Events

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.

Tasting the Future – tangy fresh process

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.

Dressing the room

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.

Setting the tone

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.

Meta-planning

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.

Whole group mind-mapping

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.

Open space

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".

Graphic recording

As the day progressed, a team of graphic recorders captured the highlights in this lovely illustration.

Update

There have now been three Assemblies and other meetings and workshops as part of Tasting the Future. Check out the prospectus for more details.

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!

Volcano getting in the way of your vital meeting? Go virtual!

With the skies over Europe still (rather blissfully) free of planes, more people will be thinking about meeting by phone, video conference, telepresence or web-meeting. Like Fay Ripley and this groovy crowd in the dothegreenthing video strange meeting, part of their stay grounded strand.

On the cheap

If you have skype then teleconferences for a small number of people are possible at very low cost. If there are only two of you, you can video call using skype.

I expect that providers of web meeting software will find their free trials taken up a lot this week.  Free trials are available on Citrix GoToMeeting , Webex and DimDim (which also has a totally free product).   Acrobat Connect is free for small meetings - three people maximum.  Elluminate.com is aimed primarly at a teaching / training situation, but their vRoom product is free for up to three people to meet.

Top tips

If you aren’t used to this way of meeting, but have been forced to change your plans, here are some top tips for teleconferences.

Before the call

Ensure that someone takes responsibility for preparing and chairing the call - including

  • confirming start and finish times.
  • compiling an agenda and circulating it to everyone in advance.  The agenda should be descriptive - that is, for each item, it should be clear what the ‘task’ is to be undertaken in relation to that item (hear an update, share views, reach a decision etc).
  • ensuring that it’s clear what preparation is expected for the meeting (e.g. circulating a paper, reading the paper, etc).
  • sending round details of the number to call, any associated PIN, and whether the number is toll-free.
  • ensuring that someone has agreed to take a note of key decisions and action points.

All participants should make sure they are calling in from somewhere quiet and with minimum distractions.

Let the chair know if you cannot make the call.

At the start

When you join the conference, announce your presence.

At the start of the call, make time for

  • a round of introductions
  • confirming the agenda and altering it if needed
  • confirming the end time
  • discussing and agreeing any ground rules

During the call

  • During the teleconference - and this may sound laborious, but it really helps - for each item or point, the person chairing should give everyone a chance to contribute by going around the group in a set order, e.g. alphabetical order of first name, (with people ‘passing’ if they like).  People should say when they’ve finished on each point, so that others don’t interrupt or get twitchy about how they’re going to catch the chair's eye.
  • If the conversation is flowing more freely, people should state their name when talking.
  • Keep interruptions and distractions to a minimum - rustling, snuffling, chewing, tapping, side conversations all add to the background noise for everyone.
  • Some conference call systems have a ‘mute’ facility, which automatically mutes people’s phone lines when they are not talking.

At the end

At the end of the meeting, make time for

  • a final round of checking that there’s nothing else people would like to raise
  • confirming action points
  • confirming the arrangements for the next meeting
  • feedback on anything that needs to be done differently at the next meeting (process review)

Others' tips

Gillian Martin Mehers has blogged about preparing for a video conference.

Facilitate Proceedings blog about virtual meetings.

If you’re interested in exploring how to facilitate really good group interactions online, there is also a curriculum for an online facilitation course, developed by Nancy White.

Practising for transition?

After the 7-7 tube bombings in London, there was a surge in the number of people cycling.  This rise was sustained, and London still echoes to the swish of cycle wheels.  Over the next few days, as people are forced to find ways of doing business without flying, perhaps some of the experiments will be so successful that they’ll be added to the set of options which are considered ‘normal’.  Maybe we’ll look back and discover that we were experimenting and practising for transition to a low-carbon economy.

Have fun with your experiments.

Small print: I don’t have any business connection with any of the products mentioned, nor does their presence here imply any endorsement etc.  Just blogging to be helpful.

Real-life facilitation : dancing with ‘preparation’ and ‘responsiveness’

With 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. As a facilitator said “people interpret questions in such different ways” and “once you’ve asked the question, it belongs to the group.” So how can you combine preparation and responsiveness?

Expecting eye-witness accounts from Copenhagen...

...at the AMED Sustainable Development Network Cafe Conversation on 26th January.  Details here.

What do we make of Copenhagen?

Here are some contrasting views, first a commentary on what went wrong, from the BBC's Richard Black with - as Bruce Nixon says -

"some interesting news of tectonic shifts in the international relations between countries which need time to digest."

Richard's analysis?

  1. Key Governments do not want a global deal.
  2. The US political system.
  3. Bad timing.
  4. The host Government.
  5. The weather.
  6. 24-hour news culture.
  7. EU politics.
  8. Campaigners got their strategies wrong.

Next, something to cheers us up.  Forwarded to me by Dave Sharman, this quote comes from the blog of  Roger Harmer.

"For three days, the mayors and leaders of a hundred major cities discussed the challenges of climate change, their ideas, plans, projects and responses and their shared focus on action and delivery.

At no point did anyone question the need for urgent action or question their own individual - and shared - responsibility and there was a quite remarkable lack of competing, showboating or criticism.

There was no carping about the levels of adopted targets or about who was at what stage - even though Copenhagen plans to be carbon zero by 2025 and Los Angeles daren't mention what their carbon emissions are likely to be 25 years later!...

This looked and felt like a team!"

Who's coming?

As well as the people who have RSVPd on the AMED site, we are expecting people who:

  • cycled part of the way there raising funds for adaptation projects and delivered pledges from a 350 event in his home town;
  • helped set up a sustainable tourism and education project in Nicaragua;
  • wrote a book on sustainable business and is currently writing another;
  • set up a consulting practice around sustainable development, and whose teenaged daughter went to Copenhagen;

Perhaps you'll be there too?

What'll we talk about?

The purpose is to share reflections and perspectives on what the outcomes of Copenhagen were, and what they mean for us and our practice as consultants, facilitators, organisational developers and the various other hats we wear.

I'll blog about what happened.

If you'd like to be part of this conversation, see here for details.

Dear All

AMED SDN – meet up in January 2010

We had a very enjoyable informal meet-up in December, networking and discussing the Climate Summit in Copenhagen.

We agreed that we’d do it again when the dust from that meeting had settled, so we’ll be meeting again at the Rising Sun pub in Smithfield, London, from 1.00 – 3.00 on January 26th.

See here for more details: http://www.amed.org.uk/events/cafe-conversation-what-does

Our focus will be exploring together what the outcomes of Copenhagen are, and what they mean for ourselves and our practice as organisational consultants, people-developers, coaches, facilitators and so on.

Find out more about AMED and the Sustainable Development Network here: http://www.amed.org.uk/group/sustainabledevelopmentnetwork

If you would like to continue to receive updates about meetings, news and discussions from the AMED Sustainable Development Network, please join the group on the website, as this circulation list will be phased out during 2010.

Warm regards

Penny

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

e-meetings - my toes are in the water

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.

Toe in the water

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.

Spontaneous blending

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!

IEMA Conference 2009 - how it went

Well as promised, here are my thoughts having attended the morning of the IEMA Conference 09.

Speeches

- I'd gladly hear Jonathan Porritt again.  He talked about the need to get off the hedonic treadmill, and the challenge of getting marketeers to sell austerity.  His slides are here.  I'm intrigued that he found Dr Steven Chu's speech to the Nobel Laureate's symposium inspiring - because JP says the speech was about energy efficiency.  And in the words of Theodore Roszack,

...prudence is such a lacklustre virtue.

I couldn't find a way to read, hear or watch Secretary Chu's speech (please let me know if you know of one) but the symposium site is here.  The other insight which caused me to stop short is that, apparently, family planning is the single best intervention in reducing emissions of greenhouse gases, from a cost benefit point of view.

I didn't really understand what Lord Jenkin was trying to tell us.  Insufficiently relevant, at least to this member of the audience.  Sorry.

Peter Jones is always interesting, although his acrobatic mind can leave me behind sometimes.

Skills for Change

The workshop I ran was an hour's worth on skills for change.  I chose to focus on inter-personal influencing, through mirroring body language, asking facilitative questions, and sharing the six sources of influence that I learnt about through the 'all washed up' video which I've blogged about here.

The handouts from the session are here.

It was a lot of fun - it's amazing how quickly you can find three things that you have in common with a total stranger - and I hope stretched some people to think beyond 'awareness raising' as a way of influencing others.

I hope that it also helped people to be braver about networking later in the day, because making connections and building trust within a group such as this one, composed of IEMA members and fellow-travellers, will - in the long run - have far more impact than speechifying.

IEMA Conference 2009

I was delighted to be asked to run a skills-based session for IEMA's 2009 conference (London, September 22nd), because it's a chance to help environmental specialists get better at the soft stuff.  I'm going to be sharing three different skills which change agents really need if they want to influence other people, and I'll blog about how it went when it's done. The skills are - developing rapport, asking facilitative questions, and understanding six key sources of influence.

-------------------------------

Later addition:

The handouts from this session are available here, and the 'how it went' entry is here.

IEMA Change Management Workshop

This Autumn's IEMA workshop, Change Management for Sustainable Development, will take place in Leeds in November.  As you'd expect, the contents have evolved over the four years since I first ran 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.  They can also use these exercises with colleagues and in teams, to help get insights from a broad range of perspectives, and to build a coalition of change agents.

Walking the Talk

If you're a sustainable development communicator who works face-to-face - as a trainer, facilitator, speaker or internal champion - then you'll want to know how to reduce the environmental impact of those face-to-face events. Walking the Talk (an article I originally wrote for the environmentalist) looks at some ways that venues, practitioners and the meetings industry in the UK are trying to reduce their carbon footprint and tackle other environmental impacts.

Update

November 2010: A useful blog post here from GreenBiz.com, simple steps to greening your meeting has some more ideas.

April 2011: blog post from Coro Strandberg with a link to a guide to sustainable meetings developed in Canada by The Co-operators, an insurance and financial co-op.