Ask the Audience

coventryEarlier this week I gave a presentation to the, student led, Proactive Project Management Conference at Coventry University.

Following a useful talk on Change Management by Jane Cosgrove of DHL, I decided to follow her lead in asking the attendees questions to build  greater engagement.

My first question (and remember the background of the students was mostly engineering/project management)was ” How many of you use TRIZ?” Answer – None. “How many of you know what TRIZ is?” Answer – None.

A little later, after explaining the cynefin framework with examples pulled  from their own context, Which cynefin domain do you think ‘putting on a conference like this’ should be? No votes for anything else other than ‘complicated’.

Participatory storytelling about Natural Capital

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In November I ran a PNI (Participatory Narrative Inquiry) -based workshop at the Valuing our Life Support Systems Summit #VOLSS at the British Library in London.

The summit, hosted by the Natural Capital Initiative (NCI), brought together 250 scientists, policy makers and business representatives to debate how we can better preserve the elements of nature on which human society and the economy depend.

Knowing that we (Sarah Chimbwandira, director at Surrey Wildlife Trust and myself) had less than an hour in total, we designed the session to maximise the participative elements. I trimmed out my introduction entirely, saying they “could find out more about me on-line if they so wished”.

Our promotion of the session via a pre-conference blog by Sarah on ‘Natural Capital needs relevant stories to be told as well as good science‘, together with mentions on Twitter and at previous sessions meant that we were oversubscribed, which was exactly what we wanted.

A very brief overview of the excellent progress so far of Surrey Connects, by Mark Pearson the CEO, set the scene and we were off with hand-cut hexagons and sharpies (other marker pens are available).

The participants were invited to capture their thoughts and feelings about the current state of ‘Natural Capital’ and then, in reverse (to disrupt linear thinking) they were asked to complete a hexagon for each of the key decisions, events and turning points that had led us to where we are today.

I ran around the tables to encourage participation and keep the energy and progress as high as possible.

Next they were asked to “imagine in two years, if everything that could go right (in relation to the adoption of Natural Capital), does go right. What would that look like?” Then, again in reverse, “what might be the decisions and events that might need to happen?” I added that “the first step might be the most important to focus upon”.

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Quickly moving on, nominated storytellers told the story of their table to two, separately, visiting groups in around five minutes each.

 

 

 

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Finally and perhaps most importantly of all they were invited to reflect upon the similarities, differences and surprises between their own story and the two new versions they had heard.

The overall view was that the stories were fairly similar (not really surprising as this was half way through day two of the conference) but that they differed considerably on perspective ie economics, natural environment and business – focus.

A quick comparison of the ‘first (important) step’ suggested by each of the six groups reveals:

  • Communications, starting at where people are at
  • Identify all critical Natural Capital Assets
  • A miracle!
  • Increasing consumer awareness
  • More pilots to test
  • Communication between Sectors

What do you think? I think this is a good set of first steps to ensure the ‘Natural Capital’ approach proceeds with caution and is adaptable and resilient in the face of uncertainty.

Feedback was hugely positive. Cheat sheets were eagerly taken away.

My reflections afterwards were that:

  1.  The pilot session we (Sarah, director of Surrey WT and Mark CEO of Surrey Connects) had been vitally important to test the instructions, timings and examples of outputs).
  2. I would have preferred a session right at the very start of the conference as an ice-breaker, test the temperature of the ‘crowd’, and chance to reflect on what was important before the first speaker started to influence our thinking.
  3. It is right to sacrifice ego and glory to maximise the participatory nature of such a session. Participation, instead of listening to one person make a point or observation generates engagement, involvement and ultimately personal satisfaction.
  4. Natural Capital is a new and emergent force. A PNI approach to developing where it might go, what it might look like and which systems it may overturn, seems to me to be the perfect match to develop a bottom up, grounded but revolutionary ‘Natural Capital Ecosystem’.

If you are interested, my full report on the session, complete with all the outputs,  every hexagon, is available on the Natural Capital Initiative website. We hope to be doing a lot more in this hugely exciting area in the coming months, so watch this space.

[This post also appears on our new Participatory Narrative Institute Blog over at PNI2.ORG – please have a browse and register on the site if you are at all interested in joining us to see what a difference we can all make, with working with stories]

All Hope Abandon

conference phoneI must have attended more than twenty of David Gurteens Knowledge Cafes over recent years and the feedback is always the same “I had a really good time”, “It was great to talk to other strangers”, “I made some great new contacts”, “what interesting conversations”. David has built up an awareness of what makes a good participatory event as he explains in his current newsletter in an entry entitled ‘Nothing new about the knowledge cafe‘.

Now, I have attended several quite large conferences recently and the amount of time, which could have been used to participate, engage and connect has been tragically wasted.

Over at Knocko, Nick Milton unscientifically, but in my mind convincingly, calculates ‘Why knowledge transfer through discussion is 14 times more effective than writing‘.

So, in a similar vein, if a conference of 102 attendees:

  • holds two panel Q&A session each of 30 minutes duration, only 2 people are fully engaged at any given time, meaning that 100 person Hours of Opportunity for Participatory Engagement (HOPEs) are wasted.
  • allows two coffee breaks of 30 minutes, and an hour for lunch, each described as ‘for networking’ but without instruction to “meet and greet new connections”, at least 50% simply meet up with the people they arrived with or work with or check their phones wasting a further 100 HOPEs
  • endures five minutes of all 12 of the presenters telling us about “the number of people who work for us”, “my qualifications include”, “I know there there are too many words on this slide but …”, this results in the wasting of another 100 HOPEs

300 hours of participatory potential energy wasted just for a few words of instruction “ find someone you don’t know and introduce yourselves” or advice to presenters “ Please don’t include slides just for the sake of it”, “stories not bullets” and replace question time with “At your table or with your neighbours, reflect on what you have heard and discuss”.

Are all our efforts to improve conferences hopeless? Reflect on this and discuss.

Hope is an optimistic attitude of mind based on an expectation of positive outcomes related to events and circumstances in one’s life or the world at large. – from wikipedia

Bob Hope had a PGA Golf tournament named after him which had a recent refocus and is now designed to bring the idea of “participatory wellness” to life for people of all ages

Story-Trophic cascades

Perhaps it is working with TRIZ that has improved my analogous thinking but I watched this incredible video about ‘How Wolves Change Rivers’ and thought:

If Trophic Cascades are brought about by re-introducing a previously removed key species in an ecosystem, what might be the analogous effect of re-introducing storytellers, or even better PNI (Participatory Narrative Inquiry) facilitators who work with stories, back into a community.

I have just delivered the first of two experiments to run a Story Based workshop locally with local business friends who run their own small businesses. My intention was primarily to share with them a few of the lessons, methods and tools I have learned that have made a difference to me. From the feedback I have received I achieved the impact I so desired.

What surprised me was the amount of collaboration that occurred during the event and ‘cascaded’ onto social media afterwards. Unlike previous workshops where I have purposefully asked pairs to look for common ground or potential creative combination ideas, I never directly mentioned it this time.

It has only been 48 hours since the workshop ended and already I am aware of a surge of contacts via email, twitter and Facebook. Invites have been received to join google hangouts and physical Friday afternoon business networks. Three books and one painting sold. One participant going live on the radio and internet TV as a nutrition expert with potential to have a new career as a text jockey.

Now if one workshop with 8 participants can generate a cascade of collaborative energy this strong in 48 hours, just imagine if this was carried out in your area with your local businesses and if these businesses were coached and facilitated to build further relationships using stories we could change more than just rivers …

The Monkey in the sack – My Story Collider Story

I have finally been brave enough to post this. This is the audio recording of my appearance at the Story Collider show in London in front of a packed house in a London Club earlier this year. 20 minutes long, you can hear the fear in my voice as I start, and listen out for a gap in the middle where I forget where I am up to. Enjoy

Ecosystem Thinking for Start-ups – A new workshop

startupseedIn another of my experiments I am, this month, piloting a new workshop/masterclass on developing Start-ups and SME’s. Most of my ecosystem thinking framework design came from working in Government and observing Knowledge Sharing and Innovation in very large commercial organisations. Whereas my experience over the last six years has been as a sole trader/start-up. So I reviewed my lessons learned over the years and have put together a workshop and associated ebook of the methods and tools I have found most useful and beneficial.

I am trial running two one-day workshops (by invitation only) in Peterborough on 22nd October and another in Reading on 4th November, then, subject to participant feedback, I hope to run these more regularly.

The workshop will be structured as a Participatory Narrative Inquiry event, very experiential, punctuated with a number of very useful tools I have picked up along the way. No Powerpoint slides, just face to face stories and instructions. An ebook will hopefully be available in time for the launch event.

My initial thoughts at a top 10 in the order they might be delivered:

  • Exploring what we know already.
  • What are the benefits of being a start-up and of what you do.
  • How to price your services.
  • Making sense of Customers and Products.
  • How to negotiate uncertainty. Predictability and approach.
  • Problem solving in Time and Space to increase your adaptability and resilience.
  • How to prioritise your efforts and creative ideas.
  • Storyboarding your ideas for maximum impact.
  • Managing workflow and measuring impact – focus and minimal wasted effort.
  • Your Social Media Footprint.

I am hoping to pitch these workshops to Development Agencies in Local Councils and Government funded bodies such as the ATI and KTNs, so if you have any connections or ideas around these I would be greatful to hear from you.

Improving project performance – applying an ecosystem framework to project management

ThreeApproachesHot off the Press, I am really excited about a half day workshop in Birmingham on 2nd December I am facilitating for the Association for Project Management (APM) Knowledge SIG on Improving Project Performance – applying an ecosystem framework to project management.

For the event I have simplified my Ecosystem Framework down to its three essential approaches, see above, where I believe I have brought together the very best of the best that allow you to take a full ecosystem view of  the business area you are working within. By combining these approaches and being especially true to the  Participatory Narrative Inquiry (PNI) ethos of Cynthia Kurtz (see below) I hope to demonstrate how a project and project management can be improved strategically and tactically to improve decision making, collaboration and adaptability to name but three potential impacts.

Participatory Narrative Inquiry is an approach in which groups of people participate in gathering and working with raw stories of personal experience in order to make sense of complex situations for better decision making. – Cynthia Kurtz

Anyway, it is safe to assume that this will be an enjoyable afternoon engaging and collaborating with others on the perspective of Project Management. Further details including how to book the workshop can be found here.