Two Liberating Structures Workshops at University of Illinois April 5 and 6

Are you at or near the University of Illinois at Champagne/Urbana? Interested in Liberating Structures? Then join us for one or two days of hands/heads/hearts on workshops.  The first one is a new offering I’ve put together that builds on some of my recent blog posts (and more to come) about facilitating in complex contexts!

April 5 Learning the Strategy Game Plan: Liberating Structures for Development

The first workshop is on April 5th, 8:30 am – 5:30 pm. It is designed to explore how we can use Liberating Structures, a repertoire of 33 group practices, to improve project planning and execution for participatory projects that are often on complex and emergent contexts. While a funder or boss may want a linear log-frame and a budget, we need to find approaches that embrace ambiguity with practical approaches, ensure learning and improvement are part of the design, not an afterthought, and which consistently liberate and unleash the knowledge and experiences across the system at play.

In the workshop you will practice 6-8 structures and utilize an overarching framework to tie the pieces together in a cogent, visual whole. The fee is $100.00, registration is here, and a brief flyer is attached to this blog post.  Leave me a comment with any questions. Spread the word!

April 6th, Unleashing Learning Engagement in the Classroom 

The second is a series of three, 90 minute workshops that dive increasingly deeper into the use of Liberating Structures for increasing classroom engagement in higher education. We’ve designed this with the busy professor/lecturer/Graduate Student/TA in mind.

Is it a challenge to engage all student voices in your classes? Do you look for ways to spark deeper student engagement the subject matter and with each other? Do you wish they would take more ownership and risks in their learning? Engagement deepens learning and application. It strengthens the muscles that help students work with ambiguity. But it can be challenging, in both small and large groups.

Come explore Liberating Structures, an easy to learn and deploy repertoire of of 33+ open source interaction structures that can build patterns of easy, regular student engagement in the classroom.  They quickly foster lively participation in groups of any size, making it possible to truly include and unleash everyone.

You can start with a short 90 minute introductory workshop, or stay for all three learning sessions. First is an introduction of the easiest and most often used Liberating Structures, second, a focused application to solve a real challenge, and third, a deeper dive into the theory and practice behind Liberating Structures.

8:30 – 10:00  Workshop 1: Liberating Engaged Learning: discover and use 4 structures that can immediately increase engagement in your classroom.

Friday, April 6, 2018
Illini Union Ballroom

8:30 am to 10:00 am  Workshop 1: Liberating Engaged Learning: discover and use 4 structures that can immediately increase engagement in your classroom. In this 90 minute session you will get a hands on introduction to some of the easiest and most commonly used Liberating Structures to build student engagement in your class. It will conclude with a debrief and identification of immediate applications in your classroom. You can then build your practice by turning to the instructions for individual structures on the website (www.liberatingstructures.com), mobile phone app (available free on  iTunes and Google Play) or continue with the two following workshops.

10:30 am to 12:00 pm Workshop 2: Stringing Structures to Tackle a Challenge in Your Classroom: learn how a sequence of multiple structures can address specific challenges (student, passivity, unequal participation, lack of critical thinking, etc.) and larger outcomes. This builds on Workshop 1. 

 

Liberating structures can be used individually, but their power becomes more visible when they are joined together or “strung.” In this 90 minute session we will use a string of 2-3 Liberating Structures to collaboratively work on addressing a concrete shared classroom challenge such as how to create an open environment and tackle a lack of student participation, end student passivity, weak discussions, or the lack of productive risk-taking. You will walk away with at least one actionable solution you can apply the next time you are in the classroom. You will learn how to use the Liberating Structures Matchmaker tool to select and string the structures. Prerequisite: Workshop 1

12:00 pm to 1:00 pm   Lunch Break (grab lunch in the food court or on Green Street) with someone you just met this morning

1:00 pm to 2:30 pm Workshop 3: Understanding the Theory Behind Liberating Structures: an advanced workshop that looks at the underlying elements of Liberating Structures and how they can become part of the everyday pattern of highly engaged classrooms. Liberating Structures can appear to simply be “yet another facilitation tool.” What sets them apart is the attention to five microstructures that sit beneath each Liberating Structures, and the ten principles that guide them. These give us insight as to how and why Liberating Structures work well for stronger classroom engagement, enable more critical thinking, innovation and action. In this workshop we will explore some of the theory behind Liberating Structures and experience a few of the more complex and rich structures. You will also be introduced to various vectors for continuing to learn and practice Liberating Structures. Prerequisite: Workshop 1 and/or 2.

It’s worth your time to come to all three, but if you can only attend one, then come to the first. If you can do two, then combine workshops 1 and 2 or workshops 1 and 3.

Registration is here and the short flyer is attached below.

Flyer – LS Workshop on April 5 2018 – Strategy Game Plan

Flyer – LS Workshop on April 6 2018 – Unleashing Learning Engagement – external

 

Facilitating Strategic Planning in Complex Contexts

My clients have been asking for more support in planning for the future. In almost every case there have been internal or external factors that suggest significant inflection or turning points. Policy changes due to political shifts. Growth in networks. Shifting priorities. Emerging possibilities. New combinations of partners.

They usually ask for traditional strategic planning. I have realized I don’t do this anymore. Won’t. Forget your SWOT analysis. I’m fully into the “liberating planning” space. A liberated facilitation space. This work has been deeply enhanced by my collaboration with folks like Keith McCandless and Fisher Qua, fellow “struturalistas!” Many of the words below came from or were inspired by them and others from the Liberating Structures community.

Context

Why do we need complexity informed planning? Three big reasons.

  • Portfolios, not just projects: Very few organizations have just one element, yet planning is often linear and isolated at the project level. Strategically we need to take a portfolio perspective on planning which is quite different than “planning a project.”  When you work at the portfolio level, you are looking not for a single success (or failure), but for signals that can show how to move the whole field forward. A portfolio approach can help buffer against the typical three-year grant funding cycles and keep focused on strategy. Tactics should include “safe fail” probes (http://cognitive-edge.com/methods/safe-to-fail-probes/) and experimentation in areas of uncertainty, and then, once some clarity has emerged, scale up or adapt to more mature results.  Among many useful things, the Liberating Structure Ecocycle Planning (http://www.liberatingstructures.com/31-ecocycle-planning/ ) supports a complexity informed portfolio approach.  Interestingly it also allows simultaneous work on strategy and tactics.
  • Complexity requires complexity informed facilitation practices. A portfolio approach is complex, with many unknowns, variables and dependencies. Even within a project, the challenges people are facing are rarely simple cause/effect problems. They are complex. It does NOT mean that things are SO complex, we simply can’t address the complexity.The facilitation implication is that people need a handle on complexity, to recognize it, work with it, and not get overwhelmed by it. If we are to tackle system level problems, we need a repertoire suited for complex contexts. Look at the work of Cognitive Edge (http://cognitive-edge.com/ )  , Harold Jarche and many others. (http://jarche.com/2010/10/organizations-and-complexity/, https://jarche.com/2016/04/complexity-in-the-workplace/ , http://www.ontheagilepath.net/2015/10/complexity-and-methods-to-succeed-thanks-for-the-books-organize-for-complexity-and-komplexithoden.html and https://www.odi.org/sites/odi.org.uk/files/resource-documents/10604.pdf )
  • Planning itself becomes an Ecocycle. My recent work with the Ecocycle Planning tool has opened a new repertoire of facilitating in complex contexts by helping us recognize that our work does, and should, span the four spaces of maturity, creative destruction, networking and birth. The Ecocycle recognizes that we operate across a range of contexts and projects that are, from a Cynefin framework perspective, simple (rules based), complicated (expertise driven),  complex (not predictable) and chaotic (we will never fully know!) A manager may feel most accountable for the maturity space, where tested approaches can be scaled up. But without an eye to the pipeline in, simply managing the mature space is self-delusion. It may require making space through creative destruction. Opening up to wider networks to identify new possibilities and steward them through the innovation process. Yet maturity is the manager’s area of comfort. To embrace the other areas, they must see the action of the continuum of the Ecocycle.

The patterns I notice across the Ecocycle and other useful facilitation processes for working in a complex context are that:

  • they ask us to shift our perspective about how past experiences inform our present analysis,
  • they support the emergent (often unpredictable), and,
  • they are iterative.

Another thing I notice is that this practice embraces a different mindset for planning which also attracts REALLY INTERESTING people. That, of course, attracts me.

The Adaptive Strategy Landscape for Project Design & Development

We have been struggling about what to call this and how to describe it. My newest experiment is “Adaptive Strategy Landscape.” I’m currently designing a workshop for practitioners in international development to use Liberating Structures in project design – thus my need to blog about this and think out loud with you. I am drawn to the term “landscape” because it is visually strong, and implies an ecosystem of inter-relating elements. I am very open to other name suggestions. 😉

So what does this Landscape, this “emergent, complexity-friendly strategic planning” actually look like? Right now we are framing it around six questions I learned from Keith. Typically I tinker and modify them to the domain in question. This is their generic form.

  1. PURPOSE: Why is this work important to us and the wider community?  How do we justify our work to others? What makes this important?
  2. CONTEXT: What is happening around us that demands change? This question is particularly energizing to help identify and sharpen purpose. It shocks me how often this is ignored or left muddy and far from strategic. A good idea out of context is often a blind alley.
  3. BASELINE: Where are we starting, honestly? This question has many layers and process options, from identification of strengths (things in our “Maturity area” of the ecocycle), positive deviance (http://www.liberatingstructures.com/10-discovery-action-dialogue/ ) , identification of challenges, or the things we have resisted or feared discussing, the light and the dark. It surfaces the things we must work with. AND the things we need to creatively destroy to make space for innovation. The creative destruction is ESSENTIAL to this process!
  4. CHALLENGE: What paradoxical challenges must we face to make progress? This invites the ground shifting conversation to enable working in a complex environment. It is not “if we do X, Y will happen.” It is not X or Y.  It examines competing priorities, uncertain futures, and antagonizing circumstances. It explores multiple perspectives and truths. Paradoxes are not things to defeat us, but tools to change how we view a problem. To shift our mindsets.  A useful sub-question if things get stuck is What happens if we don’t change? How do we keep moving forward in this land of “wicked questions?” ( http://www.liberatingstructures.com/4-wicked-questions/ )
  5. AMBITION: Given our purpose, what big ideas seem possible now for our purpose? What big opportunities do we see? What is ready to be imagined and then stewarded into birth? This frames our shared impetus forward. It is the genesis of our monitoring and evaluation framework as well, informed by the other five questions. This is super-important and includes a developmental evaluation perspective right from the start. This is useful to engage project funders in dialog, both in the proposal, planning and discussion of outputs and outcomes from a complexity perspective.
  6. ACTION: How are we moving away from the current state to our desired future state? This is the practical piece. What are the next steps? Things we can decide and do. Start now, no matter how small the step. Do something. Don’t wait to plan for perfection. ACT! Build iterative learning into the design. Monitor and evaluate as a way of working, not an afterthought or a tick on the checklist.

While these each have a number attached to them that informs sequence, this is not by any means always a linear process. A discovery around “where are we starting, honestly,” may lead us to rethink our purpose. Learning loops abound.

Process

A portfolio approach, complexity and the Ecocycle, informed by the six questions, has lead to the construction of a set or “string” of processes (many from Liberating Structures) that inform design of the process.Here are some example structures for each question.

  1. PURPOSE: Why, why, why is this work important to us and the wider community? 
    1. 9 Whys
    2. 1-2-4-All
    3. Drawing Together
  2. CONTEXT: What is happening around us that demands a fresh/new/novel approach ?
    1. Mad Tea
    2. Critical Uncertainties
    3. Discovery and Action Dialog
    4. Users Experience Fishbowl
  3. BASELINE: Where are we starting, really?
    1. What, So What, Now What?
    2. TRIZ
    3. Critical Uncertainties
  4. CHALLENGE: What paradoxical challenges must we face to make progress?
    1. TRIZ
    2. Wicked Questions
  5. AMBITION: Given our purpose, what seems possible now?
    1. 25/10 Crowd Sourcing
    2. What, So What, Now What?
    3. Troika Consulting
  6. ACTION: How are we breaking away from the present and moving toward the future?
    1. 15% Solutions
    2. Ecocycle
    3. WINFY
    4. Purpose to Practice

I pay close attention to turning points, where something shifts in the group, and adjust my string to respond to these emergent factors. I use large visuals to anchor and capture salient information, ideally identified by the participants and NOT me. (This helps avoid one of my pitfalls, over-harvesting!) Post its, paper, pens are all in everyone’s hands. Fisher has started adding a timeline to the bottom to build off of question 3 with more detail.

We iteratively stop and take turns telling the story of the emerging visual to get clear on what we understand and what we need to process further. Often, this is the moment when we go back and sharpen the purpose, and find the right level of granularity around each question. Sometimes we capture these on videos. There are moments when you see new clarity emerge right on the spot.

From this a smaller team usually transforms this into a written plan, conforming (ahem!) to the needs of the organization and or funders. There is still a gap between the very learning intensive process of complexity-based planning and the formats we use to write, manage and evaluate projects. More work to do!

Here are a few examples of the visual after a planning session.

From the Fire Adaptive Communities retreat
From Keith McCandless

 

So what do you think?

Please add, comment, critique, rename in the comments! Thank you in advance for thinking WITH me!

Resources/Inspirations:

Innovation Barrier #2: Your Network Is Embedded In An Older Model

At this point, most people are aware of the power of network effects.  Everybody uses Microsoft Office because everyone else uses it.  If you want to sell something, you put it on eBay because that’s where the buyers are (and they’re there because that’s where the sellers are).  Apple’s iOS is popular, in part, because everyone wants to develop for it.

via 3 Things That Can Stall Innovation (And How To Overcome Them) | The Creativity Post.

Shifting Conditions That Hold Problems in Place

Two of my colleagues/friends have written very useful posts reflecting on practices that can enhance any year end reflections and new years planning you may be cooking up. Many of you who know me how much I value what emerges from practice and my learning path is to understand these things from a complexity perspective in various systems. Recently a client pointed me to a FSG blog post which had a link to a quote that has enlivened this path.

Social Innovation Generation in Canada defines systems change as “shifting the conditions that are holding the problem in place.

Savor that one for a minute.

For me, the blog posts noted below give us some ideas about shifting those conditions that are holding our problems in place!

First, Mike Parker of Liminal Coaching shares a great set of ideas framing the complexity of todays work world (work in the broadest sense!) What is wonderful is that if you keep reading, you will get to Mike’s gift: the value of daydreaming in helping us navigate our complex worlds. Yes, daydreaming. He riffs on the time management Pomodoro practice and creates Liminal Pomodoro – a practice to relax and let your mind do its work in that daydreaming state of mind. This might be helping conditions in our own minds that are holding our problems in place. Read the post – seriously. Then go take a Liminal Pomodor break and come back and read the rest of this post. Who knows, you may see it in a whole new light!

The second post comes from Michelle Medley-Daniel from the Fire Adapted Network Community. I had the chance to work with Michelle and hear team last year and we played with many complexity informed practices such as Liberating Structure. Michelle informed me that what she learned during that retreat had continued to add value over the year – which of course made my day.

Michelle’s reflections came around the US Thanksgiving holiday and reflected one of my favorite themes, abundance and ditching the scarcity mindset. To me, these are not Pollyanna-ish practices, but survival skills. When you take a different perspective, you have the chances of shifting the conditions that are – yes – holding the problems in place. I’ve snipped the high level essence of 2 pieces of advice below, but let the beautiful pie picture lure you into her full posting.

How Practicing “Enough” and Looking Ahead Can Support Social Innovation

Idea 1: Adopt an abundance mentality and give scarcity thinking the boot!

  • Give freely.
  • Check your pace; make space for your priorities.
  • Practice gratitude.

Idea 2: As you reflect on the strategic opportunities that lie ahead, consider how people think about the future.

In the times of the immense wildfires in California, and the work that Michelle and her colleagues do at the Fire Adapted Communities Learning Network, this advice seems urgent and important.

Let’s shift the conditions that are holding the problems in place!

Eng and Corney’s “Navigating the Minefield: A Practical KM Companion”

When approached to support knowledge management (KM) in my consulting practice, I often reply “I don’t believe in KM!” This flippant but heartfelt comment reflects the failures I’ve observed as people tried to reduce the complex processes of learning, creating, sharing and applying knowledge into a set of “best practices” and databases. It was as if KM was a mechanical but glorified tool, like a fancy food processor, admired while new, and then left on the shelf. Most KM approaches failed to understand that at the heart of creating, sharing, adapting knowledge is embedded in our entrained human behaviors and rarely successfully redirected by rules. Especially for busy people. Yes, I am a skeptic of of many KM approaches.

So when Paul Corney and Patricia Eng invited me to take a look at their new book, “Navigating the Mindfield: A Practical KM Companion,” I had a glimmer of hope. Why? I have interacted online with Paul for many years via the global community of practice on KM in international development, KM4Dev, and have found him sensible and practical, while also pushing and looking forward. Those are all good indicators of a viable KM approach. 

Eng and Corney’s book is at first a somewhat basic and “obvious” book. It ticks the check marks around understanding what KM is and it’s diverse value proposition. It is a GREAT introductory text for someone who has just been handed a KM responsibility. It is filled with common sense, which we know from experience isn’t always so common. Usefully it is grounded with stories exemplifying the ideas provided: a real world check. 

For me, as an “old hand,” the book sings in Chapter 7 – What Surprised Us. After analyzing all their interviews and research, Eng and Corney put their heads together to identify the surprises that ultimately spring from what they describe as KM being “all about people.” People are not orderly, obedient and prepared to live in the (fantasy) land of “best practices.” Their contexts are diverse and often complex. In describing these surprises, the authors sketch out the reality that KM is a complex practice and requires complexity appropriate strategies and adaptations. My favorite is #2, “Operational KM to the fore, strategic KM to the rear.” This is a classic polarity, a wicked question. How can we be both operational and strategic? Focus solely on an operational challenge, KM dies when that operational imperative ends. Strategic only and buy in at the front line rarely happens. KM, at its best, dances within these two polarities, rather than tries to resolve them. 

The issue for me is to be always thinking forward about KM and how it can add value in ways the generatively move a system in the direction we want it to go. If we rely on a single model or framework, that task is impossible. So watch out for the trap!

If you are just starting out with KM, read the whole book and absorb the stories and lessons. If you are an old/jaded/in-a-rut practitioner, start with Chapter 7 and be prepared to discover lessons you probably already know, but haven’t applied. That darned old common sense isn’t always so common. So let’s start practicing it again. Let’s get more creative … or maybe that isn’t the word. Let’s use, for example, complexity frameworks to understand and expand what works and ditch the failing old plans. Maybe KM can be real!

Matthew May Swats the SWOT (Amen!)

This is an older quote from Matthew May from 2015. Ironically, he has stopped blogging and participates through social media networks,
a topic for another of my “still in draft” blog posts. But I wanted to get this quote up here as it is related to a longer piece I am writing about Facilitating in Complex Contexts. So here it is, food for thought today.

I used to be agnostic on SWOT. No longer. I’m violently against it as the starting point for strategy.

I now think it’s far better to think through various strategic choices, ask what would have to be true for those choices to be good ones, and explore those hypotheses through valid experiments, before ever locking and loading on a strategy. It’s creative and divergent thinking, which is the polar opposite of the convergent thinking that fuels planning and analysis.

The difference between divergent and convergent thinking is the difference between chess and checkers. Both games are played on the same board, both games have the same number of players. With checkers, though, you really don’t have much to think about, the players are all the same, and the moves are single, linear steps. Chess has far more kinds of players, far more possibilities and options to consider, including the competitive response to a single move. That’s why when you watch the chess masters play (not sure why you’d want to do that), the “action” is mostly invisible…they’re thinking about their choices and and the possible reactions to those choices.

If you want and need a new strategy, swat your SWOT. Forever.

via MATTHEW E. MAY | creative facilitation » Swat Your SWOT…Forever.