Quick Reflections on a 13-Year-Old Blog

Last Friday my calendar reminded me that this, my second attempt at blogging, has been in the works for 13 years. I went solo in 1997. Time does fly. YAY!

I asked on Twitter yesterday what I should blog about in response and here were the suggestions:

  1. Eugene Eric Kim:  Write a sentence noting the occasion followed by, “Yay!” Treat yourself! Your blog is already full of deep thoughts!
  2. Jason Toal : Sketching as a practice of change
  3. Peter Bury: Towards a knowledge sharing society #KSS #K4DP
  4. @TrustedSharing suggested “Any ideas on events that get people to facilitate using #liberatingstructures? I have a group that wants to learn. (See more on the tag)
  5. Steve Crandall: Anything you want!

So, first, of course, YAY! Thanks, Eugene!

Second, a sketch! Well, Jason, it isn’t really a sketch. It is a visual decision tool!

That offered, there is SO MUCH to say about visuals as a tool for change. Recently a small group of #liberatingstructures practitioners pooled our LS visuals in a photo album and my mind went crazy with possibilities. Take a peek. https://goo.gl/photos/HhfmWEsihK35SpoT7 .

For me, one of the essential qualities of visuals, particularly the hand drawn visuals we make during the process of our interactions and meaning making, is that they are imperfect, beg questions and open conversations, rather than “definitively” nail something with certainty. In complex contexts, certainty is often a false friend.

Third, well, Peter, it was a beautiful and rare sunny weekend in Seattle and I really don’t understand this #KSS and #K4DP stuff — I don’t even know what that last hashtag represents, so I’ll have to disappoint you. Sorry! So I allowed the garden to lure me instead of trying to figure it out. I guess age has it’s priveledge!

For my friends at Trusted Sharing (an amazing platform, by the way), there was a post I had been meaning to write so I used your prompt to get it done. You can find it here. (I’m having some tech problems, so for the moment the visuals are missing. Grrr..) It certainly is not an exhaustive answer to your question, but maybe a few things to start with.

Finally, Steve, for you… what I’m thinking about these days is not just want I want to write about, but what I want to do going forward. It is transition time, of some sort – always a wonderful and challenging moment in time!


What triggers us to adopt new facilitation and engagement processes?

(Note: currently the images on this post have gone missing. I’m working on it!)

I have developed an enormous backlog of things to write about my learnings from my Liberating Structures practice. Sometimes I need a little kick in the keister, so this tweet got me rolling from @TrustedSharing

“Any ideas on events that get people to facilitate using #liberatingstructures? I have a group that wants to learn.”

Introductory/Immersion Events

Image by Tracy KellyEvents are certainly one way to get people started using Liberating Structures (LS). Earlier this year Tracy Kelly and I facilitated a two day LS Immersion for the education community up in British Columbia and based on some tweets that have followed on, some (many? Who knows) participants have begun incorporating LS into their teaching and administrative meeting practices.  Tracy wrote up a great blog post here: http://www.tracykelly.net/?p=1247 and the BC Campus hosts wrote here https://bccampus.ca/2017/04/05/opening-the-flow-of-learning-with-liberating-structures/ . Both posts highlight some very useful ideas and practices for event based invitations into LS and from a specific domain perspective (in this case education, but imagine other domains!)

Having co-led immersions for the past few years and participating in them for longer, the real clincher for me is to make sure the event isn’t just about LS, but looks closely at the real application “back at home/work” for the participants. When you have groups with some shared purpose, this is magic. When your group is heterogeneous, it can be harder to find that “what, so what, now what” hook that helps people not just get an introduction, but to understand the value proposition of using LS to increase engagement in their work and lives. Real stuff. Tracy wrote it well: “Purpose is the new vision!

Practitioner/User Groups

Once I was introduced to LS, I thought “yeah, these are good” and then slipped back into my old ways. I needed to experiment and practice with at least one other person to push myself past my own ruts and comfort zones. So after an immersion, it can be super useful to convene lighter, smaller experiences for people to practice, dig deeper and understand how to use LS in their own work. After all, there are tons of riffs, variations and different sequence options.

These groups can be geographic, within a workplace or domain. What matters is getting together. If I use an LS once, that is all fine and good. If I use it twice, I’m beyond the initial twinge of possibility. Repeated use is the “gateway drug” to full use — and all of the rich possibilities of LS.

Here in Seattle we have a deeply playful and creative user group. At the May Seattle users group, Keith (LS co-founder) hosted us to explore “punctuations.” A couple of years ago when some of us retreated for a weekend to play with some emergent structures, I had this sense that we all did these little things in between individual structures, and I described them as punctuation. The term took hold.

When we gathered to play with punctuations, we started with a little meaning making – what DID we mean by a punctuation in the context of LS? Of course, we had to use a little punctuation to elicit our definitions, using a visual riff on Gareth Morgan’s, “What is a Pig” exercise. Hard to see in this picture, but our images had a lot of connectivity and bridging metaphors. Breaths, pauses for soaking in and making sense of an experience. Something that prepares us for what comes next.

Turns out we had some different initial definitions, which grew a bit closer with conversation and some experimentation. For example, Keith was imagining punctuations as affordances for specific structures. For example, how can Fisher Qua’s riffs on Spiral Journal support a deeper “What, So What, Now What?” (There is a picture of the Spiral Journal about half way down this page and hopefully someone is working on writing it up. Hint, hint, you know who you are!) I saw them independent of any particular structure, and called upon as needed, sensing what a group or situation needed. By the end of our What is a Pig Conversation, our senses of the word became intertwined. But darn it, did anyone write down some sort of synthesized definition? I think we were having too much fun.

There were also some emergent threads – maybe principles – that emerged from our play with punctuations.

  • There are always many riffs and variations. How do we discern when we are riffing for our own love of riffing, and when we are responding to emergent contexts and adapting and iteratively experimenting forward?
  • Our core group of experimenters is in love with clever language. When do we, as Viv McWater’s says, “put down our clever” from Keith Johnstone- noting when others may feel confused or excluded.
  • Including many senses might make LS strings (sequences of structures) more flexible and mixable. See the next section for more on this.
  • Punctuations are flexible and mixable.
  • They elicit things (this deserves more unpacking!) They reveal things.
  • They are bridges, synapses.

So practice groups are places for LS to soak in, get clear and “stick!”

Intentional Experiments and Salons

Finally, there are some of us who want to dig in more, play more. A small group here in Seattle have started hosting little experimental “salons” with our first one just a few weeks ago exploring the role of space and movement in the application of LS. You can see a few cryptic pictures here, and yes, I have promised a write up. https://goo.gl/photos/mKNnhtmmNHcrBZ2fA We plan a few more and I am on the hook to organize one around visuals and LS.

That said, there are a few things that became clearer to me as we moved around a beautiful dance studio and reflected on how we use our bodies when we “meet.” The primary driver for these salons and which was clearly visible in the first was we, as facilitators, participants, leaders, engagers, need to remember all our senses. A moving meditation as a group is completely different then asking people to “quietly sit and reflect” in your seats. At the same time, I’ve been working with an amazing network across the developmental disabilities community and I have to carefully attend to abilities and how to invite movement when I’m with a group of diverse people. I’m still feeling quite bad that I did not fully tweak a “Shift and Share” design with quick changeovers that were difficult for folks in wheel chairs. I underestimated the logistical load (not to mention cognitive.) Always learning…When we engage multiple senses, we must attend to design for including everyone.

Friendly Mentoring

Finally, the thing that has kept me moving my LS practice forward has been the generosity of my mentors, Keith, Fisher, Neil and many others. From a quick phone call or “over coffee” meeting, to our online spaces in Slack and Linked in, the ability to throw out a question, or offer a string of structures for feedback and critique has done the most to inform, deepen and improve my practice. So @TrustedSharing, if you mentor one, the magic is happening!

Can we actually practice graphic recording after just a 4 hour workshop? Yes! Part 2

Background: This is the second of three posts about some recent visual experiences at the  7th Annual GFRAS Meeting in Limbe, Cameroon, where I was invited as their graphic recorder! As I noted in Part 1, it is a huge investment of resources – theirs and mine – to have me there for the meeting, so I asked if I could also run a short “introduction to graphic recording” the before the event kicked off, and then we could have the participants fan out across the breakouts and field trips to capture sketch notes. This second post in the series shares a few stories and artifacts from the workshop participants about their sketchnoting at the meeting and after they returned home. How are they using their new skills? Part 3 will share the graphic recordings I did with a little reflection on my own process. When I publish #3, I’ll come back and link it here as well!

Unleashed across breakout sessions, field trips and plenaries, many of the participants of our short graphic recording workshop took their pens and notebooks to try and capture the essense of sessions as sketch notes. Remember: these people walked into the workshop with little or no sketchnoting experience. Just a fire in their bellies and a willingness to try.

The first experiments were just with pen, mostly on the small conference spiral note books. You can see the experimentation with how to organize the ideas on the paper and a great deal of courage focusing on the images, not just relying on text.

At one point after a plenary, a few folks stopped by my graphic recording station and we did some mini debriefs and talked about introducing color. The magic was instantaneous… (not that I don’t like black and white, mind you!). Click the images for a larger and fuller view!

By the end of the week, our intrepid team had introduced metaphors and ways to organize space on the page along with some clever extras.


But wait, this is not the end of the story! What happened after everyone has gone home? I have two stories to share already (and hopefully I will glean a few more.

Merida Roets, who was also our day 2 keynote and my wonderful roommate at the hotel, was already planning to offer her staff a brief graphic recording session upon her return to South Africa. (I’ll share the capture of her keynote in post #3). They may have wondered what Merida was up to, but she immediately applied her learning to her work with her project developing some learning materials for the South African Sugar Association. She shared an image with me as an example. (I can recommend Merida for both her intelligence and love of chocolate!)
Finally, one of the workshop participants who was already deeply into visual practices for agricultural development, Luke Smith, who is the AgriEdutainment Officer & ICT Director of WhyFarm that originated the world’s Food Security superhero  “AGRIman” as a way to engage younger folks in agriculture , wrote ” I have used the graphic facilitation method with some children in a workshop. I didn’t have all the materials required to execute they way I wanted too. I showed the children  the basics as you showed us in the training. I then gave them the problem of how can we increase food production by 2050 and told them to use the icons, arrows, symbols to come up with a solution.
The children drew there ideas on a copybook page, I didn’t get time to take a photo as the session ran out of time . But I was amazing that some kids drew the ideas of doing farming underwater. I want to try this method again but with flip charts and markers etc. I will certainly capture the use of graphic facilitation the next time. ”


And for a bit of fun

I am the Immigrant to my Neighborhood Crows…

I have been intrigued by Seattle’s crows since I moved here in 1981. They attacked my sons walking to school during nesting season one year and I went out and told them “hey, I’m a mom too. Don’t bother my kids, and they won’t bother yours.” They stopped dive bombing the boys. Since then I’ve been talking to them… in the yard, on the street. The other day one crow was having problems cracking open a walnut by dropping it on the street. I picked up a rock and cracked it open and walked away. These are my neighbors, who I barely understand, but whom fascinate me. I am the immigrant in their neighborhood. Read the article for the science! Beautiful photo from KUOW.

Listener Lauren Linscheid of Seattle sees crows flying every day toward Lake City Way. “I want to know where they’re going and why,” Lauren told KUOW’s

Source: Where Do Seattle-Area Crows Go At Night?

Learning While Building eLearning: Part 3 – Facilitating Online

Scholar Project -8This is the third of four pieces reflecting on the experiences of Emilio, a subject matter expert who was tasked with converting his successful F2F training into an elearning offering. This one focuses on the facilitation aspects of the course! You can find the context in part 1 , and part 2. (Disclaimer: I was an adviser to the project and my condition of participation was the ability to do this series of blog posts, because there is really useful knowledge to share, both within the colleague’s organization and more widely. So I said I’d add the blog reflections – without pay – if I could share them.)

I want to kick this off with a quote from the amazing Beck Tench talking about facilitating online learning:

Learning and change are super complex. Consider we may never know the effects of our work. Every snapshot lacks context in some way. Proceed with listening, kindness, observation, and experimentation. Accept that there will be uncertainty, as in all things, and move forward anyway.

I love this quote because it reminds us that facilitating online learning is about the teacher’s expertise. And about engagement. And about our stance as an online facilitator – something I think is often invisible or ignored.  Emilio stepped into that stance with a lot of grace, tolerance for the unknown and comfort with trying, learning, and even with a little failure. In my experience this is not that common!

Nancy:  Let’s talk a bit about stepping into reality, the launch of the course. This was your first time facilitating an online learning course. What happened?

Emilio: The beginning was very stressful. There was a moment where I had to reset my vision that I had created at the beginning of this project. We thought we had everything planned by the Thursday before the course. We were prepared to send a message out  to the people who had signed up for the course, expecting them to register on the actual Moodle site, and begin surfing the site and get fully on board on the first Monday of the course.

Then our partner failed to send us the list of participants in time and we had to postpone the launch. Once we got the list, we sent the welcome message on a Thursday. And yet by Monday people had not surfed the website and registered. I had to say, “wait wait, convince yourself, just don’t get frustrated.” This is what we were paying for: a pilot to experience everything, anything that can go wrong. It is better to experience it now. Next time we will do it better. That will be the real start.

This process takes a little bit of emotional intelligence. You can’t lose your focus. You have to learn in the experience. Don’t focus on the idea that this is the official worldwide launch of your elearning program, but a learning experience. So it was not a big deal. Just a couple of hours of freaking out.

Nancy: Now that you have had the experience what reflections do you have about moving and facilitating your successful F2F course? How did you engage people?

Emilio: Other than wanting to respond more quickly? (Laughter: Emilio was amazing – he was not only teaching online for the first time, but he was doing it WHILE he was on the road for work!) Here are some of my lessons.

First, what should I do about participants that belong to a group not responding to each other? I see the first person in that group posts and gets no response. I wondered, should I intervene? I wondered about how to  group participants in some way, to point out some challenges and invite others to react. But I didn’t hoping they would eventually engage. There were two groups where no one commented at all. If I were to do it again I would immediately ask others to post something.  

Nancy: There are more experiments with gamification in online, where, for example, you get points towards badges for responses. I’m not always sure of the long term benefit of these kinds of incentives and if they actually support the learning, but they appear to get people engaged in the moment. Maybe it can trigger learner socialization quicker and be something useful to explore.  Because as you noted, participation in the design of this course assumes people will interact with each other. So socialization of the group is the first step towards that participation, and later is essential for successful group work.

Emilio: Second, I can teach from anywhere. I could see that in our pilot. I was travelling like crazy. Another take away is the real leverage of technology. I could be doing different things in different places in the world and still deliver a course. You see people are learning from anywhere. If you compare that to level of effort for a F2F course, it is a trade off. But the value is there and you as an officer, can become much more productive. Once you invest in the up front work of design and planning, which was more than I expected.

There are some challenges to this anytime/anywhere though! I feel a bit guilty. I could have done a better job dedicating a bit more time overall. Once I woke up I did not realize the time difference in the office hours and had to wake up at 3am. There are a couple of times I knew I was responding two days later. I know that shouldn’t happen, how I wanted it to be. I wanted to respond within 24 hours.

Emilio: Third, include a synchronous element. The most effective tool I feel I had was our weekly synchronous “Office Hours.”  They gave me an opportunity to introduce a dose of F2F interaction which is fantastic.

During the office hours I got a chance to interact with the participants. They would post several questions. The sharing the screen was super critical. I surfed and took them where we wanted to go, to a question related to a graph or slide and explain it. You can sense by the comments – “oh yes, thank you this clarifies a lot.” We quickly solved problems.

Also, just by hearing their questions I could pinpoint those slides where the message may not be that clear and I would edit a couple of things right away. So it helped me get clearer as well.

We tried to record and post the recordings for those who could not attend due to work or time zones, but we had some technical problems. We will try and fix that next time. But I will also really encourage the participants to attend, because it brings the passion for the subject matter and the collegiality which is needed for the group work and active participation. The people who attended office hours were also the people who completed the course!

Some ideas for next time is to expand the use of office hours to help better set up the groups and the process for the group work. Maybe teams could have a private chat or meeting once a week and I could use some questions to help them get to know each other in the context of the course. That leads to my fourth learning: group work requires building relationships. Our group exercises need to be reconsidered (design) and I need to figure out how to get people comfortable enough with each other to actually engage in the group work.

Nancy: Yes, that is really hard, particularly when the participants have allocated an hour a day for three weeks and there is a lot of material to cover!

Emilio: Fifth, don’t do this alone! Milica was my assistant and she was always there. One time I could not log into the office hours and Melicia took care of it. In hindsight, we should have included her earlier in the facilitation conversations and planning. Part of the team. You and the other consultants Cheryl, Terri and everyone were very helpful.

Nancy: What was the facilitation highlight for you?

Emilio:  The first and second Office Hours were critical. The course was mostly asynchronous. I knew people were coming in. I logged in and I saw people logging in and that made it real. There are people there! They had interest, and were  asking questions, actually reading the slides. I could see the numbers (page views). But until you talk to them, see them asking questions, it is hard to see if they really are reading the material. When we held our weekly synchronous Office Hours, this became much more real.

Nancy: So would you keep doing this?

Emilio: Absolutely yes, I’ll keep doing this. Reflecting on it now, and putting into perspective from an administration standpoint,  what I produced during those four weeks of the course, there is an increase in efficiency. I delivered a course – granted for 7 people – but while I was working Bangkok, Mexico and then Peru. Pretty impressive. Amazing, yeah. I had good connectivity fortunately.

Up Next: Reflections from the whole team