Friday, July 08, 2016

Micro-Learning: Delivering a Wealth of Learning in Bite-sized Nuggets




It seems so simple. A deck of post-card sized cards, printed on both sides and connected with a ring.


One side or each card has a question:


The other side has the answer:

The whole exercise takes just 1-2 minutes - to read the question, think about it and have an answer in mind, and then turn the card over to see if you got it right by reading and considering the answer.

Twenty cards, twenty quiz questions and twenty answers, about 20-30 minutes of learning, chunked up in small bites. Learning Nuggets!

I would never recommend actually eating an elephant, but as the old saying goes - How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time... But what does this have to do with learning?

I have worked on many fascinating projects, such as the one for which we produced these learning nuggets, that generate a mountain of learning (an elephant of learning). The learning can be very intentional and structured, using for example a set of KPIs or a donor's reporting framework to guide it, or more organic, using the partners or project proponent's learning questions that emerge during the process (or both.)

The learning can be generated through interviews, online reporting systems, annual reports, workshops and meetings (and more). And the outputs can take the form of stories, case studies, spreadsheets, good practice reports, how-to guides, videos, photos (and on and on).

The Micro-Learning Nuggets answered an expressed need - many of the project proponents did not want to read long documents, or wade through a vast jungle of information. So the Learning Nuggets exercise was a way to consolidate and distill out the most important learning and deliver it in an accessible way - a quiz-type exercise where people had to work (a little) for the learning through a few minutes of "effortful retrieval" through applying their own knowledge and experience to the task, and then getting validation or course correction, with some new information.

We have used these cards in workshop exercises in many ways as you can imagine with people learning about industrial development PPDPs; we have shared them with our partners as a way to transfer lessons learned through the project (and they can in turn share them in their institutions); we have also recently launched a Micro-Learning Nuggets Newsletter, which is a curated online format for the Nuggets. Here is a sample of the second Micro-Learning Nuggets Newsletter (Note: You can click on the images below to see them in more detail in a larger format):


Once a month, an Micro-Learning Nugget Newsletter goes out with a topic, and one related question that has a multiple-choice answer that the reader can consider and click the chosen answer and then submit their response. They then get a "Congratulations! D is the correct answer" with some additional information, or "Sorry, incorrect! D is the correct answer" with the right answer which shares the learning. Here is an example of the Learning Nugget as an online quiz question:

The Micro-Learning Nugget Newsletter then offers just a few additional links for learning more if you are "Still curious?" This is great because it let's us link to selected resources all over the website, thus connecting the learner to existing documents (or specific parts thereof), knowledge products, videos, social media - all curated to the topic of the month's newsletter, and timed out (very important!) from very short to a little longer.


What I think is most interesting about this method for packaging and sharing learning, is that it is very simple - just one quiz question - but each one is based on the large body of evidence collected through captured experience, interviews, annual learning workshops, reports, Chief Technical Officers and partners experiences, and more. But instead of a drop box full of documents that people rarely use, this transforms and brings back the knowledge in bite-size Micro-Learning Nuggets, be it on a card or in your in-box once a month.

We developed two animated videos that took a similar approach - to boil down parts of the vast learning base into 2-3 minute videos. I wrote a blog post about that process: Condensing Learning Into 4 Minutes or Less? Making a Simple Animated Video for a Complex Project. 

Thursday, July 07, 2016

Celebrating Our 500th Blog Post!!! (Remembering our first ever and sharing our top 10 of all times)



That last blog post tipped it over - 500 blog posts, written since 5 October 2006. With an average of 50 per year (nearly weekly) that's not too bad. In this celebratory blog post - I reread our first ever blog post and, using our stats, link to our Top 10 of all times.

Here is our very first blog post - it was about blogging, I wonder if I heeded my own advice?

What Did I Notice Sailing Around the Blogosphere? Learning About Blogs (first published on 6 October 2006)

We have just started our blog about learning at our organization and in doing so, I did some learning myself about blogs (after being completely inspired by a presentation on the power of this medium by Alex Steffan from www.worldchanging.com). I spent around 3 hours looking at many blogs about learning and here is what I noticed:

1. The blog itself needs a distinguishable title and a good tag line that talks about what the theme is. Otherwise it is hard to find it;
2. Colour and font are important for readability;
3. Short is definitely good. But too short unless there is some pithy content is not good. www.Dormgrandpop.com site has good length - long enough to develop a thought, and not too long to get boring;
4. Links are valuable;
5. Postings have great title names - clever (think New Scientist);
6. No spelling errors. This reduces trust in content;
7. Write in full sentences and with proper punctuation and capitalisation - otherwise it is not easy to take seriously; and
8. Archives are hard to use if there is not a search function on the site. It is hard to look into the date archives if you are looking for something special. Thematic archives seem easier to use, except that not too many blogs have thematic archives (some do.)

We are just going to start our blog and get going. We will no doubt find our pace in a few days...

 **************************
Well, I think for the most part we stuck to those observations.  I still believe in using English my mother would approve of (wait, is that a stranded preposition??) We have our search feature and our posts are tagged by topic to make them easier to use. Perhaps the posts are a little longer than I recommended to me by my 10-year younger self. Maybe I am getting wordier as I get older?

And for our top 10 blog posts of all times - here's what the wisdom of crowds thinks from 10th most popular to the 1st.....drum roll please!

10. Looking for a productivity gadget that's low tech for a change? Try Nu Board
09.  Fast and easy workshop reports with Penultimate
08. Suggested Facilitation Strategies: As the Facilitator how do you work with personal desires for harmony or debate? 
07. The Connected Facilitator: What's in the online toolbox?
06. Online Facilitation: Adapting to an online environment with free(mium) tools - Part II
05. Good Learning Design Discussions: Where to start?
04. Must See for Learning Practitioners and Educators: Remembering Rita Pierson
03. New Systems Thinking Game: The Flashmob Game
02. Learning with the Business Model Generation's Canvas

and the most popular post of all time...
01. Make a Game Out of Any Workshop Topic (The drier the topic the better!) 

There seems to be a little technology bias in the crowds, and a soft spot for games. Learning is one of our leitmotivs, so that isn't surprising, and facilitation is one of the most common tools we use to help groups and teams with their reflective practice and learning work.

Well, on to our next milestone, wonder what will be popular 10 years from now?

Too Good to Be True? Is Your Consultation Workshop Going Too Well?


I had the great honour and pleasure to be the process steward for a multi-stakeholder consultation recently around a complex new idea (which is exactly when you want and need a multi-stakeholder consultation) in the sustainable development field. The issue was one that had significant potential environmental, social, economic and political implications that people and their organizations felt very strongly about. In the room were representatives from a number of sectors - multi-national corporations, government officials, NGO and civil society actors, etc.-, and the potential for a good deal of power asymmetry to be expressed.

Pre-work for the consultation had shown a diversity of opinion on our topic. This 2-day face-to-face meeting needed to surface all the reactions, opposition, ideas, and suggestions from this diverse group of experts in order to make the idea more robust, more applicable and have more chance of success. Among our desired outcomes, we wanted to be able to anticipate and address the wants and needs of the sectors and organizations that could be implementing it in the future. We were clearly discussing a good idea with a lot of potential, thus the good turnout to the invitation to join, and the high level of attention and engagement of the people in the room.

The consultation process was designed to maximise the contribution that every individual participant could make, their opportunities to provide comments to each aspect of the idea, and the time they would have to explain the rationale behind their input. The focus for the committee presenting the idea was to listen deeply, be curious and ask good probing questions to further their understanding. At the foundation of this consultation was the firm belief that any question, input, challenge from the group could only make the idea better, more appropriate and more applicable in its second iteration. So we needed maximum authenticity and a safe space to share what might be opposing views.

This post isn't actually about the process that we used to do this - that's another article that I will write at some point. This post focuses on an observation that provided some powerful learning for me about the assumptions we all hold and bring into our processes and work with other people.

The first day of our consultation went very smoothly. The group was high-level, well prepared and worked together diligently to provide comments, document them - discussing, analysing and developing some very useful key messages from their small group analysis. There was laughter periodically in the room in spite of the seriousness of the topic, great questions were asked, the wall templates were filling up with colourful nuggets of incredibly useful and thoughtful contributions. Everything looked rosy.

I was getting very nice feedback from people at the end of the day and during our group dinner. And then the question came.  A member of the idea committee asked earnestly, are people being too nice?

Where's the clash? Where's the conflict? Are people giving their real opinions? This took me a little aback. I would say in a very useful way. It gave me the opportunity to think about assumptions (which I always enjoy) - all the different assumptions that people hold that are creating the reality we are sharing. Including me.

I could see that the assumption on the part of the person earnestly questioning if we were getting what we needed, was that difference in opinion in their experience was signaled by overt public disagreement, which can lead to passionate speeches, high emotion and possibly visible conflict in a face-to-face meeting of minds. This was clearly absent in our process so it caused a question mark to pop up for this person and then a desire to go around and check with people to see how they felt about the environment we had created to provide inputs. Hmmm, interesting.  I felt my face - was I wearing rose-coloured glasses?

For me, as the process steward and facilitator, my assumption was that people were happy because they were able to provide their viewpoints in a structured and constructive way. So the absence of open conflict was a sign that the process was providing them this opportunity, and so they were satisfied and comfortable, able to both provide their views and get to know each other and laugh from time to time. I actually very rarely have any kind of open conflict in my workshops and processes because I try to use different methodologies that aim to capture all inputs (rather than those of the loudest or most persistent), provide anonymity when needed, value inputs through multiple levels of discussion and analysis that allows people to work with ideas rather than refute them. I use Appreciative Inquiry to inform my question articulation and keep the pace moving and visually stimulating, and mostly out of long, open, unstructured plenary sessions where speechifying and checking your email is tempting, and the feeling that you are not making progress is tiring.

So the question made me usefully pause and notice again my assumptions and gave me an opportunity to check in with the group. This was a good idea for all - it would help me understand if the process was providing space to capture opposition to our central ideas (rather than being designed  for harmony at the cost of good input), it would help the person who feared that the lack of open and vociferous dissent meant that people were being too nice (and that nice meant no opposition); it would reinforce our principle for participants that all views were appreciated - the good, the bad and the ugly. We wanted them all!

I decided not to just ask the BIG question to the group in plenary at the beginning of Day 1, as that would be a risky format to do it and in that situation people might not feel comfortable to single themselves out and speak up in the awkward silence after such a question so early in the morning. So instead for the next set of discussions around the inputs, which were a little higher level and bigger picture, we asked for the "elephant in the room" (things that have not been spoken but need to be spoken) as well as key messages from their analysis and small group discussion.


The addition of that little question worked very well. It was an unexpected visual, amusing and energising question at that moment in the consultation (we were talking about biodiversity and had already spoken about elephants once in a more realistic context). Groups could identify one big elephant or a herd of small elephants. It invited everyone to think about what might be some of the underlying and potentially unspoken or softly spoken issues, at any level, of our consultation.

It also gave another way to analyse the patterns of the contributions, and it allowed us to see if there was anything new that we had not heard rumbling up before, or if the elephants identified now were more thought-through conceptualisations of things that had been emerging but perhaps not yet fully formed in all the different discussion activities as we went along. We found more of the latter which was heartening and also found it to be a valuable way, towards the end of our consultation, to help summarise and crystalise collectively the most important action areas for the idea moving forward.

It's not often that you get a stop-and-think-question like, "Is this going too well?" that helps you test your assumptions (and those of others) while you still have everyone in the room. In the end, the consultation went well, the energy in the room was high, and we got those comments, ideas, gaps and elephants, with and without my rose-coloured glasses.



Monday, June 06, 2016

Large Meeting Challenge: Call for Proposals Produces Too Many for Parallel Sessions? Take a Blended Approach

You put out a call for proposals for your large meeting coming up and your enthusiastic community responds with many ideas - way too many in fact for the traditional parallel break-out session format that was envisioned. What can you do about this? This is a good question and an issue for many large-scale gatherings.

Actually, this is a good problem to have as interactivity and community relationship building and networking are often why people come to these large events, but more often than not they get panel discussions and lines of speakers (see Duncan Green's rant on this in Conference Rage and Why We Need a War on Panels).  So you are starting well, with many people attending interested in contributing and sharing their ideas. 

The traditional break-out room format is not necessarily bad, but it can be without good guidance, or if you are trying to fold too many things together. If they are endless, very large, anonymous and all have the same large panel and Q&A format, then people can “get lost” or skip these more easily if they are tired or use the time to squeeze in that last meeting before they leave.

Consider mixing it up, you can actually schedule all of these types of sessions into your large meeting:

  1. Parallel Session Breakouts:  Have the parallel session breakouts on one day with the strongest proposals and the most interesting proposed formats. Consider providing a template before the call for submissions that has questions that guide people into considering how to make it interesting and interactive and give Panels as one of many formats to consider, with some guidance on how to do these in the most interesting way (e.g. 2 or 3 panelists with juxtaposing views, rather than 9 people who just want to say their 3 minutes regardless of the topic.) These can be good with more complex topics that need time to develop and can have interesting methodologies included within if there are competent facilitators working with the organizers - crowdsourcing, storytelling, carousel discussions, etc. 
  2. Hold an Open Space Technology session for one of the 2 hour blocks -  after lunch is a good time as people will move around a little and small, self-selected discussions can be more refreshing. And it gives the hosts a little more time to prepare.  I often modify the traditional format slightly. This could be in the main plenary room and could feature 15-20 parallel conversations with two rounds of 45 min each (I've also tried this with 30 minutes and more rounds, but it tends to feel too rushed and short then). These parallel table discussions with hosts are scheduled in advance with numbered tables and a "key messages" template to record any ideas and outputs from the conversations. These are good for brainstorming and getting feedback on ideas. 
  3. Hold an Open Mike time, or a Pecha Kucha (or an Ignite), or TED-like talk stage where people get a limited, set amount of time and are video'ed professionally. Hold it in a “studio” type room so that people/audience attending is good and a bonus, but peripheral. Pick the submissions for this that are more 'show and tell'. You can do the filming over lunch each day and invite people to come and watch but tell them (truthfully) that there is limited space (that often encourages people more!)  Some of these talks could be featured in the formal plenary programme here and there as appropriate as they are short targeted interventions. In addition, as TED does, you can feature them throughout the year in your newsletters with a little blurb and add in video links to other communications. It is always nice to promote the work of members, and this is in their own words. 
  4.  Digital Poster Exhibition: You could also run a digital poster contest. Invite people with appropriate submissions to design an e-poster. Then have a number of large screens in busy places (the coffee area, lunch room, etc.) where the e-posters are displayed for 3-5 min each and change all the time, like a billboard. You can also feature these e-posters on the conference website, and archive them. Each one could have the photo of the person presenting it and inviting people to approach them for more information (face-to-face or by email).  The e-posters could have a custom e-template that people fill in, which could be a website template potentially and provide people with fields to complete with a title, text (e.g. 500 words), upload photos, add links, contact information, web URL, etc. Award prizes for the top 5 posters and announce them in the plenary and show them there. Let the audience vote on it for the prizes, or have the organizing team do that. 

And there are other formats that can also work, this is just a selection and to demonstrate what can be combined to showcase the different kinds of proposals you might receive. This blended format can also allow you to say "yes" to all of those who submitted proposals to share. The advantage of adding in points 3 and 4 above, is that in addition to an on-site F2F experience, they also give you video and image content to use later in your communications and learning and training materials, as case studies of what members are doing, etc. This adds additional value to participants as you are helping them disseminate their messages beyond who's in the room at your large meeting. 


For each of these, produce good guidelines and templates. This is not to put square pegs into round holes, but to help guide people in their thinking about what good practice is for each of these formats. This takes a little more concerted effort to produce at the onset, and any follow up coaching you could provide is a bonus, but this can be welcome capacity development contribution back to your participants - as with highly active community members, your large scale event probably won't be the only one they attend this year! (Try to make it one of their favorites)


(Want to learn more about our work? Sign up for our Bright Green Learning Academy Newsletter Collaboration by Design here.)

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Bring Your Workshops Alive with the Sound of Music: Creating a Sonic Landscape



I facilitated a big global workshop last week- some 190 people attended- where we used music in a number of different ways in the event. First, as it was a large group, we used it for crisp starts and stops to our sessions: the music stopping gave a subtle audio cue to people, signalling a transition from the informal networking time, to the formal start of our session (more elegant than me shouting in the microphone for everyone to sit down).  We used it just prior to the start of the after lunch sessions to give an energy boost after the hour spent enjoying the lunch buffet. And we used music at the end of the day to create the mood for reflection and to usher in a reception and other evening events. We also wanted local music to give people the feeling of being in the host country (because we spent a lot of our time indoors in a space that could have been located anywhere on the planet). It also filled the vast, high-ceiling-ed and rather anonymous ballroom with warmth making our conversations feel more intimate.

Music can be a wonderful and useful instrument (pun intended) for a process designer when planning the choreography of an event. But I find it is one seldom used. TED does a good job of selecting songs with messages in the lyrics to start coffee breaks, and then tends to end those breaks with short videos (that can again have the effect of forward attention getting and a crisp start.)  Other than that it seems that music is infrequently  considered in a deliberate fashion to help create the overall atmosphere for dialogue and learning.  

What it takes to put a workshop to music

There might be some reasons for this - adding music adds tasks to the long list of materials, equipment, roles and responsibilities for a workshop. You need audio equipment, speakers, a playlist, and someone paying close attention to cue and cut the music. More importantly, you need a special talent to create the playlist in the first place - someone with a good broad knowledge of music who can select just the right piece for the right mood and, if there are lyrics, appropriate ones. All this adds considerable time to what might already be a busy and finely tuned event.

Not as easy as it sounds

Recently at our Bright Green Learning Academy training (Module 8: Practicing Facilitation Approaches and Methodologies) one of our participants ran a brainstorming on this exact topic: which pieces of music fit where in a workshop design? Interestingly, although it seemed an easy task, we all found it incredibly difficult to do on the fly, and found that some of our individual great ideas were certainly a matter of taste. The big lesson: Creating the sonic fabric of the workshop takes encyclopedic musical knowledge, careful consideration and time, but it can have thrilling effects when done astutely.

It turned out that the person who ran the exercise in our Module is himself a music aficionado and he took the exercise a step further a couple of weeks ago. He took a set of criteria  given to him by the meeting facilitator and used his own vast musical knowledge to create a sound design for an evening workshop (a Toastmasters meeting).

Here is what he proposed, with at least two suggestions for each part of the meeting. The jazzy feel matched the demographic in attendance and the after-hours feel of the evening event. Read through his proposals below and see if you can feel the surge of the music as the event progresses and the deliberate sonic ebb and flow proposed. Notice his thinking behind the choices:

Entrance: Soft energy/welcoming
Entrance:   Stan Getz & the Oscar Peterson Trio  
Why? Easy and welcoming.
or 
Chet Baker 


Break:   Higher energy  
Break:    John Coltrane  - My Favourite Things  
Why? This piece is lively and gives a great jazz take on a known melody.  It's also 13:30 minutes;  just right for the break period.

John Coltrane  - My Favourite Things
or
Stan Getz & Bill Evans  (sax & piano) 
or 
John Coltrane  - A Love Supreme   (a bit livelier)


Exit:   Positive vibe for teamwork and a good send-off: 
Exit:    Uptown funk (sax cover)  followed by Blue Train
Why? As the meeting ends, cue up this tune (Uptown Funk) and play it right after that final gavel hits the President's desk.  There is a punctuated start to the piece which gives way to the funky sax solo.  It's an attention grabber.  It's says 'Hey look here!'  and conveys a positive feeling for the exit. The piece however, is only 4 minutes long!   Bear this in mind because it is good enough as a punctuation mark to the evening but not long enough to keep things flowing for the 30-minute cleanup.Therefore, follow it up with Blue Train which will easily carry you through the length of the clean-up process. Just mind the time of the first track.  You'll need to make a smooth transition after the first song ends without there being a gap of silence which lasts too long. This confuses the listeners and puts a glitch in the sonic fabric (and we don't want that!) 

Uptown Funk:   Sax cover of Bruno Mars' Uptown funk.   (Lively funky sax send-off)
or
Play that funky music:  Sax cover

followed by:  
John Coltrane  - Blue Train

Sounds technical...

The technology to add music to your meeting or workshop doesn't have to be complicated,  For smaller meetings you can connect to the songs on YouTube from your telephone or iPad and broadcast them on a speaker via a Bluetooth connection.  For larger events like my conference, you need a sound system, but if you are showing any videos during the event you will probably have already amplifiers  hooked up and available

Bringing your workshops alive with the sound of music definitely takes some careful work, but using music strategically in your event can add real richness and energy to the learning landscape, connecting with people on a different level, and might help take your collaboration and results to new heights. 


(A big thanks to Christian Kranicke for his excellent soundscaping and for being willing to share it!)

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Keeping Trainers on Track: Developing a Training-of-Trainers (ToT) Manual





I have recently been working with a team on training design for a rather technical three-day workshop to be piloted soon. Once the course has been tested and further refined, the next step is to develop a Training-of-Trainers programme to support the capacity development of a number of trainers who can disseminate this learning workshop globally. That sounds like a logical step and helps contribute to broadening the impact of the course and content by having a number of good trainers delivering it, in multiple locations and in numerous languages.

I have given many Training of Trainers (ToT) courses over the years and have been very happy with the design described in this blog post: Training Camp! An Un-ToT Design. This design provides for high customization by the trainers, as they tend to all have different levels of ability in both the technical aspects and training process. I find that this Un-ToT format works well to produce a group of trainers in the end with a handle on the materials they will need to  deliver the course independently in the future.

So, the course design is one thing, but how do you develop the materials for the trainers - the Trainer's Manual - what does that look like?

Obviously the trainers get the Participant Materials, but what else do they need in addition to that by way of materials? I always produce a written Trainer's Manual, that I provide in the ToT and use both to support the ToT process and that also provides trainers with an on-demand resource as they go forward and deliver the course themselves. I think it has higher utility to the trainers to produce this additional resource rather than provide only the Participant Materials and some supplementary handouts.

Here is a sample Table of Contents for a Trainer's Manual:

Section #
Section Title
Contents
1
How to Use this Manual 
Explain how the manual will be used in the ToT and beyond in the course - this section can also be used to welcome facilitators and give them information on where to go for more information - dedicated website, contact information, etc.
2
Facilitation Agenda 
Include the annotated Facilitation Agenda that the trainers will use in delivery of the training. This includes timing, process information, activity descriptions, etc. - this needs to be in front of the Manual and easily accessible as people will refer to it frequently.
3
About the Host Organization 
Provide relevant background on the group designing the training so that trainers have the relevant information to share with participants, as they might not be staff of that organization but external trainers.
4
About this Training Workshop 
Describe the origins of the training, rationale and what it hopes to help participants achieve. Provide a description of participant profiles that can help the trainers and others identify the right participants to attend.
5
Master Materials and Equipment List 
This list helps with procurement of stationary and ordering equipment for the training room - flip charts, markers, LCD projector, post-it notes and so on.
6
Materials to Prepare in Advance 
Indicate what needs to be done prior to arrival onsite - this can be posters to print, handouts, job aids, etc. in aggregate.
7
Materials to Prepare Onsite 
This list includes items that can be prepared in the room before, such as flip charts, templates, etc.
8
Room and Table Set Up 
Provide a diagram of how the room should be set up, and where to position equipment like flip charts, screen etc. This can be shared with the venue staff in advance.
9
Day 1 
Each day has its own section.
10
Session by Session Description
(See below for detail)
11
Annexes
  1. Participants Training Manual (Separate - this is the manual that all participants will receive.)
  2. PPT Slide Set (If PPT will be used - separate on a USB key/ CD or URL/Dropbox for download. Include electronically the Trainer's Manual with handouts etc. in Word, and the Participant's Manual in case this needs to be reproduced locally.)

Within each of the Session descriptions (I always divide my days by Session, so I can keep them distinct and provide an easier way to refer to them to participants, trainers and speakers, etc.), I write up each of the Sessions in the Trainer's Manual with the following information:

  • Session Number and Title
  • Materials (What's needed for this specific session)
  • Preparation (What do trainers need to do to prepare - flip charts, room change, quiz, find a place for a game, number tables, etc.)
  • Timing (How long does this session last - 09:00 - 09:45)
  • Sequence (This is the sequence of events and the script AND it always includes possible answers to questions the trainer is asking participants, or answers to a quiz or learning activity. If participants don't quite understand the question or ask for an example, this helps trainers provide one, and gives them a sense of the kind of responses to look and push for.)
  • Flip charts/Job Aids (What do these look like, what questions are asked, what format do they take?)
  • PPT slides (You can add in print outs of slides with notes in this section, or you can include this in an annex. NOTE: If you have a very long slide set or one with lots of images and graphics, this can make the Trainer's Manual data file incredibly heavy. If this is the case, I sometimes refer simply to slide numbers in the Sequence part of the section (like "See slides 1-5") and then provide a hard copy of the slides and notes in the Annex which can be printed separately to the Manual document.)


    All these sections should have an open and "airy" layout on the page that allows trainers to take notes in the margins or has a designated place to make notes. In order to deliver this training, they will have to make these words, concepts and activities their own, so providing a space to reflect and customise the materials as they go along will be an important part of the Training of Trainers session. 

    How to Put It All Together? (Literally)

    One last thought, I have experimented with different formats to provide the above materials. I think I like ring binders the best with a pocket in the inside front and back where you can put the USB key or CD. The rings help people take things in and out that they might need in the training delivery (notes, the Facilitation Agenda, the PPT slide printouts, handouts to copy, etc.) and then put them back in to keep them organized. It also means that anything new they develop they can pop in and not have to keep separate and potentially misplace. I would always print the title of the workshop on the spine so that it can be seen on the shelves with their many other Manuals.

    Trainers of Trainers, anything else to add that helps keep us on track in a ToT? 





    Wednesday, April 13, 2016

    The Places You'll Go, the Things You Will Do (Unless…): Facilitation and Roles at Large Workshops and Conferences



    (I love the fact that I really do learn or re-learn something new every day...)

    You might be the Facilitator, in charge of weaving together threads of themes, helping people make sense of complexity, ensuring time for reflection and assimilation of concepts, framing and debriefing activities that will help participants share their thoughts or co-create radical new ideas. You might be on stage bringing energy to the group when they need it and watching participants to make on-the-spot modifications to match their needs and interests. 

    You might even be introducing the Minister, Ambassador, Permanent Secretary and CEO. Effectively you are there to make sure that the investment of tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of dollars in convening the right people for this workshop or conference is fiscally responsible and has the results that ensure a return on investment by the hosts. That’s your job as Facilitator.

    And you might also be doing the following:
    • Finding volunteers to translate job aids into different languages;
    • Printing and making photocopies of job aids in two languages (and finding paper for the copier and then taking it completely apart to clear the paper jams);
    • Putting the job aids on the 25 tables in the plenary;
    • Making the background PPT slide set that runs behind the programme (giving it to technicians and changing it as things change);
    • Clearing the tables of cups and other ephemera and replenishing materials needed on the tables;
    • Putting the chairs back around the tables and smoothing table cloths before the next plenary so that it looks tidy and inviting to participants;
    • Taking care of things people leave in the room (walking lost and found - phones, cables, USB keys...);
    • Making signs to indicate the breakout rooms locations;
    • Getting people into the rooms on time.
    • Standing in front of said signs to help people find their rooms;
    • Finding interpreters for parallel sessions;
    • Performing materials husbandry tasks - dividing up materials needed by parallel sessions and delivering them to the rooms at the right time, finding lost markers, saving enough materials for the last sessions;
    •  Finding the rapporteur to hand over the written results from the working groups.
    • Double check everything and field what quickly becomes Frequently Asked Questions.


    So you also might get to do these things at your large event. These details make a difference you know; they contribute to the visual aesthetic of the event; they signal care, respect and professionalism; they make the event feel smooth to participants and reduce any anxieties that can come between attendees and their learning and contribution to the event. 

    It’s definitely not a problem to do them and you are certainly willing to pitch in, and they need to be done. By you? These important roles could also be assigned in advance of the event to other team members who could do them sometimes even more quickly and easily than you - the operative word here, that might occur to you exactly in that moment you are taking apart the photocopier for the second time rather late at night, is definitely in advance

    To enable this better division of labour it is great to think systemically about the event in the weeks before and make a check list of all needed roles to assign before your big meeting and conference (as with a small one, these things don’t take so much time, but with 180 people then that is a lot of tables to straighten up after a plenary) and then ask who might like to take them on. There might be a short list of roles already that you can add to from what you know about what makes large events work.

    As the more time that is needed for these things, the less time you have to focus on, and prepare for, the participant-facing facilitation work you will do - not to mention grabbing a couple of minutes of your own to clear your mind, rest a little in the hubub of the conference, refocus your thoughts and look at the scenery that might just be outside your meeting room…




    Facilitating large groups? Here are 3 more related posts: (Module 10 in our Bright Green Learning Academy is also on this topic)
    1. When Numbers Soar: Working with Large Groups
    2. Going Large: Tips for Running Facilitation Teams at Big Conferences
    3. Building Peer Learning into Mega-Events and Conferences


    Wednesday, March 23, 2016

    Leadership at a Gallop - Equine-Assisted Reflection and Learning




    I didn't wear a helmet, riding boots or a crop when I spent three hours last Sunday morning with Mr. Bean and Frederica- two former polo ponies living on a farm in Bavois, Switzerland. That's because I didn't ride them - I spent my time leading them around a chilly arena, slaloming cones and over low barriers (without a rope!), or at least trying to.

    This was during one of Sarah Krasker's equine-assisted learning workshops where she provides individuals ( coming in teams or alone) an opportunity to explore their leadership abilities through experiential learning. You bring your non-verbal communication skills, energy and purpose to bear with giant animals who don't get office politics or do something because it's a nice thing to do. If the horse can't understand your direction, is getting mixed signals, or doesn't trust you it will simply abandon you for a good, hard, longing look at the rest of the herd in the field out the window.

    We were three people, two horses and trainer Sarah for the morning. All of us had picked different aspects of leadership to explore. In our three hours, we worked with the horses twice with reflection and debriefing after each session.

    Our goal in the barn arena was simply to get the horse to follow us on its own accord. This seemed unlikely (why should they?) but we were assured if we were giving off the right energy (Sarah called it an "energy bubble") and signals and made it seem more interesting than anything else going on at the time for the horse it would happen. For that we needed to communicate direction, intention and passion for the task ( walking around the ring or weaving through the cones). Horses being herd animals, we were explained, like to follow a trusted leader. Mustering these forces within you would lead to a satisfying picture of a horse following you around. However, hesitation, a dip in conviction or attention or energy, alternatively means that the horse will just stop in its tracks and look at you patiently, stock still, 900 pounds of immobile weight, with those big beautiful brown eyes. No amount of pushing or cajoling at this stage would get it to move another step.

    It took me the first round to connect with the horse and understand more of how strong you have to be to get the horse to follow you. Not muscle strong though; it takes concentrated, ongoing focused energy and mental engagement to get the horse to start and keep moving. My first time I only got a few steps that initially heartened me but quickly showed that the window was more interesting than anything I was offering at the moment.

    But the second time, with resolve, a vision in mind about what task completion looked like, a firm but friendly voice and not taking no for an answer, I blocked my energy, gave instructions and turned my back and walked around the ring a couple of times with Frederica following along behind me. Granted, I did start with the rope for the first few steps, but then we unclipped the rope and (to my amazement, although I didn't let on of course) she still followed me around the ring for a couple of tours. The second time I needed to quality control the slalom by slowing down a little and insisting a little more firmly that she go around all the cones, and she did! (I must confess, at first I thought these just might be very well-trained horses that know their trail and would do it by themselves, but on many occasions, even with the rope, if the leader hesitated or lost their conviction the horse would simply and quite abruptly stop in its tracks. Now that's feedback!)

    It was a thought-provoking morning in the barn and it got me thinking about how I communicate vision, the responsibility for safety that leadership brings (task based as well as emotional), how to make sure that what you are asking, which is out of the ordinary - not business as usual,  is more interesting than the familiar other horses or the window. Leadership most often means taking people along to a new place, a new situation, or a new practice.

    Working with the horses and Sarah this way provides a great opportunity to get outside the four walls of the office and separate yourself from the day to day. This can give invaluable time for reflection that the barrage of emails and meetings doesn't always provide for, and a useful experiential learning moment that can move your thinking ( be it at a trot, canter, or run) about your own leadership role while enjoying the warm hay breath of the horses.
    (Trainer Sarah Trasker with Mr. Bean)

    Wednesday, January 13, 2016

    Coming Soon! The Climate Change Playbook




    It has been great to work  with my co-authors Dennis Meadows and Linda Booth Sweeney on a book of  22 games that help people learn more about climate change. The three of us have been working in the sustainability field and on related issues for many decades. We've enjoyed building on some of the games from the Systems Thinking Playbook, relating them to climate change learning objectives, and also developing new games that can be applied in a number of different learning contexts (workshops, meetings, conferences, training courses, etc.)

    We've organized the 22 games into three types - mass games, that can be played with any size group, such as in a conference setting; demonstration games that a small group can play while a larger group observes; and finally participation games, that groups from 5-25 people can comfortably play.  

    The three authors have played these games for many years with many different types of learners, from students to senior policy officials, and have built into the game descriptions our own learning about how to frame them, brief and debrief them most effectively. Some are simple and take 2-3 minutes to run, others are more involved and can easily create an interesting dynamic and discussion that can take an hour to work through with participants. 

    If you want to create a more interactive learning environment when working on climate change and sustainable development issues, consider integrating some of these games into your next presentation, meeting, workshop or conference. It will be one of the things that your audience and participants will remember!

    The official publication date is 5 May 2016, but the book will be available beginning April 28. You can pre-order at the Chelsea Green site - The Climate Change Playbook. It will soon be up at IndieBound, and is active at Barnes & Noble  and Amazon , and of course you can order from your local booksellers as well. 

    We hope that enjoy learning about climate change, and playing these games as much as we do!


    Tuesday, December 22, 2015

    Launching in 2016: Bright Green Learning Academy! Facilitating Collaboration and Creating Change



    • Does your work include convening diverse stakeholder (internal or external) to create shared solutions and results? 
    • Do you want to build more effective, collaborative relationships in your work? 
    • Would you like to strengthen your ability to communicate and work with complexity and uncertainty?
    • Do you need more tools for creating greater impact in your organization and work? 

    If you said yes to any of these then read on!

    For us, 2015 was a rich year - we've worked close to home and far afield on a broad range of issues including water and oceans, whale conservation, the green economy, youth employment, gender issues and reproductive health, aluminium stewardship and biomaterials, amongst many others. We've been strategic planning, partnership building, developing teams, capturing and sharing learning, and much more. It has been a great pleasure to work with so many committed and talented people all over the world working towards social and environmental sustainability.  Now, as 2015 comes to a close, Lizzie and Gillian are delighted to announce that in 2016 we will launch the Bright Green Learning Academy

    The Academy offers programme and project leaders and managers, social entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs, the opportunity to create a customized learning programme that builds skills to facilitate collaboration and create change.  It comprises a set of 29 structured, face-to-face learning modules (full and half day) that can be combined on a needs-basis.  People can opt to take a few select modules or the whole Academy Certificate Programme, and to complete their learning with the Academy in less than six months, or over the course of twelve (February 2016-February 2017).  There are a number of different learning packages to choose from, with a full programme description and details of the modules on the website.

    The Academy draws on Bright Green Learning’s experience offering both open-subscription facilitation training and running substantive, successful, bespoke in-house learning programmes for a number of leading organizations whose staff work internationally to convene diverse actors and foster multi-stakeholder collaboration for environment and social development. See what some past learners have said about the training here, and find out more about the training team.

    If you or your team’s work includes convening diverse stakeholders (internal or external) to create shared solutions and results;  building more effective, collaborative relationships in your work;  strengthening abilities to communicate and work with complexity and uncertainty; and/or if there is the need for more tools for creating greater impact in their organization and work, then they might want to take a closer look and consider registering for the modules of greatest value on the Academy website.

    We are really excited about this new initiative and hope that you will be too!  And we would be delighted if you would please share this with colleagues and others in your professional networks that would benefit from the learning experiences now on offer.

    Please note: Early bird registration (via the website) is open until midnight CET 31st December 2015. Registration for the February and June 2016 course offerings are now open!



    Tuesday, November 03, 2015

    Condensing Learning into 4 Minutes or Less? Making a Simple Animated Video for a Complex Project



    I am enjoying being the Learning Expert for a very innovative programme (Learning and Knowledge Development Facility) that aims to promote, capture and share learning from a series of international public private development projects (PPDPs). The objective is to create a platform and a process for sharing learning among all the project stakeholders and with other interested parties for continuous improvement in the existing projects and to create efficiencies in future project development and implementation.

    For this project, among other things, I recently wrote a series of How-To Manuals (see the blog post: How to Write a “How To” Guide: Two Approaches to Creating Reusable Learning) based on individual learning gathered through interviews and collective learning from facilitated workshops and meetings. These detailed documents are all available for practitioners in the project to use as well as anyone else interested.

    But, they range from 20 – 30 pages, with some shorter executive summaries that aim to distill further key points. With piles of reading already on their desks, the project managers challenged us to create some new, shorter learning products, not just for them but for their colleagues and others who were interested in the project, who wanted to learn more, but were just starting to dip their toes into it. 

    The project is about developing Public Private Development Partnerships (I'm not going to describe them here, you have to watch the video!) It's quite a nuanced concept. And because of the complexity of writing about and describing the PPDP approach itself (one of my long How-To Guides was about PPDPs – How to Develop and Implement a Vocational Training Public Private Development Partnership – even the name was long!) that was where we decided to start.

    So we made an animated video – a 3 minute 23 second explanation of what PPDPs were, how they worked (and of course the benefits!)



    All in all, it took us four weeks from the telephone interview that produced the narrative, to receiving the link to the final video. We chose an aggressive time frame as we wanted to show the video at an upcoming meeting. For this project we worked with Simpleshow.

    This was my first experience working with a creative team to create an "explainer" video. There were a number of lessons that I learned along the way that I want to capture, for my own future reference, and also for sharing with anyone who is tempted toward the process of condensing and sharing learning in 4 minutes or less.

    Lesson 1: What's the message?

    As I mentioned above, the idea started with a 33-page "How-to Manual" which structured a rich multitude of lessons learned by many different actors. How on earth could that be condensed into 4 minutes or less? Four minutes was the upper limit given to us by Simpleshow, with a suggestion that even this could be too long. (Note: There is plenty of interesting research done on video length and viewer attention span - like this article by Powtoon Explainer Video: How Long Should Your Explainer Be? We went plenty over, relatively speaking, what seems to be a generally suggested time limit of 1-2 minutes.)

    It was obvious that this amount of content was far too ambitious for a 2-4 minute video. So we needed to think again. When we considered the questions that come in about the project, the first ones and perhaps the most fundamental are really the basics - What is a Public Private Development Partnership? Who is involved, how does it work and what are the benefits? In answering those questions, our message is really basic: This is a very cool approach which you should know about and might want to get involved in. So we started there.  You really need to be crystal clear about the central message you are trying to convey. Too many messages make for a messy animated video.


    Lesson 2: What's the story?

    For a video to be good, there needs to be some kind of clean and simple story or narrative with some characters, a challenge that people are trying to solve together, a barrier to surmount. Our story had all of those components. To get to the essence of the story for our video, Simpleshow sent a questionnaire with some very good questions along these lines. We answered it and sent it back and then set up a call with a project manager and a story writer that lasted about an hour. I discussed with them the answers to the questions - What is a PPDP? Who's involved? What makes it special? What problem is it trying to solve?  And they asked more questions, and I gave more answers. After a while it formed into a simple but compelling story.

    Lesson 3: Whose voices? Which characters?

    If you watch many explainer-type animated videos, you will notice that there is almost always one voice that is the narrator. This voice introduces the characters, and effectively tells the story for them while they move around and animate the story.  (More on this narrator voice later.) As such there are a lot of decisions around characters and voice in a video. First, you need to identify your characters. Our first list was very long as there are a lot of important actors in PPDPs. But you really can't have too many characters as it can be hard to keep track of them and in some cases hard to tell (animated) people apart. Remember that they are not distinguished by their voice, as they do not speak - one central voice tells the story, so they need to be differentiated in other ways.

    In our case, the main actors involved were actually organizations, as we were describing an approach or a process. So we had to decide which organizations were the most central to our story, and what characters would represent them. We ended up with four main characters with actual names (Peter, etc.), and with some minor characters without names (e.g. teacher, government official, other student).

    You do need to be thoughtful about names - selecting those that are not too similar.  For names we tried to use known names from where our characters originated; the most important name choice was our central character, a woman graduate in Zambia. For that I researched the most popular female names in Zambia and decided on Thandi, which is near the top of the charts of popular names for women in Zambia, For next time, I would suggest even more diverse names for the other organizational characters as the project is international. We changed a couple of them from those suggested by Simpleshow, which was perfectly fine with them, but could have changed them a little more to capture the true diversity of the project.

    Lesson 4: Getting the story crystal clear

    The next step was to write up the narrative - the story as told by the narrator. This was the script and was written from the perspective of a storyteller which was not one of the characters. The script was drafted based on our telephone conversation. Simpleshow wrote out the script. word for word, exactly as the narrator would read it, and sent it for review along with some ideas of visuals (in words) and potential images that could accompany them (characters, icons, etc.) I checked the accuracy of statements, changed terminology, answered some questions, and looked for points of emphasis.

    It was important here to remember that some words can be very politically charged, how some characters are described can be consistent with their own terminology or quite incorrect. You need to remember that you are the expert at the topic, the video maker works on a myriad of different themes and although they do their best,  it is your responsibility to catch things at this stage. I shared my comments with colleagues to make sure that I was not missing anything, and indeed I had! At this important script stage we needed to sign off on the narrative as written, because it is not efficient or practical to change the text after the images are drawn.

    Lesson 4: Sketch stage - Choosing the right images and icons

    I considered what was being suggested in terms of images and iconography and made some tweaks. Sometimes the initially proposed icons might not be quite right to represent the actor - for example, a technical assistance donor will not resonate with an image of a bag of money, but with a growing plant instead.  Other images benefit from changing to increase accuracy or authenticity. For example, I changed an image that was represented on a chalkboard to make it more consistent with the reality of the project (from a flow chart to an engine diagram as the project works with heavy machinery), or changing what one of the characters was wearing to be more like that we see in the vocational training centre workshops in the project.

    For this, I used photos from our project, and also googled factories in Zambia, and sent links to the animators, and generally tried to help make the story and images as accurate as possible with the reality of the project. It was at this point also that I received a first sketched of the characters. For Thandi, our Zambian main character, I commented on her dress and hair, and googled lots of Zambian universities and factories for photos to see what students were wearing. Although I have been to Zambia on more than one occasion, I wasn't in a heavy vehicle vocational training workshop! So I passed this by colleagues who had been working in Zambia, and had been to the vocational school until we all agreed. All the images need to be checked carefully for accuracy and authenticity as again, it is practically impossible to change them (or very costly to do so) once the voice actor is engaged and the animation completed. You definitely don't want someone watching the video a month after production saying, "That's not how you pronounce 'Thandi' in Zambia"!

    Lesson 5: Voice actors - What voice best matches the content?

    Speaking of pronunciation...the video narrative will be read by a professional voice actor (I enjoyed googling that fascinating field of work). The company has a pool of voice actors and sent me some audio clips to listen to, and from which to select the one that seemed to fit the content best. I found out from the company we worked with that most animated videos they made were narrated by men, and often with American accents (at the request of clients).

    We decided early on that we wanted a women's voice, so the Simpleshow sent through some female voice clips for me to listen to, with some different accents. It was interesting to hear all the varieties of voices, and their different qualities, intonation, brightness, etc. We decided that we wanted a British female voice. I listened to a few more audio clips and chose one. The voice in the original clip I found a little too bright and chirpy, which didn't fit as well for our content, so I made some suggestions along those lines. When the actor recorded it she matched our request and instructions.

    Lesson 6: Signing off final stages - no going back

    At this point I had signed off on the text to be narrated, and I needed to sign off on the images and icons, and what would happen to them which was described in words (wondering, searching, happy, 'wiped away'). I was asked about how to pronounce 'Thandi' ( with "h" or without - I double checked with a Zambian friend to be sure!)  Also how to pronounce 'UNIDO' ( spell it out or read it.) It was great that they asked, I am sure the voice actor needed to know. Again this is something you might anticipate and give some instructions before the voice actor does her work.

    At this point, the text and images go out of your hands and the company puts together the animation and the voice actor records her text. You can listen to the final results in the video above!

    We would ideally have liked another review step or a quote for how much that might cost (it might be significant if the voice actor needs to re-record something to emphasize a word more or less, or a sequence in the middle of the video needs to be re-shot). I understand that is why there are so many opportunities for iteration and sign off steps. It is however still challenging to try to imagine how the voice will work with the images, and how the images will move. There can be unconscious messages communicated when some images stay longer on the screen or have a more central place in the viewing pane. In the future I will try to pay more careful attention and try to anticipate this, and thus give some additional instructions to the artist and voice actor on this aspect if needed.

    What might happen next?

    The video launch received a very enthusiastic response and good feedback. People are thinking actively about how to use it. The team recently translated it into French  as one of the new PPDPs is in a Francophone country. That took only 2.5 weeks, from request to final French-version of the video, and provided another broad set of possible accents and specialised terminology to select from (with no changes made to the animation except the last 'thanks' page).

    The video has been put on the webpage and shared widely with partners. It will feature in an upcoming training course on PPDPs in the introduction, and is being sent to potential partners through email and in workshops and meetings. It is such a short and easy introduction to PPDPs, and is much more engaging than any PPT slide set or oral introduction, both of which would take longer than 3 minutes 23 seconds.

    Overall, it was a very exciting and fast paced process, and it's fascinating to see ideas move from a conversation, through written words, to images and then jump off the page into an animated video. And it is not as mysterious as you might imagine. I enjoyed writing down my learning and things I want to remember, not least because I might want to reuse my learning in the next set of animated videos that are already in planning!