Archive for “Training and learning”

Don’t thingify the elephants

I’ve just got back from a great workshop organised by ODiN and run by Delta7.  We explored the use of pictures, in particular those which visualise ‘the elephant under the table’.

It’s always great to see some old friends and meet new people.  Also good to have the time to reflect on stucknesses and opportunities in my own work which might helps us in this collective endeavour of forging a sustainable future.

So Julian’s picture about climate change at first felt like a comfortable one for me to look at and discuss.  It was familiar territory, summarised what I consider to be an important part of my own work and practice, and gave me a platform to build on.

Too comfortable?

Someone raised the question of the shadow side of naming ‘elephants under the table’.  (I can’t attribute this insight, as ODiN meetings are Chatham House.)  He said that by ‘thingifying’ the metaphor of the elephants under the table, we can shrug off our personal responsibility for them.  I am not forgetful: I have ‘senior moments’ which exist independently of me.  I am not failing to pull my weight around climate change: society is in the grip of denial.

So here’s my challenge to myself: to reflect on the sustainable development elephants, and give people courage to name them, without ‘thingifying’ them and thus distancing myself from them.

Wisdom in the Crowd: using CrowdWise consensus process

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.

Using a fictional example – the role of nuclear power

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.

Real-world example – AFC Wimbledon

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.

Pondering

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!

Try it out for yourself?

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.

Update

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.

You can find case studies of CrowdWise in use here.

What’s your route through the change journey?

One of the things we do at the one-day Change Management training workshop is to look through a decision tree (aka flow chart) to see which approach to change might be most effective, given the starting point of each person on the course.

Questions to ask yourself include:

  • what’s my mandate?
  • what is the stated position of my senior team / Board, and do they know what they’ve signed up to?
  • how much of an appetite is there amongst my colleagues?

The flow diagram is explained in this article, first published in the environmentalist.

The next workshop is on 20th July in Leeds – why not book to join us?

On Q – a great icebreaker

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’.

I’d come across On Q before, because the AMED Council has been using it to get to know each other better in on-line conversations.  I ordered a set.  It comes in a reused video box, very neat!

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:

  • During the break, your task is to find three members of your project group (this can include your tutor) and ask them your question.  Listen to the answer.
  • For a bonus task, find three people who aren’t in your group, and ask them your question, and listen to their answer.
  • Enjoy!

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:

  • What did you used to be afraid of, that you’re not afraid of any more?  (Me: the dark)
  • What do other people say about you, that you don’t agree with? (Me: that I’m scarey)
  • What flock, herd or group of animals would you join? (Me: a wolf pack.  Perhaps that’s what people see as scarey!)

Thoroughly recommended!

I don’t want to go back in the box!

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 problem

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.

Surprising question

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.

Pride of a lion

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.

The take-away

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.

Community and behaviour – when critical mass makes all the difference

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.

  • How will you make it as widely-known as possible?
  • How will you make it simple for people to let you know they’re up for it?
  • How will you make it easy to store information about a pool of people and then ‘activate’ them you have enough mass to start things?
  • And how will you use their good ideas and information to shape the system, so that it works for enough of them?

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.

2010 Training dates – IEMA Change Management workshops

We have three dates in the diary for this one-day workshop, which I’ve been running since 2005.

The day is very interactive, with everyone sharing a specific sustainability challenge which they are working on, and using various frameworks and exercises to explore and understand the challenge better.

During the workshop, people

  • Hear about some theory on organisational change and approaches to change, including a scale of strategic engagement, visioning, identifying key players, choosing a change strategy, identifying barriers to change and planning first steps.
  • Apply this to their own organisational sustainability challenge.
  • Hear from others in a similar situation, discuss common challenges and discovering sources of further information and support.

As you’d expect, the contents have evolved since I ran the first one.  But the approach is still one of making selected bits of change theory as accessible as possible to people, and giving them time to work on their own particular situation during the workshop. And everyone still gets a free copy of the workbook, so they can carry on making their own notes and using plenty more exercises and frameworks at their own pace.

If you’d like to come along, you can book through IEMA’s website.

London: 28th April 2010

Leeds: 20th July 2010

Newcastle upon Tyne: 12th October 2010

Is sustainable development about more than the environment?

I’ve been running a training course today, helping sustainable development specialists get some insights from the world of organisational change.  As part of this, each person identified a sustainability challenge that’s real for them and their organisation right now.

One of the participants was grappling with how to get people from across the organisation to look at the sustainability impacts of the services they provide.   This will entail having a much better understanding of what the social aspects of sustainable development are, and how you might measure or assess your performance on these aspects.

We came back to this question about the social aspects of sustainable development when looking at Dexter Dunphy’s phases of organisational strategic engagement with sustainability.  There’s a pdf of a presentation summarising this here. One of the phases in this typology is ‘efficiency’.

If your focus is on the environment, it’s clear that this is about eco-efficiency or resource-efficiency.  If your focus is the economic aspects of sustainability, then financial and labour efficiency (productivity) are easy concepts to grasp.  But what does this mean when you are thinking about the social aspects?

With wonderful serendipity, I had just been reading Jonathon Porritt’s valedictory report, published yesterday.  Jonathon recently stepped down as Chair of the UK Government’s Sustainable Development Commission, and in this report he examines what he calls the mystery of why sustainable development hasn’t been better embedded in the various strands of government in the UK.  He blogs about it here and there’s also a link to download the report.

As it happens, he provides a very useful summary of what social sustainability is and what efficiency means in that context.  He does it so well, that I’ll quote at some length here.

The two overarching ends [of sustainable development, as articulated in the UK Government’s 2005 strategy] (“Living Within Environmental Limits”, and “Achieving a Strong, Healthy and Just Society”) require very different approaches. The test of “living within environmental limits” is a strictly empirical test: define the limit (as in concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, for instance, or threshold limits for pollutants in the air or water), measure levels of compliance against these agreed limits, and then adapt policies accordingly.  By contrast, “achieving a strong, healthy and just society” is a predominantly normative aspiration rather than an empirical test, with very different metrics and very different value judgements as to the weight that should be attached to different aspects of “strong, healthy and just”.

At the heart of the concept of sustainable development lies the concept of “dual equities”: inter-generational equity (living today in such a way that we aren’t ruining prospects for people tomorrow), and intra-generational equity (living today in such a way that we reduce – or even eliminate – current unsupportable inequalities in wealth, opportunity and broader entitlements).

In that respect, sustainable economic development means “fair shares for all”, ensuring that people’s basic needs are properly met across the world, while securing constant improvements in the quality of people’s lives through efficient, inclusive economies. “Efficient” in that context simply means generating as much economic value as possible from the lowest possible throughput of raw materials and energy.

…Once basic needs are met, the goal is to achieve the highest quality of life for individuals and communities, within the Earth’s carrying capacity, through transparent, properly regulated markets which promote both social equity and personal prosperity.”

This idea of efficiency in the use of the Earth’s carrying capacity to give as much social well-being as possible must mean, in some situations, redistributing carrying capacity from those who have an unfairly large share of it, in order that those whose needs are not being met can better meet their own needs.  This is the case because it is not possible to ‘increase the size of the pie’ – we only have one planet.

The New Economics Foundation (NEF) produces the Happy Planet Index which uses official statistics to reveal, as they put it,  “the ecological efficiency with which human well-being is delivered” in 143 countries covering 99% of the world’s population.  (I know you want to know – the UK score is 43.3, the USA is 30.7, and Costa Rica is 76.1.)

I wonder how this approach could be used to measure performance in organisations?

Who can help me make this change?

The latest issue of the environmentalist includes an article I’ve written, entitled “who can help me make this change?“.  In it, I share an approach I’ve used successfully in training courses and (as my daughter would say) in true life: it helps people to systematically identify key internal and external players who can help them bring about the change they want to see.

If a particular person or group are crucial to making the change happen, then you want them to be supportive of it.  Ask them what they’d like to see happening, and how you can help them.  Find common ground and enlist their support.

If someone is already very supportive, but not really needed, then see what they can do to influence or recruit those who are needed.  Or enlist them to support you.

Remember, the art of engaging people to help create transformational change involves listening and letting go.

Horror stories and denial – which makes me cringe more?

So I’m just topping up on today’s environmental news feed (my feed of choice is The Guardian, a nice little app that even a web dilettante like me can add to their Google home page) and two stories stand out and demand a closer look.

The first states, “Met Office warns of catastrophic global warming in our lifetimes“.   The second say, “CO2 is green”, which is less self-explanatory.  In fact, it’s an astonishing TV ad running in the US aimed at scuppering a cap-and-trade bill – thanks to Leo Hickman for picking this up in his blog.

What I notice is that while reading them, I get that creeping feeling up the back of my neck and round to my jaw, and the sinking in my shoulders.  I’m physically cringing.  Not very much.  But it’s there.

And which had the biggest cringe effect?  I can’t be certain, but I’d say that CO2 denialists make me more unhappy than the Met Office’s truly dire research.

So I wonder: what can I learn from this?

That I’m more comfortable with things which reinforce my existing world view, however awful?  Perhaps.

That we need to pull together now and use all our considerable intelligence and organising power to avert the worst and prepare a soft landing, and that I’d rather the US pro-CO2 lobby would ‘get with the programme’.

I’m happier owning up to that as a reason!

The other thing I notice is that these cringe-related feelings are not empowering and motivating.  What I plan to do now is

  • forget I read either story,
  • remind myself of some of my reasons to be cheerful,
  • review my to-do list, and
  • plunge into productive work.

Does that make me a denialist too?

Penny’s blog

Portrait of Penny

Thoughts, updates, links, and essays on creating change for sustainable development.