Archive for the 'reflection' Category

Feb 08 2016

Learning While Building eLearning: Part 1


This is the first in a short blog series based on conversations with a colleague who is “learning while doing” as he is building an eLearning offering. Disclaimer: I’m 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. So here we go! Over time it will probably include some additional comments from other members of the team working on this project.

The reason I wanted to share this story is time after time I hear people state “Hey, let’s just convert our face-to-face (F2F) training into elearning” without a real sense of what that process might entail. What really happens when you decide to convert your face to face training to an elearning offering? What types of offerings lend themselves to conversion? What would that conversion look like? What should you consider?  I’ve done piles of research for clients in the past (and I’m working on getting permission to share some of it.) But nothing in the research is surprising. What is surprising is that it is not considered before diving in!

There are many paths to answering the questions about converting F2F learning to online or blended learning. The most important starting point is to ask some important initial questions, explore the options, and learn from others. Then, if you still want to proceed,  you can hire a firm to fully convert materials, do it yourself or work with a few others.

Regardless, the “conversion” process asks us some fundamental questions about learning: what and why we want to learn and what the impact of that learning might be. Looking at our assumptions around these fundamental questions can inform any initiative to “convert” something to elearning.

Meet Emilio  

Emilio is a technical officer at a large international development organization. He is an expert in his domain with years of knowledge and experience. Over time he has been asked to share his expertise and has developed a set of materials and practices to offer face to face (F2F) workshops around his area of expertise. He is passionate about his topic and his depth of experience brings richness to every conversation he has with people who want to learn more. Now he has been asked to reach more people by teaching online. That “elearning” thing.

The first decision Emilio faced was to understand what elearning really means. What are the options? What does it take to convert his offline materials into online opportunities? In our first learning conversation, Emilio shared his discovery that there is a large range of types of elearning courses and that they are difficult to categorize. He started out thinking that this is simply presenting his F2F lectures in a real time online space, augmented with the materials he had developed. But he discovered there was more to it than that.

Matching the Material With eLearning Options

multimediaAn early insight was that what you choose to do depends on your target audience and what they want or need to learn. (Or what YOU want them to learn!)

From conversations with other colleagues at work, Emilio learned some forms of elearning that have been produced in his organization. For example packages were created to introduce ideas, concepts and general information to government officials. Emilio now sees these can be less interactive, self-paced, and can potentially reach hundreds in unfacilitated courses. His colleagues have handed material over to consultants who have converted them into self paced offerings – quickly and efficiently.  This form fits with a goal of information dissemination. The value added to the learner, as compared to doing an internet search or picking up a book, is that the material is chunked and sequenced into digestible chunks and because of the reputation of the agency, people have confidence in what they are learning.

Emilio’s existing  training courses focus on a variety of complex policy issues and practices.  The material is more about converting concepts into practice, which is far more challenging than introducing ideas. Learners need to wrestle with the material, practice its application, consider their contextual differences and get the kind of feedback experts like Emilio have in their heads – the kinds of stuff that is rarely included in the slide deck or readings. Subtle. Contextual. Experienced. This is more challenging than converting basic or introductory materials into elearning.

As the volume of complexity of the material grows, there are other issues to consider. How do you keep the learner’s attention? How do you know if they are falling off course and what do you do? What and how do you customize for different contexts?

An early implication of these differences was that Emilio’s colleagues and bosses may have been thinking that he was doing the same thing as the people making introductory courses. The might expect it would take the same amount of time and resources to implement. Like him, his colleagues were not familiar with the range of elearning options. Add to that the fact that a strong organizational driver towards elearning is the idea of efficiency and reach, you can fall into a trap assuming that elearning is just about low-cost content distribution to many people, and that it is always easy or effective to implement.

Sometimes we can and do reach thousands with introductory material. But how do we really build capacity for more complex topics at a distance? What does “cost per student” really mean for deeper learning?

Emilio discovered that the reality is quite different than he thought. There is a mountain of jargon. Even thinking about the course learning objectives in a more complex offering is much more challenging (and we’ll talk about this with Emilio in a later blog post). All his tacit information that is easily available when he is present in a F2F training needs to be identified and reconsidered. What needs to be made explicit? What can come out through the facilitation of a course, with direct online interaction with learners? What has to be packaged into knowledge products? What is REALLY important amongst the vast possibilities of the content?

The adventure has begun. Stay tuned for the next part!

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Jan 27 2016

Reflecting on my 2015 #365Photo Project

BradBradBradAs the month of January quickly slips into the rear view mirror, I realize it is now or never to reflect on my 2015 #365photo project. I had been watching Alan Levine and others do this practice for a few years and decided it was time to try it.

It was nearly a year ago when I made my only reflective post on the project last year, one month in.   While I can’t come close to the analysis of my fellow #365-er,  Eugene Eric Kim  and all his reflections on his 365 Project, it is worth putting on the reflective glasses and taking a moment. Even my sister prompted me to do this on Facebook. Go Cesca!

My Process

The picture taking process was almost always opportunistic. The value of knowing I wanted to capture and share ONE photo a day really upped my “noticing” while on walks, but if I did not get outside of the house (ah, Seattle’s winter) I found I had to stretch and sometimes even set up a picture. There certainly were stretches where nature was a key inspiration. Spring, Spring, SPRING! Flowers. Patterns of leaves and other natural elements (often juxtaposed with my feet, for some reason – at least a dozen) show up a lot, particularly fallen camellias! There are many of my family, particularly my granddaughters who are irresistible, but I also worry about putting too many pictures of them online.

Taken as a whole, they do tell the story of my year. You can see the travel, the work, the family, the seasons, the food!

The camahogada-tUdGera was somewhat of an issue early on, as I was using a fairly basic, lower resolution phone camera. I got frustrated but people said, CROP and use filters, to use the limitations of the camera as a feature, not a bug. That helped me over the hump, but in the end I’ve used cropping and filters only a handful of times. Lazy? Busy? Probably both. And I got a better phone with a better camera late last year and that FELT more fun. Especially for macros, which I enjoy.

I did NOT have a practical and consistent workflow for my project. I mostly posted from either my phone or one of my tablets to Facebook, MOSTLY got those into an album, and then at the end of the year downloaded the lot and imported them into the more easily sharable Flickr. I think some got lost and mis-categorized and I have totally changed my 2016 workflow for #366photo (yes, leap year!).

This year, every photo gets posted to Flickr using the phone app which also allows me to cross post on Facebook and Twitter. I always cross-post on FB, and sometimes on Twitter if the image is either pleasing to me or has some timely relevance to a wider audience as now only my friends can see my FB posts. I restricted them late last year instead of posting them publicly, mostly to protect my family. I should have done that earlier. When I post to Flickr I can put the image right into an album. Later I can go back and tag, but that is not a top priority.


The process itself was wonderful. It was, in a sense, a meditation in paying attention to what is around me. Looking back, I smile at the pworkinprogressictures of friends, my family, of nature and of the many places I visited and food I ate. It is a celebration of the full and rich life I get to live. Here and there it hints at the bumps in the road. I think that is because I don’t really have too many and I don’t really want to make a big deal out of them. If there was one visual theme on bumps, it was fatigue!

The sharing part turned out to be a much bigger surprise. How many people on FB had a little “line of sight” into my life surprised me. The number of “likes” surprised me – people actually PAY ATTENTION to this stuff? The reflections shared with Eugene and Alan Levine were wonderful moments of learning.

As 2016 dawned I had just about decided NOT to do this again. Then the urge crept in. The three things I gained from the project were worth continuing:  a) the practice of noticing,  b) sharing, and c) learning, because life is always a work in progress! (And my workflow for it is already better. The pictures are here.)

My Pictures

I decided it would be fun to select some of my favorite pictures from 2015. As I noted, I was unhappy with the quality of many of my shots, but looking back, some are really pleasing to my eye.

CameliaShoes crappycroppy selfieatwork shadowflowers iliveinabeautifulplace horsechestnutshoes mylarry sandplay melbourne quotidian playginwithpapa

playjoy shoefrost noticingnature windowdawn furry oldbarge fiddlestilllifeinmontrealbeauty shoestilllife hanginout octasketti friends3 greenlake2 friends2 friends1 fallfeet skyfeet Greenlake squashedcameliapoetry frostyshoe wilddave

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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!

Participant Feedback

In most of the workshops we did the “What, So What, Now What” debrief and reflect Liberating Structures. I was able to capture a few responses on video. Here is the result:

In addition, I received this quote in the mail this past week with permission to quote anonymously:

Hi Nancy,

Just a quick not to say thankyou for coming out to Australia, visiting us and giving us insight to your perspectives. 

 Can I just say that I thoroughly enjoyed it and put a couple of things into practice, nothing special but I went into class with a much more open mind and content within myself.

 I ended up combining 2 groups from 2 campuses for the final 5 classes and although the first night’s turnout was a little lacking, by the end they were developing new workgroups, mixing on their own, helping each other in understanding assessments and to top it off they even arranged a Christmas breakup for both groups together.

 The last night was purely a submitting work  and as a help session for those that hadn’t finished or submitted all their work and I still had nearly a full class!  They brought in cakes, all shook hands and celebrated and it was a genuinely nice thing to see.  Especially when most stayed around until 8pm on a work night.

 I wish you all the best in your travels and business.

Take care,

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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Feb 01 2015

Slowing Down to Pay ATTENTION – the #365 Photo Practice

January30For a number of years, some of my good buddies have taken part in the #365 photo project.  Alan Levine and Stephen Downes have been most prominent on my radar. I never seriously considered doing it until January 2, 2015. I can’t quite put my finger on why. There are lots of logical reasons – I try and include the visual in my work on a regular basis. But that wasn’t the reason. I’m beginning to think it was because I wanted to pay attention to things differently. So I did not consider it more than that and just started. Just fricken do it.  Forget the logical.

I did not think about themes. I did not think about “getting better at taking pictures.” I did not think about narrative. Just take a picture or pictures, and pick one to post. Voila.

About the same time I noticed that my friend and “inspiring being” Eugene Eric Kim posted Ten Days Into my 365 Photos Project. I had noticed his pictures and thought, “cool, Eugene is doing this too!” And of course, Eugene being someone who I perceive as taking his photographic craft as seriously as he takes his process arts work, I got a bit intimidated by his comments about taking better pictures. (Update: He posted about the project again today in a don’t-miss post.)

I was using my phone and my very cracked and battered Nexus 7 tablet. Oh dear. Then I stopped myself. Remember, I said, I am not doing this as a photographic practice, but as one of paying attention. At the same time, I LOVED Eugene’s reflections and a little thread of light conversation started pinging and pattering between our posts of our pictures on Facebook.  I liked that. I enjoyed when other friends hit the “like” button, or even better, left comments. Last week I was working very hard and the only picture I could muster one night was taking a picture of my feet while I was collapsed on the couch. And the comment was on the energetic nature of my sock color. This little bit of attention  energized me (Thanks, Joy!). My friends were being part of my paying attention. The attention became a network, or a tiny little force-field.

I like that. A lot!

On January 29th, Eugene posted a picture and comments that again twinged me to observe my own practice by observing his. The conversation was so useful to me. Eugene gave me permission to share it and it is captured here. #365Photo Conversation With Eugene. Eugene some interesting things, so if you are interested, click in!

Eugene wrote “My primary criteria is that the photo tell some story about my day.”

I responded, “That was really helpful for me to read, as I’m still very unclear about my own aims and criteria with the project. I think right now my baseline is low – get it done. I also have a tiny tablet and a cell phone as my camera, so I have to discover what makes a “good” picture on those devices. I do get intimidated by beautiful pictures by others (like you) and I have to shut off that voice. I have enjoyed a) trying to be observant of images/moments and b) giving a tiny bit of context when I post. But it is still very emergent.”

Later in the conversation Eugene wrote: “Nancy, even though we didn’t plan it, knowing that you’re doing this too has helped me _tremendously_. Several of your images have already inspired me..” and “I’ve also loved the emergent aspects of this project, which includes this exchange with you! I also love that you’re taking photos with your phone and tablet…” and “to embrace the spirit of the project and all of the unexpected things that are happening as a result.”

liquidnetworkI was nodding affirmatively as I read. My own random experiment has already morphed and changed because of posting pictures on Facebook and engaging with people like Eugene. The social learning aspect is a wonderful and welcome surprise. That network.

So here is my recap so far.

Attention: Attention turns out to feel more like observation. As I take my daily walks, I am starting to “look with new eyes” at what passes around me. Big picture. Detail. Pattern. Getting out of my “to do list” mode and let my mind calm by using my eyes, instead of “thinking, thinking, thinking.”  The unexpected is now paying attention differently to my friends’ #365photos. (And slightly annoyed that I have to go multiple places, but not so annoyed that I find a technological solution to this!)

Identity: I had not at all thought about how my pictures would give a wee window into my worlds to those who see them on Facebook. I always underestimate how much time and attention people give to Facebook. That is both a wonderful and scary thought. Now that I have noticed this, I am resisting taking/curating my photos as an expression of identity. I want to stay with “attention” for now.

Practice: When I was traveling and in a time zone 19 hours away, I got confused about which “day” I was posting for. Ah, the international time line. But travel provides fertile opportunities for pictures. I was worried that I would not be able to post. I can’t always post from my phone while overseas, so I did more with my tablet and wifi. Thanks to Eugene’s positive support, I have let go of worrying about pictures that are literally just snap shots.

I’m liking this!




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Jan 08 2015

Conversations With a Wonderful Client

Sometimes you just get lucky. I get lucky quite a bit with my wonderful clients. As a wrap up to some work last year, Simone Staiger of CIAT and I decided to do a little text based conversational reflection on the work we did. This is posted at Conversations with Nancy White around the implementation of CIAT’s internal communications strategy and reposted here for sharing!

Conversations with Nancy White around the implementation of CIAT’s internal communications strategy

Nancy, when I contacted you at the beginning of 2014, I was looking for support, through regular conversations (monthly one hour Skype calls), to discuss, and evaluate the implementation of CIAT’s internal communications strategy.

NancyWhat a treat! Wow, that you will a) take the time for reflective and action oriented conversations and, b) pay me for it is WONDERFUL. I love working with you, Simone. This reaffirms my belief that there is tremendous value in working with wonderful people and cultivating those relationships beyond the formality of contracted work. I know some would say this isn’t very smart, but I think friendship adds to a working relationships – as long as we can stay open and frank with each other. We do a good job of that!

SimoneThe strategy intends to increasingly create spaces for dialogue among staff, foster team work & learning in teams, and communicate consistently to create among all staff a better understanding of key developments in CIAT’s work and institutional environment. The document was the result of a series of analysis and exercises to identify the real underlying issues that need to be worked on and to lift internal communications up to a level that goes beyond improving instruments and media.

This theme of “space” and “spaces” is showing up in many places in my work. Is this something real, or am I just paying attention differently. People seem more time-pressed, hurried and stressed. The focus on getting tasks done, hitting one’s list of deliverables and “efficiency” seems to becoming a “false god.” So this idea of creating space for dialog is a good way to test if paying attention to hearing, listening, and understanding – particularly around shared goals and issues – can be of benefit. Intuitively I believe it is, but taking a more analytical stance is useful.

CIAT’s communications and knowledge management team in collaboration with Human Resources Management had identified a whole series of products and activities that could bring us closer to our objectives. What we did not do is to identify a series of indicators – qualitative or quantitative – that could help us evaluate progress, and which we are deeply missing now.

Simone, you asked me hard questions about monitoring and evaluation that help that stance. I appreciate being pushed in this direction. I am paying close attention to how these indicators can not only help us understand if we are meeting our intentions and goals, but if they can also help us identify what to “stop doing” to make space for the stuff that really matters. We talk about this, but how to we discern and validate these choices beyond a guess – or simply losing what we cannot make time for.

For one example, it was extremely easy to come up and finalize, with your help, a set of indicators that will help us in 2016 to measure progress on the effects of our new intranet, to be launched End of January. How easy it is to go through an exercise like this, when you talk about a concrete product and its usage!

Just nodding about the difference between talking about something generically, and talking about it in a specific, concrete context!

In my initial talks with you I was interested in ways to increase knowledge sharing between different stakeholder groups within CIAT: Management Team – The program and theme leaders, which represent around 12 staff – The 80 or so who I call the influential people, some being real opinion leaders – All CIAT staff. It seemed to me that we needed to create effective bridges to connect those four “populations”. How can we involve different stakeholder groups, and create incentivize for engagement? Well that is a very general and tough question, which in addition is not new but still so unresolved… In the conversations with you we explored many possibilities, and interventions at different levels – individual, groups or teams, all staff – and through different means: pilot projects, personalized team discussions, or institutional campaigns.

Reflecting back on this, I have to revisit one of my “now that I’m over 50 years old curmudgeon” opinions. I am interested in early adopters. I am VERY interested in second wave adopters. And I will not waste time on resistors. Is this an effective strategy in organizations? If we think of the “80 or so” as early adopters or leading edge second wave adopters, I don’t think we can consider everyone else as resistors. But I suspect there are informal leaders whose resistance can affect the rest of the early adopters. AND, it is important to not confound resistors from people who see the world differently and have useful dissenting views that can help us learn and grow. What differentiates these two types of people? If we could figure this out, we might be able to more generatively interact with those innovative thinkers who we might otherwise miss and misinterpret simply as resistors. Your question, Simone, about how to move past those 80 people has resonated with me since you mentioned it.

What I mostly took away from the conversations, as well as from previous explorations, is strongly related to something that Peter Senge insisted on in a leadership course I took with him in 2013: The need to go away from symptomatic solutions to fix an issue or solve a problem quickly, and to shift towards fundamental solutions that for sure take longer, and have a delay in having an impact, but produce longer-term lasting positive effects.

What I build on to your reflection, Simone, is that people are always part of fundamental solutions, so maybe we need to consider how we are or might be understanding, relating to and interacting with people?

Now: there are many, many tools and methods out there to facilitate deeper thinking in groups and organizations that help to identify the roots of a problem and design fundamental solutions. You pointed to a series of tools and emerging perspectives and possibly “Liberating Structures” is one of those emerging pools of possibilities to “include and unleash everyone”.

Learning more about and practicing Liberating Structures was a strong thread for me in 2014 and will continue this year. One fundamental lesson is that as a facilitator, I need to have a diverse range of approaches, I must understand why I choose any one at any one time, and that there is potency in how we sequence and combine ways of engaging and interacting. So LS is helping me become a more conscious facilitator. When I take this in context of the type of facilitation training and capacity development I see in organizations like the CGIAR and others, it reminds me that we must always be leveling up. Yes, we start at the mechanical stage, but if we don’t build towards better understanding of those mechanism, and towards being able to “read” a room full of people and adjust (plan and then be prepared to improvise), we are not moving the facilitation practice deeper and forward. So for 2015, I want to challenge my own ideas of how to support facilitation capacity development in myself and others, for just the kinds of challenges you face, Simone.

One thing that helped us go into that direction is to work increasingly at the team level. It is probably a useful consideration to identify when you actually have to include everyone (meaning the whole organization), which leads too often at CIAT to intensive information diffusion that convince some and are rejected by others, and when it is appropriate to do so at a team or group level, trying to have inclusive dialogues. The socialization of the CIAT strategy with 20 teams and almost 300 staff was certainly a time consuming exercise, but probably the most meaningful, trust-building and symptomatic-looking one.

This focus on teams resonates with me, and then leads to the next challenge: the fact that so many of these teams are distributed under the CRP structure of the CGIAR, and that many people have “multiple bosses.” They have their geographically situated managers. They have their distributed managers, many times people outside of their own center. I wonder how the CGIAR is paying attention to this power issue, and what they are or might do with it. Things could fracture around “loyalty lines” of many sorts. Moving towards a truly networked way of working presents many challenges for established institutions.

You and I also discussed the possibility to use the new corporate values which have been developed in a very inclusive process, as a means of achieving integration, dialogue and team cohesion. The Human Resources Management Team with whom we have regular conversations and undertake joined actions believes a lot in the “value approach” based on strong support of a united Management. My concern is the danger of getting into the lecturer mode and not to find the right tone to feel staff comfortable and available to discuss required attitude changes.

This is something else I’ve been learning about from other Liberating Structures practitioners. The values themselves are not much, in reality. It is how they are lived within the work we do. So I suspect we can’t just preach them, as you noted, Simone. Instead we need to examine our work through the lenses of our values. There was a very interesting thread on KM4Dev in late 2014 asking about this ( Two particular Liberating Structures might be useful: Integrated-Autonomy ( and Generative Relationships STAR ( .

After one year of using the strategy as a guide when it comes to decide what we do and how, I take way the following: We are on the right track. We know what fundamental situations need to be improved or resolved, but we can only be successful if internal communications is aligned and – more importantly- involved with ongoing organizational changes, if we find the right solutions for the different situations / target groups and if we receive increased support that allows us to avoid symptomatic quick fixes.

I might offer a slightly different perspective, Simone. It may not always be about alignment, per se, but clarity of what alignment means (shared goals) and what it means when we are not in alignment. What we do depends on this kind of clarity. Lack of alignment is not always about “you and I need to agree.” It can also point us to something emergent that may offer us new insight. But if we aren’t aware of this misalignment, we never get to that generative conversation.

Yes, Nancy. Thanks for this important different perspective. I agree now that I read my point again, that your take on it is so important for CIAT. We must be able to make the different views, motivations, and strategies of and within our research areas more explicit and use it increasingly as an opportunity to expand, grow and learn.

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