Sunday, May 30, 2010

Remember, the Nearest Exit May Be Behind You - Learning About Safety from the Private Sector

Before I started a workshop recently, I checked both of the Fire Exit doors to make sure they were not locked (believe me, it happens). I also roamed around outside the workshop room to find the fire extinguisher, which I knew was there somewhere (under a table - in plain sight if you are 1 meter tall or less). I also checked with the building maintenance team to see where the rally points were in case of evacuation.

These are things I do regularly now when I work in a new venue, and check again in familiar ones. Then I'll start my facilitation work with a group by reminding them of these safety features, often before we get to the objectives of our day. Sometimes I format this information as quiz questions, to keep it light yet still draw their attention to it - it's amazing how many people don't remember these features in their own buildings. (I'll admit that I didn't either!)

This practice is drawn directly from my work with companies. In the past few years I've worked more and more with large private sector groups, many representing heavy industry, in and around their own buildings. Many businesses will start their meetings with a reminder of this information. In some cases they might do something more substantial called "Safety Shares", or "Health and Safety Shares." I even worked in one company HQ that asked visitors to watch a video about building safety in the reception area before they were able to enter the work space for our meeting (where they then still got the Health and Safety Share).

The Health and Safety Shares that I saw were interesting in that they provided opportunities to show statistics about some aspect of safety in the company or in the country/region where it is located. For example, in one workshop a company participant lead the Health and Safety Share with statistics on how many people have accidents from falling down staircases (one UK report stated that 28,602 people were hospitalised for falling down stairs in 2007-2008). This statistic supported the company's stringent rule (signs everywhere) for holding handrails on the staircases in all the buildings and installations - an earnest rule that sometimes made visitors smile.

In that particular workshop, which was cross-sectoral and focused on sustainability, we brought in the "E" of "HS&E" which is now what many companies have renamed their Health and Safety departments (Health, Safety & Environment). After the staircase information another participant added some statistics about how many plastic bottles are being used, to sensitise people people about waste (15 million plastics bottles are used each day in the UK!) This was presented by one of the NGO participants as the "Environment" part of the "HS&E Share" and framed as a way to help society "hold the earth's handrail." It was both clever and profound as a way to interpret HS&E in today's corporate social responsibility environment.

These Shares might also be complemented by inputs from the participants on things that they see on their way to work - safety infractions or good practice - as a way to bring the messages into their daily life, rather than just norms that are followed at work. All in all, this kind of HS&E share took about 10 minutes before the workshop (we even started a little early to take this into account), and was an interesting and thoughtful way to bring both the practical personal safety aspect into the room (including how to get out of it, fast!), as well as to position the workshop discussion in a much wider social context.

If you look around you right now, do you know where the emergency exit is? A fire extinguisher? Your local recycling station?

Friday, May 28, 2010

Too Busy to Think?

It is far too easy to fall out of reflective practice when you get extremely busy. Like funding for learning, it might be one of the first things to go when resources get tight (at both the institutional and individual level).

Then you don't take the time to stop and think how you can do things better (not to mention why you are doing them and even if you should be doing them.) This can result in incredible ineffeciencies, not to mention actions that can create even more work and take more time because they have not been carefully considered. I queried this in a former post (Is Progress Made By Making Mistakes) because in addition to creating ineffeciencies, errors can come from not taking the time to think through your actions (e.g. putting petrol in your diesal car tank). These can in turn create more work for you, making you even more busy in the long run, with even less time available to think.

When we get busy we sometimes think that we can make progress by brute force, by throwing all our weight and muscle into something. If we want it enough we can just work as hard and as long as we can to make it happen. Then you get stuck in "doing mode" and can't stop.

The smart alternative, of course, is to stop and create space for reflection to help us identify those ineffeciencies and change our behaviour, change our surroundings, change the rules, change our system, so we can achieve our goals with less effort. But you cannot identify those points of leverage unless you can stop long enough and get up high enough to see the patterns.

You might need some tools to do that. This can be quite personal. Writing this blog helps me organize my thoughts, and when I get busy I really have to make myself write (asking myself "What am I learning?" or "What am I noticing?" or any number of other start questions, and then recording my response.) Other people write in physical journals, or they create images, stories or even songs that synthesize; tools from systems thinking can also help people reflect on dynamics and explore change scenarios when looking for guidance on what to do differently. There are also many kinesthetic techniques to support reflection. It doesn't really matter which, just pick one.

You can get too busy to think. And if you stick to that too long, you will even get too tired to think. And then, watch that car at your next fill-up.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

The Capacitator: I'll Be Back



Trainitation, Facilitaining?

When Lizzie and I went through the Certified Professional Facilitator process, there was a Trainer (with a capital T) in our group who didn't get through (e.g. didn't get certified). There was a clear division between training and facilitating to which the assessors were incredibly sensitive. I remember myself, in one of the oral interviews, getting caught out providing a rationale for a facilitation choice that was more about learning than about strictly moving the process to its product end. The IAF facilitation competency is to "minimize the influence on group outcomes".

Of course this is highly contextual and I can completely understand the need for complete neutrality in facilitation. And at the same time, what an opportunity a face-to-face get-together provides to help a group develop - to learn to work together and make them better, stronger, faster in their tasks. Especially if the group will be working together again in the future. And if people go to many meetings (and so many people do), and they get enough of this "learning" through their facilitated events, they will become Super Team Members, versed on group process, and practically emerging facilitators themselves.

Building learning into facilitation seems an excellent way to build the capacity of a group to handle its own dialogues, discussions and processes in the future. And it takes some directed learning built in to do it. I definitely observe in colleagues that we have worked with repeatedly in this way develop, over the years, an increased attention to process detail, to interactivity, relationship building, and to the design part of a meeting.

This does eventually put you out of a job as the facilitator, and I think that is fine. It depends on your goal of course - if your goal is to help advance the community generally, then adding learning into your facilitation is a good way to optimise investments made in meetings. And it still takes a while, and gives you an interesting metric (slightly counterintuitive). If you are watching closely and notice that one of your partners is gradually bringing their process design and facilitation in-house, and you are getting less call-outs, or perhaps get drawn in more for coaching team facilitators, then this is a sign that your facilitation is building capacity. As long as the team knows you are there for them and can always come back to support their process as needed. This development can only be a good sign, if you are a Capacitator.

(click on the arrow below to see what I mean...)

video

Thursday, May 06, 2010

From One Brain to Many: Can You Creatively Build 20 Presentations Into a Workshop?

I got a great question this morning from a fellow learning practitioner working at the UN in Geneva, asking for ideas about how to structure 20 short participant presentations over a 2-day workshop.

I wrote a blog post last month about using Pecha Kucha's and Ingnites for this kind of thing (see The End of Boring...), and went on to suggest how to use this in a workshop where people might not have prepared to try a new technique.

Why not let people choose between doing a Pecha Kucha and doing a poster for their 5-minute presentation. Tell them 50% can do one and the other will do the second technique. See if they self-select between the two after an introduction to the techniques.

For the Poster, tell people that they will have a flipchart size sheet, coloured markers/collage materials and their product will be photographed and shown on the big screen as a guide for their 5 minute talk. You can give them a word budget too if you wish - 10 words, 20 words - or you could have them pick a card and the card number gives them their word budget, so they will all be different. That gives them a little more drama, as their Pecha Kucha colleagues will experience.

Then give people time in the workshop to prepare themselves, say a 45 min or 1 hour prep period before the presentations start. And finally, put them into pairs to do this preparation work (even mix them, one poster person with a Pecha Kucha person). This pairing gives them some support and someone to bounce ideas off of, it also gives them a deep dive into someone else's work, and let's them experience the other technique they didn't choose. The one-hour investment in preparation time will be made up through the 5/6 minute presentation time frame (versus the 10-15 min per person they might have expected normally), and provides valuable relationship building time.

After the preparation time, set up the sequencing, let people pick a number between 1-20 out of a hat, which will give them their order. Then schedule them in 5 presentation blocks (that is roughly 45 min, with the transition times). After each of block of 5 presentations, plan on a reflection discussion for 10 minutes - what are people noticing about the presentations? What patterns are emerging, what might that mean for our topic X or Y. Change the questions for this reflection slightly each time for variety, as well as a useful opportunity to help move people's thinking on your topic. Pull out different things, about one aspect or another, or about what we can do with the new information we are getting (so how it contributes to our action, next steps, or other goal of your workshop.)

For timing within the overall workshop, it depends on what purpose these presentations serve. Are they briefing people on the other participants, on work between a previous meeting and this one, information on the activities of many different offices of members in a network? If so, then it would make sense to start this early, such as after coffee on Day 1 and finish after lunch the same day. Or perhaps it is on commitments ore personal action plans for the results of a longer workshop, in which case you will want that at the end. See when the information given is most useful for the work you are doing. With 20 of these, it would be important to work it around a break, coffee or lunch.

Other interesting presentation-linked techniques that I have seen recently (not linked to the above scenario, but cool anyways - I want to remember them in any case so I put them here!):

  • Give a "quiz" at the end of the presentations. This would also work for the 20 presentations referred to above. As people present, note down some of the key points, interesting facts, etc. Then at the end of the presentations, to start the discussion, ask the audience the quiz questions. Question by question, ask for the answers from the audience; then if desired, ask the speaker to complement this with (only a little!) additional information. This is also the way to focus the discussion on a certain line of inquiry if that is helpful for your workshop. You can also decide if you want to tell people in advance that there will be a quiz or not. If you do, you might get them to pay more attention to what they are hearing; surprising them will wake them up for the discussion. See what makes sense for the group.

  • Introducing speakers: Have the audience introduce them. Put up on the screen a photograph of the speakers (with their name and title if you want, or try it without and also ask the audience for their name and title) and walk down into the audience and ask people to introduce this person. Some people will have heard something about them, read an article, or met them, let the audience say a few words about the person and then ask the speaker if there is anything they would like to add. I saw this at the Battle of the Bloggers at Online Educa last year with an audience of about 150 and it worked brilliantly, and in the end the information got out.

What other interesting practice have you seen for making presentations powerful and memorable? What are the ways we can help people with brilliant ideas and thoughts in their heads share them with others in the most productive way?

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Where Learning Practitioners Go to Learn: Online Educa

One of the most useful conferences I go to each year is Online Educa, held annually in Berlin in November/December. It's a gathering of several thousand people from all over the world who work, live and breathe technology-supported learning.

It follows a rather traditional format of plenary and parallel break-out sessions on a wide variety of topics. And at the same time, there is much tolerance for the truly weird and wonderful in terms of stories, cases and experiments in learning. Not only do they get top speakers to present in plenary - I have written in the past about big ideas presented there by George Siemens on Connectivism, for example, and Professor Sugata Mitra of the Hole in the Wall experiments in India - conceptually they are also really pushing the envelope when it comes to knowledge and new media. I remember first hearing about knowledge management in stock and flow terms here in 2006, and most recently of the future in cloud computing. I wrote a post this year with all the collected new ideas (for me) called Ahead of the Curve; I always have ample new ideas when I come away from one of these conferences.

This community is continually testing new techniques - here is where I used Twitter so successfully for social learning (see my post on the Two-Day Total Twitter Immersion), where I met Jay Cross first and learned about his paradigm-shifting work in informal learning, and met some of his colleagues from Internet Time (see my post on Follow the Leaders). It's where I experienced a Pecha Kucha, and saw a Panel using a backchannel (Backnoise.com) to "talk" to the audience. And where Jane Hart who runs the online Centre for Learning and Performance Technologies speaks, where university programmes talk about how they are using virtual worlds and mobile technology for learning. It is always an exciting two days.

I just received a "Call for Papers" message from the team that runs Online Educa asking me to post it on my blog, and in this particular case, I agreed - here you go! If you have an innovative learning process, or something to share, this is the place to go to interact with a trending learning community:


OEB 2010 Call for Papers Open Now

Online Educa Berlin, the largest global e-learning conference for the corporate, education and public service sectors, has opened its Call for Papers. Deadline for receipt of all proposals is 14 May 2010. The 16th edition of Online Educa Berlin will take place from 1-3 December 2010 at the Hotel InterContinental Berlin.

Under the banner of Learning for All, this year's conference looks for contributions relating to the four core themes: Learning Content, Learning About Learning, Learning Ecosystems and Learning Environments. Each of these themes should be explored within the context of either Institutional Learning, Workplace Learning or Lifelong Learning, or any combination of these three.

Online Educa Berlin is the key networking event for the international e-learning and technology-supported learning and training industry, bringing together more than 2000 learning professionals and newcomers from around the world.

For more information: www.online-educa.com/programme


Maybe I'll see you there!