagler, who I've known since IBM days, was interested. He found two friends who were also interested: Lucy Duncan and Susannah Laramee Kidd. All three of these people are experienced facilitators, and Lucy has given online courses. So after some discussion, we started the first pilot PNI Practicum course in March.

I thought I would be able to write the course materials in the several weeks that remained after we agreed to work together and before we started the course. Ha! It took much longer than I thought it would. In fact, I could barely keep ahead of my students as the weeks went by. 

Most of my time was spent building the course's "Short readings," which turned into a 200-page version of Working with Stories in condensed slide-set format, with many images and diagrams, ready to be quickly skimmed before each course meeting. Of course, many of my newer-than-WWS ideas worked their way into the slide sets. I have a feeling that they are going to turn into a book. I keep calling them "The Nutshell," as in, PNI in a nutshell. I don't think they are ready to be a book yet - they need more time to mature - but I think they may turn into a book next year. 

It is important to me that any courses I give not involve access to exclusive information or materials. I am a strong believer in the maxim that information wants to be free. I am happy to charge people for my time, attention, and expertise, the last of which I have worked hard to develop and improve. But I do not want to be in the business of selling secrets. I believe that at least one book will come out of these courses. Possibly two. When they are ready, I will let them go out and make their own way in the world.

Anyway, back to the pilot course. We four had a wonderful time going through the first PNI Practicum course together. I started out dreading our weekly calls - afraid I had not prepared well enough - but I soon came to look forward to them as the projects started ramping up. Rob and Lucy did a project together about living and thriving in their local community. Susannah did a paid evaluation project for a community arts organization. Both of their projects succeeded, and we all learned a lot from the experience. Feedback and advice flowed back and forth through all of our meetings. My "students" helped me to shape the course into something much better than I could have come up with on my own. For that I will always be grateful.

The PNI Practicum II course has not technically been piloted yet. However, after doing the pilot course I described here, I am confident that I will be ready to give both courses in January. I say this for two reasons. First, the course structure (calls, materials, activities) will be the same in both courses. Second, I have coached plenty of people through the graphs-and-patterns style of larger-scale PNI projects in the past. So I'm ready.

Looking toward the future

My dream is to give two courses of each type per year. If I can get 12 people signed up for each course, I will be helping 48 people get their start in PNI per year, and I will finally have a stable income. This could be my "real job" for the next several years - until it's time to retire, or at least slow down a little.

I have waffled back and forth (for years) over what might be a reasonable lower limit of enrolled students to run each course. There is a structural lower limit of three people per course. Below that, the peer learning experience will be so weak that it might just as well be individual coaching. 

Twelve students a year (instead of 48) would be a much smaller income, that's for sure. But if I could fit in some bespoke consulting on the side, it could still work. So - at the moment - I am tentatively planning to take the structural lower limit (of 3 students per course) as my functional lower limit (as in, I will give the courses), with the hope that the question will become moot in time. I intend to set up ticket sales venues so that people can begin to sign up for the July courses ... soon.

If you have any questions or advice, I am eager to hear from you.


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