The washing line of predictability

It was a misty Saturday morning at Hautbois Residential and Activity Centre, owned by Girlguilding Anglia, in Norfolk just outside Norwich. I had been invited by my friend Janette (Girlguiding Anglia Deputy Chief Commissioner)  to facilitate a workshop entitled “Together we can change the world” looking at innovative ways to eradicate extreme poverty, promote gender equality and ensure environmental sustainability. With participants (age 16-25) from very diverse backgrounds and cultures, representatives of  Pax Lodge, the Africa Health Organisation, Paston Grammar School (in Norwich), the GirlGuiding ASSK Team and ironically two girls from the Scouts.

The previous evening we had all met, had a lovely meal and ran through a few ice breakers.

Aided by my three topic leaders, Pippa, Jess and Kirsty who had organised and planned this entire weekend, we began the morning with a Gurteen knowledge cafe to explore each of the three topics, to make sense of the subjects by way of conversation so that everyone was informed enough, to decide which one they were most interested in and divide into appropriate groups.

This was swiftly followed by a Cognitive Edge Future backwards, one for each topic in which they explored the present, the past and the two worst and best case futures. I swiftly dropped my usual terms of Heaven and Hell as they immediately made individuals uncomfortable.

Superbly rich, thought provoking and intelligent material emerged. I only have room for the ‘Poverty’ example above but the others were again rich in metaphors from movies and modern culture to explain how bad things might get. I like to turn the feedback part of this session into the opportunity for storytelling  and by adding instructions from anecdote circles to the end of this session managed to capture what everyone got from the three ‘stories’. This material was immediately shuffled and sorted into patterns to reveal emergent themes.

A huge experiment spurred on by Dave insisting on twitter that younger people ‘get’ cynefin resulted in my proudest achievement. Taking events and situations from their relevant future backwards they placed them along a washing line depending on how predictable the outcome might have been. Dividing this line on the boundaries between simple and complicated etc led to a truly contextualised decision making framework, emergent from their own stories and perspectives.

Yes Dave, you were right they did understand the intricacies even though the framework illustrates some (but only a few) over simplifications. This framework would then be used later to diagnose appropriate interventions.

Taking the themes from above we placed these into a simplified river diagram (thanks Chris Collison) to produce a visual overview of the whole topic showing what level might be achievable and where things currently stand (by theme).

I added at this point a second Gurteen Knowledge cafe, this time on the subject of ‘the influencial use of social media and the web’ as a way of bringing to the fore how twitter and facebook in particular might be used to get ideas across, stimulate interactions etc.

For the next four sessions we moved into an Argenta style ‘innovation booster’, of the type we teach facilitators in MBDA. Firstly capturing everyones ideas as to how to ‘make a difference’ against each of the themes, building on each others ideas. Then using, my favourite, reversals and re-reversals looking at how we might destroy the topic. Then reversing these to look for more innovative, step change ideas.

We then voted for the ideas that intrigued or inspired most. These could then be positioned on the cynefin framework to help diagnose the appropriate intervention for an idea in that domain ie if Complex then carry out many different safe-fail experiments and see what works. Having suitably converged the material we had an evening of barbecue food, climbing and abseiling (of which I would only do the first of the three).

Sunday morning saw another gloriously sunny day I ran the string game, an Argenta favourite energiser, out in the garden and let them all self-realise that the human brain really does get stuck into one way of thinking.

Time this morning for raising the profile of storytelling as a method of sharing knowledge, and handling the media. I told my badger eating story then we looked at the Nancy Druarte ‘spark lines‘ and worked through examples of message maps as used in disaster zones such as New Orleans and after 9/11.

Having converged on a league table of ideas everyone was invited to cluster around an idea, that particular took their fancy, and complete a cartoon storyboard for that idea which is particularly powerful in that it encourages breaking an idea into stages, identifying barriers then scheduling the appropriate actions sequentially which is more than most good project managers can achieve. This was far and away the best session. Lots of discussion, laughter, great pictures and some unbelievably sophisticated thinking from participants as young as 16.

Pippa Jess and Kirsty closed the weekend by capturing personal pledges which were written onto t-shirts and proudly exhibited at the final fashion show out on the sun-drenched patio. In hindsight I could have run this better, and learned so much from the experience, but again the enthusiasm, ideas and courtesy with which they undertook my every instruction made me hugely optimistic about the future for in these young people springs hope and an intelligent awareness of what is going on and where change is necessary.

6 thoughts on “The washing line of predictability

    1. A tale of intrigue with an unexpected twist from Ernest Neil’s biography ‘The Badger Man”. A story I picked up years ago to illustrate how stories are remembered and can attach themselves to your existing frames of reference for instant recall.

  1. This was really good weekend of achievement to me and my group and i think it may be the same to others who attended as well. I hope to continue doing same kind of sessions in my life to help my Family, Community, Organisation, Country, Continent or even do it Globally. I would like to take the opportunity to congratulate you and really appreciate it greatly for coming up with such an idea. I really liked the people for their respect, smile, team work and even being friendly than expected. we hope you send this link of the photos to or thanks very much for reading this comment with much love, Elvis Beya

  2. Hi Elvis, thanks for your very kind comments. It was great to meet and work with you and your colleagues from the Africa Health Organisation and you all really added something special to the weekend.
    Cheers, Ron

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