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!

Monday, October 19, 2015

Facilitator, Do You Have a Plan C?

Plan A and B crossed, Plan C take over
In June I had the opportunity to work in Sweden at a wonderful event on the seaside. I got the job because a friend of mine who usually worked with this group was unavailable.

Unfortunately I had another event scheduled until 6pm the day before in Switzerland which meant that I needed to leave my event promptly, drive the 30 minutes in rush hour traffic to the Geneva airport, take a flight to Copenhagen, and there make a 35 minute transfer onto the last flight of the day to my Swedish destination. I would arrive at midnight, and my event started at 8am (outside the city).

What could go wrong? My Swedish counterpart there asked a good question, what if… What was my plan B, she asked? Well, effectively I was already their Plan B as their regular facilitator couldn’t make it, so what was my Plan C, in case any of those many moving parts to get me to the event in time, didn’t actually move.

That is a great question that we should always ask ourselves as facilitators (or trainers, or any person on whose participation an event may hinge). What if we fall ill, miss that flight, get taken to the wrong venue in a city we don’t know?

Now, I have in the past run a plenary session with a dizzyingly high fever, covered in sweat and practically swooning in the blurry spotlights  in front of me (this was at a UN conference in Damascus many years ago – with organizers with a “show must go on” attitude. It was nothing that a huge dose of antibiotics and 2 days in my hotel bed afterwards couldn’t “cure”.) But I have also gotten a call at 05:30am on a weekday from my colleague who was desperately ill, and then found myself standing in a workshop room a couple of hours later picking up with a surprised group where she left off. (That was the source of another couple of blog posts – Facilitators: To Your Health! and Managing Exceptions – The Resilient Facilitator. I also wrote a blog post from the perspective of the stand in - Flu Season! Facilitators Prepare to Step In!)

So sometimes the Grin-and-Bear-It approach can work, or if not, calling a colleague with whom you have a good working relationship and a shared approach. It’s definitely worth contacting your network and making some reciprocal agreements in advance that can help in such emergencies – both local and international.

What else can you put into place as a Plan B or C? One thing that we always do is we develop a “Facilitation Agenda” which is a very detailed description of the process that we will use for the workshop. It includes the sequence of items and speakers, their titles and the titles of their presentations (for introducing them). It includes the group work and activities sequence, the timing and any roles. It can also include mock ups of job aids, flipcharts that need to be created on site, and any other process considerations (how to run the quiz, how to set up the room, etc.). Our Facilitation Agenda documents are very complete, and very long, but they also provide any experienced facilitator all they need to pick up the process and go on with it. A materials and equipment list completes the process pack.

It is also good to make sure that this Facilitation Agenda is developed with your counterpart in the organization, so that they know exactly what the process is, the rationale behind it and the expected outcomes. This helps them better hand this over to a substitute facilitator if need be or even, if they are happy to do it, take on this role themselves, or find another internal person to do this as a last resort.  You can even anticipate this with your counterpart and identify another process person within the organization to have a talk with in advance, as your Plan B.

Thankfully, in my case, the winds were with me. My workshop in Geneva ended promptly on time, and as luck would have it, I shared a taxi to the airport with a Norwegian participant who knew all about the local transport system where I was going. He told me all the ways to get to my destination in case I missed my connecting flight - from renting a car and driving the 3 hours north, to crossing the bridge from Denmark to Sweden and taking the train after midnight. Both would get me there in time for my event. Armed with bountiful Plan B’s, and after a brisk run from gate-to-gate in Copenhagen, I made all my connections and showed up in good shape for my event, much to the relief of my Swedish counterpart who stayed up very late until she received my “I’m here!” text message.

It’s definitely worth coming up with contingencies before you really need them. I heard a TED talk recently by a Canadian neurologist Dr. Daniel J. Levitin (it was about the importance of pre-mortems, inviting us to plan ahead for stress), who reminded us that when you’re stressed, your brain releases the hormone cortisol which makes your thinking fuzzy.

You don’t want to be fuzzy-headed trying to develop your Plan B. Well in advance, when you are calm,

  • 1) Get your network of potential stand-in facilitators in place (local or otherwise);
  • 2) Make sure your process is well documented to the final detail (Facilitation Agenda);
  • 3) Brief your counterpart (so they are fully aware);
  • 4) Know all the alternatives (routes and all);
  • 5) Wear good shoes and travel light.
Chances are you won’t need these things, but if you do, you will be happy to have your Plan B, C, and D in place. It turned out to be a beautiful summer day for an event in Sweden!

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Take a Picture, It'll Last Longer (A Cautionary Tale for Facilitators)

The conference centre staff were confronted this morning with the following appeal - PLEASE DON'T TOUCH THE PAPERS - written in foot-high capital letters, and strategically placed in front of the door to our workshop room, the walls of which were plastered with flip chart templates, timelines, prioritised project lists with actors designated - the golden nuggets of our intense working meeting. 

Before leaving the room the night before I also took photos of everything, even though the next day we would work together again, further develop the ideas, layering additional information and meaning over our previous day's outputs.

In the past, I would have waited until the end of the workshop to take these photos, so as to have the final artifacts, organised and polished. But not any more.

At a 3-day workshop in Paris last month in a beautiful new hotel we were also working visually. The walls of our meeting room similarly featured the colourful results of our first 2 days of work and discussions, decisions and ideas. The outcome of this strategy meeting was critically important in the life of this group. We were excited as we left the room the evening of Day 2 to have the few hours on our third morning to carefully review our work, synthesize and prepare the outputs and ambitious work plan going forward. 

I guess you can tell where I'm going with this... for the first time in my professional experience, right in the middle of a 3-day workshop, we walked into the meeting room an hour early on the morning of Day 3 and were confronted with the brutal reality that the night cleaning team had taken down and removed absolutely everything from the walls, all our flipcharts posters, templates, papers from our tables and all of our workshop materials! It could have been any other empty meeting room in the hotel. In a very controlled, surprisingly calm and professional way we freaked out (then we got to work).

You might think that this was a bit of an overreaction, but if you are using a visual discussion methodology that collects and organizes outputs on flip charts, posters and templates, and a group of 15 people and the host organization has collectively invested 320 person hours (effectively 2 person months of time), tens of thousands of Euros in logistics costs (having flown in from all over the world), and the equivalent monetary figure for their professional time, then having these documents removed is a very big deal. 

We hurried to recreate the results from our handwritten notes and memories, the hotel having been quickly alerted about the loss. An agonizing 15 minutes later, we were relieved to hear from the hotel staff that a thorough search of the cleaning closet produced a bag of our flip chart sheets and materials - the new night staff member had been told to clean the room, had taken the instructions literally, but clearly had not felt confident to throw everything away. 

We re-posted our slightly crumpled flip charts, taking the opportunity to reorganize them, and were done 10 minutes before our participants arrived. I took photos again, and learned a lesson - make records as you go along rather than at the end, just in case!

Thursday, October 08, 2015

Can Humiliation Boost Brain Function? (Yes, When You’re Learning Something New…)

Surfer Hollow Wave Ride

There I was, prone, my nose the requisite hand-width from the logo on the waxed board. Then, on command, execute sequence: paddle the air like crazy, then up on one knee, then two knees, stand up, body turn, arms out and ride that imaginary wave.

Surfing seemed pretty straight forward there on the sand. Side-by-side on the beach we had 10 surfboards, and 10 wannabe surfers, being put through our paces by the surfing instructor before we ran into the water with our boards. Cool! Well…

I spent the first half hour of my 90-minute lesson just trying to get on the darn board without falling off the other side. That was already rather humiliating, but I had the water to hide in (frequently and head first). Once I could actually get on the board, turning it around so it was facing in the right direction was my next challenge, and doing so without getting caught broadsided by the waves that were coming in with frustrating regularity, as waves do I guess.

Then I found myself miraculously on my board, facing the beach (at frighteningly close range) and hearing the surf instructor shouting “PADDLE!” at me. I paddled, and rode my wave onto the beach -  on my stomach. It was surprisingly comfortable but, I was assured by my sons, not the way to do it.

There were several thousand witnesses on the beach that day, watching me fall off my board, belly surf onto the beach and twice get up onto my knees but no closer to the standing cool of the little kids and my sons dude surfing around me. All in all, I spent at least an hour humiliating myself and the rest of the time underwater.

Benefits, you ask?

That was a sunny day in Rhode Island, let’s go to the other side of the Atlantic Ocean now, to Newcastle University in the UK.

Thirty volunteers were recruited recently for an experiment that began by subjecting them to a barrage of problem-solving, memory and reaction time tests to set a baseline. Then they were randomly assigned one of three activities to do for eight weeks and went home.

Members of one group had to walk briskly for three hours a week, a vigorous exercise that kept their hearts pumping and their brains deliciously filled with oxygen-laden blood.

A second group played Sudoku and did puzzles like crosswords for their three hours a week. Comfy in their lounge chairs, their brains were constantly being challenged and titillated solving these brain teasers.

The third group spent their three hours each of the eight weeks staring at a naked man named Steve. This was actually in the form of a life drawing class, where Steve was the model.

And eight weeks later, where were our volunteers now?

As expected, the walkers made great strides in their general health and fitness. The puzzlers became addicted to Sudoku and presumably proudly got their solving times down from double to single digits and competitively went on to harder and harder puzzles.   And the life drawing group? They enjoyed it! But when the scientists re-ran their cognitive tests, which group do you think made the most brain progress? What’s your guess?

If you guessed Sudoku, you would be WRONG.

The life drawing class made the most progress in cognitive skills of memory, reaction time and problem solving –  why?

BBC news, who reported the experiment, quoted clinical psychologist Daniel Collerton as saying “Learning something new engages the brain in ways that seem to be key. Your brain changes in response, no matter how many years you have behind you.” Learning something new improves your brain function and memory! Yes!

Now, let’s go back to my surfing lesson, as embarrassing as it was. That was (obviously) completely new for me. Trying to do all those coordinated moves, that the instructor was telling me, in the right sequence, for the first time, definitely engaged my brain as well as my body. The life drawers in the study saw brain benefits from developing their psychomotor skills by thinking about moving their hands to draw.

The life drawers also derived more health benefits and calorie burn from standing three hours a week for their drawing class (better than sitting – unlike our puzzlers, you can’t do Sudoku standing up). Although I was not standing, ever, I also was not sitting on my surf board (I was falling off it most of the time).

And finally the life drawers in the class were the most socially active of the three groups in the study, talking to each other and learning together, this social side also reportedly contributes to keeping your brain sharp.  My surf class camaraderie also produced opportunities for social interaction that did not always involve collisions, but lots of tips, cheers of support and peals of laughter (including my own saltwater chuckles.)

The Newcastle study concluded that “any group activity which involves being active and learning a new skill will boost your brain” and its cognitive function.

So the next time you’re laying on the beach and see someone learning something new, like surfing for instance, remember that they are improving their brain function and you are just getting a sunburn!

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

The Many Benefits of a Beautiful and Peaceful Place to Work

Bellagio 2
This is not a holiday snapshot, it’s actually a photograph from the balcony of one of my recent workshop venues – the Bellagio Center, in Bellagio, Italy, on the shores of Lake Como.

I had long heard of this venue, but my first visit was only recently, for a scoping meeting of an interesting new social enterprise initiative called Sphaera (the subject of a future blog post).

Some groups hold their workshops a short walk down the hall from their offices. Some go a little off site to a nearby hotel or conference centre, not wanting to have to go too far to gather their participants together but wanting something a little different for a change of context. And yet others put a lot of effort into finding just the right gathering spot that will help participants bring their best and most relaxed and creative selves to the task at hand. Even if it means a little extra time and travel to get there.

Environment definitely affects people’s ability to work effectively and creatively. I have been to many workshops held in square, grey institutional rooms looking out at parking lots (if they had windows) that took a heroic effort on everyone’s part to get inspired and energised for a hard working session to develop their new partnership, strategic plan, or vision. When the food is so-so, and the bed rooms are so-so, added to weather or logistics hassles, no matter how well structured your event is, you are starting on the back foot with your people.

Now come with me to Bellagio, Italy for a moment – a visual feast every moment of the day (even in the rain), with cozy villa rooms to sleep and work in, served meals that always start with drinks in the drawing room or on the balcony. Winding lanes, vast gardens and olive trees to walk and talk, 24-hour coffee nooks, and bikes to borrow to follow signs to the swimming gate for before or after-hours exercise. Far from any large, noisy urban area (although gelati within a short walk) there is not a sound at night that can disturb deep sleep. What’s not to love?

I pulled out three immediately obvious benefits from working in a peaceful and beautiful place:

  • Presence: It is often hard for busy people working 150+ percent to stop the noise in their brains long enough to focus on your agenda and goals, even if they have a vested interest. If they are close to home or their offices, they tend to disappear from time to time, or try in all the breaks keep up as much as possible with their full-time work load. Give them a magical place to work and shorten that transition time from crazy busy to creative. They will be present not only physically, but mentally because where they are with you for work is better than almost anywhere else they could be. They will still try to keep up on email in the evenings at least for the first day or so, but there will be a lot to get and keep their attention here.
  • Pace: Sequestered as we were in villas that were over 500 years old, watching sailboats o the lake float by, walking up and down the hill to our meetings and meals, hearing the lazy buzz of bees on banks of flowers, a beautiful ruin of a castle reminding you of the slow march of time  – things slow down dramatically in a place like this. With your focus on the one thing you are there to do together, your pace slows down dramatically  - from the full throttle dash to keep up or catch up through frenetic full-time multi-tasking, to a measured, considered and thoughtful cadence (aah, so this is what life should be like).
  • People: So now with your head up (rather than on your screen) and in an awe-inspiring environment, you begin to notice those people around you, also attending your meeting. You have time for them, and wonderful places to get to know them. You enjoy the beauty of the place together, you sit in the garden for your small group discussion with your shoes off and your bare feet on the grass, the sun just starting to set over the top of the villa. You remember that drinks are being served in 30 minutes on the terrace and you finish your discussion on creative ways to bring more learning into the process under discussion. 
People are comfortable in this venue, they smile and laugh easily and before your very eyes, people are connecting, relationships are being built, and there is a desire to collaborate and co-create. Nice! (I just got a big rush of peaceful and productivity just looking at these photos and remembering my week at Bellagio.)
Bellagio 3

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?


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.
TED interior
  • 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.
  • 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!