Archive for the ‘Facilitation arenas’ Category

Creative plans for practical implementation

Wednesday, August 20th, 2014

The fourth phase of the ToP Strategic Thinking & Planning framework is Action Planning. Step-by-step plans are forged for each strategic direction. These are then assembled into a coordinated plan. High levels of engagement will take it well beyond simple buy-in, to a point of strong organisational commitment.

It’s the nitty-gritty, practical creativity where “the rubber hits the road”.  In business, this framework for doing shows up as operational or business planning, project commissioning.  Similarly for project management.

Technology of Participation Action Planning Method - Simon Kneebone

ToP Action Planning is about:

  • Engaging the thinking and attitude to create breakthroughs.  This involves working out a set of actions that will shift the inertia of the present and irrevocably alter the future. Then you decide to win on those actions.
  • Creating momentum, rather than detailed planning.  This is about shifting your imagination in practical ways.  It is not ‘project management lite’.  It can however be extended somewhat with partial use of project planning tools.


Towards good evaluation:

  • State objectives precisely so they can be evaluated meaningfully.  “Too hard” or “can’t measure it” are indicators of fuzzy thinking.
  • Often require both objective and subjective evaluation, therefore both quantitative and qualitative data.
  • Use evaluation results to inform the next planning cycle.  So you must have an accompanying outcome measure and use consistent terminology and precision language.


Action Planning Method – Process Steps

‘Victory Circle’

  • Recap the strategic thinking and planning flow. Outline the key Strategic Directions the session will focus on. Provide the practical result and the process for the session.
  • Articulate a specific, tangible victory for each direction. Describe in detail what it will look & feel like.


  • List factors in the situation that will (a) give you an advantage or (b) make you vulnerable.
  • These need to be real and tangible factors which are present now.

Practical Actions

  • Make a list of all the key actions required to achieve your victory.
  • Figure out the who, what, when, where and how of each action.
  • Discuss assumptions, dependencies, monitoring and evaluation, as time permits.


  • Place your actions on a calendar that shows some initial “quick wins” and what is required for achieving the substantial victory.  Include celebrations, and look for a rhythm that is fast moving and dramatic.
  • Place in sequence and discuss resource implications.

Slogan or Logo

  • Create some motivating slogans, symbols, logos, music or poetry that will remind you and your team what you are accomplishing.
  • Closing.  Reflect on the flow and connection from start to end.


So, where have you enabled a group to claim and plan victories that change their future for the better? What went well/not so well? What did you learn for next time?

Go well!


Creating bold paths from here & now to then & there

Tuesday, August 19th, 2014

The third phase of the ToP Strategic Thinking & Planning framework is creating Strategic Directions.  These focus on removing the obstacles or constraints to the Practical Vision, and enhancing or strengthening what is helping.  The idea is to build a broad path leading towards breakthrough.

The Strategic Directions point to where the game is to be played, but not necessarily to a specific match. They often take the form of new or refreshed approaches, programs, campaigns or systems.

In business, other aspects include (or could be stated as) critical success factors or key result areas, performance indicators, targets or outcomes.  Similarly for project management.


The Strategic Directions:

  • Help people see how they relate to the “whole”.
  • Outline an implementation methodology or approach that will lead to achieving the objective.
  • Include outcome measures – the standard used to measure success in achieving each objective.
  • Set priorities to guide resource allocation.


Things to consider:

  • Strive to be innovative and creative, not more of the same.
  • Cross-examine” ideas that are vague or too general or simply more
    of what is already being done.
  • Each objective should have an accompanying outcome measure, and use consistent terminology and precision language.


Workshop Process Steps


  • Recap the ST&P flow. Outline the work from the underlying reality. Provide the practical result and the process for session.
  • Broad two year actions.  Background: 147/805 rules and down board thinking.


  • Individually list directions/pathways to overcome obstacles and strengthen assets to allow the vision to be realised.
  • Need creative ideas. Some can be bold, some conserving.


  • Identify items that have a common strategic intent.  It’s about similar outcome, more than similar action.
  • Cluster them together.  This can be an iterative process.


  • Articulate the intended strategic direction:
    • What is the arena of focus?  Try to use verbs for movement.
    • What is the strategic intent of this group of ideas?
  • Can use multi-voting to determine priorities.


  • For each direction, decide whether it’s catalytic, builds momentum, or is a longer term sustaining area.
  • Can group into major areas of effort.  Give each major area a short title.
  • Closing: What is new or a breakthrough?


So, where have you enabled a group to boldly go to and through its identified windows of opportunity? What went well/not so well? What did you learn for next time?

Go well!




Real world analysis leads to real life options

Monday, August 18th, 2014

The second phase of the ToP Strategic Thinking & Planning framework is a sober analysis of the Underlying Reality.  Done well, this workshop provides windows of opportunity to the future.  It identifies which things need to change, or be acted on, and which things need to be retained, and enhanced or strengthened.

In business, other aspects include (or could be stated as) SWOT, environmental or force field analysis.  In project management, it can kick start risk management.


The Underlying Reality is about:

Asking the basic question: why is the vision not in place already?

Honestly and frankly describing the group’s real situation – what is actually present – right here and right now.

Accurately describing the factors the group is dealing with.  These are both:

  • those that are preventing the group from achieving its vision; and
  • those that are supporting its efforts.</ul>

Claiming the freedom that comes from addressing the actual situation, rather than an imaginary one.

Things to consider:

Rather than identifying and analysing forces, people will often:

  • advocate for their (often entrenched) feelings or perceptions, and/or
  • jump to preferred solutions.

Participants often identify a “lack of…”  This is often a way to refuse to own an issue, and put the responsibility to act onto someone else.

“It’s all too hard”.  People often use obstacles to rationalise the status quo.

Your data will always be incomplete. Again, this is not a reason to give up.

Underlying Reality Workshop – Process Steps


Recap the ST&P flow. Outline the work from the practical vision. Provide the practical result and the process for session.

What is helping or hindering us?

  • Driving/restraining forces/factors in our current situation.
  • Specific, underlying causes.
  • <del>Lack of time, people, money</del>…
  • Assets to keep and strengthen.


List: X blocks that are preventing us from realising the vision; X aspects that move us towards the vision.

Need specific, concrete data:

  • Objective statements of reality.
  • For example: priority is XYZ whereas the vision needs ABC.


Identify items that have a common factor.  EG: same root cause.

Cluster them together.  This can be an iterative process.


Articulate underlying strengths or blocks.

Start with the largest cluster:

  • What is the focus of this cluster?
  • What “window of opportunity” do you see?
  • Name the underlying reality.


For each area, decide whether you can control or influence it, or if it is simply something you are concerned about.

What are our clear focus areas?


So, where have you enabled a group to objectively assess its current situation, and open windows of opportunity to their desired future?  What went well/not so well?  What did you learn for next time?

Go well!


Desperately seeking (successful) strategy

Sunday, August 17th, 2014

Strategy, almost by definition is about the big picture. It’s about being comprehensive, across the whole landscape of issues and opportunities, trends and events.  So why are so many organisations are locked into the past or present, rather than taking full account of the future?

When doing strategy, it pays to consider all its various parts. A good reference point is Mintzberg’s seminal article in the Harvard Business Review, which distinguished between strategic planning, strategy development, and strategic thinking.

  • Strategic thinking is about synthesis. It explores options, based on limited information.  Its outcome is “an integrated perspective of the enterprise”. Its approach is more intuitive, creative and inductive.
  • Strategic planning is about analysis.  It programs already articulated strategies.  Its outcome is a plan which can then be implemented. Its approach is logical and deductive.
  • Between these sits strategy development, which can be somewhat mysterious.  It focusses on assessing options, examining choices, making a decision, and/or setting a destination.


The Technology of Participation™ strategic thinking and planning framework has four stages. It is scaleable and can be applied in sessions running from hours to days. Whilst the process is rather linear, the work is holistic.

Each stage builds on, and responds to, all of what has gone before.  For example, the underlying reality stage articulates the whole set of helping/hindering forces with respect to the whole set of vision elements previously identified.  Integration of insight, effort, product and benefits is therefore built in from the very beginning, rather than being bolted on at the end.

The different foci, types of thinking, data/responses, and experiences of each stage are summarised below.

Practical Vision

  • Focus is on: practical hopes & dreams.
  • Visionary thinking: WHAT we want.
  • Concrete. tangible responses.  Claims made on the future.
  • Experience is that of articulating a preferred future reality.

Underlying Reality

  • Focus is on: forces that both help and hinder achieving the vision.
  • Analytical thinking: WHY we are not there yet.
  • Objective responses around forces to harness and/or address.
  • Experience is “released to get going”.

Strategic Directions

  • Focus is on: broad ways to move.
  • Strategic thinking: HOW to move forward.
  • Directional responses: clear directions for action.
  • Experience is that of building focussed momentum.

Action Planning

  • Focus is on: who, what, when, where, how.
  • Practical thinking: hOW to implement.
  • Action/project type responses: activities, timining, resources, inter-dependencies
  • Experience is: “rubber hits the road”.

So, where have you used strategic thinking and planning to help a group open up a new future for themselves?  What went well/not so well?  What did you learn for next time?

Go well!


On the dynamics of innovation

Thursday, August 14th, 2014

Edison famously said genius is 1% inspiration, and 99% perspiration. Let’s not waste all that good healthy sweat through poor tools and approaches for working together.

Daniel Cook has written an excellent article, Visualising the Creative Process. He summarises his ideas and extensive real world experience in developing computer games as follows:

  • Brainstorm: Create lots of low cost, real world experiments.
  • Cull: Rigorously apply agreed upon culling criteria to weed out the weak ideas and reinvest in your most promising experiments.
  • Cycle: Repeat the process until you generate meaningful value.
  • Practice: Across multiple projects, practice all stages of the creative process so you constantly improve the myriad of skills involved in brainstorming, culling and cycling.


Sound bites, spin, elections & outcomes

Wednesday, August 13th, 2014

In case you hadn’t already noticed, we’ve been having an election here in Australia.  Most of the “dialogue” consisted of attack ads, rather than well argued policies and initiatives.  Hence the phrase: “race to the bottom”.

So what’s the alternative?

Let’s take some examples from the online side of things.  I want to look at some articles that people write, the responses to them and the pattern they make.

Antony Green is a well-respected election analyst.  His articles are well grounded in evidence, with a minimum of speculation.  He wrote a piece on ‘constitutional realities’ here, and another on the usefulness (or otherwise) of the two-party preferred vote, here. (more…)

Towards worthwhile meetings

Monday, August 11th, 2014

There’s a poster that ends with “Meetings, the Practical Alternative to Work”.  It’s a funny, fashionable stereotype.  In reality though, this kind of learned cynicism can blind you to the possibility of genuinely productive meetings.

Get to the point

So, how can you make meetings worth while – for yourself and everyone else?  I reckon it’s like triage:

  • First, no pointless meetings.  If there’s no discernible purpose, don’t do it.Practical-Alternative-to-Work
  • Second, some meetings can basically manage themselves.  The content is predictable, the process is well established, efficiency is high and good outcomes are routine.
  • Third are those meetings where the stakes are high enough that you have to get it right.


Connecting the dots (re-posted)

Thursday, January 16th, 2014

Do you need to engage staff and/or stakeholders in planning and management?

If so, a framework that holds your organisation, your people and their performance all together could make it much easier for them to contribute effectively. It would do this in two ways:

Firstly, the output of one stage becomes the input for the next stage. Nothing startling there – it’s standard procedure. Secondly, you can run sessions using participatory processes that have been purpose designed using the same underlying structure.

That is, you can use the same flow: from context, to gathering data, to organising it, to making meaning from it and finally to making decisions. This gives a consistent and coherent approach all the way through your planning and implementation cycle.

In organisational planning, two aspects you’d be working on are commitment and alignment.

By commitment I mean an agreement to support the outcomes after the planning is done. By alignment, I mean a shared story about the plan, made specific for each area and level. Current best-practices for this focus on:

  • Enabling individuals and groups to explore the real issues which confront them.
  • Tapping the breadth of their ideas and the depth of their understanding.
  • Building an awareness of their shared organisational aspirations, connections and contradictions.