meetings

Facilitation training - can it work one-to-one?

I love to train people in facilitation skills.  It's so much fun! People get to try new things in a safe environment, games are played, there's growth and challenge, fabulously supportive atmospheres can build up.

What's the minimum group size for this kind of learning?

How about one?

A group of one

From time to time I'm approached by people who want to improve their facilitation skills, but who don't have a ready-made group of colleagues to train with.   I point them towards open courses such as those run by the ICA, and let them know about practice groups like UK Facilitators Practice Group.  And sometimes, I work with them one-to-one.

This one-to-one work can also happen because a client doesn't have the budget to bring in facilitator for a particular event, and we agree instead to a semi-coaching approach which provides intensive, just-in-time preparation for them to play the facilitator role.  This is most common in the community and voluntary sector.

The approach turns out to be a mix of process consultancy for specific meetings, debriefing recent or significant facilitation experiences, and introducing or exploring tools and techniques.

Preparing to facilitate in a hierarchy

A client had a particular event coming up, where she was going to be facilitating a strategy session for a group of senior people from organisations which formed the membership of her own organisation.  She had concerns around authority: would they accept her as their facilitator for this session?  She was also keen to understand how to agree realistic aims for the session, and to come up with a good design.

We spent a couple of hours together, talking through the aims of the session and what she would do to prepare for it.  We played around with some design ideas. I introduced the facilitator's mandate, and she came up with ways of ensuring she had a clear mandate from the group which she could then use to justify - to them and to herself - taking control of the group's discussions and managing the process.  Helped by some coaching around her assumptions about her own authority, she came up with some phrases she was comfortable using if she needed to intervene.  We role-played these. She felt more confident about the framework and that the time and energy we'd put into the preparation was useful.

Facilitation skills as a competence for engaging stakeholders

As part of a wider team, I've been working with a UK Government department to help build their internal capacity for engaging stakeholders.  As a 'mentor', I worked with policy teams to help them plan their engagement and for one team, this included helping a team member get better at meeting design and facilitation.  He already had a good understanding of the variety of processes which could be used and a strong intuitive grasp of facilitation.  We agreed to build this further through a (very short) apprenticeship approach.  We worked together to refine the aims for a series of workshops.  I facilitated the first and he supported me.  We debriefed afterwards: what had gone well, what had gone less well, and in particular what had he or I done before and during the workshop and what was the impact.  He facilitated the next workshop, with me in the support role. Again we debriefed.  We sat down to plan the next workshop, and I provided a handout on carousel, which seemed like an appropriate technique. I observed the next two workshops, and again we debriefed.

Instead of a training course

I worked with a client who wanted to develop his facilitation skills and was keen to work with me specifically, rather than an unknown and more generic open course provider.  I already knew his context and he knew I'd have a good appreciation of some of his specific challenges: being in the small secretariat of what is essentially an industry leadership group which is trying to lead a sustainability agenda in their sector.  His job is to catalyse and challenge, as well as to be responsive to members.  So when he is planning and facilitating meetings, he will sometimes be in facilitator mode and sometimes he will need to be advocating a particular point of view.

Ideally, I'd have wanted to observe him in action in order to identify priorities and be able to tailor the learning aims. But the budget didn't allow for this.

We came up with a solution which was based on a series of four two-hour sessions, where I would be partly training (i.e. adding in new 'content' about facilitation and helping him to understand it) and partly coaching (i.e. helping him uncover his limiting assumptions and committing to do things differently).  The sessions were timed to be either a bit before or a bit after meetings which he saw as significant facilitation challenges, so that we could tailor the learning to preparing for or debriefing them.  The four face-to-face sessions would be supplemented by handouts chosen from things I'd already produced, and by recommended reading.  We agreed to review each session briefly at the end, for the immediate learning and feedback to me, and partly to model active reflection and to get him into the habit of doing this for his own facilitation work.

In our initial pre-contract meeting, we agreed some specific learning objectives and the practicalities (where, when).  Before each session, we had email exchanges confirming what he wanted to focus on. This meant I could prepare handouts and other resources to bring with me.

And this plan is pretty much what we ended up doing.

He turned out to be very well suited to this way of learning. He was a disciplined reflective practitioner, making notes about what he'd learnt from his experiences and bringing these to sessions.  He was thoughtful in deciding what he wanted to focus on which enabled me to prepare appropriately.  For example, in our final session he wanted to look at his overall learning and to identify the learning edges that he would continue to work on after our training ended.  We did two very different things in that session: he drew a timeline of his journey so far, identifying significant things which have shaped the facilitator he is now.  And we used the IAF's Foundational Facilitator Competencies to identify his current strengths and learning needs.

Can it work?

Yes, it's possible to train someone in facilitation skills one-to-one.   This approach absolutely relies on them have opportunities to try things out, and is very appropriate when someone will be facilitating anyway - trained or not.  The benefits are finely tailored support which can include advice as well as training, coaching instead of 'talk and chalk', and debriefing 'real' facilitation instead of 'practice' session.

There are downsides, of course.  You don't get the big benefit which can come from in-house training, where a cohort of people can support each other in the new way of doing things and continue to reflect together on how it's going. And you don't get the benefit of feedback from multiple perspectives and seeing a diverse way of doing things, which you get in group training.

But if this group approach isn't an option, and the client is going to be facilitating anyway, then I think it is an excellent approach to learning.

 

Occupy movement: the revolution will need marker pens

On my bike, between meetings last week, I was passing St Paul's Cathedral in London so I wandered through the Occupy London Stock Exchange 'tent city'.  Occupy LSX has divided opinion. At the meeting I was going to - a workshop of organisational development consultants, facilitators, coaches - some people made rather snide remarks about the likely impact of the first cold weather on the protesters, and about unoccupied tents.  There's a retort here about the infamous thermal imaging scoop.  Others were interested in and sympathetic to the dissatisfaction being expressed, but frustrated by the lack of a clear 'ask' or alternative from the occupiers.

Emergent, self-organising, asks and offers

What struck me, however, were the similarities between the occupy area itself, and some really good workshops I've experienced.  There was plenty of space given aside for 'bike rack', 'grafitti wall' and other open ways of displaying messages, observations or questions.  There was a timetable of sessions being offered in the Tent City University, and another board showing the times of consensus workshops and other process-related themes.

There was a 'wish list' board, where friendly passers-by could find out what the protesters need to help keep things going. Marker pens and other workshop-related paraphernalia are needed, as well as fire extinguishers and tinned sweetcorn.

I saw these as signs of an intentionally emergent phenomenon, with a different kind of economy running alongside the money economy.  Others have blogged about the kinds of processes honed and commonly in use at this kind of event or camp, in particular if you're interested there's loads on the Rhizome blog.

Don't ask the question if you don't already know the answer?

I recognise the frustration expressed by some of my OD colleagues about the lack of clearly-expressed alternatives.  This kind of conversation often occurs in groups that I facilitate: someone (often not in the room) has expressed a negative view about a policy, project or perspective.  The people in the room feel defensive and attack the grumbler: "I bet they couldn't do any better" or "what do they expect us to do?".  Some management styles and organisational cultures are fairly explicit that they don't want to hear about problems, only solutions.  (Browsing here gives some glimpses of the gift and the shadow side of this approach.)

But I see something different here: a bottom-up process where people who share broadly the same intent and perspective,  come together to explore and work out what they agree about, when looking at the problems with the current situation and the possible ways of making things better.  The are participatively framing a view of the system as it is now, and what alternatives exist. This takes time, of course.

They are also, as far as I can tell from the outside, intentionally using consensus-based processes rather than conventional, top-down, leader-led or expert-led processes to organise this.  Understandably frustrating for the news media which rely increasingly on short sound-bites and simple stories with two sides opposing each other.  And it could get very interesting when the dialogue opens up to include those who have quite different perspectives on "what's really going on here" (for example mainstream economists, bankers, city workers).

The other thing I notice about this expectation of a ready-made coherent answer, is how similar it is to some group behaviour and the interventions made by inexperienced facilitators and coaches.  When I am training facilitators, we look at when to intervene in a group's conversation, particularly when to use the intervention 'say what you see'.  (This makes it sound very mechanical - of course it's not really like that!)

The trainee facilitator is observed practising, and then there is feedback and a debriefing conversation.  Perhaps they chose not to intervene by telling the group what they observed.  Sometimes during this feedback and debrief, a trainee will say something like "Yes, I noticed that, but I didn't want to say anything because I wasn't sure what to do about it or what it meant."  They are assuming that you can only 'say what you see' if you know what it means and already have a suggestion about what to do about it.

But it also serves a group to say what you see, when you haven't a settled interpretation or clear proposal.  (In fact, it is more powerful to allow the group to interpret, explain and propose together.) All questions are legitimate, especially those to which we don't (yet) know the answer.  Ask them.  Guess some answers.  And this - for the time being - is what the occupy movement is doing.

The revolution will need marker pens

All this consensus-based work and open-space style process needs plenty of marker pens (permanent and white-board).  So if you have a bulging facilitation toolkit and you're passing St Paul's, you know what to do!

Update

Others have spotted these connections too. Listen to Peggy Holman talking about Occupy Wall Street on WGRNRadio, 9th January.

Finding the house keys

I facilitated a workshop once, where everyone knew that they wanted to work together on something, but they didn't know what. They were all lawyers of one kind or another: barristers in private practice, in-house legal eagles for NGOs, members of the judiciary.  They shared an interest in human rights and climate change.  They shared a suspiscion that existing human rights legislation (including conventions) and existing courts which hear human rights cases (including some international ones) might be a good way to take forward cases which would catalyse action to reduce emissions and ensure victims of the impact of climate change get proper help.

During the workshop they shared information and stories, hoping that they would find one exciting thing to work on which had real potential. They discussed the detail of different legal approaches, what a perfect case would need to look like, the pros and cons of bringing cases in different jurisdictions.

As the workshop went on through its first day and towards lunch on the second day, they still hadn't found it.

And then suddenly they had!

How did that happen?

What did they do to find the focus? What did I do to help?

I don't know.  Nothing different than we had been doing for a day and a half.

Bingo!

It was like that moment when you find the house keys.  We had been looking and looking in all the right places and all the right ways.  It wasn't that we started looking better just before we found them.  It's just that we finally found them.

(It's funny how they're always in the last place you look.)

Reflections after workshops – catching the learning

My client drove me to the station from our rather remote venue this afternoon.  She said:

"Do you think about a workshop after it's over, or..."

I mentally completed her sentence as "or don't you manage to?" After a small pause, she finished

"...or are you able to let it go?".

I was reminded of the usefulness of not assuming you know what someone else is going to say.

And I realised I'd filled the pause with my own self-criticism: because I'm intellectually committed to action/reflection, and thinking about a workshop after it's over is a powerful reflection stage.

But sometimes I'm just too tired to concentrate on reflecting 'properly'. And I might beat myself up about all the scintilating learning I'm missing by not journalling or even blogging as much as I might.

Instead, my mind wanders or I retreat into the self-indulgence of a journey home where I can read the paper, mess up the Kakuro or stare out of the window.

But this particular journey home has been longer than expected, and I've got my second wind. So I will 'reflect properly', drawing on what we talked about and thought about on the way to the station.

You're working too hard

One of the things my assessors said after my CPF earlier this year was that I was working too hard. The group should be doing the work, I need to get out of their way.  Perhaps I can take the same advice about reflection on my facilitation: let my mind do the work and get out of its way.

Wandering mind

The drive to the station was quite long, so I did let my mind wander, sparked by my client's question. We had one of those leisurely conversations which are interspersed with gentle silences.  And our conversation touched on spaces, client comfort and workshop plans.

Owning the space

My mind wandered to what we had done to own the space. This workshop was the third in a series of three and all the venues we used had their challenges. Two of the three lacked good smooth walls to stick flips on and write on.  Today's was crowded and we had to prop up boards on tables and stacked chairs to be able to see the flips.

In every venue, we quickly assessed the room, decided which furniture to move around or move out of the room altogether, and worked out where we would display the flips we needed for various metaplanning-type exercises and for participants to be able to see the running record.

Over the years, I have had to learn about the importance of layout, gain the confidence to take responsibility for making spaces as good as they can be for the conversation we want to have, pick up some tips and tricks for improvising the space and equipment needed, and get more decisive about making changes rapidly. That experience has paid off today.

Over-identifying with the client: whose comfort?

I have been more conscious recently of my own tendency to over-identify with my client, when facilitating stakeholder workshops. I feel uncomfortable when I think the client team may be feeling uncomfortable. I feel relieved when I think they may be feeling relieved.

I'm confident that this is not having a significant effect on my facilitation, but I'm conscious that this is a danger and that I need to check my inner motivation when choosing to intervene (or not) in situations where I believe that I know what my client would like to hear. Holding the space in periods of discomfort, doubt, uncertainty, conflict, anger, disappointment - this is one of the special gifts which a facilitator can bring to a group, and I'd like to strengthen my ability to do this with ease, without being overly concerned about the client's level of comfort.

As it happens, today I was impressed with how well the client team responded to some of the things stakeholders said, which were probably hard for them to hear. Defensiveness was mostly absent.  When the team thanked people for sharing their experiences, perspectives, frustrations and aspirations, I think they meant it.

If I had, even unconsciously, sheilded the client from this difficult conversation, then I might have avoided some temporary discomfort (largely my own?) but I would have prevented some important truth-telling and mutual understanding from emerging.  And the elephants in the room would have remained hidden in plain view.

Let go of the plan

In two of the three workshops, we radically redesigned the agenda part way through the day.  A wise facilitator once said to me that any fool can design a workshop, it's being able to redesign on the hoof that is the mark of greatness.  I wouldn't claim to greatness, but my redesigns were good calls!

Today's was helped enormously by the intervention during lunch of a process-savvy participant who observed that what the organising team wanted to talk about was not what the participants wanted to talk about. We negotiated a 'deal' to split the afternoon's work so that some time was spent on the more pedestrian but urgent client concerns (and the group threw themselves into this) but a larger chunk of time was allocated to some open space. This was agreed by the rest of the group.

As my client and I discussed this on the way to the station, I was reminded of some insights about planning.

  • At this AMED event last Friday, we talked in passing about Eisenhower's claim that "plans are useless but planning is indispensible."
  • A few days before, at an ODiN workshop organised by Chris Rodgers, someone talked about their frustration at hearing people use 'opportunistic' as a way of disparaging those charities which apply for funding without a nailed down strategic plan.
  • And my reading of this new sustainability leadership book containing experiences written through an action research lens has helped me understand how intention, values and an understanding of what you feel drawn to do can be coupled with being alert to opportunity resulting in emergent strategy.  (There's an explanation of emergent strategy here, but you may know of a better one - stick it in the comments.)

I think there's a parallel here with workshop (re)design:

  • some values underpinning your work as a facilitator,
  • some shared aims (intentions) agreed with participants,
  • an understanding of the expertise and resources (e.g. time, space, numbers of different kinds of people, access to information) available for the conversation.
  • being alert to 'what's trying to happen here' and getting out of its way.

If you have those things - as a result of doing some planning (having a conversation about planning) - then a strategy is able to emerge if you get out of its way.

Update: This today (1st October 2011) from Dave Pollard would call this resilience planning, rather than strategic planning. An interesting post.

The conversation goes where it goes - who knows what might have happened if...

What I didn't follow up on was the confession which may have been present in my client's question: does she find herself unable to let go after a workshop, dwelling on what might have been in a way which doesn't help her learn but perhaps keeps her in that unconfident phase of believing that she hasn't done well enough?

I don't know.  That conversation may have been equally rich.  The coach in me would have gone down that route, but the coach in me was taking some time out.

But by not trying too hard, and offering my own meandering observations, I reflected properly on what I'd learnt from the day.

What if our conversations were deep, open?

I've met some interesting and challenging facilitators recently who have helped me reframe and explore my facilitation work and my sustainable development aims. Our conversations together have been so refreshing and enriching, we wondered if it might be possible to open them up to a wider group...

So we have created Deep Open.

It's a one-day workshop for people who are interested in groups, conversation, change and sustainable development.  We hope to enable conversations which allow us to be aware of our feelings (physical and emotional), alert to difference and conflict, challenging and honest.  We're going to experiment with having our feelings rather than letting our feelings have us.  We're going to experiement with not distracting ourselves when things feel uncomfortable.  We're going to try to resist being task-focussed, whilst staying together with purpose.

If you are intruiged by this - rather than irritated - then you might want to join us on 19th May in London for this workshop.

We're running the event in conjunction with AMED. The others involved are Johnnie Moore, Debbie Warrener and Luke Razzell.

Virtual meeting - up to my ankles

In November '09 I blogged that my toes were in the water, trying out how to integrate e-communications into workshops. Over a year later and I'm happy paddling up to my ankles: using cut-down post-its, a document camera and telepresence.  I was delighted to work with a client which had installed video-conferencing in many locations in the UK and US.  We were able to run a half-day workshop for a small team who were spread over three different locations.

This is a stock picture from Teliris on wikimedia commons, but it gives an idea of what the room looked like. In addition to the large screens, the people in the 'main' room had screens in the desk where images from slide shows or the document camera were visible.

Here are some very practical lessons and tips from that experience, firstly about things you can do before the meeting begins:

  • When designing the session, keep it interactive, don't feel that you have to make it one-way just because participants are on different continents.  Consider what might cause you to alter your design.  For example, I had expected there to be at least two people in each location, which would enable pairs / small group discussion.  But in the end one of our locations was used by just one person. So I adjusted the meeting design to include quiet thinking time, rather than pairs discussion. I asked everyone to make a note of their key points, so that everyone was ready to say something in the later round robin.
  • Make sure you check the time difference between locations, and double-check it!
  • Visit the room you'll be facilitating from, and play with the equipment.  How do you enable participants to view slides or an electronic document?  How do you dial up the other locations?  What do you do if the connection is lost? How much delay is there when people speak?
  • If you're lucky enough to have a ceiling-mounted document camera, can the camera pick up writing or diagrams on a flip chart sheet or on the desk?  How big does the writing need to be? Where are the edges of the camera's vision, and do these match the edges displayed to participants in other locations? Mark the edges with masking tape.
  • Make friends with the IT / facilities team.  What works well in their experience, and what trouble-shooting tips can they share.  How do you get hold of them during the meeting?

In the meeting

Having worked out how the document camera worked, and tested different sizes of post-it and handwriting, I was able to use small square post-its to record individual contributions and move them around until we had collaboratively created a timeline of the organisation's journey to this point.

Later in the session, I recorded contributions about people's vision of the future in a mind-map which was also broadcast live to the people in other location, via the document camera.  Unfortunately one of the locations lost the feed, so we ended up with some people not being able to see what the rest of the meeting could see: an imbalance which we were unable to correct before the meeting ended.

For my own use, I made a little map of who was sitting where, and used it to keep track of who'd spoken. This enabled me to invite contributions from time to time.

This was a half-day meeting, so I built in a comfort break which everybody really needed. Keeping focussed and engaged in virtual meetings are harder work than face-to-face, I think.

Improvements?

In future, I'd like to work out a practical way of integrating a running record into a meeting like this.  A simple word document shared live through google doc or a similar system might work.  You would need to check that everyone could access it - firewalls might be a problem.  Alternatively, a bespoke webmeeting package with a whiteboard could be used. I'm getting experience of both Huddle and Central Desktop in different client work at the moment.

No-fly zone: how's it going?

8.01 Left home just after the pips. 476 and then the Northern Line from Angel. Man with lacrosse stick on the bus makes room for woman with toddler and pram. Everyone trying to be accommodating. 08.40 Cup of tea. Plenty of time.

9.10 We set off from Euston, on a Pendolino. We don’t have seat reservations but since this isn’t the usual train which does this journey, I’m not sure anyone else does either. We will have to change at Crewe. Slightly nervous. New apartment blocks near Euston have solar panels on the roofs, each at a slightly different angle.

09.45 Lots of people get off at Milton Keynes, so we swap seats so we have a table and sockets for our laptops. Now we can work! Misty. We pass sopping allotments and horses dripping slightly in the fields.

09.50 Announcement reassures us that Crewe know we’re coming, and we will be helped to make our connection. Those who need assistance, those with lots of luggage, those with small children and pushchairs – it sounds like she knows us all individually. Reassuring.

10.27 Going through the Shugborough Tunnel, 777 yards according to the sign.  Signal down, of course.

Sycamore, willow, birch, oak. Freight train. Convolvulus.  Canal boat being manoeuvred through a small arched bridge.

10.31 passing through Stafford station. Vertical axis wind turbines on building by the station are not turning. Design flaw? Or grid problems leading to automatic shut-down? Or just not enough wind?

10.41 Mobile broadband connection on this laptop is SO SLOW. Everything takes much longer to do than I’d like.

10.58 Successfully changed at Crewe onto the new train. Which apparently divides at Chester. We think we’re in the right carriage. Table and sockets all present and correct. Weather slightly brighter. Beginning to think about the ferry – will it be rough? Wish I’d remembered to bring wrist bands.

11.07 More canal boats. They manage to look so much more attractive than caravans. Very small wind turbine whizzing round, powering who-knows-what on one boat.

Getting hillier. Red soil peeps through. Dramatic ruins on rocky hill which juts out of flat landscape.

11.17 Chester. Dapper gent sharing our table gets off here. Cheeringly large number of bikes at the station bike racks. Race course looks very well cared for, protected by the curve of the river. Surprisingly busy looking airport – runway lights look very bright as it’s still a bit overcast.

11.31 Judging by the length of the sign at the station we have just passed through, we must be in Wales. I was hoping for an announcement.

11.33 Tidal stream alongside us – tide’s out, lots of shiny mud with a very thin channel snaking through it. Lots of people in this carriage have bought crisps from the shop and there’s a crackling crunchy noise in front and behind me. Hungry.

11.36 Gleeful lady just popped her crisp packet! Unbelievable. They wouldn’t allow that in the quiet zone.

11.37 I can see the sea! This line is right by the water’s edge, with just a narrow stone wall on the seaward side. Sea level rise, anyone? One for the Climate Change Risk Assessment , I think.

11.41 Three grey herons in meadow – but no water for them to fish in. I wonder what they are doing there. Mountains stretch out ahead and to the left, silver in the haze. Blue sky on the seaward side – perhaps we’ll have a smooth crossing.

11.46 Rhyl.  Sun breaks out! People hunching over their screens so they can read despite the light.

11.52 Fortifications line the forested hillside, but this must be a folly – there’s no room for anything behind them!

11.53 Wind farm out to sea, gleaming white in the sunshine, but none turning. Bad news for electricity generation, good news for calm crossing?

12.03 Llandudno Junction. Gateway to Snowdonia National Park. Ah, to be in the hills.

12.07  Or in the river, like a dozen kayakers and four boatloads of canoeists.

12.16 Clouding over a bit.

12.22 Arriving at Bangor. Suddenly much noisier. Jolene being played on a very poor machine – perhaps a phone. Hope they get off.

12.28 Spectacular bridge crossing, and some kind of monument: not quite Nelson’s Column. Apparently we’re now on Anglesey. Lush and green; boggy fields; wind-twisted, low trees; sheep and cattle; glossy crows in low hawthorns.

12.38 RAF training flight zooms past and I wait for the sonic boom which doesn’t arrive.

12.44 Could that be a little egret in that pond? Black bill, otherwise snowy white.

12.45 White water rafters in channel between railway line and road. Annoying music is back.

14.01  On ferry. Luggage had to be checked in, which we hadn’t anticipated. Quick swapping over of essential items before we consign our cases to the conveyor belt. Once through security, we wait for a while on the little bus, regretting checking in so promptly. Cheery man from National Statistics Office of Ireland invites us to take part in travel survey, but fails to lift the mood, which is grey.

Once on board, the veggie dish of day is chick pea curry. Surprisingly good, although the naan bread is best avoided. Very glad, as I didn’t think we’d get decent veg-laden food on this rather convoluted journey. Wi-Fi working (faster than mobile broadband on train), spacious table by the window, weather good. 14.29 Fully at sea, though hills still visible if I crane my neck. Water steely grey, sky pearly grey, water a little choppy but boat still moving smoothly.

14.42 My phone tells me that making and receiving calls will cost me £1.30 a minute. Should have brought continental adapter as electrical socket need round-pin plug.

15.15 WiFi means I can follow Ed Miliband’s first speech as Labour leader on twitter. No mention of environment yet. Hmm.

15.16 There it is! Needs a new politics. I’ll say.

15.48 Google thinks I’m in Norway.  Shame that the only Norwegian I know is the finger counting rhyme: “Tommeltott, Slikkepott, Langemann, Gullebrand, og Lille Petter Spillemann”.

Transfer from ferry port to Connolly station is free, quick and easy.

Connolly station is small, tidy and shiny but eating options very limited.

19.14 Our Belfast-bound train crosses a lot of water on a narrow causeway.  CCRA again!

20.01 Dundalk.  Station architecture familiar from so many English Victorian stations: decoration iron columns and canopies, decorative brickwork with stripes and arches picked out in cream, green and terracotta.

20.14 Glad I brought a book (Peggy Holman’s Engaging Emergence – lovely) as well as my laptop, as I’m now out of juice and there’s no sockets on the train.

20.20 Passing Newry. Strings of orange streetlights netting over a bowl of hillsides.

Walked from Belfast Central station to hotel – about 10 mins – refreshing after the long journey.

In room by 10.00.

Feel fresh and ready for workshop.

During workshop, people who knew about our travel choices swapped their own stories and perspectives: ferry journeys disrupted by bad weather, the iniquity of untaxed air fuel, questions around the relative carbon intensity of a very full flight versus a mostly empty ferry.

Return journey

18.09 On train waiting to leave for Dublin.  Glorious blue skies and sunshine.

18.35 Golden skies and long shadows.

19.09 Sky pinkish and grey, mountains on the skyline.  Newry by daylight this time!

19.21 My phone tells me I’m in Ireland.

20.32 About 20 minutes late into Connolly station, but we get a cab straight away and there’s no trouble checking in.  Very few foot passengers.  Will there be any veggie hot meal at this time of night.

Yes!  Chick pea curry again, no mini poppadums this time, but mango chutney. Naan bread still inedible.

23.30 My phone tells me I’m in the Isle of Man.

Stupid O’clock.  Walk from ferry terminal to hotel in Holyhead marred by lack of signposting.  We can see the hotel, but it takes a couple of goes to cross the main road and actually get to it.  We spot a footbridge from the station which we’ll use tomorrow. Hotel cheap and cheerless.

08.15 Meet for the walk back to the station.  Marred this time by discovery that entrance to footbridge is firmly locked.  Weather good.

09.23 Train to Birmingham, we change at Chester.  Lovely morning, with pale sun illuminating semi-wild countryside.  Green fields edged with thick hedges and grey stone, with occasional peat bog breaking through.

09.55 Back across the bridge to mainland Wales.  Statue looks wistfully out across the short stretch of sea.

10.04 This stretch of track lined with nut trees.

10.14 Penmaenmawr The sea on our left gleams and shimmers, calm and sunlit.  To the right, rocky hills and screen slopes. The road and the railway line protect (separate?) the hills from the sea.

10.49 Prestatyn. Warm hubbub of chat on this friendly train, as Sarah types up worksheets from yesterday's meeting and I catch up with emails.

11.32 On new train at Chester, waiting for the off.  Table and sockets mean we can work all the way back to London.  Hurray.

12.05 Speeding through gentler landscape, though rougher sedges still break through the grass in the sheep fields.

12.21 Passing large power station, not sure which one.  Modest clouds of steam emerging from cooling towers.

12.53 Getting hungry, but we’ll be back at Euston in less than an hour. Should I wait to eat proper food?

12.59 Milton Keynes.  Signal much worse as we approach London.   Very frustrating.

13.22 Shop closed, so food decision is out of my hands.

13.48 Leek and potato soup at Prêt outside the station.  Feeling revived.

Verdict: doable, cost relatively low, requires free day for travel on either side of assignment.  Preferable to have more than one thing to do to make full use of the time (and carbon) of travelling.   We had first draft of workshop record ready pretty much by the time we left the train. Take continental plug adapter for ferry.  Investigate staying overnight in Dublin rather than Holyhead on return leg of journey.

Making my work a no-fly zone

Last time I flew for work was in 2007, running a workshop in the Netherlands.  I had tried to find a way to go by boat and train, but couldn't make the timings fit in with other commitments. The last time I flew for pleasure was so long ago that I can't remember. I have turned down all work that involves flying since then, but without being up-front about this.  I say I'm unavailable or "I'm sure you can find someone locally" .  And I try to help them do just that: a great reason to network internationally and to keep in touch with people who I've come across over the years who understand both process and sustainable development, or may know someone who does.

Being up-front

On a coaching course this year, we did a pairs exercise about 'boundaries'.  We had to identify a time when we had noticed a boundary and maintained it.  We were invited to illustrate this.  As I drew the picture I realised that flying was emerging as a boundary for me.  It has been a value-in-action and I can choose to make it an espoused value too.  In that realisation I decided to make it an explicit aspect of my work.

The illustration I drew at the time shows this through the picture of sealed charter which makes 'not flying' a clear part of how I do business.

Since then, I've included this in the 'walking the talk' statement on this website, and in an updated discussion document which I share with new clients which sets out how I intend we will work together. (This latter also includes a range of other 'draft ground rules' for our consultant-client relationship: things like honesty, collaboration, learning from feedback, acting in good faith and so on.)

Testing my commitment

I've had a chance to test out this espoused value in two different situations recently.

One is a new client is based in the UK and the USA.  I set out up-front (before putting in a proposal) that I would not travel to the USA as part of this assignment.  I felt some trepidation in doing this: might I lose the work?  Reflecting further I realised that this outcome was not, surprisingly, such a big worry for me as I'm turning down work at the moment and I knew I didn't want the work if it meant flying.  The bigger source of my anxiety was that these people who I'd only just met might they think badly of me. They might interpret my refusal to fly as a criticism of them - they almost certainly are obliged to fly for work.  They might simply think me wildly eccentric.  (One day I'll blog on the EAFL meme : "environmentalists are **** loonies" ).  They might worry that association with me would make their colleagues think this about them.

I'm being very frank here - explaining my worries discretely even though I know they were quite murky at the time before I was able to pin them down precisely.

The new client was not put off, although I will continue to watch for the impact this stance has on our relationship, as well as the practicalities of the project.  Our first multi-continent workshop was run using impressive video presence facilities, and I'll blog about that separately.

The second challenge came about because I wasn't really paying attention!

I am working on stakeholder engagement for the UK's first Climate Change Risk Assessment. As part of this, there are workshops for stakeholders in the Devolved Administrations - Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.  I agreed to facilitate these workshops as part of a team, with the workshops distributed between us.  Only later did I realise that - of course - Belfast is usually accessed from other parts of the UK by plane, these days.  As luck would have it, the Belfast workshop is the one date that I could do.  Could I get there without flying?  Fortunately I had a full day with no meetings on either side of it, allowing slow travel.

I checked the cost of travelling by train and ferry, using the legendary Man in Seat 61 website.  I also checked the travelling times, and worked out that two nights accommodation were probably needed, not one.  I resolved that I would absorb the additional expenses if they proved to be higher than those of my flying colleagues, and not charge for the longer travelling time.

Armed with these mitigations, I raised my 'no flying' commitment with my immediate client (the consultancy I am sub-contracted by).  They seemed fine with it.  And - thanks Sarah, you're a star - one of my facilitator colleagues said she'd travel with me too.

I still feel a bit funny about this choice to go by train and ferry rather than flying.  It takes much longer.  And if we miss a connection, or there's a storm at sea, people may criticise me for choosing a less reliable way to travel.  It feels like an experiment which could go wrong.

And I have read and re-read this blog entry, afraid to click 'publish', for some weeks now!

Experimenting with 'being the change'

I know that for many people, deciding not to fly for work would be a seriously career-limiting decision.  The way we organise our working lives and our international organisations is now so dependent on being able to travel very long distances or across seas fast, that  using only surface transport would be very inconvenient.  Even within the UK, there are lots of journeys which involve moving from one island to another, where boat is slower and - ahem - more bilious than flying.

I have the great good fortune, though, to be in a position to say 'no' to flying for work even as I recognise that this is not an option for many of the people I work with.  So I can be an experimenter, someone who tries out what a world with seriously reduced dependence on aviation might look like.  And if I can do it, perhaps I should.

How are people taking it?

The reaction from people who I've told about this has been an interesting range.  Some applauded and said "I bet your clients love it that, because you're really walking the talk".  Some said "that's a long time to be away not earning".  Others said "that's really interesting, I'd like to experiment like that, tell me how it goes".

I'm going to actively reflect on this experiment, and I'll tell you how it goes.

Breaking the Ice

Here are three great ice breakers for meetings, as described in a recent column in the environmentalist.  They are:

  • 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.

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.

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!

Now the ash has settled: eleven questions to get insights from the shutdown

Was the shut down of air travel a right pain for you and your organisation? Now that the ash has settled, there's a great opportunity for you to use the recent disruption to discuss sustainable development with your colleagues. [And as if to prove the point that it's a good idea to be prepared, it's back - as of 08.52 @BST 4th May 2010.]

Whichever way you look at it, a low-carbon economy (whether forced on us by peak oil or chosen as a planned way of mitigating climate change) will mean a drastic reduction in cheap air travel.  Your colleagues may feel this is too far off, or too fanciful, to plan for.  But the shut down actually happened.  So it's a great way in to discussions you might not have been able to have before April 2010.

Here are 11 questions to structure a discussion about your organisation's dependence on air transport - and how you can reduce it over the long term.

  1. What was disrupted?
  2. What was enhanced?
  3. What did we do differently, that worked really well?
  4. What did we do differently, that was a right pain?
  5. What contingencies did we have in place, or put in place, in case the shut-down had lasted for twice as long?
  6. Or ten times as long?
  7. What would we have done if we'd had a week's notice?
  8. What would we have done if we'd had a month's notice?
  9. What would we have done if we'd had five year's notice?
  10. What will we keep doing differently anyway, because it worked better?
  11. What will we build into our medium and long term planning, to help us be ahead of the game when air travel again becomes more expensive and less available?

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.

Avoiding the ‘groan fest’

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.

So I posted a question on two great forums: AMED (the Association of Management Education and Development) and IAF (the International Association of Facilitators).

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!

Not groaning,

Penny

 

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?

Copenhagen - hiding behind the sofa

I'm finding it hard to listen to the news or read about the Copenhagen meeting, except through the fractured glimpses from other people's blogs. Reminds me of peeping at Dr Who through my fingers from behind the sofa.  Can't watch properly.  Can't look away completely either. These are the ones I've found particularly interesting :

  • George Monbiot - taking a very big picture on how we, as a species, divide into types about climate change, and showing very eloquently why this is so hard.
  • Living on Sunshine - the title of this blog alone is enough to raise the spirits, and with its provocative strapline "how old will you be in 2050?" (personally, 84, if I get there) reminds us old folk that if we're not going to lead, we'd better get out of the way and let the youngsters do it.

Will someone tell me what happened when it's over?