Mar 17 2017

Group Process Design Principles in Times of Turbulence

Ready for a thinking ramble? Payoff isn’t until the end. Fair warning!

I have found myself pointing to Donella Meadows’ “Leverage Places: Where to Intervene in a System” more and more these days.  First surfaced in the Whole Earth Catalog in 1997, and expanded in 1999, the essay resonated with me then and continues today. Read the whole thing, but if you just want to scan the leverage points, check out the Wikipedia article. When I mention the article, everyone starts pulling out their pens, phones or electronic note taking devices. People are hungry for clues about where to intervene in the complex systems within which they work and live. Here are her leverage points:

PLACES TO INTERVENE IN A SYSTEM (in increasing order of effectiveness)

9. Constants, parameters, numbers (subsidies, taxes, standards).
8. Regulating negative feedback loops.
7. Driving positive feedback loops.
6. Material flows and nodes of material intersection.
5. Information flows.
4. The rules of the system (incentives, punishments, constraints).
3. The distribution of power over the rules of the system.
2. The goals of the system.
1. The mindset or paradigm out of which the system — its goals, power structure, rules, its culture — arises.

Her number one leverage place: 1. The power to transcend paradigms. From the Wikipedia article:

Transcending paradigms may go beyond challenging fundamental assumptions, into the realm of changing the values and priorities that lead to the assumptions, and being able to choose among value sets at will.

Many today see Nature as a stock of resources to be converted to human purpose. Many Native Americans see Nature as a living god, to be loved, worshipped, and lived with. These views are incompatible, but perhaps another viewpoint could incorporate them both, along with others.

A bit more from Meadows’ essay on #1 and worth savoring, slowly:

There is yet one leverage point that is even higher than changing a paradigm. That is to keep oneself unattached in the arena of paradigms, to stay flexible, to realize that NO paradigm is “true,” that every one, including the one that sweetly shapes your own worldview, is a tremendously limited understanding of an immense and amazing universe that is far beyond human comprehension. It is to “get” at a gut level the paradigm that there are paradigms, and to see that that itself is a paradigm, and to regard that whole realization as devastatingly funny. It is to let go into Not Knowing, into what the Buddhists call enlightenment.

People who cling to paradigms (which means just about all of us) take one look at the spacious possibility that everything they think is guaranteed to be nonsense and pedal rapidly in the opposite direction. Surely there is no power, no control, no understanding, not even a reason for being, much less acting, in the notion or experience that there is no certainty in any worldview. But, in fact, everyone who has managed to entertain that idea, for a moment or for a lifetime, has found it to be the basis for radical empowerment. If no paradigm is right, you can choose whatever one will help to achieve your purpose. If you have no idea where to get a purpose, you can listen to the universe (or put in the name of your favorite deity here) and do his, her, its will, which is probably a lot better informed than your will.

It is in this space of mastery over paradigms that people throw off addictions, live in constant joy, bring down empires, get locked up or burned at the stake or crucified or shot, and have impacts that last for millennia.

Hold that thought for a moment.
A while back I happened on The Tragedy of the Commons: How Elinor Ostrom Solved One of Life’s Greatest Dilemmas – Evonomics, and another in the Atlantic about US post election responses, both of which resonated with my reading of Meadow’s essay. First, the snippet about Ostrom (another one of my compass points, like Meadows!)

“Evolutionary theory’s individualistic turn coincided with individualistic turns in other areas of thought. Economics in the postwar decades was dominated by rational choice theory, which used individual self-interest as a grand explanatory principle. The social sciences were dominated by a position known as methodological individualism, which treated all social phenomena as reducible to individual-level phenomena, as if groups were not legitimate units of analysis in their own right (Campbell 1990). And UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher became notorious for saying during a speech in 1987 that “there is no such thing as society; only individuals and families.” It was as if the entire culture had become individualistic and the formal scientific theories were obediently following suit.

Unbeknownst to me, another heretic named Elinor Ostrom was also challenging the received wisdom in her field of political science. Starting with her thesis research on how a group of stakeholders in southern California cobbled together a system for managing their water table, and culminating in her worldwide study of common-pool resource (CPR) groups, the message of her work was that groups are capable of avoiding the tragedy of the commons without requiring top-down regulation, at least if certain conditions are met (Ostrom 1990, 2010). She summarized the conditions in the form of eight core design principles: 1) Clearly defined boundaries; 2) Proportional equivalence between benefits and costs; 3) Collective choice arrangements; 4) Monitoring; 5) Graduated sanctions; 6) Fast and fair conflict resolution; 7) Local autonomy; 8) Appropriate relations with other tiers of rule-making authority (polycentric governance). This work was so groundbreaking that Ostrom was awarded the Nobel Prize in economics in 2009.”

Notice Ostrom’s core design principles. See any relation to Meadows’ leverage points?

Now switch to the Atlantic  article titled “Americans Don’t Need Reconciliation—They Need to Get Better at Arguing” by Eri Liu. Commenting on the need for work in the social sphere following our divisive presidential election, Liu suggested we needed three things:

  • Listen more to each other (in listening circles”)
  • Work more together (national service)
  • Argue more. But do it well (“We don’t need fewer arguments today; we need less stupid ones.”)

Liu gives us three concrete ways of unlocking the patterns and leverage points.

My work has clearly been situated in ever increasing turbulence. Traditional strategic planning? Throw it out the window. Focusing on mission and vision? Unless tied to concrete, actionable purpose, throw it out the window. It is too easy to be lost in our own abstractions and old/stale paradigms. (Thank you Donella!) Building knowledge management systems to capture everything? Fuggedabout it if we aren’t listening to each other (Thank you, Eric!) Trying to work just top down and with existing, rigid governance systems? Do you have all the time in the world? NO, ditch it! (Thank you, Elinor!)

So how am I designing now? Quickly, iteratively, and ruthlessly reflective. My group process practices in the last 18 months reveal a pattern where groups are getting more traction into creating insights on their work, and slightly increased  traction on acting on those insights.  I attribute this two two things: the application of Liberating Structures and other group processes that are informed by complexity sciences, and the use of emergent visuals to help show the path of thinking, understanding and action. The processes devolve power and responsibility to, as LS says, “unleash and include” everyone. They focus on immediate steps rather than waiting for certainty and perfection. They ask us to question our assumptions, measure our experiments and understand negative and positive feedback loops (Meadows again!) They seek to sidestep the barriers of traditional governance as much as possible without rejecting the participation of those institutions.

People get it. Quickly. The visual practices help bookmark the moments of insight and support telling the story to others.

The traction for action is still a bit elusive. Our reward systems punish many of the behaviors of emergent practices. Power is challenged. And just getting a grip on all the working parts can serve as an excuse to throw one’s arms up and give up. But we won’t give up. Nope. Sadly, Meadows and Ostrom died too young. But their words continue to feed us.

Stay tuned. Share your thoughts!

Edit: See this great post by Chris Corrigan on Prototyping and Strategic Planning. I had THOUGHT I had linked it in, but clearly that was in my dreams! Dave Pollard also recommends the work of Nora Bateson.

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Mar 16 2017

Lessons from VizEd Vancouver

The fabulous Tracy Kelly of BC Campus invited me north to Vancouver to co-facilitate two workshops, one on graphic facilitation in higher education (“VizEd“), and the second a larger team collaborative Liberating Structures 2 day immersion workshop. In keeping with my debrief/reflection practice, here are my lessons from the sold-out GF workshop.

First, it was a joy to collaborate with Tracy. She has the domain skills and expertise and organizing mojo as icing on the cake. She attracts fun and interesting people to her BCCampus offering and she is has a deep sense of fun and playfulness. The whole package. So saying “yes” to Tracy is easy peasy.

The registration information gave a clear snapshot of the day’s plan:

Join us for a hands-on, full-on day of exploring the opportunities and practices of bringing hand made visuals into our teaching and learning. (P.S. “handmade” can mean electronic too!)

We will warm up with some exercises to banish our inner critics, then explore practices for going visual in our work. Bring your challenges! Bring your ideas!  Bring your inner learner, your inner teacher and your inner child as we explore visual practices together.

What you can expect:

  • Tips and practice for basic drawing skills (Courage! Confidence! Color!)
  • Examples of visual exercises and activities, and where they might be useful in your work in higher education
  • Explore templates for collaborative visual meaning making
  • Experiment with the intersection of group process and visuals

THERE ARE NO “ARTIST” PRE-REQUISITES!

What we Planned

We iterated our agenda and then whipped it into final shape the night before. There were so many elements we wanted to include, but had only one day! We pulled exercises from both of our practices. It was interesting to see where we had developed different versions of  similar exercises. So we riffed and improvised across our two practices.

The basic building blocks included an visual self introduction using the Liberating Structures Drawing Together, my ever-ever-ever-beautiful favorite “I Can Draw” exercise I learned at an IFVP gathering in New Mexico years ago, a brief exposition of what comprises graphic facilitation, development of the elements of a visual vocabulary, and ways to put it together through space organization, templates and metaphors.

To put this together, we planned to give an overview of sketchnoting, then have them sketchnote/graphically record Tracy interviewing Jason Toal and I. Jason is another fab visual practitioner from SFU.

Then we planned to break into small participant driven groups to Shift and Share around four topics before identifying personal next steps and do a River of Life for evaluation. (Visual agenda on your right!)

What Happened

We had only an hour to set up the room, so we were blessed by a team of helpers who helped transform the pin boards into paper-covered drawing boards. Never underestimate the labor (or for my Canadian friends, labour!)  it takes to set up the room for a graphic facilitation workshop! We had packets with pens, pastels, eraser, pencil, “boo boo labels” and a few other things ready for everyone. People like their goodie bags!

The drawing practice itself is very physical and I’ve learned to encourage people to take care of their bodies right off. I am beginning to work more with communities comprised of people with very different physical and mental abilities. There is a lot I have to learn about useful accommodation.

Photo by : By BCCampus

We had 26 people from various parts of the higher education ecosystem (with just a few classroom teachers). It was a quiet but fearless group. They stepped into every invitation, even at moments of “confusiasm.” They jumped into the self portrait with five simple shapes and used that as a basis for peer self introductions as we got to know each other.

 

The “I Can Draw” is always a visual feast of color and beauty. That we can fill up a room in 30 minutes with such a visual richness never fails to stun me. So often people walk in with that “but I can’t draw” voice sitting on one shoulder, so this exercise is about freeing oneself of that voice.

We sprinkled some slides with some exposition about visual facilitation practices, mostly to situate the simple drawing practices into areas of application. In the higher education context, there are so many opportunities, from visual planning, visual engagement in the classroom, and visuals for constructing and sharing ideas and information. The main point was that we can incorporate visuals in so many places: we just need to remember to THINK about it!

Icon Drawing. Photo by BCCampus

Tracy had a great version of the “how to draw basic shapes and icons” that I had not experienced before.  Everyone started Round 1 at a blank canvas of large paper. We’d demo shapes and icons, they would practice, and we’d step back and look at each others work for inspiration. Supporting these rounds of drawing were resources on the table – various sets of icon cards to peruse and practice, depending on the relevance of an icon to a particular person’s work.

Then they would rotate to the canvas to their right for the second round. So instead of just working on “their” piece of paper, they were working on top of each other’s work. We debriefed not only the drawing, but this experience of layering our work. The rounds included:

  • Round 1 – circles & spirals with icons that include light bulbs, globes, spiral arrows, balloons, etc
  • Round 2 = squares, stars, triangles and arrows with icons like computers, phones, buildings, documents, books, barriers, wrenches
  • Round 3 = people – including star people, stick folks, bean people, spring people, and basic face structures to show a range of emotions. Here we also talked about the cultural implications of how we drew and used color for people. 

I liked this better than my version, which was to go from shapes, to people, to arrows and frames and finally to icons for two reason. The groupings helped break things into bite-sized pieces, and it accomplished the “writing over each others work” that I usually do in a separate exercise. So when time is tight, you get “two for one!”

Photo by by BC Campus

After lunch we gave a few more examples of how to unify and organize visual elements with frames, templates, layouts and metaphors. (Tracy introduced the term “grounds” for these things!) This warmed them up for their sketchnoting/graphic recording practice. Tracy again came up with a great idea for listening and capture practice with “VizEd Radio.” She had a set of domain related questions for Jason and I while people madly sketched, followed by a reflection on what it felt like to try and visually capture a conversation. For me it was great to listen to Jason’s reflection on his practice, and where we had similar and different experiences — important for seeing the diversity of this practice.

During the course of the day people had asked about specific elements of visual facilitation. Our Shift and Share session provided the chance to identify four of these areas for short, collaborative learning huddles. People could spend 15 minutes in each area, getting a taste, or hang out at one for the full hour. The four stations included digital recording, designing visual supports for specific facilitation practices, visuals and the classroom and  more on templates and layouts! I regret we did not do any good capture of these sessions. I think we all got lost in the interesting conversations and demonstrations. The photo above is all that remains. Harvest fail!

Finally, we asked people to think about how they would apply their new found/enhanced visual skills when they headed back to their classrooms and offices combined with a short visual reflection of their day. We used River of Life, where you visually draw a river, left to right. The upper left is the past: what you wanted out of or anticipated about the workshop, the middle is the present: what you learned, and the upper right is the future – your next step in using the skills. You can see some samples of the Rivers here: https://goo.gl/photos/iaLHerqP3ZS1K3RBA. We also offered a small visual grid on the way out where they could leave impressions – but I think by then we had fully exhausted everyone!

What We Learned

Here are a few snippets from the evaluation:

  • 85% of respondents said it was a high quality learning experience and 93.8% said they can apply what they learned to their work.
  • I enjoyed being challenged to approach what I normally do in a new way.
  • The facilitators created a safe environment for us to try out new ideas. Plus it was just plain fun to get out of the office and do something I have never done before.
  • I learned so much about some of the basics of visual practice that I feel confident learning more on my own now. That is important! and I also gained confidence in drawing…I learned to let go of the critic and just practice. Okay, the critic is still there and hasn’t been let go of but is quieter.
  • I learned a lot – both how to draw things and how to use the things I draw

We had some moments of dissonance as well. Some felt the afternoon was not as well structured as the morning. And of course, some loved the food, some did not. THAT is not a problem I have ever been able to solve!

In the mean time Tracy and I have been exchanging our personal reflections via email.

Nancy:

  • I continue to be invited into fabulous collaborations every time I co-facilitate a graphic facilitation workshop. From Michelle Laurie for our RosViz workshops, to Tracy I am just damn lucky.
  • Yes, you can do a workshop with results in one day. I used to think we really needed two days which feels like a luxury these days with people so busy and short of time and resources. With each iteration the agenda gets sharper.
  • USE the darn visual agenda (it was at the far end of a long room… I should have positioned it better)
  • Don’t overpack the agenda. As I’ve mentioned in other blog posts, I’ll be learning this the rest of my life, but I think we exercised appropriate restraint.
  • Work hard, hard, hard to reinforce each specific idea for application. In all the hullabaloo, this is so easy to lose.
  • Get clearer in how I express some of the fundamental ideas. I do get lost in my own obscure jargon. Argh!
  • I need to practice my own drawing more, but I remained convinced that my imperfection is an invitation not a straight up weakness! 🙂
  • Have good food. THANK YOU BCCampus!!!

Tracy:

  • My VizEd course/practice is expanding from a very heavy leaning into graphic recording into broader Viz practices, with specific hooks for supporting education and organization processes. In the future, I will continue to include more smaller scale work than I have done before (bonus: less paper) and give a bit more air time and encouragement for sketch notes. This means my sketch note practice needs to improve too.
  • I still feel like end of day harvest/how we end isn’t what I want it to be (though I confess I love that I have my “river” from taking your course to look back on).  When I do this course solo, we finish by doing our first large scale GR and gallery walk, which is like “yay” and “omg look at it all! we did it!” I like that vibe to launch them OUT the door. But it may not be the most useful for all people, will continue to give thought… (Nancy nods in agreement.)

Photos: https://goo.gl/photos/giyTDeXPxAk2KF3R8 (mine) and those of BCCampus https://www.flickr.com/photos/61642799@N03/sets/72157677749832233/with/32498695293/ 

Slides: VIZED-BCCampus Slides for Sharing

2 responses so far

Mar 15 2017

Responding to Clark Quinn: Technology or preparation? 

Clark Quinn has a great provocation on his blog today. I ‘ll share a quote, then reply.

So, many of the things we’re doing are driven by bad implementation. And that’s what I started wondering: are we using smart technology to enhance an optimized workforce, or to make up for a lack of adequate preparation?  We could be putting in technology to make up for what we’ve been unsuccessful at doing through training and elearning (because we’re not doing that well).

To put it another way, would we get better returns applying what’s known about how we think, work, and learn than bringing in technology? Would adequate preparation be a more effective approach than throwing technology at the problem, at least in some of the cases? There are strong reasons to use technology to do things we struggle at doing well, and in particular to augment us. But perhaps a better investment, at least in some cases, would be to appropriately distribute tasks between the things our brains do well and what technology does better.

Let me be clear; there are technologies that will do things more reliably than humans, and do things humans would prefer not to. I’m all for the latter, at least ;). And we should optimize both technology and people. I’m a fan of technology to augment us in ways we want to be augmented. So my point is more to consider are we doing enough to prepare people and support them working together. Your thoughts?

Source: LearnletsTechnology or preparation? – Learnlets

While Clark’s question is in the context of workplace learning, it is resonant in far wider contexts. I see it when I’m asked to design group process and gatherings. We are constantly putting “band aids” on instead of addressing underlying issues. We don’t really “prepare people and support them working together.” Why is that? Is it the continued desire for a quick fix, or the deep denial that how we work together matters and making it work more effectively might challenge too many things: power, status quo, cost?

The observation of this problem is neither new nor unique… it is how things often work. So the question  is how do we better shine a light on the underlying issues and take immediate steps — however small – for remediation? Rather than throw up our hands and say it is too messy, hard or difficult?

This is where complexity-informed practices come in. From the deep dives into understanding what is happening with sense-making tools like Cognitive Edge’s Sensemaker, to simple, reproducible group practices like Liberating Structures, we can stop shrugging our shoulders and saying “that’s out of my scope of work” or “I can’t do anything about that.” The point is we have to do SOMETHING. Not just plow on from tech innovation to tech innovation. Here are four possible sets of practices that could help us go deeper and do better. Here are four possible sets of actions.

 Creative Destruction to Make Space

What one thing, no matter how tiny, can we stop doing to make space for the things we want to try? Before we add a new technology, do we stop using another one? Before we seek a solution to an efficiency problem, can we find out what to stop doing that caused the problem? Cue up Ecocycle or TRIZ, and make some of these now-useless activities visible. So often we strive to manage and scale when we have either grown past the things we are scaling, or they are no longer fit for purpose. We operate in mostly dynamic environments, yet we try and shoehorn everything into an ordered domain. (The complicated and simple in the Cynefin framework. In an ordered domain “cause and effect are known or can be discovered.” Complex and chaotic domains are understood as unordered, where ” cause and effect can be deduced only with hindsight or not at all.”).

Space for Uncertainty and Experimentation

Maybe certainty and obsession with technical fixes is overrated. Earlier this week I participated in an online gathering hosted by Johnnie Moore on Unhurried Conversations. He offered five principles to support unhurried conversations and one was The wisdom of uncertainty. We can use uncertainty to experiment our way into useful solutions, rather than coming up with a “brilliant idea” that may inadvertently build on past weakness. We may miss the underlying preparation. We can use Improv Prototyping to “act our way into knowing.” We can use Helping Heuristics to strengthen our listening before we pounce with our own (half baked?) ideas, giving space to considerations that are lost for those of us who “think by talking.”

Leadership for Spotting and Picking Up Promising Experiments

When we start getting seduced by technological innovation, it reminds me that there are people who see the world differently and can look within and beyond the tech itself and spot the ideas for promising experimentation. Not everyone has these skills to imagine things. We want solutions and we tend to foreclose on them too quickly, or fail to do, as Dave Snowden loves to say, “safe fail” experimentation to test our assumptions and asses the complexity (or not) of a situation. Sometimes that means we are smart enough to notice others with these strengths, and not try and be the “solution maker” ourselves. Approaches such as Wicked Questions , Discovery and Action Dialog, and Critical Uncertainties can help us spot the things we might otherwise rush by.

Right Management of the Right Things

I do not want to dismiss the Ecocycle domain of “maturity.” When there is a useful technical application, we want to bring it productively into the work. Same for process issues. Not everything is uncertain and shifting. The critical issue is HOW we manage these things into maturity, and how do we ensure we don’t repeat the cycle of “getting stuck” when that thing ceases to add value. And how leaders and managers can both work in this quadrant of maturity while at the same time supporting the other three areas of creative destruction, networking and birth. Great leaders and managers do their magic in the maturity quadrant AND support others to deploy their strengths in the unordered domains. Keep a critical eye on what must be destroyed, reimagined/imagined and birthed, even if it is not their own area of expertise and comfort.

What are your ideas?

See also:

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Mar 08 2017

Lessons from a Crazy MAFN Multi-Sensory Webinar

Warning: Long post suitable for process geeks and lovers of detail. The rest of you might want to skip to the bottom and download the annotated slides PDF!

For the last few years I’ve enjoyed presenting a 90 minute synchronous session for the Mid Atlantic Facilitators Network, or MAFN. The hosting team is top notch, more organized and supportive than any other I’ve experienced, so it is easy to say yes when they invite me back. (This is worth a blog post of its own!)

Each year I use the opportunity to push my own borders. One year I introduced Liberating Structures (2014). Another year Any Lenzo, Nancy Settle-Murphy and I co-led a session about technology and facilitation (2015).  I think there was something in 2016, but alas, memory fails!

This January I said yes again and decided to really push the boundaries of experiential co-learning in a synchronous online environment and play with what happens when we switch up sensory modalities. I positioned this ENTIRELY as an experiment, not a talk given by someone who is certain about something. That alone is an unusual twist. People expect experts. I arrive as a practitioner, and I love claiming this identity.

The title was Fingerpainting Online: Experiments in Synchronous Multimodality. The experiments I proposed included adding music, creating physical objects as interaction prompts, physical movement, taste/smell, vocalization and creation/destruction/recreation. I used the first modality of music by introducing a piece of music – a fugue – and riffing off the structure of fugues. That was probably taking my metaphoric imagination a bit too far, but it was fun. At the bottom of the post you can see pictures of the slides as well as an annotated PDF of the deck which include my notes and some of the anonymized feedback that happened in the group chat.

Prior to the session, participants were emailed a list of preparations which included downloading and making a small paper foldable animal of their choice, having a snack near by, and printing out a note taking template I drew for them.

Listen

The first modality was aural. Before I started even talking, we put on a clip of contemporary classical music. My camera was on so they saw my face as I listened, but I did not talk for a good 120 seconds. An eternity online. During this time I showed three slides, one a brief prompt asking people to think of the 90 minutes together as a piece of music, a quote from Donella Meadows on “getting the beat” of a system, and a definition of a fugue.

I want to explicitly share the Meadows’ quote here as it has value on its own. This idea that we observe, before we disturb. A great process tip!

  1. Get the beat.

Before you disturb the system in any way, watch how it behaves. If it’s a piece of music or a whitewater rapid or a fluctuation in a commodity price, study its beat. If it’s a social system, watch it work. Learn its history. Ask people who’ve been around a long time to tell you what has happened. If possible, find or make a time graph of actual data from the system. Peoples’ memories are not always reliable when it comes to timing.

Donella Meadows

http://donellameadows.org/archives/dancing-with-systems/

When I finally talked, I offered the invitation into this experiment, confessing I had experiences as a practitioner, but no definitive expertise around the experiment. We then talked about the music. Some of the points I raised included:

  • How we carry stress in our bodies, and how that influences group process as facilitators and participants. Music can begin to release some of that stress (or, in moments of uncertainty, create more.)
  • Icebreakers were originally about creating somatic awareness, listening and connection. How does music break ice?
  • Adults react to music based on their experience with that music. Our memory of a particular kind of music will influence the effect. Children tend to just jump into it and be with it. Dance, sing, listen.
  • In my practice, I often use music that reflects context, domain, desired energy level. If I’m working overseas, I use a mix with local music – a subtle honoring of local context.
  • I am often mixing things up, selecting music and language that is familiar enough, but has some unfamiliarity. This bit of dissonance serves to break entrained thinking patterns, and causes us to sit up and pay attention differently.

In the chat room, the comments resonated with some of these observations.

  • It did not resonate with me
  • I was curious. Wondering where this was going.
  • I felt relaxed.
  • It helped focus and ground me to the session
  • curious
  • Relaxed; soothing; all working together
  • engages my right brain, which helps me access creativity (when we start discussing something)
  • Calm, not thinking : )
  • I was not concerned about where this was going. (thinking)
  • relaxing and getting ready
  • Felt lighter. Was thinking “this is different”
  • Actually thinking about past experience of a client very liner which was uncomfortable with anything different.
  • helps slow down the runaway train thinking…
  • I think there’s a question in this for us as facilitators re. our role: are we sage on stage? are we simply facilitating their energy, so they own the process?
  • Nancy White: Yes yes yes… hold that thought . When you change modalities, you change how people notice and pay attention. I’m going to take you on a sensory adventure. Music as conviviality and sociality. Music in complement to visual practices.

We were off and running. In the spirit of the three parts of a fugue, exposition, development and return, we did a bit more exposition and I reviewed the visual note taking template. The central part of the invitation was to treat this experience with curiosity, withholding swift judgement for each modality and then reflection. I warned them some of the parts of the experiment would be down-right weird, and some would be limited by the limits of the technology itself, and I was NOT aiming for some sort of perfect experience. It was EXPERIMENT!

Touch

The next modality was the physicality of touch. Each person had picked, downloaded and built a small foldable animal. The animal they picked determined which chat breakout room they would go to and reflect on a prompt about the artifact they created. There were the elephants, the lions, alligators, rhinos and giraffes.

I asked them to download, print and build an animal based on something I learned years ago from Lisa Kimball. She was my first guide in online conferencing, back in the almost entirely asynchronous, discussion board days. When she hosted an event, she would send out a packet of printed materials (shocking!) which included something to print out, construct and keep by your computer. The agenda was printed on the different faces of the object we assembled. When we were online, one of the prompts was to hold the object when reading other people’s text comments. The kinesthetic experience in the conference, where we were all disembodied, help us feel a connection.

It was a great set up in Adobe Connect because while people chatted in their respective chatrooms, they could see all of the rooms and look “across” the experience. All the Rhinos are holding the same object, working on the same thing.  Then we debriefed. Right off the bat one participant noted it was a “metaphoric opportunity” that helped us become present in a different way through the mere act of touching something. I smiled. Here are a few of the chat observations (beyond the riffing of animal jokes!):

  • A tremendous amount of diversity of thought!
  • Could be in multiple breakouts at the same time — and see what was happening in all of them at the same time.
  • OK to not follow the rules – that in itself is a great intervention, encouraging people to speak up, and to take some ownership. (I told them they did not have to follow the rules I offered!)
  • Metaphoric opportunity for application to real issues
  • My lion just bit me!!
  • Creating connection – all the rhinos, all the giraffes – I think that’s brilliant in a D&I context – we connect with other people around shared whatever; it creates an affinity that I might not feel for you because I don’t know you.
  • Diversity and Inclusion
  • Seem likes the object needs to be relevant to the to the group work at least as much as ice breakers

Move

Our conversation was moving us from the fugue’s exposition to development. We wrapped this section up by me asking them to take their hands off the keyboard, hold their animals, then imagine the other people in the group who had selected the same animal. A shared, somatic experience. And we moved right into the main somatic experience of moving. I invited people to stand up, move about for a few minutes. To release the tension in their hands, arms, neck and shoulders. To breathe. (See Linda Stone’s work on email apnea!)

Chat Notes after standing up and moving:

  • I seemed to have greater energy . I was able to be more focused
  • It’s fun to freak people out sometimes! : ) (reflecting on the fact that people in the office wondered what this person was doing!)
  • I move more as I work
  • relaxed me a bit
  • it just occurred to me.. we should do this whole thing using xbox!! I’d love to see snapshots of people’s moves : )
  • True! VR is the future and coming soon!

Think about the movement towards standing desks? (3+ participants said they had one, one didn’t know what a stand up desk was). How many walk with their phone during phone calls? We are learning that we are killing ourselves prematurely by sitting too much. There is a stream of work aroundwalking meetings” and redesigned work environments.

But  what do we know about the value of movement in group process? We then explored the connection between moving, attention and how body position can impact attention and prevent more computer based multitasking. Stretch breaks.

Dancing is a metaphor used in our work, just like music (“Its like Jazz!”) Movement and kinesthetic experience has long been incorporated into K-12 pedagogy. The link between math and balance board activities, the association of certain sports activities with areas of studies such as music and math, and the emerging consensus of the value of recess, particularly the physical play aspects, are visible and most of us are aware of them.

If you do a general analysis of group processes, looking at their underlying patterns, there are strong movement components. Large/Small/Large group alternation. “Stand up” meetings.  Visual practitioners talk about the power of people getting up to a wall and making a mark (expressive arts) . The body, my friends, is powerful… Trios in walking tasks improve the quality of thinking and conversation.But we don’t find a lot of results with a Google search about physical aspects of online group facilitation. Building the kinesthetic experience into F2F is fairly common (mode choice), but not very often online. The most frequent thing you hear is to take physical breaks in online events every 40 minutes.

What might technologies like virtual reality help us do? How can our use of metaphors of movement (like dancing)  stimulate the somatic memory. Donella Meadows talked about “dancing with systems.” There are ways of doing strategic planning that are about building resilience, flow and action versus a static plan. We need to build kinesthetic metaphors into our vocabulary and moving methods into our process. I move tables out of the room for more physicality (tables are for eating!), use the human spectrogram to tease out positions and avoid people getting trapped next to the two people they sat down between at the start. What does this look like online?

Different technologies influence our design.  The invitation to engage in these things is important – the language we use.  “This is too childish… we are adults.”  If we have a clear purpose, the activity has to have a direct link to purpose. Talking about facilitation ideas in the abstract is less powerful, because their use towards purpose is what matters. The connection to the purpose: that is the integrity of the design.

Here are some of the ideas the group shared in the chat room: :

  • Instead of having people sitting at breakout tables, have the groups gather around chart paper on the walls around the room
  • I have people stand for exercises all the time . My purpose is to get them focused on the task and get their energy up
  • Love the idea of walking breakout groups
  • I have conference centers give us breakout rooms without tables and chairs. Only flipcharts
  • If folks have cell phones, you can use the Adobe app, etc.
  • How about hololens? An augmented reality headset. Like a next gen Google Glass
  • when working from home, I walk around with my laptop
  • Who says they all have that capability?How to get around the fact that people will sign in with diff technology that prohibits
  • We breakout participants in groups at the end of a day’s session and ask them to produce a skit of their summary of key takeaways from the day. I am always surprised at how much adults love to produce and act! …we can geek out 🙂
  • Love the language change suggestion!
  • there’s a fun platform, MURAL, that allows you to do fun things on the computer that you would do in person – like creating and posting sticky notes with ideas.  https://mural.co/
  • A group of children is almost always more creative than a group of adults. So being “childish” may mean more creative.

Taste/Smell

It was about half way through the 90 minutes when we moved on to taste and smell. Snack time! We’ve heard the line: “Wake up and smell the coffee.” or “That is a tasty idea.” smell and taste metaphors are rich and common. They are one of my favorites because as a chocoholic, I often invoke it in many ways. I shared a picture using chocolate as a metaphor for coming together via  a chocolate mandala at a retreat. Here was a bit of my rap:

Can you smell the chocolate? Does it remind you of something beyond the act of eating chocolate?  Smell memories are some of the most powerful. Smell and taste are powerful parts of the limbic system. Associated with memory and feeling. They can trigger something almost Pavolovian.

Because the olfactory bulb is part of the brain’s limbic system, an area so closely associated with memory and feeling it’s sometimes called the “emotional brain,” smell can call up memories and powerful responses almost instantaneously. “ (HowStuffWorks) When I smell “Love’s Baby Soft” perfume, my year as an exchange student in Brazil as a high school student rises up in all its detail, when otherwise I simply remember the stories I retold the most after my return. Rice cakes make me think of my pregnancies.

I invited you to bring something yummy to eat or drink. Take a sip or a bite right now, if anything is left. Pay attention to your body. What is happening?

While they were munching, I mentioned the work of a client at the CITA program who have introduced good nutrition before family court hearings. and how this simple act of providing protein is shifting court experiences and outcomes. Yes, our bodies are in this with our minds.

Immediately someone asked about the relevance of an experiment like this – the relevance to the purpose and the relevance of the group. Sometimes I step a bit away from purpose and look at creating or holding the space or conditions for working on a purpose. Punctuation – not the main meal, but things that help the main meal go well. But it can’t divert or detract from purpose. Our role is not entertainment – it has to be purposeful. But food has strong social connotations and it evokes memories. So how can we use this in online facilitation?

Chat Notes:

  • Dark chocolate over coconut – the taste and smell is heaven!
  • Wondering about the realistic application of this during an actual on-line session with people that use diff tech to participate and have diff ability and comfort level with any specific tech. Examples of your use of this ??
  • Nancy: This is exactly my question, I don’t know the answer! 🙂 But I want to hear ideas!
  • Does Adobe allow all of us to connect our cameras and audios for 30seconds?
  • I like what you set up… inviting everyone to bring food / drink and even to eat/drink at the same time. And then… ask to share and go to impact or application??
  • What are you eating? You can eat and type, but hard to eat and talk at the same time.
  • coffee and almonds, here in Philly
  • that was my point 😉 sharing everyone’s eating and drinking 🙂
  • @ZZ, we can turn cameras on, but one person at a time. Anyone want to go on video for a bit?
  • a smell that holds memory for you? and the feeling accompanying it/ and …?
  • we have had ‘celebratory’ online meetings with colleagues around the world — the meeting was to celebrate the group’s work and get feedback on the process,
  • Cranky if we aren’t experiencing good nutrition
  • The same issue with nutrition happens with people with dementia or cognitive impairments
  • I certainly agree that food is good for in person meetings, but it is interesting that I don’t want to be watching people eat on-line. Interesting. Is it just because it is different? Or am I impatient because I see it as taking up time?
  • brain & thinking impact from chronic stress… ACES study.
  • Appreciate the question and exploration of ideas for how to do this. At the end of the day does it not need to be relevantly useful for the group’s work?
  • @YY agreed. But I’m finding myself enjoying seeing the coffee drinking.
  • I’m with XX – don’t want to watch people eat 😉 adverse childhood experiences…

Sing/Vocalize

Next was the experiment that, in a previous setting, was the most challenging for people: shared vocalization in the form of singing. Now I know that when we open up multiple mics there will be a sound mess. Things won’t synch up, so I warned everyone in advance. Then we sang Happy Birthday together.

My friend Steve Crandall mentioned a while back some research about the role of singing and social bonding. (Two here and here.) This got me thinking about singing together. I did a little experiment last year at the Sketching in Practice conference in Vancouver, BC with groups using different modalities F2F and the group that had to sing to communicate was, well, not happy. They rebelled. Singing is not a shared public practice, it seems. 😉 We need to figure out how to USE it!

If you look at the development of shared communication, singing has played  role. But we have often excluded in business as “not appropriate.” They create moments of discomfort, regardless of online or offline. Can we use these moments productively? Can we access the value of shared vocalization more deeply?

I’m not suggesting singing Kumbaya and holding hands, but thinking about the value of shared vocalization, in neurostimulation. As we work in a complex world with different people and contexts, shouldn’t we be calling about these things as part of our process? Shouldn’t we be asking these questions? Maybe just playing music alone is not enough, but need something purpose driven around shared vocalization.

“We show that although singers and non-singers felt equally connected by timepoint 3, singers experienced much faster bonding: singers demonstrated a significantly greater increase in closeness at timepoint 1, but the more gradual increase shown by non-singers caught up over time. This represents the first evidence for an ‘ice-breaker effect’ of singing in promoting fast cohesion between unfamiliar individuals, which bypasses the need for personal knowledge of group members gained through prolonged interaction. We argue that singing may have evolved to quickly bond large human groups of relative strangers, potentially through encouraging willingness to coordinate by enhancing positive affect.” http://rsos.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/2/10/150221

The online technology is not friendly to us today, but we should be asking questions about how we can improve the experience. Maybe virtual reality will help us.

Create/Destroy/Recreate

And with that, we moved on to “create/destry/re-create” which is an experiment I’ve run many times in online meetings. This is the “finger painting online” bit – actually mouse-painting for most people, working on a shared white board and using images instead of words. I’ve written about this before, so I’ll move right into the debrief, as this post has grown to gargantuan proportions. Oops!

The debrief of the open drawing of the first round:

  • started to look like jackson pollack by the end!
  • it got messy!
  • incites curiosity
  • looks like Guernica
  • Depends what we are trying to do.
  • confused
  • LOL
  • For this kind of exercise it felt right
  • overwriting each other’s pictures could get in the way of purpose, or not!
  • I greatly improved other peoples drawings…
  • connection, another way to hi
  • the idea of an exercise of building off others’ work if interesting
  • This is a self selected group of people willing to experiment

The second round where a grid and specific instructions were provided:

  • started to look like jackson pollack by the end!
  • it got messy!
  • incites curiosity
  • looks like Guernica
  • Depends what we are trying to do.
  • confused
  • LOL
  • For this kind of exercise it felt right
  • overwriting each other’s pictures could get in the way of purpose, or not!
  • I greatly improved other peoples drawings…
  • connection, another way to hi
  • the idea of an exercise of building off others’ work if interesting
  • This is a self selected group of people willing to experiment

And the third round where we opened things back up to a more emergent creative practice:

  • This is an awesome exercise… here’s what it looks like in a room as part of a world cafe: http://lizardbrainsolutions.com/zwixnxzvcauu2d39y9ijr7kbumu9y1
  • Lol. Love the gump!
  • Ah, I see Forrest Gump
  • ha ha….ha
  • shared purpose
  • more like the first time
  • tower of babel tasking
  • felt more like intentional collaboration I looked for places to add, elaborate
  • jointly effort because we have a theme
  • it felt like we were all contributing to an agreed end product
  • It seems the drawings appeared at the same time.
  • more detail possible but still does not resemble tree
  • surprise, but shared purpose — yielded unexpected results you could build on
  • some people dominating?
  • a cactus would have been nice.
  • After creating several trees, I looked for open spaces. Trying to work together.
  • its difficult to control the stroke sometimes – inadvertently infringed on people’s space
  • would love to have the drawing exercise with music in the background!

Look at the progression: We had no constraints, then constraints, and then between the two we find the space to work together. We built awareness of intentionality and purpose, of our own acts and the acts of our colleagues. Fisher Qua has been doing a group drawing on large paper that starts with individual drawings on the perimeter of the paper and then work collaboratively towards the center. In a space of unfamiliarity, we act differently into the experience.

World Café table clothes where large white paper is set on each table with a range of colored pens for spontaneous doodling and drawing  are a very good example of this F2F. So too with drawing on whiteboards — we have a subtle negotiation of visual space and an easy place to play in the online space.

The Return

Our time was coming to an end. We reached the “return” stage of our metaphorical fugue. We started easy with aural and ended with easy with visual. We explored how to pay attention together and work together.  Individually. Collectively. At a distance and yet really together. We concluded with a “What? So What? Now What?” debrief which you can read in the PDF below.

For me, the insights were these:

  • We need to actively understand and experiment with including more modalities and approaches in our online work if we truly want to learn and work and play together online.
  • Switching helps us out of our thinking ruts and into new, productive spaces for engagement.
  • Discomfort is ok. Let’s use it productively.
  • We have a lot more work to do!

MAFN FingerP ainting Together Online Jan 2017 Annotated

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Mar 02 2017

Event: Preparing Teachers of Refugees

Diana Woolis, a friend and colleague at the Carey Institute for Global Good is convening an online event that begins soon and culminates on March 14-16. It will focus on preparing teachers of refugees.

Please join me and other educators from around the world in  Action for Teachers of Refugees a free global online event about teaching teachers of refugees.  We will be discussing critical issues and sharing ideas and experiences about professional learning. You can participate in some or all of the activities, for as much or as little time as you choose, and whenever you want through-out the 3 days.

We have several activities lined up:

  • Showcasing  professional learning platforms people are using or wish they had for professional development – add yours, learn about others.
  • Structured facilitated discussions: Text-based exchanges facilitated by guest Discussion Hosts (I am one) focused on addressing the question: What is sustainable, effective pedagogy for teachers-of-teachers of refugees, and how can it be enacted?
  • A Practice Lab – for those who want to reflect, in community, on their experience developing or participating in teach-the-teachers initiatives.
  •    Signature Pedagogy – A consideration of a draft version for teachers-of-teachers of refugees.

Especially needed are the voices of teachers, pre-k through college, so please share this invite with your teacher networks!

 Here is the overall description:

PREPARING TEACHERS OF REFUGEES
Many organizations in the United States and around the world are designing effective content and curriculum for teachers of refugees in a range of settings- from camps, to college campuses, to classrooms and online, on a range of topics from math to English to arts and humanities as well as social-emotional support for students.

As a group, we are universally challenged by how best to “teach-the-teachers” – how to engage, prepare, assess, certify and support them.

The Center for Learning in Practice seeks to contribute to addressing this situation by codifying ways in which continuous learning for teachers/educators and practitioners, real time data about teaching practice, and valuable feedback can be provided to teachers regardless of context and with fidelity. We seek to do so in community and in dialogue with educators and practitioners and help build a knowledge network among us.

The full schedule is here.

In addition, beginning now anyone who has registered can post a submission by simply writing a short description of their platform- what it is used for, who it serves, and how success, impact, or outcomes of its use are or will be assessed. On March 13 posting closes. On March 14, the Peer-Source is open all day for comments, and then is put in “read-only” mode, when we move to the Forum discussions.

I encourage you to join us for part or all of the event. Free. Online. Register now!

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