Archive for the 'events' Category

Jan 06 2015

Graphic Facilitation and Sense Making > The Sum of its Arts

What follows is a mish-mashed report on an online event from December 2014. I know better than to procrastinate this long…

Last month Laurie Webster invited me to do a web gathering with her as part of a free series she has been offering. She is a pro with all sorts of quantitative processes and particularly the use of Sense-Maker ®. I like the way she thinks/does and she was totally open to a wild-hair experiment. I was not offering to share what I KNOW, I wanted to think together about what is tickling my brain.

Our pitch was simple: come play and think out loud with us.

Join me and Nancy for a fast-paced event that promises to be both practical and playful. Nancy will begin by describing how she uses visual methods in a variety of facilitative settings. Then we will discuss how these methods can both supplement and complement sensemaking and the use of SenseMaker®. The real fun will begin when registrants are invited to join Nancy in the sandbox for a real-time, “safe-to-fail” experiment using a shared online drawing tool.

Her clever partner, Stephen DeLong came up with the most imaginative title, Sensemaking + Graphic Facilitation > The Sum of its Arts. I bow down to this cleverness, and it well expresses the idea that Laurie and I had been wondering about: what is the role of visuals in the sensemaking process.

We started by introducing our fields – graphic facilitation, and sensemaking. Of course, I was being a goofball as usual. This is deliberate. Low status body language with high status verbal language = people listen differently. They can’t quite pin things down from past experience, so they are open. Thank you, Viv McWaters! That insight you shared a few years back at the Applied Improvisation conference has borne much fruit!

I’m a huge fan of graphic recording and graphic facilitation. Visuals are powerful tools. By that I mean all those wonderful things like pictures can initiate great conversations, they aren’t so explicit that we can assume we understand so we ask each other questions, “tell me the story” here, etc. Visuals are openers.

At the same time I have become increasingly troubled when I sense that MY drawing is actually taking sensemaking agency away from the people I’m supporting. My drawing, as hard as I try to be a faithful, neutral reporter, still carries my interpretation. It is what I hear and how I make sense of that. Sometimes my interpretation and synthesis can be useful. But when the drawing (or other visual approaches such as photo cards, collage, Draw With Me, etc.) is in the hands of everyone, we can both take advantage of the power of visuals, and disintermediate the sensemaking. Tracy Kelly picked up on this topic and posted a very thoughtful blog post on “Graphic Recording: how to disintermediate.” Do hop over and read it!

Combine this with the work that Laurie and her colleagues have been doing with sensemaking through the use of narrative fragments, we start getting some interesting “science fair experiments.” We started wondering out loud if people can draw their narrative fragments and if we could apply sensemaking processes to those visual fragments.

The jumping off point is we have to be comfortable drawing our silly little stick figure pictures. Oh, how repressed we are about drawing in public. So we dumped everyone into a drawing environment. No hiding!

The real fun started at about 30 minutes in. You can see a video of the whole process here, but you must register and log in. There is a 1 minute teaser for those of you who don’t want to register. (I understand!) We left the “webinar” environment and moved to BoardThing, a wonderful invention of Dave Gray and friends. We accidentally erased all the drawing we did, but I’ll share a few screenshots below. I wanted to not just TALK about participant-generated visuals, but to DO them.

First we introduced some of the functionality of Boardthing, which is a wonderful mash up of online card sorting, a shared whiteboard and a chat room. (The chat of the event is attached for your reading pleasure. ChatFromDecVizSensemakingWebinar ) We did a wee bit of card sorting (on the left of the screen shots). Then I invited a group of 9 people to start drawing on the whiteboard. We then debriefed from both the drawers’ and observers’ perspective. If you peek at the transcript, you will see that this first round was not particularly comfortable for those drawing, and a bit hard to make sense of by the observers. Then I sketched in a grid and gave a second, more focused drawing prompt. The images came faster and were easier to use to engage in the sensemaking process. We then chatted about the power of constraints!

SensevizExp1SensevizExp2SensevizExp3

 

 

 

 

 

The hour flew by and we did not come to any momentous insights, but based on page views of the video and followup emails Laurie has received, I think we hit on something resonant. I’m not sure what to do with it next, but I plan to think/play/experiment some more. There is some distance to travel between the whole “getting people drawing” thing, and the more sophisticated sensemaking processes. My main conclusion is that using the drawings helps prevent people from prematurely coming to interpretations and conclusions. There is sufficient ambiguity to stimulate us to learn more and dive deeper, and sufficient novelty to shake us out of our “thinking ruts.” That’s good stuff. The question now is how to apply these insights usefully. For sure, it will be fun.

Finally, Susan Stewart recently started a Facebook group about webinars and reflected a bit on the process. She said it was OK to share here!

 Susan Stewart’s reflections

Just finished the webinar with Nancy White … she’s such a willing risk-taker. (We used two platforms: GoToWebinar and BoardThing (in Beta) – BoardThing for drawing together.) Many take-aways from the webinar, I will share two and I hope others who participated will share some, too!

1. TRY DRAWING: I have used white boards for things like having folks write their thoughts, plot the intersection of their previous learning experiences and their comfort with current content, dragging their name to a chair as a way of taking role and letting them claim a space in the conversation (Thanks, LaDonna Coy!)… I have not invited folks to draw…but I think I will try giving them a prompt and some instruction on how to use the tools, then invite observations by those not drawing and also by those who have done the drawing.

Interestingly, this is not about high quality art, but about iconic scrawls. Even the most rudimentary images can represent some profound understandings.

Nancy noted that drawing sometimes allows things to emerge that otherwise might not have – even the drawer may not be cognizant of what is coming forth until it is there. She did share that this can be quite powerful and suggests setting up the situation with much thought and being prepared with how to respond if strong emotions are triggered.

I think we had 47 people on the webinar from all over the world. Nancy, what is your take on the level of engagement by all participants…those drawing, those commenting and those observing? (That last group is hard to assess.) I know we had two groups of about 9 each drawing.

2. TAKE RISKS: Nancy made a comfortable environment for us to explore in. She took risks with us and was willing to deal with surprises. That spoke volumes to me about how important it is in online meetings and participatory webinars to step away from the presentation and allow time and room for mucking about together with the participants.

My experience in learning about online meetings and webinars has been mostly about exploring and risk taking. That’s one of the reasons I started this group. I learned by getting in the sandbox with others and trying things out. I’m glad that Nancy invited us into her sandbox today and I hope you’ll feel comfortable asking us to take risks with you. I feel confident that as a group we will continue to find ways to engage with participants that are creative and meaningful.

The invitation to the sandbox is open!

No responses yet

Nov 18 2014

Good Suggestions for “Fixing the Q&A” Session

whatsyourstoryerealitiesThere is a useful post on the HBR blog by  that is a good follow-on to yesterday’s post about webinars. Thomas talks about the mismatch between the intention for interaction with the audience, and the poor design of most Q&A sessions that happen after keynotes or talks. Here is a snippet, then I have some amplifications below.

Some solutions to the Q&A dysfunction already exist. Some hire a professional moderator or use software tools to crowdsource the questions. Others experiment with radically new ways to run events, such as the unconference movement. However, those solutions are often expensive or time-consuming to deploy, making them infeasible for many types of events. Here are four techniques that I’ve used with great results, and that can be deployed without any kind of preparation:

  1. Do an inverse Q&A. An inverse Q&A is when I the speaker pose a question to the audience, asking them to discuss it with the person sitting next to them. A good question is, “For you, what was a key take-away from this session? What might you do differently going forward?” People love the opportunity to voice their thoughts to someone and unlike the traditional Q&A, this approach allows everybody to have their say. It also helps them network with each other in a natural manner, which is something many conferences don’t really cater to.
  2. Ask for reactions, not just questions. When you debrief on the small-group discussion, insisting on the question format makes it awkward for the people who just want to share something. As you open the floor, specifically say “What are your reactions to all this? Questions are great, but you are also welcome to just share an observation, it doesn’t have to be in the form of a question.”
  3. Have people vet the questions in groups. An alternative to the inverse Q&A is to ask people to find good questions in groups. Simply say, “Please spend a minute or two in small groups, and try to find a good question or a reflection you think is relevant for everybody.” Then walk around the room and listen as people talk. If you hear an interesting reflection, ask them to bring it up during the joint discussion, or bring it up yourself.
  4. Share a final story after the Q&A. Given that even the best-run Q&A session is unpredictable, it is best to have the Q&A as the second-to-last element. I always stop the Q&A part a few minutes before the end, so I have time to share one final example before getting off the stage. That way, even if the Q&A part falls flat, you can still end your session with a bang instead of a fizzle.The above methods can help you turn any keynote into a better experience. What other techniques — ideally simple ones — have you seen or used?

via 4 Ways to Fix the Q&A Session – Thomas Wedell-Wedellsborg – Harvard Business Review.

The first thing I really want to amplify is the focus on questions – thinking about them and forming them more intentionally, both from the presenter and from the people formerly known as the audience.  Crap questions generate crap responses. People seeking to be heard often respond in kind with crap responses because they were so busy getting ready to speak, they weren’t listening. So we also see a relationship between crap questions and poor listening. As a speaker, it is your/mine/our job to bring value by offering good questions and to both role model good listening when we hand off the mic, and to make it easier for people to listen well.

How do we make it easier for people to listen well?

  • Present well. This is covered well other places, but if we are rambly (spell check suggested “brambly” which also fits!), unclear or just off point, we will have lost the audience well before the Q&A. Why not aim for having people SO EXCITED by the time you finish speaking…
  • ...so that the only solution is to let them have a conversation. Start with table or pair conversations so this energy can be unleashed, rather than squelched by passing a single mic and constricting/controlling that energy?
  • Harvest. The presenter’s job is then to harvest what was generated out of all that energy, and Thomas’ suggestions are spot on. You can also do post it note harvests, capture visually, among many options. The point here is you steward, you become of service.

One response so far

Nov 17 2014

Beyond the Webinar

The earthLet me confess right up front: I really don’t like webinars. Too often they feel “done unto me.” I am powerless, at the mercy of the organizers. I may have access to a chat room (Thank Goodness!) But more often than not, these are content delivery mechanisms with token participant interaction in the form of crowded Q&A segments or polls with varying degrees of relevance. What is worse is that I have been a perpetrator of these practices so I continue to try and change my evil ways.

Changing ingrained habits requires some reflection – of self and of the state of the practice of these so-called “webinars.”  Recently I had the chance to offer feedback on a webinar I experienced as a recording.  I’ve edited/generalized my thoughts to share. In a follow up post I’ll reflect on my own practice — this is where I need to cut to the bone!
1. Us/Them: It is logical for an organizer or organizing agency to want to  appear well prepared for sharing their work. We all like folks to know we “did our homework.” We get our slides spiffed up and appropriately formatted for the webinar tool we are given. We time our remarks. We practice speaking clearly and at an appropriate pace.

The challenge this presents is that the end product puts the speaker and/or the organization at the center. We create an us/them dynamic before the event even starts. Think about set ups where the only ones who can use the voice tool to communicate are the organizers. Those who bear the presentation file are in control of the message. The tool administrator(s) control the process (i.e determining that they speak for 60 minutes, then there is Q&A.)

The use of a one way style of presentation reinforces the power dynamics of the speaker/expert/organization as central, and everyone else as “audience.” All too often, the audience is never heard. Is that a good use of precious synchronous time? Why not send out a video or narrated PowerPoint? An online gathering is time better spent as a multi-directional mode of “being together” — even online. This does NOT diminish the importance and value of content we “deliver” to others. Here are some options to consider.

Options:

  • Move away from meetings that are primarily broadcast which holds control with the presenter. Sharing information is essential, but synchronous time should always have significant multi directional interaction. For my colleagues in international development, I think everyone has values of inclusiveness and shared participation. We have to “walk this talk” in webinars as well.
  • Small things can create or break down us/them.  For example don’t just show where you are on a map at the start of a webinar, add dots for all the participants and their locations. Better yet, use a tool that allows them to add their own dots. Help the group see not only you,  but “we” – all the people working together about something we all care deeply about.
  • Because we lack body  language online, it is useful to really scrutinize our language.From the wording in the slides and by the speaker, consider changes in language so that it is more inclusive of the participants.

 

2. Strive for  good practices for learning/engaging online. Webinars in general run the risk of being even less engaging than a dark room face to face with a long PowerPoint. There is a saying in the online facilitation world “A bad meeting F2F is a terrible meeting online.” So we need to be even more attentive to how we structure online engagements to reflect a) how adults learn b) the high risk of losing attention (especially due to multi tasking) and c) the cultural and power diversity inherent in your group. Quality content is important, but it alone is not a reason to use an interactive platform — you can deliver content in many ways. Choosing a synchronous mode, to me,  implies interaction.

Options:

  • Consider keeping online meetings to 60 minutes. If not, do a stretch break every at 30 and 60 minutes. Say “let’s take a 60 second break.” Stand up, stretch, look away from the screen and give your body a moment of respite. We’ll call you back in 60 (90-120) seconds (sometimes a bio break is useful!)
  • A useful rule of thumb is to break up information presentation with some means of audience engagement/participation every 7-15 minutes. Use polls, chat, “red/green/yellow” feedback mechanisms, hand raising, checking for understanding, etc. This may mean you have someone facilitating these other channels if it is too distracting for the host and speakers. (Over time it does get easier, but practice is critical!)
  • Take questions approximately every 15 minutes vs holding at end. People stop listening carefully and are thus less prepared to ask questions after longer periods of time. (They are also more prone to multitasking, etc.)
  • Don’t just deliver information – use narrative. Stories hold our attention better than a series of bullet points. In fact, ditch those boring slides unless you are using the printed information to make it easier for people coming from a different first language.
  • Deliver the useful content in a different manner and use the webmeeting entirely for questions and interactions. Send a recording introducing the team. Send a narrated PowerPoint about the topic. Keep these content packages smaller. For example, if you were trying to give an overview of a portfolio of projects, you could break it up into some sub packages. 1) about the team 2) strategy, 3) project descriptions, 4) monitoring and evaluation strategy, etc.
  • Secondary tip: Do not think of these information products as polished products — don’t waste energy overproducing. That sucks the human element out of it. Imperfection is a door to engagement… seriously. Moments of uncertainty, tough questions — these engage the participants.
  • Stay relaxed as a narrator and speak at useful pace for understanding, particularly for those who have English as a second (or third, fourth) language. Keep that human touch. Add little bits of personal information and affect. Be human.
  • Let participants ask question verbally, not just in chat if possible. While there are many technical complications and sometimes the burden of accents on unclear audio channels, voice brings again brings in that human element. (Video does too, but there are bandwidth considerations. When you can, consider using it.)
  • Encourage collective note taking in the chat room or with complementary tool. When people share this task, they listen more carefully and the begin to learn about each others strengths and insights as people add additional information or annotations.
  • When someone asks a question, note who asked the question. This helps everyone see that people are heard, even if the audio option is not practical (for various reasons, no mic, etc. )  At the end of the call, specifically thank by name those who asked questions to encourage the behavior for future interactions.
  • In Q&A sections, consider a visual to help people pay attention. Use the whiteboard for noting the questions, answers, links that refer to what has been spoken about, etc.

There are a few ideas. What are yours?

Also, here are some previous posts about similar issues:

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Feb 11 2014

Liberating Structures for Knowledge Sharing

Last Friday I was lucky to be the Mid Atlantic Facilitator’s Network February speaker. Of course, instead of talking about something I was totally comfortable with, I decided to explore the application of Liberating Structures to knowledge sharing, AND to explore the use of the structures in an online “webinar” environment. Nothing like jumping off the bridge. But the water was wonderful. I owe a lot to the hosting team (thanks Dana and Fran), the daring participants who were willing to push their use of Adobe Connect a bit further than normal, and the support of the wider LS community of users.

Here are the cleaned up slides. I included cleaned up versions of the chat transcripts in the respective “harvest” slides (which started out blank).

We are building a nice bunch of people who want to experiment more with Liberating Structures online. If you are interested, check out our LinkedIn group and join us!

via Liberating Structures for Knowledge Sharing.

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Sep 11 2013

A Focus on Online Facilitation During International Facilitation Week

peterblockquestionTim Bonneman blogged yesterday about the International Association of Facilitators “International Facilitation Week.” He pondered…

I wonder if anyone is planning any events related specifically to online facilitation.

I started to comment on Tim’s blog, but realized the length of my response suggested I blog here and link back, so here goes…

Hiya Tim,

I think this is an excellent idea and, alas, for me, the timing sucks. I have put a red line on my to do list promising myself not to bite of anything else. (I’m doing an action research project on how to usefully evaluate the socio-technical stuff associated with organizations’ “collaboration platforms!!” And yes, i bit off WAY more than I should have! See this previous post)

But I think your idea is really good and that there is a network of people out there that would benefit from a week of distributed connection, learning and reflection.

Online facilitation practice has  diversified since I jumped in in 1996. Some of those sub areas have matured. For example, the practices around “online community management/facilitation” have had great stewardship by folks such as the Online Community Roundtable (Shout out to Rachel Happe and friends) and others, and there have been really interesting developments in the facilitation of learning online (see Tony Carr’s work and kudos for pulling together some seminal work around facilitation of learning at University of Cape Town in South Africa). There new generation of online community people who are (re)discovering practices us old timers used back in the early online facilitation days, and adapting and expanding them in new ways and for new contexts.

The proliferation of tools, particularly tools that enable connection outside of bounded groups (such as Twitter, Facebook, and previously the emergent networks that were formed BETWEEN blogs and commentors) has led us to an era that is not just about online group facilitation, but online network stimulation and facilitation. June Holley’s work in network weaving (which to me is still a lot about bounded groups but working in unbounded spaces) is an example.

These tools have also greatly expanded the possibilities of dispersed collaboration, but  I have to say, this seems like an area where a few have succeeded (some wildly) and many have been left with grand dreams that turned to empty promises. I think this is because we are talking about facilitating both between people and between organizations and their politics, policies and structures. So we have a blend of facilitation and organizational development, if you will.

So the field is rich for reflection and ripe for dreaming.

Nancy

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