- what we have in common;
- human bingo;
- getting to know you.
NB the photo used to illustrate the article is not a meeting set-up I would recommend. And what’s with all those tissues…?
Use, adapt, enjoy, tell me how it goes, and warm things up a bit.
NB the photo used to illustrate the article is not a meeting set-up I would recommend. And what’s with all those tissues…?
Use, adapt, enjoy, tell me how it goes, and warm things up a bit.
The New Economics Foundation is a wonderful organisation working practically and conceptually to enable us to rethink what our economy should do for us. It calls itself a ‘think-and-do tank’. Amongst its many interests are participation and consensus-building as part of the renewal of democracy.
It’s in that spirit that my near-namesake, Perry Walker (no relation) has developed the Crowd Wise tool: a way of enabling groups to propose alternative solutions and find consensus using a combination of a slightly sophisticated voting system and discussion which allows people to take the aspects they like about a proposal and combine them to form new proposals. Sounds a bit complicated in theory!
It is much more easily understood when you try it out in practice, which is exactly what I did at the launch a couple of weeks ago. You can try it out on 23rd September in London – see here – where our subject will be electoral reform.
The launch was a mini-workshop where we were given some prepared options on the role nuclear power should play in a low-carbon, energy secure future. (Of course, in a ‘real’ situation, we’d arrive at a discussion about a topic we had chosen to be present at and come with our own views which would then form the basis of the initial options.)
We were then asked to vote for the options in order of preference. There’s a rather complex voting system, where you assign the options a preference (1st, 2nd, 3rd preference etc) although you are not obliged to rank all of them. Depending on how many you rank, the ones you rank are assigned points. For example, if you give a preference for five options, your 1st preference will score 5 points, your 2nd preference will score 4 points and so on. If you decide to express a preference for only two options, your 1st preference scores 2 points and your 2nd preference scores 1 point.
The maths wizards may immediately see the significance of doing it this way: when the scores are amalgamated, it’s possible to see the degree of consensus. In fact, the results are presented as a ‘consensus coefficient’, between 0 and 1.
In our nuclear power example, the results in the first round of voting varied between 0.19 (for an option based loosely on the views of the World Nuclear Association) and 0.59 (for an option based loosely on the views of Amory Lovins – demand reduction and a ‘soft energy’ path. Since this was a demonstration workshop, we were then randomly assigned an option to brief ourselves about and represent. We spent some time in small groups of (fictionally) like-minded people, understanding our option and discussing possible negotiating tactics. The groups were then mixed up and we had a chance to explain our option and discuss it with people who had different views.
Then came the negotiations! This descended into horse-trading a bit, as we raced against time to find common ground with other groups. In the end, the five options we began with were reduced to three. One of these was from the original five, and two were new amalgams. The consensus coefficients this time varied between 0.47 and 0.92.
The seemingly popular choice had elements that many of those supporting it did not like – perhaps this element of compromise is essential to consensus. If we had had time for subsequent rounds, I think that more options would have emerged and perhaps what we would have ended up with would include a more precise understanding of the things that we really don’t agree about, as well as broader areas of common ground.
That’s a summary of the technical process.
We also had a fascinating insight into a real use of this tool as part of discussions about the strategic direction of a member-owned football club, AFC Wimbledon. This process is ongoing.
The six options which the strategy group began with were generated by drawing on themes identified using a classic meta-planning technique, with the initial post-it brainstorm informed by gathering views from members and fans.
Options include “selling up to any sugar daddy who would build the club a 25,000 seater stadium” as well as something based more on the importance of the club as a community resource.
There was a very interesting discussion afterwards, as people who might well use this technique in practice explored its features. We wondered whether it was in itself a decision-making tool, or a tool to inform a decision. We agreed that the provenance of the options was important and needs to be clear. It was also clear that the expertise and information about the detail behind the options, the nuances and assumptions, need to be ‘in the room’, in order for new permutations of options to be created and for well-informed voting.
NEF stress the usefulness of this tool in consensus-building, because of the in-built incentive to find common ground: your score only goes up if more people express a preference for your option. This is the case even if the preference is quite weak.
In my group, I observed one person who was extremely keen on ‘winning’, i.e. crafting the most popular option. This led to him being willing to include elements of other options which our initial option completely excluded, because this would increase the common ground. I was uncomfortable with these ‘compromises’, but perhaps that’s because I was more committed to my (fictional) position than to finding common ground. I’m not sure whether this is a strength or a weakness of the system!
Perry is running another taster session so you can try out Crowd Wise for yourself. In conjunction with AMED and NEF, there will be a workshop in London on 23rd September, from 2.00 – 4.30. It’s just £15 (£10 for AMED and NEF members). Find out more here.
There’s an interview with Perry on the Rhizome blog, here, and a description of Rhizome’s use of the process (to help develop options for involving grassroots activists in organisational governance) here.
As you may have noticed, I’m a process aficionado.
I love to hear about innovative ways of helping people have the conversations they need. I love to try out new processes as a facilitator and a participant. I network with fellow facilitators through AMED, the IAF and a facilitators’ group on linked-in. I read about unorthodox approaches, and sometimes I even try them with paying clients.
On Monday, I had the great treat of being a participant in someone else’s workshop. There I saw for real – not in a training setting – open space, world cafe, graphic facilitation and live plenary mind mapping all used during the same meeting.
The event was the first ‘assembly’ for Tasting the Future, a collaborative whole-systems attempt to innovate the food system. It was organised by WWF, ADAS, the Food and Drink Federation and Food Ethics Council. Facilitation was provided by Hara Practice and Natural Innovation and other members of the hosting team. There were also some people doing graphic recording, from Intuitive Intelligence Training.
Some exciting conversations and actions emerged, and you can read more about them on the Tasting the Future ning. I’m going share some of the things I learned about process.
When we arrived we sat where we liked at small tables covered with flip chart paper, with a small stack of coloured pens, crayons and chalk. There were small bowls of sweets and a colourful cartoon diagram introducing us to world cafe. And on each table there was a unique food or herb seedling, grown at Hackney City Farm, which you could buy to take home if you liked. Plants included apple mint, chamomile, lettuces, cabbage and tomato.
There was also this great picture story of our lunch: very appropriate for an event like this.
There were a couple of phrases I scribbled down during the opening session. The hosting team asked us to be strong enough to work with our differences, to become a community of innovators, to speak with intention. We were invited to ‘listen louder’ if we disagreed with what someone was saying, so that we could better understand their perspective rather than blot it out with our own.
Following couple of rounds of world cafe, we were asked to come up with our best ideas about what we wanted to change in the current system. We wrote these on A5 size stickies, and these were then meta-planned (clustered) in plenary. Bear in mind there were over 100 participants, and the facilitators among you will recognise the audacity of this. The hosting team had mikes and runners, and the lead facilitator began as usual by asking for any one idea. She then asked people with the same idea on their sticky note to shout ‘snap!’. This was a great way of gathering up the clusters very rapidly. A supporter did the actual sticking up, while the facilitator asked for the next idea. It didn’t take long for all the ideas to be gathered and clustered.
Another daring bit of process for such a large group was the method used to identify topics for the subsequent open space session on action planning. We all gathered around a long wall, where a large blank area of paper was taped up.
The focus question was posed: “Where do we need to take action?”. (Actually there was an adjective in there, but my memory and my photo have let me down. Could’ve been ‘where do we need to take collective action’ or ‘urgent action’.) Then the facilitator asked us to write our name legibly on a sticky note if we had an idea we wanted to add to the mind map. Rules for the mind map included that there’s no such thing as a bad idea, it’s fine to disagree with a previous idea, and the owner of the idea gets to say where on the map it goes. There were support facilitators collecting up the names so the lead facilitator could call people by name. Other members of the team had mikes and ensured each person making a contribution could be heard. Two of the team were scribes, with four colours of marker pens. As a new theme and idea was added, the scribes would write it up on the evolving map.
One at a time, those who wanted to offered ideas for action, and said whether they were twigs to add to existing branches, or new branches. This went on for about 30 minutes. It was beautifully controlled, and everyone who wanted to had an opportunity to contribute.
When the mind map was complete, we were each given three dots and invited to use them to indicate which actions we thought were the most important. Over tea, the dots were counted and around a dozen action areas were identified which had enough support to be the topics for the subsequent open space action planning session.
Over tea the room was rearranged so there was one large circle in the middle. The topics which had emerged from the mind map were written up on large pieces of paper, each with a number which corresponded to a numbered part of the room. The method of sorting out who went to which session was simpler than I’d seen before. There was no signing up of participants to different topics, or assigning topics to time slots. Instead, there was one 50 minute time slot. Within that time, participants could go to whichever topic they wanted, and leave it whenever they wanted. This is the law of two feet. Topics were hosted by volunteer hosts, who put themselves forward while the open space was being organised. If a topic didn’t have a host, it didn’t run. There was also the opportunity for hosts to offer additional topics, and I think one was proposed at this stage.
Very soon we were ready to go to our spaces and discuss our topic. The host had a prepared flip where they were asked to record key information: topic title, who hosted, who participated, three key points to share and actions the group would take (if any). The guidance was very clear on actions: they were to be things someone in the group had agreed to take on, not recommendations for action by others. As the facilitator said “We’re the ones we’ve been waiting for”.
As the day progressed, a team of graphic recorders captured the highlights in this lovely illustration.
There have now been three Assemblies and other meetings and workshops as part of Tasting the Future. Check out the prospectus for more details.
At the start of a six-month course, which mixes face-to-face workshops with remote group work, we wanted to get people networking and breaking ice fast – within and between their ‘project groups’.
Going through the cards, I looked out for ones which would be suitable for an international audience, were revealing without being threatening, and would make sense for a group of people who hadn’t met before. Nearly every card contained a question which met my criteria.
I used the On Q questions to produce larger (A5) cards for the participants, each with a different question taken directly or slightly adapted from an On Q question. Each card also had instructions:
There was no debrief or feedback – the experience of asking the question and hearing people’s answers was enough.
I wasn’t sure if people would react positively to having their networking structured in this way. I needn’t have worried – the buzz in the room was immediate and people carried on asking their questions in other situations during the 24 hour workshop.
Favourites of mine included:
This post is about coaching, the power of unexpected questions and the alchemy of metaphor.
I have just completed the first two days of a Diploma in Intermediate Executive Coaching, run by AOEC. I’ve learnt loads, including realising once more the power of metaphor. The striking thing I’d like to share is an insight I had about a project I discussed, as part of a practice session run by one of my fellow trainees. Hats off to Simon!
The project had been bugging me. It’s enormous and complex, and I’m a relatively small cog in a very large consultant / client team. Things have been rushed and not all the plates have been spinning smoothly. It had been on my mind the previous evening, and I knew I was angry about how out of control it was feeling.
I came to the coaching session with a metaphor already in my mind, that the project was like a semi-wild cat, which was currently spitting and using its claws. I wanted to speak calmly to it until it was pliable and tame enough to coax back into its box.
My focus was on the cat: wild and capable of causing a lot of pain, in its anarchic panic. It was afraid and it could smell my fear.
I saw my own role as needing to move from being angry with it or afraid of it, to being the calm person who could ‘cat whisper’ it back to being tame, for just long enough to get it where I wanted it.
And anyway, this was only training: I felt I probably wouldn’t get much out of the twenty minute session and I – wrongly – thought I knew already what my learning would be.
The training partner who was coaching me in this practice surprised me. He didn’t ask about the cat, he asked about the box.
That was definitely left-field for me. I hadn’t paid much attention to the box until he asked, and it stopped me in my tracks. I described the box that I was picturing: small, carboard with a hinged lid and a padlock.
As I got a clearer picture in my mind of this box, I had a revelation. I was trying to play a terrible trick on the cat. I wasn’t serving the cat, I was only trying to deal with my feelings. And what a disrespectful attitude I had towards it. I was looking at it all wrong. This project is hard because it is ambitious and complicated and taking place in difficult circumstances. If it wasn’t hard, it wouldn’t be worth working on.
I care about it, and I am proud of its ambition and the attempts the team is making to keep things going and to realise that ambition.
I shouldn’t be trying to turn it into a pussycat.
Without really understanding how, my attitude to the project was transformed – and it has stayed transformed (at least so far).
This project is a lion, and I am proud to be walking alongside it in the open air, head up and back straight, not flinching when the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune assail us.
So the original metaphor was powerful in enabling me to raise this subject matter in the session, but it was the unexpected question from the coach inviting me to explore an aspect of it which I had overlooked, which really transformed my perspective. I had gone into the session with the explicit aim of ‘sounding off’, and I emerged from it with renewed pride and purpose.
Ever been in a meeting where everyone is sure they’ve tried everything, and nothing works?
And nothing will ever work?
And it’s everyone else’s fault?
Sure you have!
Tempered radicals and other internal change agents face this kind of situation alot. So do external consultants, activists and coach / facilitators.
“The eco-champions meetings I go to are a real groan fest!”
When I was faced with this heartfelt description in a training workshop, we spent a bit of time coming up with ideas. But I was sure there must be some even better approaches than the ones we suggested.
The useful suggestions from fellow facilitators, coaches and OD (organisational development) professionals gave me a lot of chew on, and the result is this article. It was first published in the environmentalist, and has also been reproduced in the IAF Europe newsletter.
Your own experiences and suggestions are very welcome!
I was pointing people towards the six sources of influence in some behaviour change training recently, and went back to some original sources to remind myself about the distinctions between the six sources.
To recap, the six sources are arranged into a two-by-three table, with ‘motivation’ and ‘ability’ divided into personal, social and structural. In this explanation on the VitalSmarts blog the two ‘social’ sources of influence have been merged. This bothered me – is there really so little distinction between social motivation (peer pressure) and social ability?
It seems to me that the distinction is brought most sharply into focus when critical mass is needed to make a behaviour viable. Want to buy more locally-produced food? A farmers’ market or a local veggie box scheme needs a critical mass of producers and customers to be viable. Setting up a lift share scheme? You’re going to need more than two members. Freecycling? Hackney Freecycle has over 17,000 members (yes, really) generating about 1,500 messages about free stuff for giving and taking a month.
Now this kind of critical mass isn’t going to be important for all the behaviours you want to change, which is probably why the distinctions isn’t so clear in some of the descriptions. But where it is, then special attention needs to be given to recruiting the mass.
There’s a virtuous circle which can come into play here. This was brought home to me by a stakeholder engagement planning meeting which I ran last week with a community organisation which has been awarded substantial funding through the Low Carbon Communities Challenge. We did a quick brainstorm of all the non-carbon related ‘social capital’ in their village – the formal and informal organisations which bring people together and build a sense of community. The population is about 2,000 and the group came up with over thirty formal groups, clubs or regular events (one for every 67 people!) and a host of informal groupings. Active community organisations build community channels and hubs for conversation. Members will have more connection with each other, and more trust, than people who are merely residents of the same place. So a critical mass of ‘warm’ people is much easier to find.
I was bowled over by how many active societies there are, and we all felt very positive about the potential for drawing on this wonderful resource for the low-carbon activities the group has planned.
Actions we take which help build community – in our neighbourhoods or workplaces – all add to the web of interconnections which form fertile soil for future behaviour change.
Strands of work on stakeholder engagement and behaviour change have been woven together in a couple of different pieces of work I’ve been doing with public sector clients recently. I’ve ended up developing some new frameworks and adapting some existing ones to help people clarify their aims and plan their campaigns.
If you want to influence someone to change their behaviour, there are models and approaches which can help. For example, the six sources of influence help you identify the right messages and pay attention to the surrounding context which supports and enables – or discourages and gets in the way of – the desired behaviour.
When you are working for a public body (the NHS, a Government department) and you are trying to influence the behaviour of people who you have at best a distant relationship with (mothers, or people who buys cars) then you will go through a multi-stage process:
Given current discussions about social engineering, this question is important. It might seem entirely obvious and uncontroversial to us that wanting to promote energy efficiency that more efficient light bulbs should be promoted. So obvious that we don’t stop to consider possible unintended consequences or misunderstandings.
So an important early stage is to engage stakeholders in helping to inform the decision about whether to encourage a particular behaviour change at all. For this, classic stakeholder identification and mapping techniques (e.g. see figure 1 in this paper from WWF) will help ensure that you hear from more than the usual suspects.
Stakeholders can share perspectives about the policy goals, identify which behaviours might help to achieve them, and whether action to encourage those behaviours is a good idea.
Some public bodies draft new legislation and regulations, others deliver services. Some enforce regulations and others provide advice and public education. Some bring other organisations together, convening conversations and partnerships. Others commission and fund research. There are lots of roles that public sector organisations could play in a given situation. Which role or roles make the most sense, in meeting the policy aim in question?
Listening to the views of stakeholders in relation to that question is enormously helpful. And those stakeholders may be professionals who work in that field of expertise – but removed from the coal face – or they may be practitioners on the ground whose direct experience can bring a dose of reality to the conversations.
A great example of this is the Low Carbon Communities Challenge, launched on Monday 8th February. It will (amongst other things) draw on the experiences and insights of 22 communities which are being funded to install energy efficiency kit and renewable energy equipment en masse in their areas. They’ll also be encouraging people to adopt low-carbon behaviours. Each community will be doing something different, guided by its particular circumstances and enthusiasms. Excitingly, each community will also be asked to identify the barriers to and enablers of progress, in particular what government could do differently to make this kind of low-carbon push as successful as possible across England, Wales and Northern Ireland. I’m delighted to be a facilitator on this project.
A cool analysis of the system of players and pressures which lead to the current patterns of behaviour is a good starting point, and involving a team (including some stakeholders) will help ensure that the picture built up is rich and complete.
In a workshop a few weeks ago, we used the classic ‘pestle’ headings to brainstorm the pressures and players which influence a particular behaviour which my client is interested in changing. Let’s say that the behaviour is keeping one’s car well-maintained, so that it runs as fuel-efficiently as possible. Specific behaviours include keeping the tyre pressure optimum, and removing the roof box when it’s not needed.
In the workshop, people identified players and pressures and wrote them on post-its, sticking them up under the headings of Political, Economic, Social, Technical, Legislative, Environmental and Other. The headings and team-work both help to ensure that no aspect of the system is forgotten.
Once that was done, we stood back and looked at the results, and pictures were taken on a camera phone. Then I invited people to bring the post-its to a big blank sheet of paper, and to begin mapping the relationships between the players and pressures, starting with “the most interesting” element of the system. [The idea of asking for ‘the most interesting’ came from a book about coaching which I’ve been reading.]
One post-it was brought to the empty map, and was soon followed by others. Lines of connection were drawn, and amid the chaos some patterns emerged. Most importantly, the team realised that these behaviours were more like DIY and home maintenance than like ‘eco’ behaviours, so when targeting different audiences they should seek our market research which segments people according to things which are relevant to that kind of behaviour, rather than segmentations which have been developed with an environmental purpose in mind.
This brought us smoothly to looking at which stakeholders to engage as a priority, to add muscle to the campaign to influence people to adopt (or reinforce) the desired behaviours.
Many of these stakeholders were ‘players’ identified in the earlier exercise. Some were organisations and people who the team thought of as the system was being mapped.
Brainstormed onto post-its, stakeholders are then mapped according to the team’s view about their influence and attitude.
You then overlay the coloured ‘zones’ onto the matrix, and these are linked to typologies of engagement like the ladder of engagement.
The people and organisations which are the highest priority to engage with, are those who are highly influential and have the strongest opinions (for and against) the desired behaviour change. In-depth engagement which involves them directly in designing and implementing the behaviour campaign will be important.
Those in the ‘enhanced’ zones need to be involved and their opinions and information sought.
Those in the ‘standard’ zone can be engaged with a lighter touch – perhaps limited to informing them about the campaign and the desired behaviour.
The workshops helped these clients to identify new stakeholders, reprioritise them, and consider more strategically who to engage and to what purpose.
Frequently, my work involves large group workshops and teams of willing volunteers acting as support facilitators. They may be drawn from the client team or from the wider consultant team. They are often technical specialists or traditional communications specialists, and sometimes – but not always – they have facilitation experience.
In a recent workshop, I was faced with quite a challenge:
Now I’m a slightly risk-averse person who manages my anxiety by making lists. And (as anyone who has worked with me will tell you) my ‘detailed meeting plans’ can run to 20+ pages.
So my approach was to think through the break-out group processes in a lot of detail, and to provide as much pre-prepared support materials as I could for my trusty support facilitators. As well as the overall meeting plan, they got a very detailed briefing document, a briefing meeting and a stack of pre-written flip chart sheets with task instructions and blank templates to be filled in. We also had worksheets to be filled in during conversations around tables.
This reduced my anxiety.
I’m not sure what it did to their blood pressure when they received the briefing documents!
So, I felt 100% prepared for the things I could control in advance.
With such detailed preparation and planning, it can be tempting to think that the design job is over once the workshop begins.
Of course, that’s not the case. In a brief conversation with one of facilitators during a switch-over between sessions, we agreed that “people interpret questions in such different ways” and “once you’ve asked the question, it belongs to the group.”
During this workshop, we discovered that the timings I’d anticipated for the carousel tasks were just too short. A scheduled 30 minute morning break meant that the first carousel session could be extended by up to 10 minutes, without throwing the rest of the programme. But the second and third sessions required co-ordinated timing among the groups.
As the second session was running, I visited each group briefly to see how they were getting on. Rich conversations, but taking much longer than I planned for!
Initially I responded by slipping each facilitator a note giving them an extra five minutes. But it was clear that some more radical process redesign was needed. Could I really do this to my inexperienced facilitators – ask them to throw away the carefully planned and prepped process and substitute something else, on the fly?
Having considered this for a few minutes (it really helps to have a quiet space and a trusted colleague to talk things through with) I decided that not only could I do this, it was absolutely the best option. So we rapidly wrote out four sets of staccato briefing notes on sticky notes, and four new ‘instructional’ flip chart sheets. We delivered these substitute materials each to carousel facilitator, and the workshop was back on track. We had facilitators who knew what was happening, and we had responded effectively (if not very gracefully) to the emerging and unfolding conversations in the carousel groups.
Some practical things which made this possible:
And of course, it wouldn’t have been possible without the positive attitude of the facilitation team who didn’t grumble or complain but stepped up to the challenge brilliantly.
In the debrief at the end of the day, it was generally agreed that changing the process at that point was a good call, and no-one raised the change or how it was done under our traditional ‘what went less well’ heading. So I’m satisfied that, on that occasion at least, my dance between preparation and responsiveness worked well enough.
I’m keen to use more ‘e’ in meetings.
Teleconferences mean live conversation without the travel. Add in some kind of live editing of a shared document (like google docs), and everyone can see the notes being written in real time, just like flip charts in a workshop. Share some video or slides, and everyone is viewing the same input. Include video calling (e.g. using skype), and we can see each other as well.
I can see that there’s loads of potential to reduce participants’ carbon footprints (probably) and include people whose other commitments mean that adding travelling time onto meeting time would mean that they couldn’t attend at all.
So I’m making a concerted effort to experience e-meetings of all kinds as a participant. I joined a webcast (lecture and panel discussion) a couple of days ago, and I’m attending a webinar on how to design good webinars next week.
I’m also adding in some virtual elements to meetings which I facilitate. Some tips on good teleconferences, built from that experience, are available here.
Trainers sometimes talk about ‘blended learning’, which includes traditional face to face workshops with virtual elements like a web-based discussion space or a module delivered by email.
In a workshop I ran over the summer, there was a fascinating example of spontaneous blending of methods. The group is a community stakeholder group, set up to represent local interests during the early phases of developing plans for a flood defence. During a half day workshop, the group was looking at maps showing alternative sites for the defences. Timescales for the project are very tight, and this workshop was taking place during a very short window of opportunity for people to feed comments back to the organisation which is developing the plans. So the pressure was on the participants to ensure that they were accurately reflecting the views of the wider constituencies that they were there to represent.
One innovative participant whipped out a camera phone and took pictures of the maps. Within seconds they could be sent to people who weren’t at the meeting, and their comments relayed back. I don’t know whether this meant that their views made it ‘into the room’ during the meeting, or whether it simply gave them a head start in discussing the plans after the meeting. In any case, it set me thinking about how much wider groups of people could be involved, if we can come up with ways of using technologies like camera phones and texting, which are ubiquitous.
What if this person had stuck to the ground rule about keeping mobile phones off during the meeting?
I’m enjoying dabbling my toes in this pool. I’m readying myself to dive in!
Thoughts, updates, links, and essays on creating change for sustainable development.