techniques

The Accompanist

Much food for thought at the joint AMED / IAF Europe 'building bridges' facilitation day last week. I find myself day dreaming and speculating about a particular kind of helping role: the accompanist.

Vicky Cosstick mentioned this in passing, when setting up her session on the glimpses of the future of facilitation.  Early in her career, Vicky played this role as part of her training.   The role apparently has its origins in spiritual practice, although I'd not come across the term used in this way before.

What does an accompanist do?

The role involves minimal intervention.  You attend the work of the group and listen.  You write up to a maximum of one page of observations.  You pose two or three open questions as part of that.  The group can choose to do something with these, or not.

It reminded me of the practice that Edgar Schein describes in Organisational Culture and Leadership, where he too spends much of his time observing.

What a wonderful way to work with a client / self.

What's the minimum we can do, to help?

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.

 

Position, Interest, Need - uncovering latent consensus using PIN

Sometimes our work involves facilitating conversations among people who know that they disagree with each other. They may be professional campaigners, politicians or lobbyists. They may be householders or developers.  They may be in the room because a sudden row has blown up triggered by news of a forthcoming decision about funding, planning permission or a change in the law.

Whatever has led to it, the people I'm thinking of have already established a 'position' about the topic, and assume that their job in the meeting is to advocate and defend that position.

Defending a position

Defending a position leads to people asserting certainty about causes, consequences and facts, often more certainty than is justified by the current state of knowledge and analysis.   It encourages people to dispute the facts put forward by others, and to question their motives.  People defending a position often build such an edifice of certainty around themselves that it is very hard for them to move away from their initial position, even if they want to.

The things said about those who don't agree with the position can be damaging to working relationships and lead to a decrease in trust, making subsequent conversations harder.

Win/win or win/lose?

Positional conversations assume a win/lose paradigm.  But what if it were possible to find a win/win?  You can only discover the potential for a win/win if you move beneath the positions and discover the interests and needs.  (I could tell you about boogli fruit, but I'd have to kill you.)  What has led people to develop their positions?  What interests are served by those positions? What are the needs which are met through those interests?

Below the inversion

I was first introduced to this concept by Pippa Hyam and Andrew Acland in their training for Environmental Resolve, an initiative to find consensus to thorny situations run under the umbrella of The Environment Council.  Up until that point, I don't think I'd really understood the difference between a really great compromise, and a true win-win.  It was a fairly life-changing experience.

Using questions to walk down the mountain

How do you help people move away from positions and towards their interests and needs?

One approach is to help people avoid getting positional, at least too early on in the conversation. This may be hard to avoid: positions may already have been taken.  But it you aren't in that situation yet, the facilitator can help the group enormously by holding them in the uncertainty and exploration phase: the not-knowing.  Invite people to tell their stories and share their perspectives about the problem, issue or desired future in an open way.  If options have been generated, get people to explore their pros and cons without asking them to express a preference.

If positions have already been expressed, then the facilitator's greatest asset is their ability to ask straight questions and then listen in a genuine spirit of curiosity.  Using questions like "what would that give you?" or asking a participant to "tell us more about why that's something you'd like to see" invites people to say more about the things that underlie their positions.

Listening really well, reflecting back on what's been said to check understanding and show that the person has been heard, and asking further questions which clarify or invite expansion - these interpersonal skills are invaluable.

 

What's up for grabs?

Spurred on by discussions over at the Involve blog, I want to share a really useful framework for those of you who are thinking about engaging stakeholders or (sections of) the public while you decide what to do about something. At the start, discussions within the organisation which is asking for input need to establish clarity about what's alread fixed, what's completely open and what there are some preferences about but where there is room for change.


Pie Chart: Lindsey Colbourne

Not negotiable - At the start of your engagement process it is likely that what's decided (and thus not negotiable) may be at the level of overall objectives, and timescales.  For example, a Government department may have a policy objective and a legal deadline to meet.   A local council may know that it wants to revamp a local park, and have a potential funding source whose criteria it needs to meet.

Negotiable - You may have some existing preferences, ideas or initiatives which have been piloted and could be rolled out.  There may be some technical information which will inform the decision or be used to assess options.  There may be criteria which you are bound to, or want to use, but haven't yet applied to the options.

Open - There will be aspects of the decision which you have no preference about and where the decisions can in effect (even if not in law or within your organisation's own rules) be delegated to others.

Remember that you will also have decided-negotiable-open aspects to your engagement process - the people you talk to, the points at which you engage them, the methods and channels which are used.

The conversation you have internally with your team about what goes in each slice of the pie can often be dramatically useful: flushing out assumptions which have hitherto been hidden, and exposing disagreements within the team in the safety of your planning conversations rather than in the less forgiving gaze of stakeholders.

The pie slices shift over time

At the start of the process, it's likely that the 'decided' slice is slimmer than the other two.  As the process unfolds, things usually shift from 'open' to 'negotiable' and from 'negotiable' to 'decided'. Principles and assessment criteria get agreed. Ways of working are negotiated. Working groups or consultation processes are established. Exploratory conversations crystalise into options which get fleshed out and then assessed. Some options get discarded and others emerge as front-runners.

Sometimes, things can move in the other direction: when opposition is so strong that you have to think again, or when new information emerges which shows that ways forward which had seemed marginal are now much more likely to work.  In extreme circumstances, this may lead to the initiative being abandoned altogether. The debacle over England's publicly-owned forests is an example of this.

Tell people what's 'up for grabs'

There's no point asking people what you should do about something if you have already made up your mind.

By all means ask for feedback which will help you communicate your decisions more clearly. Understanding people's concerns and aspirations means you can address them directly in your explanations about why you have made a particular decision and how to expect to implement and review it.

Do people the simple courtesy of letting them know which aspects of situation you are most keen to get their feedback and ideas about - which information will most helpful in informing the decision, the dilemmas you'd like to think through with them, the innovative ideas you'd like to test out.

That way, everyone's time is spent where it can make the most difference.

Simples.

Thanks to...

Acknowledgements to Lindsey Colbourne and others at the late lamented Sustainable Development Commission, InterAct Networks, Sciencewise-ERC and the Environment Agency who have been developing and working with this framework over the last few years.

When uncertainty leads to conflict

Why do we find ourselves in conflict, instead of in disagreement? One of reasons is the anxiety we feel when faced with uncertainty. Do we know the facts? Do we know the cause and effect relationships between them? How sure can we be that our actions will have the intended consequences?

I’m delighted to be able to bring you the latest words of wisdom on managing uncertainty, from Andrew Acland, facilitator and mediator extraordinaire and author of “A sudden outbreak of common sense: Managing conflict through mediation”.

Andrew says:

“Uncertainty is a feature of many of the situations in which mediators and facilitators are asked to work for several reasons. First, our work tends to be in fairly complex situations, and often uncertainty is one source of that complexity. Secondly, any situation that involves human beings involves uncertainty: we are a tricky species. Thirdly, uncertainty creates conflict – which is why we get called for in the first place.

The purpose of this note is to suggest what we can do with uncertainty when it rears its awkward head in the middle of an already difficult meeting.”

Click here to read Andrew’s full paper.

Multi-stakeholder collaboration - some headline sources

This blog entry is written for a very specific reason: I've just advised a group of people to look at my blog for initial sources on multi-stakeholder collaboration... but reviewing the blog I realise that it'll be quite hard to find the things I mean, and some of them I haven't even written about yet! So, especially for them - and for you, dear other readers - here's a quick brain dump of key sources and ideas which I think form a good set of starting points, mostly from my own experience.  Which means that if you have other great resources to tell people about, please do post them in the comments box.

Examples

There are some really interesting examples from the UK of the Environment Agency spending quite a lot of time and resources thoughtfully engaging in conversations with communities and other stakeholders when considering flood defences and coastal erosion risk.  For example, Shaldon and Medmerry [transparency alert - I worked on the Medmerry project] where engagement with stakeholders was carefully planned so that people could influence the decisions which the project team was making as the plans developed. Both schemes are ongoing.  See for example this report from the UK's Sustainable Development Commission which includes Shaldon as an example, and this short case study from the Environment Agency on Shaldon.  A search using 'environment agency', shaldon, stakeholder and 'liaison group' will bring up other interesting views on the engagement approach and its success.There's a bit more about the EA's ground-breaking work in this area in this article on DAD/EDD.

Another place-specific collaborative approach is described in this article "Human Systems Intervention And The Natural Step" by Jenny Sardone & Magdalena Szpala, first published in AMED's Organisations and People journal. I believe that it's not available electronically, but I'm trying to chase down an e-version so I can link to it.

Much better known are the FSC and the MSC - now well-established multi-stakeholder organisations which tried to 'get the whole system in the room' to work out credible consensus-based criteria for what might be considered sustainable management of forest and marine resources.  They have had varying degrees of success over the years in getting buy-in from all the different interests (environmental, social, economic). I wrote about the MSC a few years ago, an article called plenty more fish in the sea.   Current examples include WWF-UK's Tasting the Future, Forum for the Future's work on tourism, and CPSL's work on both climate and insurance. Some of these have crystalised into organisations, others are more fluid than that: fellow travellers collaborating with intention.

Theories, techniques and patterns

Fascinating to ponder on what the circumstances are which bring about authentic whole-system engagement, and what you have to do to get the right people in the room in the first place, and then to keep up the momentum. The best resource I know of at the moment on this is Peggy Holman's Engaging Emergence.  But I'm sure there are lots of others: please help me collect them by posting your favourites in the comments box.

Favourite techniques which can help include World Cafe, Open Space Technology and Future Search. I've blogged about the first big Tasting the Future meeting here, which combined a number of techniques.

SDC resources on collaboration, dialogue, engagement

Since its demise, it's really hard to find the engagement resources on the SDC's website. So here are some direct links to some of them:

  • SDC's response to National Framework for Greater Citizen Engagement (2008)
  • Final report on the SDC's Supplier Obligation stakeholder and public engagement process "Household Energy from 2011", with a description of process and findings.  There are links to other documents about this process here. [Transparency alert - I worked on the Supplier Obligation project.]
  • An independent evaluation report about the SDC's Engagement in Tidal Power process, which brought together stakeholders and the public to think about criteria and issues in harnessing power from the tides.
  • The groundbreaking and really rather wonderful (for process geeks) guidance on designing engagement, published by the SDC but drawing on pioneering work done by InterAct Networks (Lindsey Colbourne, Lynn Wetenhall, Jeff Bishop, Richard Harris and others) and developed through practitioners at the Environment Agency among others. This work continues, for example through work Sciencewise-ERC has done with DECC.
  • Some specific gems from this guidance include 'engagement and the policy making cycle' and a 'typology of engagement' and some definitions of different kinds of engagement. [More transparency - I work regularly with Sciencewise-ERC and as of 2011 am a Director of InterAct Networks]

Add your wisdom

This has been a very rapid post, and most of the examples and ideas are those which I'm personally familiar with. There must be lots of others, including some great compilation resources. Please use the comments space to link to your favourites and to critique what I've posted here.

 

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.

What's down the back of the sofa?

It's the time of year for clearing out the cupboards and taking all the cushions off the sofa to sweep out the composting satsuma peel.  So I've been through my email inbox dealing with things.  And there - among the discarded invitations to really interesting meetings and unanswered requests for advice on things I just didn't know enough about to reply rapidly - was a jewel, waiting to be rediscovered. I get Michael Neill's weekly coaching newsletter, ever since I went on a two-day coaching magic course which he ran in conjunction with Kaizen Training.  Each Monday morning week there's an anecdote or exercise and they help me understand better how to coach, consult to clients or facilitate groups.  Of course there are also notifications of the courses he's running or books you can buy, but it's easy to ignore that stuff if you're not in the market for it.  (From time to time I get a bit exasperated with the recurring theme of money, earnings, finances and feeling rich.  That's not why I'm interested in coaching. I ignore those bits too.)

A Conceptual Jewel

The jewel was one of Michael's conceptual frameworks.  I'd kept it in my inbox so that I'd remember to blog about it at some point. That point is now.

It's the Four Quadrants of Creation, and it's a way of understanding what might be getting in the way of you achieving or creating something.

I think this is a great framework to have in a coaching toolkit, and I wonder if it can also be used with a team - for example a transition group, or a sustainability team within a larger organisation, or a consultant team reflecting on a particular 'stuckness' with a client?

Michael says:

Think of something you have thus far failed to achieve or create...

Now answer this question:

Is it because you couldn't, you didn't really want to, or both?

He goes on to talk about the twin importance of commitment and competence.

"Commitment is your "want to" - the amount of desire and willingness you bring to your project or creation. Competence is your "how to" - the amount of skill and capability you are currently able to harness."

Sorry about the poor image quality - it's better in the original.

You can probably see straight away how this can be used in a coaching situation: the coachee can consider where their espoused goal is in this matrix, and whether it's insufficient competence or weak commitment which is holding them back.

What's holding you back?

One of my coaching clients has been using a metaphor of baking a cake, for achieving a particular goal.  At the moment, something is getting in the way of moving forward, and it is as if the cake batter is being stirred endlessly.  It could be that more stirring is what's needed - when the mix is ready for the oven, it will be obvious.  Or perhaps there is a reluctance to let go of the comfortable and known act of stirring, and take the irreversible step of putting the potential cake into the test of the fiery furnace.

Only the client can know this, but the framework can help them to discover 'what is' and work with that.

The framework with a team

Could this framework be used to help a team reflect on its progress towards a goal?  There would need to be a high degree of trust in the group for it to be used successfully: who wants to tell a colleague about their own lack of competence, or question another person's commitment to a team goal?  A prior agreement not to use self-disclosed low levels of competence or commitment against each other later would be needed.  Self-disclosure would need to go before reflection on the team as a whole.

In some situations, it would be very helpful to have a framework for understanding what competence is needed for the task.  For example, this framework is about sustainability leadership.   A structure like a spectrum, with attitudes to the goal marked on it, may also help to give permission to people to be honest about their level of commitment. The horizontal dimension from the 'who can help me' matrix is a possible tool to use for this, if some additional options are added in between the extremes.

Dotting along the scale would form a whole-group picture of where people stand, which can then be used to focus discussion on the team's commitment and what would increase it (or what alternative goal would elicit high commitment).

The matrix could also be used as part of prioritising a team's work - something which will surely be more fraught as cuts make themselves felt in the public sector here in the UK.

Find out what you are really committed to

Some goals enthuse and inspire us, generating remarkable levels of passion and energy and bringing out the best in us.  Others feel more like burdens or accusations, staring at us sulkily from the teetering pile of unread journals or the magic inbox which can apparently hold an infinite number of low priority emails.

Peggy Holman, in Engaging Emergence (fantastic book which I keep recommending to people and will blog about properly one day), talks about "taking responsibility for what you love as an act of service".  If you move towards the things which you really care about, you are providing your best gift to the overall endeavour.  You don't have to do it all, and you don't have to do the things you think you should do - just the things you love to do.  This strategic selfishness is echoed in Michael Neill's thoughts about commitment:

"...check to see if this really is your project or if it's someone else's dream placed in your hands. If you decide to fully own it, notice any thoughts about why you can't or shouldn't really allow yourself to want this for yourself. Authentic desire doesn't need to be created - simply uncovered, one limiting belief at a time, and given space to breathe and to grow."

Don't thingify the elephants

I've just got back from a great workshop organised by ODiN and run by Delta7.  We explored the use of pictures, in particular those which visualise 'the elephant under the table'. It's always great to see some old friends and meet new people.  Also good to have the time to reflect on stucknesses and opportunities in my own work which might helps us in this collective endeavour of forging a sustainable future.

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

Too comfortable?

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

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

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!

I don't want to go back in the box!

This post is about coaching, the power of unexpected questions and the alchemy of metaphor. I have just completed the first two days of a Diploma in Intermediate Executive Coaching, run by AOEC.  I've learnt loads, including realising once more the power of metaphor.  The striking thing I'd like to share is an insight I had about a project I discussed, as part of a practice session run by one of my fellow trainees.  Hats off to Simon!

The problem

The project had been bugging me.  It's enormous and complex, and I'm a relatively small cog in a very large consultant / client team. Things have been rushed and not all the plates have been spinning smoothly. It had been on my mind the previous evening, and I knew I was angry about how out of control it was feeling.

I came to the coaching session with a metaphor already in my mind, that the project was like a semi-wild cat, which was currently spitting and using its claws.  I wanted to speak calmly to it until it was pliable and tame enough to coax back into its box.

My focus was on the cat: wild and capable of causing a lot of pain, in its anarchic panic.  It was afraid and it could smell my fear.

I saw my own role as needing to move from being angry with it or afraid of it, to being the calm person who could 'cat whisper' it back to being tame, for just long enough to get it where I wanted it.

And anyway, this was only training: I felt I probably wouldn't get much out of the twenty minute session and I - wrongly - thought I knew already what my learning would be.

Surprising question

The training partner who was coaching me in this practice surprised me.  He didn't ask about the cat, he asked about the box.

That was definitely left-field for me.  I hadn't paid much attention to the box until he asked, and it stopped me in my tracks.  I described the box that I was picturing: small, carboard with a hinged lid and a padlock.

As I got a clearer picture in my mind of this box, I had a revelation.   I was trying to play a terrible trick on the cat.  I wasn't serving the cat, I was only trying to deal with my feelings.  And what a disrespectful attitude I had towards it.  I was looking at it all wrong.  This project is hard because it is ambitious and complicated and taking place in difficult circumstances.  If it wasn't hard, it wouldn't be worth working on.

I care about it, and I am proud of its ambition and the attempts the team is making to keep things going and to realise that ambition.

I shouldn't be trying to turn it into a pussycat.

Pride of a lion

Without really understanding how, my attitude to the project was transformed - and it has stayed transformed (at least so far).

This project is a lion, and I am proud to be walking alongside it in the open air, head up and back straight, not flinching when the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune assail us.

The take-away

So the original metaphor was powerful in enabling me to raise this subject matter in the session, but it was the unexpected question from the coach inviting me to explore an aspect of it which I had overlooked, which really transformed my perspective. I had gone into the session with the explicit aim of 'sounding off', and I emerged from it with renewed pride and purpose.

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

 

Community and behaviour – when critical mass makes all the difference

I was pointing people towards the six sources of influence in some behaviour change training recently, and went back to some original sources to remind myself about the distinctions between the six sources. To recap, the six sources are arranged into a two-by-three table, with ‘motivation’ and ‘ability’ divided into personal, social and structural.  In this explanation on the VitalSmarts blog the two ‘social’ sources of influence have been merged.  This bothered me – is there really so little distinction between social motivation (peer pressure) and social ability?

It seems to me that the distinction is brought most sharply into focus when critical mass is needed to make a behaviour viable.  Want to buy more locally-produced food?  A farmers’ market or a local veggie box scheme needs a critical mass of producers and customers to be viable.  Setting up a lift share scheme?  You’re going to need more than two members.  Freecycling?  Hackney Freecycle has over 17,000 members (yes, really) generating about 1,500 messages about free stuff for giving and taking a month.

Now this kind of critical mass isn’t going to be important for all the behaviours you want to change, which is probably why the distinctions isn’t so clear in some of the descriptions.  But where it is, then special attention needs to be given to recruiting the mass.

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

There’s a virtuous circle which can come into play here.  This was brought home to me by a stakeholder engagement planning meeting which I ran last week with a community organisation which has been awarded substantial funding through the Low Carbon Communities Challenge.  We did a quick brainstorm of all the non-carbon related ‘social capital’ in their village – the formal and informal organisations which bring people together and build a sense of community.  The population is about 2,000 and the group came up with over thirty formal groups, clubs or regular events (one for every 67 people!) and a host of informal groupings.  Active community organisations build community channels and hubs for conversation.  Members will have more connection with each other, and more trust, than people who are merely residents of the same place.  So a critical mass of ‘warm’ people is much easier to find.

I was bowled over by how many active societies there are, and we all felt very positive about the potential for drawing on this wonderful resource for the low-carbon activities the group has planned.

Actions we take which help build community – in our neighbourhoods or workplaces – all add to the web of interconnections which form fertile soil for future behaviour change.

Community and behaviour – when critical mass makes all the difference

I was pointing people towards the six sources of influence in some behaviour change training recently, and went back to some original sources to remind myself about the distinctions between the six sources. To recap, the six sources are arranged into a two-by-three table, with ‘motivation’ and ‘ability’ divided into personal, social and structural.  In this explanation on the VitalSmarts blog the two ‘social’ sources of influence have been merged.  This bothered me – is there really so little distinction between social motivation (peer pressure) and social ability?

Who can help me influence them? Mapping the players and pressures in a system of behaviour

Strands of work on stakeholder engagement and behaviour change have been woven together in a couple of different pieces of work I’ve been doing with public sector clients recently.  I’ve ended up developing some new frameworks and adapting some existing ones to help people clarify their aims and plan their campaigns. If you want to influence someone to change their behaviour, there are models and approaches which can help.  For example, the six sources of influence help you identify the right messages and pay attention to the surrounding context which supports and enables – or discourages and gets in the way of – the desired behaviour.

When you are working for a public body (the NHS, a Government department) and you are trying to influence the behaviour of people who you have at best a distant relationship with (mothers, or people who buys cars) then you will go through a multi-stage process:

  1. Should we be trying to encourage this behaviour change, which we see as desirable?

  2. If yes, what role(s) should we be playing (legislator, educator, convenor, funder etc)?

  3. If yes, what are the most effective ways of influencing the behaviour?

Should we encourage this behaviour change?

Given current discussions about social engineering, this question is important.  It might seem entirely obvious and uncontroversial to us that wanting to promote energy efficiency that more efficient light bulbs should be promoted.  So obvious that we don’t stop to consider possible unintended consequences or misunderstandings.

So an important early stage is to engage stakeholders in helping to inform the decision about whether to encourage a particular behaviour change at all.   For this, classic stakeholder identification and mapping techniques (e.g. see figure 1 in this paper from WWF) will help ensure that you hear from more than the usual suspects.

Stakeholders can share perspectives about the policy goals, identify which behaviours might help to achieve them, and whether action to encourage those behaviours is a good idea.

What role should we be playing?

Some public bodies draft new legislation and regulations, others deliver services.  Some enforce regulations and others provide advice and public education.  Some bring other organisations together, convening conversations and partnerships.  Others commission and fund research.  There are lots of roles that public sector organisations could play in a given situation.  Which role or roles make the most sense, in meeting the policy aim in question?

Listening to the views of stakeholders in relation to that question is enormously helpful.  And those stakeholders may be professionals who work in that field of expertise - but removed from the coal face - or they may be practitioners on the ground whose direct experience can bring a dose of reality to the conversations.

A great example of this is the Low Carbon Communities Challenge, launched on Monday 8th February.  It will (amongst other things) draw on the experiences and insights of 22 communities which are being funded to install energy efficiency kit and renewable energy equipment en masse in their areas.  They’ll also be encouraging people to adopt low-carbon behaviours.  Each community will be doing something different, guided by its particular circumstances and enthusiasms.  Excitingly, each community will also be asked to identify the barriers to and enablers of progress, in particular what government could do differently to make this kind of low-carbon push as successful as possible across England, Wales and Northern Ireland. I'm delighted to be a facilitator on this project.

What are the best ways of influencing this behaviour?

A cool analysis of the system of players and pressures which lead to the current patterns of behaviour is a good starting point, and involving a team (including some stakeholders) will help ensure that the picture built up is rich and complete.

In a workshop a few weeks ago, we used the classic ‘pestle’ headings to brainstorm the pressures and players which influence a particular behaviour which my client is interested in changing.  Let’s say that the behaviour is keeping one’s car well-maintained, so that it runs as fuel-efficiently as possible.  Specific behaviours include keeping the tyre pressure optimum, and removing the roof box when it’s not needed.

In the workshop, people identified players and pressures and wrote them on post-its, sticking them up under the headings of Political, Economic, Social, Technical, Legislative, Environmental and Other.  The headings and team-work both help to ensure that no aspect of the system is forgotten.

Once that was done, we stood back and looked at the results, and pictures were taken on a camera phone.  Then I invited people to bring the post-its to a big blank sheet of paper, and to begin mapping the relationships between the players and pressures, starting with “the most interesting” element of the system.  [The idea of asking for ‘the most interesting’ came from a book about coaching which I’ve been reading.]

One post-it was brought to the empty map, and was soon followed by others.  Lines of connection were drawn, and amid the chaos some patterns emerged.  Most importantly, the team realised that these behaviours were more like DIY and home maintenance than like ‘eco’ behaviours, so when targeting different audiences they should seek our market research which segments people according to things which are relevant to that kind of behaviour, rather than segmentations which have been developed with an environmental purpose in mind.

Mapping stakeholders for behaviour change

This brought us smoothly to looking at which stakeholders to engage as a priority, to add muscle to the campaign to  influence people to adopt (or reinforce) the desired behaviours.

Many of these stakeholders were ‘players’ identified in the earlier exercise.  Some were organisations and people who the team thought of as the system was being mapped.

As a variation on classic impact /influence matrix, and building on the ‘who can help me’ matrix which I use with organisational SD change champions, is this diagram.

Brainstormed onto post-its, stakeholders are then mapped according to the team’s view about their influence and attitude.

You then overlay the coloured ‘zones’ onto the matrix, and these are linked to typologies of engagement like the ladder of engagement.

The people and organisations which are the highest priority to engage with, are those who are highly influential and have the strongest opinions (for and against) the desired behaviour change.  In-depth engagement which involves them directly in designing and implementing the behaviour campaign will be important.

Those in the ‘enhanced’ zones need to be involved and their opinions and information sought.

Those in the ‘standard’ zone can be engaged with a lighter touch – perhaps limited to informing them about the campaign and the desired behaviour.

The workshops helped these clients to identify new stakeholders, reprioritise them, and consider more strategically who to engage and to what purpose.

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?

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!