Thursday, May 21, 2015

How Do You Organize Your To-Do's, Tasks and Work Flow? A Blog Post for Productivity Geeks Only


It is always interesting and fun to swap personal productivity systems tips and techniques with others. How do other professionals organize themselves, their information and workflow? How do they keep their tasks and "to do's" up to date? Do they combine home with work projects?  All great questions that we have all pondered at one time or another.

Today I got to share some of my tools, and a central piece of this is my GTD-inspired notebook that corrals all my work and home processes. For years I have been a devotee of David Allen's Getting Things Done (GTD) and have implemented a number of these techniques over time, and adapted them for my own purposes. The result is not 100% GTD, but warmly inspired by it (See this blog's other tags for GTD to read more about how I use this interesting system). On today's call, I offered to share my Tasks Notebook table of contents, and instead of writing an email I thought I would blog this -  Linda, this is for you!

Getting Started: Hardware

I use an A5 notebook that has removable pages so that when pages get full I can simply replace them.


I have plastified tabs that separate major sections (see first photo). These are labelled as follows:

  1. Next Actions - the immediate next action on a project or task, organized by context
  2. Waiting - Things I am waiting for
  3. Projects - Activities that have more than one task (these can be work or home)
  4. Agendas - Pages for people that I talk to or work with regularly
  5. Someday/Maybe - Things that I don't want to do now, but don't want to forget
  6. Checklists - Lists that I have made once but will use again 
Within each of the tabs there are a number of individual pages, These are described in more detail, tab by tab, below...  

Next Actions Tab: Organized by Context
  • Email Work - Time Sensitive: These are emails that need to be sent quickly, their deadlines also show up on my calendar.
  • Email Work: These are emails that need to be sent, but have more flexibility in terms of time, but are not in the Someday/Maybe category - yet...
  • Computer Work - Time Sensitive: These are things that need to be done on my computer (writing, reading online documents, checking websites, signing up for things online, etc. in a time sensitive manner)
  • Computer Work: Again less time sensitive but still needs my computer, including things I need to do online
  • Office: Things that I can do in my office that don't involve my computer. This can be reading hard copy, scanning a file, finding a business card, practicing my next toastmasters speech, etc.
  • Write Blogs: I have a separate page for this to record my blog ideas, they were clogging up my Computer Work page, so I made a separate page for them. 
  • Email Home - Time Sensitive: Any email I need to write quickly that is home-related - like send an email to an internal listserve to find a pet sitter for my dog for vacation, etc.
  • Email Home: Not time sensitive but again not on the Someday/Maybe list - for example, thank Grandparents for present (this should be on my son's To Do list, but somehow is on mine).
  • Computer Home - Time Sensitive: Fill in that accident form, rent a car for holiday, etc. Things that need to be done on the computer asap.
  • Computer Home: These are online and computer-assisted tasks that are not as time sensitive - such as find the baseball schedule for spring, sign up for half-marathon in October, etc.
  • (Note that when I am travelling I might start a page called Computer Plane/Train - which includes things that I need to do on my computer that I don't need to be online to do)
  • Home - Indoors: Things I need to do in my house (change light bulbs, make a list of household repairs, find the cabin key, organize the loft, etc.)
  • Home - Outdoors: Things I need to do outside the house - like trim branches, put up the hammock, etc. These may be seasonal in which case I might write them on a paper and put them in my tickler file for that month. (My tickler file is a major life-hack for me, couldn't live without it! Google it, there's lots of ways to set it up.)
  • Calls: Phone calls I need to make WITH the telephone numbers (no good just saying 'call the orthodontist' - then you should put it on your "Computer" list as you need to find the number before you call.)
  • Errands: These are things I need to go out to do - buy slippers, turn in something to the lost and found, buy a baseball glove, etc. I organize these by place which can be shop (department store, grocery store, garden store) or the town where I need to go to get them. 

Waiting Tab: Things I'm Waiting For

This tab only has two pages:

  • Waiting for Work - Things I am waiting for comments on, things I asked people to do, things people promised to send me, things I lent that I am waiting to get back, payments for invoices sent, contracts promised, etc. 
  • Waiting for Home - Things I ordered online, money my sons owe me, phone numbers I asked for, dates for weddings, school photos delivery, etc. 
Projects Tab: Current Projects

This tab has a master list of projects first, with little boxes that I can tick when they are finished, and then a list beside it of pending - these are projects that are potential but not yet settled. Once they are settled they go into the master list. I keep this by year, so I am working on my 2015 list now. Once a year passes, I take the list and put it at the back of this tab, so that I can keep in mind the projects that have been completed.

After the master projects list, I have one page for each project, organized alphabetically. They have the next actions listed and create some redundancy with the Next Actions Tab, but give me an overview of the project and its steps and activities.  

Once a project is done, I take out the page and toss it (unless it is useful to keep the steps, then I keep it in the Project file. These are for any physical artifacts - meeting notes taken by hand, printouts, brochures, etc - that I need for my project. They are all kept in pink paper folders (all the same colour and style for added neat factor) and have a label (label maker essential - same reason) and kept in alphabetical order on the side of my desk so when I get a call or go to a meeting, I can grab it easily.



Agendas Tab: For People I Deal With Regularly

This tab has a page for each of the people that I deal with on a regular basis, husband, kids, colleagues, etc. The page has their name at the top, and then anything that I need to talk to them about I write there (from "can you help me find my lost file" - husband being software engineer  - to "you owe me 32 francs" - son (the former might also be on Email Home - Time Sensitive and the latter would also be on Waiting - Home.) I don't think redundancy is a problem, whatever it takes to get it done. With the Agendas lists, when you are sitting down in front of someone, you can just work through it quickly and get answers efficiently. 

Someday/Maybe Tab: For Things I Might Want to Do Someday

This set of lists was very liberating. So many things sat on my To Do lists for ages, I just kept copying them and not doing them for one reason or another. This set of lists - which are Someday/Maybe Work and Someday/Maybe Home include all those things that I don't want or need to do now but that I don't want to forget. There might be a reason why the time is not quite right, so I write them here and I review this regularly and occasionally they move up to the Next Actions Lists because the time is right. Or else they stay there (forever). Sometimes I have wildly ambitious ideas - Write a book, Listen to the Reith lectures, Do a PhD, Buy a trampoline, Take all the photos off my SD cards, Get a dog (well this latter I finally did), etc.  

Checklists Tab: Never Make These Lists Twice

This final tab is a useful one. If there are things you do over and over again, why not make a Checklist and keep it for the next time? For work I have a mobile working checklist - all the things I need to take when I am travelling with work, a venue checklist when I am looking at a workshop venue, a Webinar Facilitator's Checklist that helps me prepare for online webinars, and for home a ski checklist - I don't go often but I always take along the same things, etc. Make these generic and reusable and findable, keep them on the web and/or keep them under this tab. 

***
At the end of my Notebook I keep some blank pages, so that when I have some time and am doing my review (going through all the tabs and updating, checking off, moving things around etc.) I can rewrite my lists if they are full or mainly completed and pop these pages into the appropriate places. 

You need to review this system regularly (David Allen calls it a "weekly review" but I think I do it with less regularity.) When things are super busy, I set my pomodoro and do it almost daily, and when things are less busy I might do it on my next flight or train trip. Either way it is a pleasure to do. 

And even more fun is talking about and sharing those tips and techniques with others who are also productivity geeks - and you know who you are!

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Speaker's Checklist for Super Short Speeches: Don't Let These 8 Things Come Between You and the Prize



There's nothing like a conference with short presentation after presentation to remind you what makes a particularly good one. I facilitated two Awards ceremonies recently where 18 people in all presented their cases and proposals in 6 minutes each. These were critical opportunities for the speakers to share their ideas and convince the jury and audience of their merits in relatively micro-timeframes (imagine condensing your 30 years of hard work into this time frame?) It became very clear in this long string of short speeches that a super good presentation would do a lot to support a candidate's case.

As I watched one after another fly by I jotted down observations that I thought might make a good checklist for speakers making short presentations (including me!) I would say that we all know these things intellectually, but when we are up there in front of the lights and hundreds of people, do we do them?

My advice, don't read this list now.

You will just say, "Yes, of course, obvious, duh."

Use it AFTER you have prepared your presentation, as a checklist, then it will be most useful. Be honest when answering these questions, the quality of your presentation depends upon it!


  1. Does it fit into the allocated time? How do you know? (Please practice for timing out loud.  Just because you can whiz through something in your head in the allocated time, doesn't mean that when you have to move your lips, pause to breathe, and fiddle with the slide changer, etc. you won't need a few extra minutes. With a 6-minute time slot, this can be a killer.)
  2. Are you talking too fast? (Don't speed up to fit it in the timeframe, and when you are nervous you might speed up your pace naturally - or should I say nervously. It is also incredibly stressful for the audience members who are desperately trying to keep up with you and understand you. Non-native speakers have a big advantage here as they might be translating at the same time which can slow speech down. Native English speakers have to work harder at comfortable pacing. Breathe again.)
  3. Is there any fluff? Cut it out. (Don't spend time thanking every distinguished person in the room up front, it is nice but people will assume your thankfulness if you don't say it. Remember that your timing starts as soon as you open your mouth. Don't give too much background on yourself, a smart sentence will do if needed at all - in all of my sessions I introduced the speakers, ask if this will be your case, so you can cut this out. Don't give too much context and background, just enough to launch your idea. You probably have a very smart audience too who knows where Switzerland is, skip the map.)
  4. Are your key messages up front? (It might be tempting to leave the big idea for last, but if you run out of time, and you have a strict timekeeper like me, you might never get there - this happened over and over! Pull them up front and share your lessons learned all the way through rather than saving all that juicy stuff to a potentially rushed and awkward end. You can always repeat them on your closing slide which you want to leave up while people clap for you - NOT that big empty slide that says "THANK YOU!")
  5.  Is your presentation or slide set too data heavy? (In these short time frames you should sprinkle in the most powerful data and figures and not overload slides with graphs that say too much for the seconds you have to share them. If you do use a graph, use a red circle to highlight the key point or figure, or write the key message on it. And you should NEVER have to say to your audience, "sorry that graph is not clear", "sorry you can't read that table from the back, etc." Just skip it and give a summary instead.) 
  6. Can you deliver it without reading your slides? (With a short timeframe, you should be able to memorize or at least mostly memorize a presentation. In those that are best, the speaker moves away from his or her slides and tells the story with the slides as emphasis photos, key words/figures or messages. It also means you will be facing your audience rather than having your back to them. With a short time frame, you will not be able to engage them much or make eye contact if you spend 50% of your time starting back at the big screen. For short speeches have a few strong key headings that you can keep in mind while you weave your narrative together. Of course, this takes practice - see Point 1 above again.)
  7. Is your PPT/Prezi working? (The PPT equivalent of a wardrobe malfunction is when your animation doesn't work, your video doesn't stream, your sound doesn't work, your picture on a huge screen is blurry, etc. Does this work 100% of the time when you test it before you speak? Even with this testing, your e-karma might be off this day, we've all seen it. Can you pare it down to the minimum of these additional bells and whistles - because if they don't work, your time is still ticking away, and they can create a bit of a "what was that?" blur if they do. A good, clear short video can be a powerful addition, but make sure it is faultlessly embedded and works every time; get rid of the rest unless it really adds to your message.)
  8. Do your visual choices work? ( Are your colour combinations caustic, or sophisticated? Does that font colour show up when it is two stories high? In all these presentations I really liked the ones with a dark background, especially those that also featured photos which really popped on the black or dark background rather than white. For short presentations you need visual punch as well as message punch, with crispness to both of these. There isn't a long time to develop thoughts and ideas with many white slides and verbal or visual asides,)
Well, there you go, that's my checklist, derived from my observations from watching all those very short presentations one after the other. No doubt there are plenty other tips to add.  These were the ones that really jumped off the screen and stage at me. 

I assure you that I was also listening to these short presentations at the Awards Ceremonies as they whizzed by me, 6-minute timer in hand. I really noticed, however, that your presentation's delivery can really help the audience get your point, or it can stand firmly between you and the prize.




Wednesday, May 13, 2015

How to Write a "How To" Guide: 2 Approaches to Creating Reusable Learning


I have been working for the last few years as the Learning Expert on a very interesting partnership project called the Learning and Knowledge Development Facility (LKDF). This project focuses on "promoting green industrial skills among young people in developing countries".  The focus is on developing Public Private Development Partnerships (PPDPs) in selected Vocational Training Centres (VTC) in a number of countries, and promoting multi-level learning within and among them in innovative ways, as well as capturing this  learning and reintroducing it back into the different projects and into new PPDPs.

In addition to developing the learning elements and designing and facilitating the peer-learning components, I have had the great pleasure this year to write a number of "How-To" Guides - four in all. They have taken two different approaches to development, described below. But there is something critically important that must come first...

The first question to answer when writing a How-To Guide is "Who will use this?" Who is the audience? If you are crystal clear about that, then it makes it much easier to write with those people firmly in mind. Our audience for these Guides was project managers who are developing and implementing PPDPs and those who might be interested to do so in the future.



Approach 1: Interview-based 

The first How-To Guide was based on a co-generated set of "Learning Opportunities". This set of questions, combined into one document, was effectively what the different partners wanted to learn from their participation in the different PPDPs and the LKDF. In our Learning Opportunities document each partner has its own set of questions under each agreed heading - one for the UN partner, the donor, the private sector partner, and the VTC. This took a question format and formed the basis of ongoing query throughout the project. We use these questions in our face-to-face learning workshops (self-reflection and group reflection) as well as for the interviews that provided the input to this particular "How-To" document, which was titled, How-To Guide: Developing and Implementing a Vocational Training PPDP.

The Learning Opportunities - that is, what we wanted to learn - included 5 main headings, paraphrased here: How is the PPDP different than a more traditional project of a similar kind; What steps make up an effective PPDP project development process, and an effective implementation process; What is the value added of the learning platform; and how can policy-makers be most effectively engaged and policy change supported.

Each Learning Opportunity had a number of assumptions that we were making, and then related sub-questions identified per partner (exploring their experience, their role, their learning both internally in their organizations and as a part of a multi-stakeholder partnership, what was working and what could be different and better in the future).

This document was used to create a one-page interview questionnaire tailored to each of the Partners. The interview was timed to take 30-45 minutes (it tended to take 45-60 minutes) and was administered by telephone or Skype. After the interview the notes were recorded under each question to create a set of response forms that ranged from 4-6 pages in length. For our How-To Guide we undertook 13 interviews (some had 2 people on the call).

Then the exercise was to take the inputs from the interviews and write the How-To Guide. For this I used the following process:

  1. Divided the questionnaires by Partner (UN, Business, Donor, and VTC)
  2. I did a first read through of those in each sector to get a general overview of the key messages, and to see what themes were repeatedly arising among them members of the same sector. 
  3. As I used the 5 Learning Opportunities roughly as the chapter titles for the How-To Guide,  I went a second time through all the interviews (still clustered by sector) in more detail, picking out key words that were repeated under each Learning Opportunity 1-5, and I wrote those key words in the margins of the questionnaires (so I could see them at a glance). I was especially looking for success areas/things working well and why, challenges being experience and actions that partners had taken to mitigate the challenges (or try to), and learning and advice for the future.
  4. I then put aside the Interview questionnaires and created the overall Table of Contents for the How-To Guide, and blocked out sections with titles and placeholders to write into. Creating a Table of Contents is a great way to see if there is overall flow to the Guide. The Chapter headings I chose (and changed a few times) became: What Makes the PPDP Approach to Vocational Training Successful; How to Develop the PPDP Concept and Project Document; How to Implement a Vocational Training PPDP Project; How to Form a Dialogue with Policy Makers During Vocational Training PPDPs; and How the LKD Facility Fosters Learning. The Chapter titles were based on the Learning Opportunities, the interview questions and what had emerged from the interviews (some questions produced rich responses, others not so much).  I found it very useful to have the framework set up before writing the main body of content. 
  5. I then wrote the Introductory sections of the How-To Guide: About the project; About the Guide, Useful definitions (what is a PPDP?), Who is involved, etc. 
  6. Next I went back to the Interview Questionnaires. I wrote bullet points into my Guide framework under the right headings, amalgamating and summarising the text from Questionnaires. I used the key word reminders that I had written in the margins that repeated, drafting them into more generic lessons. If it was a sector specific comment or a general comment, then I noted that. 
  7. I organized these bullet points into sub-sections that were emerging based on content from the questionnaires such as: Reported benefits; General considerations; What to watch out for; Steps to take; 10 things that have worked so far. I also included some observations and tips by and for specific partners (e.g. The Business Perspective or The Donor Perspective).   Each chapter was organized differently depending on the kind of inputs Partners gave in their interviews, but always with the Guide user/reader, and the questions they might have, in mind. 
  8. The rest of the exercise was writing the bullet points into narrative, making them parallel, reorganizing for flow and logic, and editing for readability. 
  9. This was then sent out for feedback to the Partners who gave suggestions and questions and sent the document back through an editing cycle before finalisation (formatting and printing).


This produced a 27-page How-To Guide: Developing and Implementing a Vocational Training Public Private Development Partnership which had quite a lot of practical detail. To give the high points from this, I created a 7-page Executive Summary from this document (which was almost harder than the longer version!) This whole process as you can imagine, took weeks!

The next three How-To Guides followed a very different process.



Approach 2: Process and project documentation-based

Learning is everywhere in a project like this, and the astute project manager identified some good reusable learning content in the project and process documentation that had been written in the early set-up stages of project development. Experts on M&E and learning (like me) had written a number of longer documents proposing M&E systems, learning processes, management training programmes etc. for the project. These included interesting rationale, research, substantiation of what was proposed and support from good practice, expert opinion, etc. How could the re-usable learning be extracted from these early documents? (Processes which had now been tested for a couple of years!)

It was an interesting exercise for me to sit down with the proposal for the M&E system, the Management Training Programme, etc. and work with the text to identify what was generic and what could be used by other managers undertaking the same or similar processes. Again we needed to be clear on our target, and we enlarged it a little for these three How-To Guides to not only those who would be working in vocational training PPDPs, but would also be useful for those setting up and managing PPDPs in general.

Here are the steps I followed to turn specific project-related documentation into something that others could be interested to use:

  1. An initial read through of the document provided some obvious sections to cut out - details of our specific context (a little was left in the section About this Guide and the PPDP Approach to give people an idea of where we were starting), excerpts from our Project Document, references to specific partners and their roles, etc. All this could be neatly cut out immediately.
  2. A second read through provided the opportunity to take things out that we didn't do, hadn't done yet, or didn't work in the way it was planned. In some cases, it was interesting to refer to this and talk about what happened (or didn't) and why. This also provided a good learning back and forth with the project management team and some ideas of what to do in the future.
  3. At this point a number of things were also identified to add in, links to other knowledge products that had been produced along the way, videos, examples from different country experiences, and samples of agendas for events and questionnaires that had been developed since the original project documentation had been produced. This greatly enriched the learning shared.
  4. Then an overview was needed - so I wrote the table of contents and framework for the How-To Guide based on what was there now (and this also identified a gap or two, and in some cases where there was too much information - more to cut!)
  5. The final steps included writing transitional text so the sections were logical and would read smoothly, filling in explanations for an external audience, footnotes for other resources, revising charts and tables so that they were accurate (I needed to remake a number of images so they fit the new context and language of the How-To Guide).
  6. A final review by the project managers completed this exercise (this approach had more back and forth during the process than the interview approach). Then a final edit, and off for formatting and printing.

This approach took a few days of work per How-To Guide, as the existing content was mainly there and the main work for a learning practitioner was to identify what is most interesting and reusable from the original documentation (which took weeks to write and was an investment already made, additional value added through this How-To Guide development process). The resulting How-To documents were:

How-To Guide: How to Set up a Monitoring and Evaluation System for a Vocational Training PPDP
How-To Guide: How to Develop and Manage Knowledge in Vocational Training PPDPs
How to Guide: How to Set up a PPDP Management Training Programme

I think that both of these two approaches work well together. The first approach above is highly participatory and involves all partners in an iterative learning exercise. It can easily be repeated annually and additional updates to the How-To Guide can be written as learning continues and deepens. New questions could be added and new Guides produced.

The second approach maximises existing investments made in project and process documentation. Rather than keeping these proprietary internal documents and on shelves here and there, it aims to draw out the reusable learning from these to share internally and with outside learners. This exercise also provides a valuable moment for reflection about what was done based on the original plan, why or why not, and might also point out what is yet to be done.  With this reflection, the result is a more accurate How-To document produced based on real learning from experience. These How-To Guides also tend to be more specific as the project documentation is more focused on specific parts of the project (e.g. the M&E system, the learning platform, etc.).

And taking the last-mile steps to create the How-To Guide out of the project documentation, rather than just releasing the original project documents, which go out of date and are often long and rather dry, gives the material new life. It does the work of identifying that learning which is most useful to others, rather than letting this work of pulling out the lessons to be done by the reader (and who has time for that!)

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Encouraging and Evaluating Impacts from MEGA-Conferences

Colloque BIOFILMS 5 à Paris.

They cost millions to put on and convene the best and brightest of a community - how can you channel that collective strength for collective impact and, in the end, how can you tell?

I just returned from 7th World Water Forum in Korea, where numbers of attendees were reported at 41,000 people. I also worked at the 6th World Water Forum in 2012, with 35,000 people. That’s a lot of talent in one place.

Is there an Expectation of Learning and Impact?

It is interesting to think about the cost-benefit for individuals and organizations for participation in such an event. If you were on the Learning Team for such an event (do these events have learning teams – maybe that is Suggestion #1!), what might be some of the ways to first, identify desired learning (organizational and individual level), foster that learning through design and format, help record outcomes for monitoring and sharing, and see what changes people are making based on their learning and participation?

I’ve seen and worked with some different approaches and, taken together, they make for an interesting thought exercise and potentially an opportunity. Here are a few ideas for consideration.

1) Use a Facilitation Team to ensure interactive learning in Conference Sessions

Conference don’t have to be panel after panel of 9 speakers giving their ideas from a podium of behind a table and a short Q&A (IF the speakers don’t go over their time) for those bold enough to stand up in front of hundreds, or lucky enough to get the attention of the person with the roving microphone.

Interactive learning is possible even for very large groups, and even in theatre set up (although round tables are MUCH better – this can work for 400-600 people in a ballroom, at least it has for us in the preparatory meetings for the 6th and 7th World Water Forum.) I have written a blog post about facilitating large groups (When Numbers Soar: Facilitating Large Groups) and it is certainly possible with good design and professional and confident execution. It might take a moment to flip your audience from passive half-listening/texting observers to active contributors, but once you have their attention the opportunity engage and crowdsource ideas, suggestions, solutions, etc. from such a large group is incredible.

A good facilitation team can also help create consistency and support reflective practice throughout the event, when these questions and practices are built consistently into the agenda of events. With the whole facilitation team introducing this in all parallel events.

2) Introduce a Conference Activity Handbook

At another large conference I facilitated recently, we created an Activity Handbook that was put into each conference pack, and had a couple of different purposes. First, it guided participants through the conference, each session had an entry that engaged the participant in some way, from a place to write their goals for the event (Session 1), to places to record answers to specific technical questions, a self-assessment that started one session, a quiz to warm up on another, an action planning template for the final Session (to record follow-up to the conference of people, ideas) etc.

The resulting Handbook once completed, was a take-home artifact from the conference that reminded the participant of his or her learning, thoughts, ideas, and actions. It also included other key information – contact information, URLs of resources, etc. all in one place. But unlike any Conference brochure, this participants interacted with daily and became a living record of THEIR event.

Even in a larger event where people are moving around to different activities all the time, such an Activity Handbook could be helpful to guide people through their experience and structure reflection. If there are facilitators, they could start and end their sessions with a reflection question recorded in the workbook (“Open your Activity Handbook to page 16 and take a minute to reflect on what you want to learn today – make a few notes for yourself and I will give you a couple of minutes to share this with the person sitting next to you”,or “What was the most important key message from the sessions you attended today”, “What is one thing you might do to follow up on something you learned today?” etc.)

If people need an added incentive to complete their Activity Handbook, offer a completion gift to those who complete their book, such as a mug or water bottle with the conference logo, available in the exhibition area at Stand X – ask people to come towards the end and show their completed booklet for this gift. (There was such a gift at the recent World Water Forum, although you only needed to answer a few questions to get it, but almost all people I spoke to found their way to the exhibition hall stand with their voucher to collect it). As people get these items in their conference bags anyways, why not give them a little homework to get it?

3) Ask Organizers to Develop and Participants to Contribute to Next Action Plans

One of the features of the World Water Forum process was the expected output of an Implementation Roadmap (IR) from the different thematic streams of the conference (every conference seems to have an organizing principle of some sort – often thematic). The organizers’ reporting templates from the different thematic sessions were made consistent with this and individual session organizers were asked to collect ideas from participants in their sessions that could be integrated into a thematic IR.
The idea of this Implementation Roadmap was to capture in one place all the ideas and actions that stakeholders attending identified and felt are helping achieve some desired change in their subject area, so that they can be executed after the conference and this execution monitored. Each IR had one or more coordinating organizations who volunteered for this role (because it is central to their work), and participants in their sessions could indicate how these Implementation Roadmaps could improve, if they wanted to be involved in follow up, and what they could contribute.

Of course this only works if there is engagement and good coordination prior to the conference, real interactivity in the sessions (see Facilitation above) and if there are resources made available (time, energy and potentially funds) for this follow-up. The organizers must take this seriously and support it. More information on the IR process can be found on the 7th World Water Forum website. As this event is each 3 years, Coordinating organizations can be asked to report on progress and results from their Implementation Roadmap work. Central coordination over the interim period to keep momentum is an important additional role for the main organizer. Without this, probably only a small percentage of these would produce results, based on the sheer will and investment of the thematic coordinators.

4) Follow Selected Individuals for a Conference Impact Study

We did a Curriculum Impact Study at LEAD International when I was the Director of Capacity Development there and this was a really interesting and effective way to see how a learning experience impacted individuals participating in the programme. This could be an interesting addition to a large conference M&E and learning process, and help answer the questions – what changed? and was it worth it?

In the LEAD process, we identified a select cross-section of participants (different countries and different sectors – we had 18 in total), and invited them to participate in our study. This process took some time, so they had to be aware of that and committed (in the case of a conference, could they get a reduction on their conference fee by participating?) We started prior to the formal learning events, and went on for a designated period afterwards.

The study started and ended with an interview that we administered. The initial Orientation Interview included key questions that established a base-line of the individual and their organization, and identified an issue or issues that they and their organization would be dealing with over the next two years where they might apply their learning, etc. After the initial interview (also to explain the process), the exercise was journal-based (there were three Journals) with key reflection questions at periodic points that were triggered by dates, reminders, and email. The journals were collected and analysed (and returned) and case studies following the learning and learning application process of the individuals were written (not using the original names and organizational names).

This impact study provided a more detailed way to understand the impact of the programme on their professional and personal lives. Based on your overall goal of a conference (such as more conservation impact on the ground), such a study could help understand what participants do to prepare, engage during and integrate into their practice afterwards. It also helps identify places where the organizers can support participants more – maybe the preparation needs to be more directed and different, maybe the sessions need to be more interactive and engaging – as people spent most of their time in the exhibition hall (or maybe more needs to be programmed there), or more support in identifying or using the learning, etc. This kind of impact study of individual’s experience with your mega event can give insight into this.

5) Design a More Deliberate Learning Programme

All of the above need good design, preparation, coordination, guidance, consistency across a complex event with many moving parts. Lessons? This needs coordination, guidance, and consistency, and a central team with an overview of the learning goals and enough advance time to prepare the different elements so that the experience is reinforced throughout the conference.

Of course, this also costs money, but then you just invested millions to get everyone there. Doesn’t it make sense to invest a little more to make sure you get as much impact out of the conference as possible?

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Thursday, February 12, 2015

Build your facilitation skills! Join our "Facilitation by Design" training course




Over the last four years we have run various customized iterations of "Facilitation by Design" as in-house training for staff in a number of convening organizations.

For the first time this March we will offer Bright Green Learning's one-day "Facilitation by Design" Training Course as an open-subscription course for individuals.

Interested in joining us? Learn more >>



Saturday, February 07, 2015

Looking for a Productivity Gadget that's Low Tech for a Change? Try a Nu Board



I saw this first last year at the Balaton Group Meeting where Junko Edahiro, a fellow life-long learner and enthusiast in the field of productivity, was using her "nu board" to take notes during the meeting. I usually use my iPad and Penultimate to take photos, written notes with my stylus etc, etc. and they sync to my Evernote account so I can search them later.  (See our blog post "Fast and Easy Workshop Reports with Penultimate".) But as soon as I saw the nu board, I knew I had to have one! (Thanks to my Japanese Balaton Group friends for their kind gift - they are made in Japan!)

If you were sitting next to me in The School of Life gathering in London (on the timely topic of keeping New Year's Resolutions) last week, you would have seen me taking notes in my small nu board with a thin black marker, filling a page with notes, taking a photo of the page with my phone (I was actually putting it into my mobile Evernote app), then erasing the whole page with the top of my pen (a mini white board eraser), and start writing again. I did this again and again throughout the 2-hour event.

The nu board (available in A4 and A5 size), is effectively a bound book of thin white boards. In between each board is a transparent page that you can either write on to overlay additional text/drawings, or use it to protect your previous page from wrist smears.  You simply write with the nice thin marker (the board comes with the white one below, and the blue nu board pens, available separately, have a harder and thinner nib for even crisper writing)...


Then you take a photo of your page (as I mentioned I put mine into Evernote, but you might keep photos in a different database system) and then simply use the top of the marker that comes with your nu board to erase the page (its very easy to erase if you do it right away, if you wait you need to use some elbow grease)...


...and you start writing again. There are 4 whiteboard pages in each nu board, so you can take 8 pages of notes before you need to take your photos if you want. I had just cleared one page when I was at the School of Life, as I had not yet processed the other pages (which were from the terrific TEDxPlaceDesNations I wrote about in the previous post), but the pace of the TSoL event made that fine.

There is also a separate unbound, single page A4 nu board that I was told could be used, for example, during workshops or conferences to keep time for speakers (e.g, writing up 5 MINUTES), or give instructions to people at a distance (CLAP! - just kidding). I look forward to thinking up interesting ways to use that too.

Nu board is a very clever and simple idea. It is a paper-free solution that takes away the problem of having a bunch of handwritten notes after a workshop or meeting that you need to store somewhere (of course you can take a photo of those too, but then why use the paper?) The improvement on my iPad is that the pen is thinner and I can take denser notes on the paper (the stylus I have for Penultimate is thicker so your writing is bigger, thus less words on each page - fine in some contexts, less so in others).

The mobile photo archiving is high tech, but the nu board is wonderfully tangible and low tech in your hands, giving you the satisfaction of writing, drawing and decorating your notes page, just like you did at school - but you don't ever have to torment yourself about whether or not to throw those old school notebooks away. Presto! with a swipe, its all gone into your digital archive...


(If you want another reason to try something like this, have a look at this LifeHack article Here's Why You Should Take Notes By Hand (instead of with a laptop) which discusses a new Princeton/University of California study that shows that those who hand write their notes learn more than those who take notes on their laptops!)

Powerful Message Plus Artful Storytelling from UNHCR's Vincent Cochetel at TEDxPlaceDesNations



When your story is a powerful as UNHCR's Vincent Cochetel - of his 317 days in captivity near Chechnya as a hostage chained to a bed, in darkness but for 15 minutes a day of candlelight and able to take 4 small steps and no more - simply the facts can have a profound influence on listeners. But when you tell it as eloquently and powerfully as he did at the recent TEDxPlaceDesNations, you have a message that sears itself into the memories of your audience.

If you have 20:44 minutes, watch his talk, "Attacks on Humanitarians are Attacks on Humanity". Listen to the message and see if you can keep a dry eye. It's a beautifully told story of a captive, an object in a political struggle, that makes himself a human being in the eyes of his captors, an act that ultimately makes it easier for them to free him. It's told in a quiet way - an example of storytelling of the very best kind in my opinion, and humbling to watch. I was sitting in the second row of that grand hall in the Palais des Nations in Geneva for the event, and his talk gave me an immediate sensation of the humanitarian work that goes on within the United Nations system (I worked there myself for a few years, although, as a young professional, I was in a big building in Geneva far from the reality that Vincent speaks of).

Watch him take his 4 small steps, light his candle for that 15 minutes, and speak in the hushed tone of a captive. His words transport you - you're there in that small room with him. You might find yourself, as I did, wondering how many other humanitarian workers throughout the world right now are in captivity still waiting to see daylight again, and what more can be done to help them.

Thursday, February 05, 2015

What's New(s) at Bright Green Learning?


We like to use this blog to capture our learning as we go, through the interesting and varied processes that we have the opportunity to co-develop with our partners and support in different ways.

Many of these initiatives produce news! They develop new standards (like for aluminium stewardship along the supply chain), test innovative models for development partnerships such as Public Private Development Partnerships, create new learning around sustainability issues like de-coupling or transboundary water basin leadership. They develop new partnerships that go on to make contributions to sustainable tourism or 3D mapping of natural resources, climate change adaptation and women's empowerment, and more.

We have begun to share this news in short articles on our website: www. brightgreenlearning.com with links to the different announcements and products. Are you interested in a "How To Manual for Developing a Public Private Development Partnership"? Or a link to 15 case studies and a summary report on "Evaluating existing policy mixes to identify solutions for EU resource efficiency" Or curious to read about how a big cement company manages biodiversity and water in its production processes? You can find this and more news there - and we are incredibly proud as Bright Green Learning to be able to contribute to these initiatives!

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Holiday Greetings from Bright Green Learning (and How To DIY e-cards with Penultimate)

Lizzie and I from Bright Green Learning wish you a very happy holiday season!

Want to learn something new and make your own holiday e-card in 5 min? I enjoyed using Penultimate to make these two holiday cards - how to? 1) Grab your ipad; 2) Open the free app Penultimate; 3) Start a new notebook and upload a photo from your photostream or take a new one (I used this photo taken at the Women's Forum photo booth); 4) Place it where you want it on your page and draw on your message (and/or silly hat); 5) Send the page to yourself by email (using the sharing icon on the app), it comes back in .jpg format; 6) Send out or post it on your blog! Happy Holidays!


Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Glints and Gleanings from TEDGlobal 2014



TED signAttending a TED event is like spending 5 days surrounded by shiny objects – great opening lines to speeches, weird facts, interesting turns of phrase, amazing visuals, and those random ideas that you get that are sparked by something that the speaker says, and more -  and from amongst all this having to choose what to pick up and take with you. These are some of the shiny things that I picked up this year:

  • My top 3 speeches this year were by:
    • Melissa Fleming about generations living in refugee camps and why educational opportunities are critical. People in camps have time to prepare for their return – the average time in exile is 17 years! Her question: can refugee camps become centres for academic excellence?
    • Glenn Greenwald on why privacy matters – he invited anyone watching who said that privacy didn’t matter to email him all their internet passwords so he could read through everything and publish whatever he wants, and
    • Kimberly Motley is a former Miss Wisconsin who is now the only foreign litigator in Afghanistan, focusing on using the laws to protect.
  • Privacy speaker and scientist Andy Yen, one of the founders of Proton mail (email encrypted by default), reminds us that our data can and will outlive us. He also mentions the benefits of using the CERN cafeteria to develop an idea – you have 2000 free engineers between 12 and 2pm.
  • Joanna Wheeler’s theme was how to use storytelling to stop violence, based on her experience working in South Africa. Her business card was a story cube with her address on it, and the key messages of her talk (in images), printed on a piece of A6 paper that you can cut out and make into the cube.
  • The break area of the beach venue (the tent-like auditorium they built from scratch on the Rio beach sand where the talks were held) was filled with different diversions when you want to do something other than think.
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  • Batalho do Passinho is a new Brazilian street dance out of the favelas of Rio  combining the anxiety of fighting with the poetry of dance, and the Bottle Boys are Danish singers/musicians who use only bottles and their voices to cover popular songs. (The Bottle Boys played at one of the evening TEDGlobal parties on the beach in Rio. Their “Call Me Maybe cover got hoots of laughter and lots of applause.)
  • I didn't know that 2/3rds of the population of  Sub-Saharan Africa has access to a cell phone signal (one fifth of these people have 3G or better data service). Steve Song’s talk was about not waiting for someone else to “build an on-ramp to the internet”, and the opportunity cost for those without access is skyrocketing as technology comes on and is ubiquitous.
  • One speaker, Sipho Moyo, asks, “How do we feed 10 billion mouths? There is no answer that doesn’t involve Africa.” She put up a blank slide, and said it was a picture that hadn’t yet been taken – it was a picture of Africa feeding the world. (She also points out that in the $110b chocolate industry, 70% of the cocoa comes from West Africa”, interesting for a Switzerland-land-of-chocolate-based person like me).
  • There’s a new food scanner called Tellspec being developed that you can put next to any food (including baked goods with no labels, etc.) that will tell you the composition of the food.
  • Architect Alejandro Aravena used a chalkboard for his talk about participatory design for low cost public housing – they build people half a house and then let the people living in it build the other half in the years that come, to suit their needs and with their own style. This innovative housing project is half the cost (obviously) and fits into the cultural norm in Chile (and many other countries) of building your house little by little over the years.
  • The auditorium was filled with different kinds of chairs. Every day you could try a new one and sit upright or sink into a comfy couch.
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  • Brazilian CEO Ricardo Semler says on Mondays and Wednesdays he “learns how to die”. He calls these his “Terminal Days” and does things he would do if he had gotten news of a terminal illness and didn’t have much time left on earth. He runs a company without “rules” and gives people Wednesdays to do what they would do if they were retired. He ran board meetings with 2 seats for the first two people who showed up, whoever they might be in the company.
  • I liked that they gave a pair of Havianas flipflops with the gift bag, along with an Entreposto beach/picnic blanket with grommets so you can tie it down in the wind.
  • The Beach area with all the deck chairs and umbrellas was a great place to unwind and reflect on what you heard, and the sand was so hot that you needed those flipflops (if you didn’t want sand in your shoes!)
TED beach
  • Linking the digital with the physical – With a 3D printer they printed a car in 2 days in Manitoba. A Chinese company is printing 5 houses a day for under $5000.
  • Bel Pesce’s TED University speech was about 5 ways not to follow your dreams (from believing in overnight success to believing that your goal is the end goal.)
  • Journalist Bruno Torturro of MediaNinja opens by asking, “Has anyone has been exposed to tear gas?” He shows the simple molecule that he says is trendy with police and says that it makes your eyes burn and also opens them (in his case to the power of independent broadcast). He has helped create a network of experimental journalists who use mobile equipment to live stream political protests in “post television formats”.
  • I have never eaten so much quinoa as I did that week with TEDGlobal in Rio, who knew how many ways you could fix it.
I enjoyed going back through my notes to write this blog post and see what had endured for me a month now from being with TED in Rio. There are plenty of shiny objects still glittering around in my mind!

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Systems Thinking and Sustainable Development: 124 Books by Balaton Group Members

Balaton Books

We’ve recently put together the Balaton Group Book List of 124 books by Balaton Group Members. If you are interested in systems thinking, systems dynamics, sustainable development and related issues, you might be curious to look at this collection, which includes a wide range of titles from academic books to games books.

There are books by the Balaton Group Founders, from the Limits to Growth series to Thinking in Systems and Groping in the Dark: The First Decade of Global Modeling, among others. These are followed by over 100 titles by other Members (single or collective authorship) such as: Image 2.0: Integrated Modeling of Global Climate Change; Tackling Complexity: A Systemic Approach for Decision Makers; The Local Politics of Global Sustainability; Affluenza: How Overconsumption is Killing Us; Creating Regenerative Cities; What if Money Grew On Trees? Asking the Big Questions about Economics; and many, many more…

Donella and Dennis Meadows – authors of The Limits to Growth – founded the Balaton Group in 1982. The Group has met annually for over three decades on the shores of Lake Balaton to advance the boundaries of research and strategy for sustainable development, using a systems perspective. Collaboration among members has resulted in book projects, over a hundred conferences, new learning centres and NGOs and uncounted computer models, training programmes, planning methods, journal articles, films, videos, policy initiatives, educational games, courses and research projects.

This Book List provides fascinating insight into the Balaton Group Members’ considerable work over the years in these issues. We hope this collection helps others interested in sustainability issues find a wide range of thoughtful work in our field. Feel free to share the Balaton Group Book List page!

Lessons I'm Learning About How to Be an MC (Master of Ceremonies)


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As learning practitioners we play many roles - we are process designers and facilitators, panel moderators, skills trainers, advisors, team coaches, and sometimes we are MCs (Master of Ceremonies), helping weave together the different learning threads of a larger event.

I recently took on this role at the Women's Forum, having done this on a number of occasions with other groups. This event had high production values, with beautiful lighting, a 360 degree stage, video cameras and screens in all directions recording and simulcasting, professional makeup and a “Madonna” mike (as they called it), and, I might mention, 1500 people watching every move you make (or at least the intention to).

I personally find this role - Master of Ceremonies (we couldn't come up with a satisfying gender neutral alternative -any ideas?) - more than a little nerve wracking. To get to a place of comfort in this role I tend towards over preparation. However, I won't apologize for this; that’s what it takes for me to do a good job in this high visibility role. I want to help make participation meaningful for everyone in the room, add value and interest – spark curiosity and maybe some surprise to grab attention, and help connect the dots of the event for people. Now that I have done this for a number of events, I thought I would record and share my tips for preparing and delivering as an MC. I divided my reflections into four parts: what I do in the weeks before, the day of the event, moments before, and onstage.

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Weeks Before

1. Get the Programme: Be proactive and request early versions of the Programme and keep in touch with the Programme manager about changes. Make sure you always have the latest agenda (this can change daily nearer the event when speakers and moderators cancel at the last minute, or even miss their flight). You don't want to introduce the wrong person in front of 1000 people. It might be tempting to wait until things settle to do this, but don't; it will be a big job to get on top of it and identify the main threads all at the last minute. Plus your antennae will be up for interesting facts and initiatives in all the other meetings you attend and newspapers you read, and new ideas will come to you as the programme and its key messages percolate in your brain.

2. Build Your Background: Read about the speakers and the conference themes. This research can be considerable if you are the MC for the whole event as I was, with 13 different sessions, themes, panels and speakers. I estimated that it was like giving 13 Toastmasters icebreaker speeches in 3 days, each one taking some 5 or more hours to prepare (research, collect ideas, write, edit, make notes, brief speakers/moderators, practice, practice, practice).YouTube is a great place to listen to other speeches given by your speakers, to hear their perspective and main messages, and to see how other MCs and moderators have worked with them.

3. Get Inspiration: Once I had my session themes I looked into a number of directions for inspiration. TED is a great source, in fact I spent the week before this event at TED Global in Rio and found some good leads for interesting facts and angles. The news and current events is an obvious source and I read newspapers and periodicals cover to cover (even sports!) for a change in the weeks before the event, as you never know what facts or questions might come up on stage.

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4. Make a Notebook: This is actually a step the “maker” and tinkerer in me enjoys. This year I used an A5 sized notebook, with the pages that you can take in and out along those plastic discs (because things will change!) Use any notebook that you can change the order of the pages and put new ones in easily. Use dividers by day, and then within the days each session has a page. At the top I have the title, timing (when to meet speakers, time of session), list of speakers with their titles, the objectives of the session, notes on the choreography (if there is a sequence to introductions, if there are chairs or if the speakers stand, etc.) and then my script (see below). This makes it easier to practice session by session and quickly check details if there is a question (how will you introduce me) or a change in the programme. Carry your notebook around all the time and use post-its to note any ideas that pop up on the appropriate session page, to integrate later.

5. Write Your Script: I always write out my scripts completely first, then edit them and tweak them repeatedly, as I am more of a writer than an off-the-cuff speaker. I write out the narrative word-by-word first, including interaction with the audience (and put this in my notebook). Then I start to boil it down to bullet points with sub-text, and then the final step is to define headlines/key words to trigger my memory of the associated text.

Note that I always build in interactivity (mapping the audience, introduction to your neighbour, etc.) early in my scripts to liven up the participant experience and engage the audience but also to give me a moment to look at my cards if need be. It shortens the length of what you have to commit to memory before you can pause and regroup/breath/centre yourself once onstage. So I write these breaks into the text. I also include short stories/vignettes that I can tell as they are easier, once you launch into them, to remember and tell than a list of facts. You want your introductions to be thought provoking, meaningful, and relevant to the audience. It should make then want to hear and think about the next session and not choose instead to go and get a coffee or stand in line for the photo booth. It's not as easy as you think.

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6. Prepare Prompt Cards: In all the photos and videos of me as the MC at the Women’s Forum, you will see that I have notes in my hand. They are my bullet points and key words written on black card stock and cut to hand size. I write on them with a white pen. This draws much less attention than white, dog-eared, A4 papers flapping around as you wave your hands. At TED Global I noticed Chris Anderson and Bruno Guisani had small cards in some sessions, held with a single metal ring on the upper right hand corner, so you can flip cards easily and quickly as you are talking. They also from time to time had a bright red Clip board. All of these things work, and look good, choose your favorite, prepare them in advance, and if there is any doubt that you might forget the three line title of the fifth speaker on the panel you're introducing, use them!

Put what you need on the cards, after practicing you will know the places where you trip up or forget or get the two parts of someone’s last name turned around (people care about this!). The cards I hold on stage have some of this bullet point text (especially the transitions - opening words and closing words for each idea/story), and the key words written larger that I can glance at if needed.

7. Practice!- Once I make my cards, I carry them around and practice everywhere in the days before and during the event. I take them with me to cafés, I pace in my hotel room, I go through tricky text transitions, or complicated names, or super long titles ( and there will be many) before I go to sleep and before I get up. You can do this with your eyes closed.

Doing this will also help you revise and change word order or transitions so the words and narrative seems more natural. Once you are familiar with the written script, you will be able to slow down and get comfortable as you know where you're going with the text. And this will make that last minute additions or name changes less of a problem (e.g. when a speaker asks you to call him or her by their nickname rather than their formal name just before going onstage, etc.)  You want it to be super smooth and easy onstage and this takes a lot of work! I had several speakers ask me if I was using a teleprompter, which made me smile. Maybe it's my line of work, but I haven't seen one of these yet! ( I have heard of an iPad app, and have seen moderators use ipads once in a while, but I will probably continue to do this the old fashioned way for now).

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The Day of the Event

1. Confidence and Looking Good- I will venture that this applies to anyone getting on a 360 degrees stage ( or any stage where you are being watched by a thousand plus in the room, any number on simulcast, and then for perpetuity on the internet.) We all have our strategies. I got my hair done professionally, it’s the only time a year I do! There was a professional makeup station in the Speakers Room, where we convened for our Speakers briefing 30 min before going onstage, because the lights and filming can do funny things to your features and complexion.

You need to think about what to what to wear (stage and mike friendly clothes). I was always on my feet and walking up and down the steps before and after speakers, interviews and panels. For women, low heels are definitely best and your feet will thank you at the end of the day - I stand up about 10 min or more before the scheduled end of any session just in case it stops abruptly and you need to hustle up (elegantly of course) on to the stage. You don’t want any tripping. For the microphone, if you have a hand mike no problem, but I try to avoid that as I want to be able to clap and I will also have my cards in my hands. So a Madonna mike works best, and for that you need a belt or some hidden way to fix the Madonna mike to the back of your clothing (jacket, belt, or camisole). The sound team also discouraged earrings (actually taking them off me) as the can can clank or get caught in the mike.

I try to wear something interesting and colorful, even a little sparkle if you can get away with it ( I'm thinking more of necklace or pin than full length evening gown and tiara). This goes for all speakers but especially the MC as people see you over and over again on stage all day. Remember that they will be looking at you at 8:30 in the morning and 8pm at night, and tired or hungry or in need of caffeine, you can at least try delight both minds with your words and eyes with your turquoise and magenta scarf.

2. Speakers Briefing: As noted above, having a scheduled meeting of speakers directly before the event is incredibly useful and serves a number of functions. First, it lets you check that all speakers are present- there’s nothing like introducing someone who is stuck in traffic 3 km away. Second, it lets you go through the mechanics of the session with all the speakers together. You might have done this before with the panel moderator or even all the speakers, but it will only be when they see the stage and the huge audience sitting around it that they will really want to know who walks on first, what chair they should sit in and how long they can talk. Finally, it lets you check name pronunciation, title accuracy and give them confidence in how you will introduce them to the audience and frame their session. And of course it lets you establish some rapport and remind them of your name so they can talk to you on stage and thank you by name. These little touches make the session seem more friendly and less formal or staged - that makes the audience feel more comfortable and the discussion going on in front of them more accessible.

3. Bring Food: You may not have time to, or want to, stop for the scheduled meals. It is hard to “grab and go” when you are the MC as everyone knows you and you will get stopped for an interesting chat everywhere you go. If you need to prepare, you might rather eat your Power bar in your room.

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Moments Before

1. Where are Your Cards? At this stage you are still keeping the prompt cards for the next session in your hand and now only thinking about one session at a time, literally relegating anything from the next few sessions to the back of your brain and the past and upcoming cards to your bag.

2. Your stuff- When you're onstage you don't have any place to keep your stuff, bag, other papers, lipstick etc. Find that place first, so you are not looking under every chair for it at the end of the session, because as soon as you stand up, someone else will sit in your empty chair (even with a reserved sign there is something oh so tempting about a front row seat) and by the end of the session you will have sat all over the place. Bring the minimum, and put it under the chair of your neighbour or someone you know who will not be jumping up all the time to take the stage. This might seem like a small point, but it will take up residence in a small paranoid spot in your mind that you need to be totally zen and not worried about your handbag.

3. Take a deep breath: Ok, you are about to walk up those steps. Breath deeply and smile. You might want to do some Amy Cuddy “Power Posing” to get you ready and confident to go onstage. I also write at this stage on my first card at the top in big letters “SLOW”, “BREATH”, “PAUSE”, for obvious reasons. If that's the only thing I register in the bright lights and 2000+ eyes! then the rest will go much easier. Then you step up, confidently…

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Onstage

1. Voice/Body: As there are books written about this, I will only repeat two pieces of advice given to me by Lizzie the first time I did this big stage work: 1) Pause before starting and look at the audience (I am an MBTI ENFP and tend to open my mouth first and think later, this helps enormously); and 2) Emphasize at least one word in each sentence. It can literally be any word, but do that and it immediately adds interest, voice inflection, and give you a natural pause (breath, think, collect visual feedback). Even if you only do this at the onset of your introductory remarks, it will help with flow. Try it!

2. Try to Enjoy Yourself! I have to tell myself this over and over, and to be honest it starts to be true only about 1 hour into the day, when feedback starts sinking in. I know intellectually that it is a great privilege to have this role, as well as a great responsibility, and that the role should be fun and I should try to enjoy it. But it takes me a while to get here. Once I start seeing positive reactions with my own eyes and hearing it from others, then the mantra starts to have the desired effect. And this calmness and sense of enjoyment is critical for me to calm the voices in my own head so that I can deeply listen and connect into the richness of what is going on onstage.

And there you go!

I can not emphasize enough how important good event structure and design is. When you are done, thank that terrific Programme manager  for their months of effort in Programme development, identifying timely topics, the right speakers and developing the briefing notes that were sent out in advance. (Thank you Jennifer!)

Being the MC isn't just memorizing titles and names and the sequence of sessions. In its best and most helpful form, it is a guiding, weaving and connecting role. It helps people understand why the topic is interesting and important for them, why they should listen and why they should care. It connects the different sub-themes into a powerful whole. In creating meaningful frames, it helps the audience connect to the broader narrative of the overall conference, and invites them to draw their own learning. This is the work of the MC from my perspective.

A gentle warning, this kind of work is both mentally exhausting (you are probably the only person in the room that is present and deeply listening 100% of the time) and physically exhausting (reread shoes part). And it is at the same time incredibly gratifying to support collective learning, one thousand people at a time, in this way. If you get the offer, take it, and bear in mind that it is more than just walking on stage on a very exciting day.

Friday, August 29, 2014

A Systems Story - New Short Video to Introduce Systems Thinking









I often get asked for interesting resources to help people learn more about Systems Thinking -  what it is and how to use it for understanding the complexity that surrounds us, and for making effective interventions for positive change. For those of us in the sustainable development community, working with this complexity is a feature of ever day life.

There's a new short video just out, called "A Systems Story", which aims to introduce systems thinking and its key components (stocks and flows, archetypes, delays, etc) through a story. The example this video uses is not what we might expect to see - water resource management, the climate system, global commodities flow - the example that is uses to introduce systems thinking is love. 

The Budapest-based start up that produced it,  BEE Environmental Communication, with team lead Sarah Czunyi, worked for the past few months to create the video with seed funding from the Balaton Group's Donella Meadows Fellowship Programme. Sarah was a Fellow of the programme last year and used the stipend to create this innovative educational video as a way to learn about systems thinking through trying to explain it very simply, and in a visually appealing way - all in 4 minutes and 45 seconds. 

Whether as an eye catching start to a formal course on systems thinking  learning and applications, or a way to introduce a strategic planning workshop exercise that uses some systems thinking diagramming tools, the video can grab people's attention and help spark a discussion about how things are interconnected, what possible influence elements of the system can have on each other, how things change dynamically and what kinds of effects an intervention might have on your system - be it love or climate change. 

See what you think!





Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Working with Values and Frames: Practical Lessons for Process Designers and Facilitators


With thanks to Guest blogger: Cristina Apetrei 

Back in January my friend Gillian and I were planning to go together to a Common Cause workshop, but we both cancelled last minute due to work obligations. When six months later I did manage to attend a similar event, she was very eager to hear what I learned and kindly invited me to write a guest blog post to share my experience with all of you.

Common Cause is an initiative started in 2009 by several NGOs in the UK who wanted to engage in a broader conversation about the values at the core of our society and what is needed in order to get more public engagement around various global (sustainability) issues. In an initial report - Common Cause: The Case for Working with our Cultural Values (September 2010) - they looked at social psychology and cognitive science to investigate the relationship between values and behaviour. Later some of these findings were summarized in the Common Cause Handbook – which I recommend as a quick introduction to this discussion, although the full report is much richer.

The main practical conclusion is quite simple: An organization might well be striving for a certain idealistic goal, but it will not be very effective as long as it communicates in a language that enhances values which conflict with that goal. Therefore, we should always pay attention to how we frame and contextualize our messages, and be on the lookout for the implicit values that are being reinforced

Common Cause also says that some values are held more easily together by the same individual. To give an example, a campaign that frames the installation of solar panels as a way to save money on the energy bill reinforces the so-called “extrinsic value” of “wealth”. This value however is in conflict with values such as “protecting the environment” or “equality” that would be required for deeper engagement with the issue of climate change.

But value communication goes beyond the text of a campaign or the copywriting of a website; it also includes the context of an event or the overall culture of an organization. No communication is value-neutral, the Common Cause report argues, so try to nurture intrinsic values (self-transcendence, see Figures 2 and 3 How Values Work) rather than extrinsic ones (self-enhancement) if you want to see behaviours aligned with bigger-than-self goals.

Of course, one may read between the lines an implicit moral dimension here, suggesting that some values would be preferable to others, and this remains an open point for critique and debate. Nevertheless, I believe that the Common Cause approach at the very least makes us aware that not only are our behaviours determined by our values, but also that our actions shape the cultural value landscape that we are part of. As activists or sustainability workers, we are reminded that change does not happen in a vacuum, but requires a certain set of conditions to be met in our environment.

This has implications also for the work of a process designer and a facilitator, whose art is precisely about creating a space that is favourable to a positive outcome. I try to give a few lessons below:

1.      1. Think about the implicit frames and values of the participants
a.   Understand existing frames: Consider not only what each participant sees as the problem and the solution, but also the cultural frames that they may be employing in their evaluation. What stories do they have about the issue at hand, who is to blame in their view, who should take responsibility and why?
b.   Understand values: What underlying values do these frames elicit? Are these values compatible? Is the spectrum of values represented around the table very broad and what could be common ground for a solution?

2.       2. There may be more space for agreement than it appears
One of the findings of the Common Cause report is that people are not selfish, but value intrinsic goals more than their own interest. Also, appealing to people’s intrinsic values will over time reinforce them, while appealing to conflicting values will create confusion. If we take such insights as premises, how could the problems (or the difficult points) be reframed in a way that allows participants to more easily see the common ground?

3.       3. The context of the facilitation session  and dialogue matters
The space in which an event takes place also embeds certain values. To the extent to which you can influence the choice of the space and its setup, consider the following questions: Where does the session take place? Is it in a sumptuous room or is it on neutral ground, in an environment that makes everyone feel equal? What about group dynamics: who are the actors organizing the event and what is their relationship to the rest? Is there a speaker dominating the room or are hierarchies being reduced?


Whether you are working as a researcher, consultant, activist or facilitator, I hope this post will make you a bit more aware of the subjective fabric behind words and inspire you to think of your own role in promoting some values over others.

(From Gillian: Thanks so much to Cristina - also a Fellow Balaton Group Member -  for her intriguing post and report back from the Common Cause workshop - it sounds highly relevant, particularly to the communication and convening work that we all do continually in the sustainability community. Next time I will try to attend myself!)