Archive for the ‘Facilitation design’ Category

In praise of (inter) active whiteboarding

Sunday, November 9th, 2014

In Say it with Stick Figures Tim Riesterer outlines some research on the use of images in presentations:

In a recent set of experiments, Stanford University Graduate School of Business Professor Zakary Tormala tested the potential effects of whiteboard visuals against more traditional PowerPoint approaches. The aim of the research was to determine whether “whiteboarding” can enhance presentation effectiveness, as defined by metrics of engagement, enjoyment, credibility and — most critically — recall and persuasive impact.

The experiments used three different images – labelled ‘whiteboard condition’, ‘powerpoint condition’ and ‘zen condition’ below – to convey identical content.  The whiteboard presentation had a statistically significant difference in engagement, credibility, presentation quality and recall.  That is, it was better in each area.


“Whiteboard Condition”


“Powerpoint Condition”


“Zen Condition”









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!


Envisioning – start with the end in mind

Sunday, August 17th, 2014

The ToP Strategic Thinking & Planning framework starts with the Practical Vision.  This workshop creates a positive, concrete, shared picture of the desired future.  It expresses the situation the group wants to create – as if it were already in place.


In business, other aspects include (or could be stated as) mission, goals, values.  In project management, the process can identify benefits and/or define project scope.


The Practical Vision is about:

  • Defining where the group wants to be in some detail. The process is a way to see both the forest and the trees.
  • Developing something to both aim for and gauge progress against.
  • Identifying the common aspirations and motivation in a group.
  • Focussing on what the group wants, not what they expect.
  • Enabling participation of both decision makers and implementers in the process.  This generally leads to more commitment from everyone.
  • Unearthing the latent elements and assembling them in a coherent form.


Things to consider:

  • Implementation comes later.
  • Changing group membership dilutes commitment.
  • Excessive advocacy can block a strategic or overview approach.
  • Need to check the base level of information that all participants have, as well as assumptions, perspectives or prejudices.
  • Need to balance cost (both time and effort) against the benefits.
  • “Vision” is an over-used and misused term. It can degenerate into semantics with no commitment to making things happen.


Practical Vision Workshop – Process Steps

Now let’s see how this could done in a Technology of Participation workshop.


Outline the current situation & focus question. Provide the practical result  and the process for session.

Prime the pump:

  • “Imagine your kids in 10 years…”
  • “Walk around… what do you see?”

Imagine the desired outcome/s:

  • “What are our hopes and dreams?”
  • “What do we want to see in place in ten years?”



“List X results/goals/outcomes you want to see in place in relation to the focus/aim.”

Need specific, concrete data:

  • “Take a picture…”
  • Not “renewable energy”, but rather “solar panels on every roof”.



Identify items that indicate a common result / goal / outcome.

Cluster them together in clumps or columns.  This can be an iterative process.



Articulate the specific outcome that all the items in the cluster point to.

Start with largest cluster:

  • “What is the focus of this cluster?”
  • “What would you see?”
  • “Name the accomplishment.”



Identify the central thrust.

Identify supporting/ flanking areas.

“What stands out?  Breakthroughs? Benefits?”


So, where have you launched some strategic thinking for a group by starting with the end in mind?  What went well/not so well?  What did you learn for next time?

Go well!


How to use a horrendogram

Saturday, August 16th, 2014

A horrendogram is not really some weird & wonderful medical test, ordered up late on a Friday afternoon.  In this case, it’s a visual tool for generating, mapping and working effectively with lots of information and/or complex systemic relationships.

One way to use a horrendogram is to build it from scratch, with a group of stakeholders or similar. Another option is to use an existing map to help examine a system in new ways. Consider this “value network” diagram from my colleague Neil Davidson.


Taking the diagram as a starting point, here is a possible workshop flow for identifying strategic opportunities and partnerships. I’ve used the Technology of Participationunderlying dynamics of facilitation to create the process structure. (more…)

Facilitator style: a triumph of substance over fashion

Friday, August 15th, 2014

Your preparation (emotional, physical and intellectual), presentation, discipline and way of relating to the group will affect the overall outcome.


This is the fifth article on STEPS (space, time, eventfulness, product & style).  It looks specifically at style as part of session design and staging.

As a facilitator, your task is to guide a group through a process.  In essence, you are the navigator for their collective journey.

Here are some aspects of style I consider when preparing, designing and running meetings, workshops and conversations. (more…)

Critical, crucial, difficult conversations

Friday, August 15th, 2014

These intimidating conversations are characterised by high stakes, opposing opinions and strong emotions.

Talking about things when they’ve gone all pear-shaped

Not long ago, I came across some sites about critical or crucial conversations.  These terms are used interchangeably. The book (which came first) is also a best seller, with many good reviews on Amazon. The more I read, the more I could “translate” from the authors’ content to my own. The points below are from the first link, with the Technology of Participation framework following.

Begin with facts, not accusations: Using descriptive and not prescriptive language, what are the data points behind the emotions and/or conflict?

being-comprehensive-drawingWhat do we know, objectively? Asking this creates divergence. It expands our base of information and awareness.  It helps us be comprehensive.  It brings a sense of multiple views.  Recognising this is the starting point of transformation.

Acknowledge the difference in experiences: Using “I” statements describe how the behaviour was experienced as conflictual or emotive? (more…)

Product, by-product or non-event?

Thursday, August 14th, 2014

Attention to producing a tangible outcome (practical result) strengthens the group’s sense of accomplishment and commitment to action.


This is the fourth article on STEPS (space, time, eventfulness, product & style).  It looks specifically at product as part of session design and staging.

Product examples include: • decisions • plans • documents • sculpture • charts • images • models • poems • songs • collages • life-sized layouts of re-designed gardens or other parts of the environment.


Pacing the group for the long (or short) haul

Thursday, August 14th, 2014

Sensitive attention to the human dimension of group interaction leads to greater enthusiasm within a group and commitment to the results.  It is about caring for the mood of the group. That is: planning for, and enabling, the most helpful vibe during different stages of a session.


This is the third article on STEPS.  It looks specifically at eventfulness as part of session design and staging.

Working in a group is like a stream as it flows from the mountains to the sea.  Sometimes it’s fast, sometimes it’s slow. There can be quiet pools, and also big boulders.  It all depends on the terrain (the needs of the group and the situation) the stream goes goes through. (more…)