Archive for the 'facilitation' Category

Nov 27 2015

Unleashing Joy Through Visual Facilitation – Part 4 of ISS Fellowship

This is the fourth in a series of posts about my ISS/Chisholm Fellowship in Victoria State, Australia. You can find the previous posts here: Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3. While I intended to write these WHILE in Australia, it has, er, ahem, taken a bit longer.

When Brad Beach (of Chisholm) and I were noodling on what I might share through my fellowship, I was exceedingly happy that he was willing to step out of the more traditional practices and dive into visual or graphic facilitation. We scheduled two rounds of a 3 hour “Doodle, Draw, Learn” workshops to introduce teachers to the power of visuals for engagement and learning. I think we accomplished this well in the workshops. They also reminded me of something else that happens when we allow ourselves to freely draw. Joy fills the room.

IMG_20151117_084544759As before, I’ll share the content points first as reference, then reflect on my experience and share a few words from the participants. Finally, there is a visual artifact at the end with resources, support materials and a deck compiling all the images from the day.

The structure of the workshop is designed around modeling an interactive initial engagement visual activity, unleashing of drawing joy (“I CAN DRAW”), development of icon skills and wrapped up with another visual activity, this time focused on reflection and evaluation. The agenda is communicated using a visual agenda (of course, and from the photo, you can see this works even on wrinkled flip chart paper) and the feedback is captured with video – another visual medium. In the middle I share example visual artifacts and offer a few thoughts so people can get off their feet and rest for a few minutes. This is where we begin the conversation about where to apply visual practices in the classroom – online or offline.

All in all, this is a very ACTIVE experience. But people generally report being energized, rather than exhausted. Interesting, eh?


Here are brief descriptions of the exercises, in case you want to try them:

  • IMG_20151117_090853483_HDRPaired Drawing:  I learned this from Johnnie Moore and have blogged about it. One pen, one paper, two people taking turns drawing a face, one pen stroke at a time with NO TALKING. There are so many ways to relate this activity to your teaching or meeting goals. It is great not only to “break the ice” but to show patterns of communication and collaboration and the interesting effect of assumptions! More photos here.
  • IMG_20151117_100534192I CAN DRAW: This is again a common and fabulous activity that is used in MANY introductory graphic facilitation workshops. I learned mine from the folks at the International Forum of Visual Practitioners (IFVP) and have seen it done many times with amazing variation. The essence is getting up at a wall and using our bodies to draw circles and lines, play with color using chalk pastels and finally getting a sense of the basics of lettering, including size and proportion.Pastels are messy, but they are MAGIC. Something always happens in the room when we use the pastels. I think this is where the joy really becomes visible.
  • IMG_20151112_152422185Visual Vocabulary: This exercise builds off of the circle, lines and lettering of “I CAN DRAW” and introduces basic human forms (stick person, bean or shapes, springs, etc.) I reference heavily the work of people like Dave Gray,  Austin Kleon and others who have generously shared exercises, videos and how-to’s online. You see examples of the resources in the slide deck at the end of this post. OH, and I role model imperfection, believe me!
  • Icon Jam: We follow the vocabulary exercise with a quick round of icon jamming, an activity I learned at an IFVP gathering. I start by calling out a word and asking people to do a quick “telegraph sketch” of the word. Then after a while they call out the words. In one workshop I had them label their icons as a future resource. In the second one, I had people move from paper to paper to both see other’s work, to experience what it is like to “draw on someone else’s paper, and to guess the meaning of the icons. I liked this variation a lot. You can find examples of past workshops here, where we often do this on 3×5 cards
  • IMG_20151111_162410511River of Life: This exercise uses the visual metaphor of a river or a road to stimulate reflection of the past, present and future. In the workshop, the prompt for the past was “what did you expect coming into the workshop.” The present prompt was “what did you learn and experience today.” The future prompt was “what is your next step using what you learned? What more do you want to learn?” Read more at and more visual examples here.


In the two Chisholm workshops the educators talked about a variety of ways to apply this. There were the expected elements of using visuals to be welcoming and break up text. They spoke of not only the power of visuals, but the power of beauty, as they surveyed the beauty that came out of the “I CAN DRAW” exercise. A few mentioned the utility for working with their more challenging, younger students. Some had to let it sink in, as thinking about visuals in online learning where text has been the dominant form, may take a while.

One of our “non Chisholm” participants, Joyce Seitzinger talked about how she will incorporate more visual activities in the “Learner Experience” workshops she is designing.


My key learnings from these workshops affirmed or developed the following ideas:

  • I can get over my attachment that the “I CAN DRAW” exercise MUST be done on large scale paper. We basically had paper that was flip chart sized and I think it still worked. You can’t quite get the full body experience, but it works. This is important because it is hard to find rooms where there is space and permission to do large scale drawing on paper on the walls.
  • Don’t underestimate joy. Make space for joy. Liberate joy!
  • I still would like to find a way to show and practice some of the online options even in a short workshop. I have struggled with this because I feel the foundational experience of working on paper is a must.

Video Harvest/Feedback:

Finally, I decided to try some video feedback vignettes. After I made this video, I realize it missed half the content of the workshop, so I’ll need to do a second try. I’d love any feedback to help me improve on the next iteration!


Slides with Resources: Visual Facilitation in Learning – Resource Slides

Rachel Smith on Drawing in the Classroom

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Nov 27 2015

Relationship Centric Teaching – Part 3 of ISS Fellowship

This is the third in a series of posts about my ISS/Chisholm Fellowship in Victoria State, Australia. You can find the previous posts here: Part 1, Part 2.

learningLiberationBoth of my weeks in Victoria revolved around a series of workshops that were generally designed around the idea of increasing learner engagement. We played with all kinds of titles in advance, but of course, once I showed up and started to hear people’s stories, the new theme emerged: Relate and Liberate. I was very inspired by this quote:

“If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.” Lilla Watson (Quote found via The Interaction Institute/ )

Coincidentally, an essay by Clay Shirky, The Digital Revolution Has Already Happened” was circulating when I was planning and it really hit home. In it Clay talks about the importance the access online learning has provided.

I also wanted to focus on relationship centric teaching using conversational approaches. This was supported by a graphic facilitation workshop, which in the end, applied the relationship centric approach while introducing the joy of visuals and graphic facilitation in teaching and learning. You can read more about that workshop in Part 4.

threelegsFinally, I wanted to try out some thinking that I’ve been doing around how to shift such a strong emphasis on content to a “three legged stool” approach that looks at the interplay between content, relationship and social scaffolding, and signals (quantitative and qualitative data that helps us make sense of what is happening) not just from our courses, but across courses and options made possible by open learning. That will have to wait for a full blog post, but I’ll slide in my sketch here and leave it at that for now.

I was surprised that most of the participants were primarily teaching face to face. In my past visits to Australia to hang out with my educator friends, the emphasis had been much more strongly positioned on the online. So I made sure to talk about both online and offline contexts around the materials and processes. The first group at Chisholm were the Learning Leaders working on community based education. The introduction was strongly tilted towards seeing learning as liberation. I have a deep fondness for community based learning. The subsequent sessions were mostly TAFE educators or designers of learning courses and materials.


In all of the workshops I tried to hold myself to the standard of walking my own talk. My plan was to focus on identity and relationship as a key to engaged teaching and learning, and use methods from Liberating Structures as a set of exemplar processes to embody this approach. That meant a focus on liberating the intelligence and passion in the room, making time for connections and creating conditions for useful conversations. My role was to be a catalyst, rather than positioning myself as the expert. This is a good thing, because I’m a learner first, expert… well, that is way down my “identity” list!

Liberating Structures were part of every workshop. We used Impromptu Networking to identify shared challenges, 1-2-4-All to make sense across those challenges. Then the subsequent structures varied by workshop. We  very successfully used Troika Consulting (I keep calling it by the name I know – Triad Consulting!) and Discovery and Action Dialog (DAD) to help address the challenges each group identified, W3 to evaluate the session, tagging on 15% Solution as the “What Next” step of W3 to identify a simple follow up step. In some of the workshops we ended with a simple appreciative networking activity to note who contributed to our experience during the workshop, and who people wanted to follow up with.

goatrodeoIn each of the workshops I offered a quick overview of Liberating Structures (see slides) that covered the micro structure concept and some other example structures. But I have found it has been more useful to USE them, then as appropriate, debrief them, rather than “preach” them.  I reviewed the basics of LS by showing a slide about the micro structures, the list of the 33 structures and shared Keith McCandless’ recent thinking about that (fragile) and rich space between over control and under control (goat rodeo – see Keith’s image to the right!) In the workshops there was insufficient time to talk about how to build an entire agenda by “stringing” structures, so I have included some examples at the end of the slide deck. That probably should have a blog post of it’s own!

In the session where we did DAD, I really appreciate the reflections about the value of iteration in DaD, and in staying close to the questions that are at the core of the structure to avoid “goat rodeo.”  Goat rodeo is everyone doing their own thing. Smart people fall into this trap all the time. In Troika, many people mentioned the freedom of turning one’s back to listen in. In all the structures people noted the deep importance of the starting questions. The more specific the question, the more precise answers are liberated.

A fabulous question was “when is it appropriate to use LS.” I offered an answer, but I also suggested I email everyone in a month and find out what they have used and done, and we’ll generate an “in situ” answer — nothing like reality!

My Reflections

IMG_20151118_154110941Identity & Good Teaching

This issue came up most strongly in the workshops hosted by eWorks the last day of my fellowship. I took this little visual note on the white board. Our conversation about educators having a strong self identity as educators was the basis of good teaching. Good teaching comes before any facility with online teaching. It always goes back to those basics. This is no surprise, but surprisingly this concept can get lost with online initiatives because people focus so intently on content. Content alone can be found many places. The unique offering of the TAFE institutions is GOOD TEACHING.

Conversational Teaching

IMG_20151112_141319178An essential practice of good teaching – online or offline – is getting immediately into good and useful conversations. I asked people at many of the workshops if they struggled with discussion boards and many raised their hands. I suggested that we need to think carefully and skillfully about how we engage people so that things like discussion forums and web meetings are meaningful, not just things learners have to to. NO TICK THE BOX! This is where we can always improve our skill at designing really engaging questions that people can’t resist responding to, versus canned “discussion prompts.”

In our workshops, every session was started with a conversational approach that asked people what they wanted to get out of the session and what they had to offer. This activity helped me know what they wanted, and acknowledged their expertise as educators and designers of learning. The process used rotating paired conversation and without fail, the buzz in the room was robust and it was always hard to get people to stop talking. I take that as a sign of engagement! (Yes, they could have been complaining about me or the process… 😉 ) But again, this acknowledges identity in the context of meaningful conversation.

I asked people how they currently open conversations in their teaching, and how they might change this. One person said he was going to take is face to face group to coffee, instead of starting by reviewing the syllabus. Another was going to use the paired drawing exercise we did in the graphic facilitation workshop to help learners create relationships right from the start. Just two examples!

It was interesting to be in rooms with so many smart and passionate people, yet I sensed a reluctance for people to speak up at the full group level. Is this part of the identity thing? IS there a “tall poppy syndrome” issue in these organizations?  It may be some of those things, but for me it was yet another example of the critical importance of breaking people into smaller groups because intense, buzzing, engaged conversation emerged every time at the small group level.

brainBrain Based Approaches

Before the workshops I happened on a fascinating article on neurobiology. It described how neurobiology might inform our teaching practices, particularly the work of Dan Siegel. He talks about the unity of the “triume brain” of cerebral cortex (rational brain), the limbic system (emotional brain) and the stem (reptilian brain). Siegel “envisions the brain as a social organ,” and “the emotional system that develops in relationship.” I was taken how he describes a “sixth sense” as “mindsight,” and links this to mirror neurons. “What fires together, wires together,” is a way he talks about how we learn by what we observe. If we observer our teachers functioning as learners, will we be better learners? I think so…  Siegel talks about the power of associations that people make in order to make sense of the world. Positive and uplifting associations can be more meaningful, encouraging, and benefit change. There was so much in this and I only scratched the surface. But by the second week I had to make a visual…

Remember Group Process

A post on Facebook by the fabulous Chris Corrigan reminded me of some very resonant practices from the Art of Hosting and I grFrom Chris Corriganabbed an image to share about the Four-Fold path of Presence, Contribution, Participation and Co-Creation. I am a little shocked when I don’t see many of the deep process work from the facilitation community in teaching and learning. There are natural connections. So introducing across these communities is a particular joy. Going by to my “three legged stool” — this is the relational aspect. How we interact is as important as what we are interacting about.

Share Real Examples

Finally, it was fabulous to hear the examples of the educators in each workshop. In turn, I was able to share about a project I’m working on with an international team sponsored by the Justice Institute of British Columbia and the University of Guadalajara, the  UdG Agora Project. You can take a peek at a recent presentation online about the project from #OpenEd15.

Slides & Resources

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Jul 29 2015

The Power of Ordinary Practices – Quotes Worth Amplifying

Well, this seems to be a fitting follow up to my last blog post.

Amabile: I believe it’s important for leaders to understand the power of ordinary practices. Seemingly ordinary, trivial, mundane, day-by-day things that leaders do and say can have an enormous impact. My guess is that a lot of leaders have very little sense of the impact that they have. That’s particularly true of the negative behaviors. I don’t think that the ineffective team leaders we studied meant to anger or deflate the people who were working for them. They were trying to do a good job of leading their teams, but lacked an effective model for how to behave.

So, I would say sweat the small stuff, not only when you’re dealing with your business strategy, but with the people whom you’re trying to lead. I would encourage leaders, when they’re about to have an interaction with somebody, to ask themselves: Might this thing I’m about to do or say become this person’s “event of the day”? Will it have a positive or a negative effect on their feelings and on their performance today?codrawing2

Amabile also calls out the rich, internal emotional lives that we all have, and how that influences our working together and collaboration.

One, people have incredibly rich, intense, daily inner work lives; emotions, motivations, and perceptions about their work environment permeate their daily experience at work. Second, these feelings powerfully affect people’s day-to-day performance. And third, those feelings, which are so important for performance, are powerfully influenced by particular daily events.

This again has resonance with last week’s #UdGAgora work where we explored the role of empathy in course design. The red threads are really showing up today. Maybe this will help me start pulling together a full post about The Agora. Alan has already started the “reflective ball” rolling.
Source: The Power of Ordinary Practices — HBS Working Knowledge

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Mar 18 2015

A Webinar on Facilitating with Technology With 36 Co-Presenters

NancyAtWorkOver the past few years I have enjoyed being part of the MAFN Webinars. MAFN is the Mid Atlantic Facilitator’s Network. They offer both online and offline professional development gatherings. Last Friday, Amy Lenzo, Nancy Settle-Murphy and I were ostensibly the “presenters.” I think I want to shed that title. May I be done with presenting, please? And by the end, I realized it was a conversation with 36… so they are all presenters too!

We designed the 90 minutes to minimize the presentation and maximize the engagement. I appreciated both Amy, Nancy and the great MAFN team of Michael, Dan, Fran and Meaghan — all ready to try new things and stretch ourselves.

We each had 5 minutes, then we were, as they say, off to the races. (You can see the five questions here in the PDF –> The Edge o fOnline Facilitation MAFN March2015 4 Blog.) In this case, it was a chat race. (At least it felt that way to some folks. I love it. Maybe I was a chat racehorse in my past life?) We then finished this first section with the following question:


There were 36 participants (maybe a few less with a couple of duplicate log ins, etc.) and there was this amazing chat stream of ideas. So fertile and interesting. I wanted to share the key points.

  • How can we network our intelligence to solve the huge problems facing the world/us?
  • For on-line engagement to be as powerful and impacting as any face-to-face activity.
  • Better connect with people all over the world.
  • . . that it might be superior in some respects to face-to-face engagement
  • People feel like they are in the same room even though they are notaspirations
  • Making deeper (non-trivial) connections with people at a distance
  • For participants to feel energized and that they have had an experience
  • To “level-set” the stakeholders’ understanding of the problem or challenge that all are facing.
  • When the offline culture is not very participatory – using online/virtual to create exchange and relationships and change the culture a little bit.
  • I think work has to meet human social needs.  Online engagement is quite powerful because it can bring  people together socially around quite microspecific topics and concerns
  • People feel a sense of community, leave with  decisions and catalyze action
  • To introduce & discuss the change process in a positive energising atmosphere when some people are resistant to change
  • Participants learn, understand, and feel connected to one another
  • Superior to face-to-face in some ways because many people can “talk at once”.  Appeals to some participants who might be hesitant to speak in a standard classroom
  • Downplay power distances
  • People actually “hearing” the words others were saying; a participant once exclaimed: We were using the same words but we did NOT mean the same thing
  • People who are not technically minded can participate easily and are engaged
  • Human connection across geography with powerful problem-solving
  • Doing strategic planning for a global association on-line (different time zones, cultures, etc., in addition to all the normal human differences)
  • Online engagement feels like in-person engagement
  • Environments that are truly connected – where each of us feel deeply connected to ourselves – our own thoughts and bodies and full selves; to each other; to the natural environment and to the larger world we’re part of. Intimacy and Scale.
  • That it truly engage and lead to the desired outcomes
  • The technology is secondary – the community and results are foremost
  • Create a level playing field so all can contribute to the best of their ability
  • Speed and access to expertise
  • Every voice contributes
  • Making on-line meeting not just a one-off  — so make it a practice that folks will get comfortable with over time (it won’t happen the first time, magically)
  • The fact that the presenters can’t “keep u” means this is more participation than would be possible in person
  • The challenge with online is that the human connection is mediated and distorted by technology. My aspiration is that the technology would feel invisible, or better yet, would be a catalyst for connection.
  • Highest aspiration:  hold onto the social aspect of learning
  • My highest aspiration is connection. Task completion is secondary.
  • Shared meaning … Having folks all proclaim: “I see, hear, & feel and understand.”

These 30+ people aren’t thinking small and I was encouraged and delighted. And from there, the conversation proceeded, mostly in chat and the rest of us with mic access sprinting to keep up became a cauldron of ideas and insights. The group segued from aspirations to questions and how to’s. Within the ideas there were also the meta comments about being challenged being in a text only environment, the pace, the sense of both richness and chaos. It is interesting to read back through the chat and try and pick out some key threads, and to discern where people are “coming” from with their insights. Some are clearly self-defined as trainers, others as facilitators. Some carry the context of the type of organization they work for, and others as consultants range across contexts.

Here are a few examples:

  • What we notice and aspire too is obviously informed by WHAT we do. There were trainers in the group. People embedded in and in the context of organizations and their constraints. Consultants who ranged across contexts. This informs the type of “how-to” people sought or suggested.
  • Everyone is interested in technology, but often in very different ways. Some want to know about the latest technologies. Others are interested in the impact of technology on our interactions. This quote really drew me in after someone talked about the way technology can distort our experiences: ” The presence of technology DOES change and effect the HUMAN experience and connection.” This segued into a conversation about how technology can/might not level the playing field. We are just beginning to really dig into these issues, and move beyond thinking of technology as a tool. I confess I’m getting tired of “what is the best tool for X” conversations and am ready for deeper explorations into the impacts of our technological environments, regardless of what tool is/isn’t available/acceptable/affordable! (Not to diminish those issues.) This is a great topper to this idea that one of my 36 co-presenters shared: “The way the hammer shapes the hand” — Jackson Browne, Casino Nation.
  • We all struggle. Priceless: “My 20th century mind has been struggling to make meaning and order from the chaos of this group chat.” My observation? It is not related so much to age, but I don’t have data to support my hypothesis (says this 56 year old.) The issue for me from the stress of volume is what is lost, as one person wrote, without reflection. (Slow down, Nancy, slow down!) Clearly I’m not the only one with this issue: “I have not been building in enough reflection time in my webinars.  I think it’s because I can’t tell when people have lost interest or when they are thinking.  Could be an insecurity issue for me.  Need to work on that!”

There was a lot more and I’m attaching a file with my semi-Sorted Chat Notes.

But here is the capper:


I love my 36 co-presenters! Co-creators! Co-labborators! Thank you, one and all. You help me…


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Feb 09 2015

Continuing My Ecocycle Experimentation

GenderinAgResearchIn January I was working with the CGIAR Gender in Agricultural Research Network during their meeting. My wonderful client, Jacqui Ashby trusted me to use many of the Liberating Structures with the group. We used the Ecocycle Planning structure early on to help think about the network member’s work in a slightly different ways.

This is the third time I’ve used the Ecocycle Planning “full on,” in other words, I hung a meaningful part of an agenda on to it. I am getting more confident in how I launch the process and appreciate the value of practicing and observing others (like Keith McCandless) running the process and learning from them.

ciattweetSimone Staiger, of CIAT, wrote about the experience on her Knowledge Management blog during the meeting. The tweet was apparently provocative. A few days after Simone tweeted the blog link, she received the most retweets and links than any other post she has tweeted out. Is it the phrase “destructive process” that caught people’s eyes and imaginations?

As it turns out, the conversations around the creative destruction phase of the ecocyle were very interesting to me, and it appears that they were of interest to the participants. Here are the combined notes Simone and I wrote up:

Participants struggled a bit with “Creative destruction.” At first, there was some reluctance to place things in the “creative destruction” area, thinking that this was a negative activity. After some discussion, many groups identified this as a rich area of potential and possibility, the space of innovation and renewal. One participant gave as an example the need to deploy our listening skills to some of their diverse co-workers in order to be able to change mindsets and create and work together.  It was also mentioned that it is important that we involve a larger group of “next users” and partners in the creative destruction and renewal phase. This increases the chances for them to support the birth and implementation of ideas and activities.

Are we both excited and afraid of destruction? Is that the power of this area?

Conversations about the Poverty Traps and Rigidity Traps are always useful. It’s like we put a name on something familiar, but often unspoken. Being able to frame and discuss these issues is critical.

The other area that held some useful insights was the area of maturity. Not so surprisingly, what one categorizes as a “mature” practice can vary wildly between individuals depending on their experience, what activities they prioritize in their work and other contextual factors. What is often enlightening is the realization that there may not be a shared understanding of those mature practices and therefore a high potential for misalignment.

From a facilitation standpoint, I was worried that the groupings we created for the maps would not work. We had to group people working on different projects together, and in the past, I’d seen better results when an intact team or group maps their project. But I was surprised how much cross project relevance and resonance emerged. I’m not sure we really mined that as much as we might have.  There was more to harvest and we left it on the table!  Going forward I need to think more deeply about this opportunity.Resonance and dissonance are always rich spaces.



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