Thursday, April 08, 2010

The End of Boring: Borrowing, Adapting, Mashing for Facilitators

I had a design conversation this morning for a one-day workshop that featured 10-15 participants each individually presenting project ideas, one after another. How do you make that interesting (after the third one)? Why not a pecha kucha or an Ignite (the tag line is "Enlighten us but make it quick")?

Both are presentation techniques with origins in the design and IT world which give presenters 20 slides on autochange at 15 seconds (ignite) or 20 seconds (pecha kucha), for presentations that total no more than 5 or 6 minutes. Both are now global phenomena, yet far from being household words. Pecha Kucha has a good website with samples, and here's one using Pecha Kucha for sustainability. Some good videos of Ignite presentations are on the Ignite Oreilly site, with more on Igniteshow).

These techniques shifts the whole emphasis refreshingly onto the story and the images and makes it much more fun and creative. One website said, "This is not your father's PowerPoint presentation." It all might sound intimidating, but even bad ones are really good (or at least funny and only last 5 or 6 minutes anyways.)

So there are new ways to do presentations, there is also new software for that. Lizzie wrote recently in our blog about Prezi, and what about Keynote that I recently heard enthused over by a super smart 11-year old attending a workshop with his mother (a reaction to the slideset no doubt). In fact, there are 40 listed in wikipedia under presentation programme from AdobePersuasion to VisualBee. It probably has never crossed your mind to try anything but PowerPoint, but if you only have 6 minutes to present something or if you want to get people's attention in a long series of presentations (or just a long day), it might be worth trying a new format.

Or what about a completely new format for the workshop itself (or at least Day 2)? We have written about using Open Space Technology in the past (see our post Open Space for Conversation and Eating Croissants) and how that technique helps to organize and support learning. There are a range of Unconference techniques that are being used (many again conceived in the IT sector, and often focused on sparking innovation and creativity enhancements). I heard at last year's Online Educa about the FooCamps and BarCamps that started 5 years ago and promoted as "user generated conferences". Again the content is brought by participants, and schedules are generated by those with ideas to share and develop with others. A typical FooCamp schedule board looks like this (lots of intriguing titles - I like the scribbled out session called "Howtoons" - I would have gone to that one.)

Again, the objective is to provide those people who seem to have at the top of their Job Description: "Go to Meetings", with a new and refreshing frame. A 2006 article about this was explicitly headlined: Why "Unconferences" are Fun Conferences: Unconferences - meetings organized on the Web or on the fly - are becoming the no-b.s. alternative to industry gabfests. The mention of "organizing on the Web or on the fly" comes from the fact that many pride themselves in being organized in less than a week, and are "evangelised" or promoted using mainly web tools. Some recent social applications include CrisisCamps held to promote relief efforts for the Haiti Earthquake. They are also short, with one day or half day formats, and a panoply of parallel, one hour sessions. (And perhaps also a driver for the creation of Ignite or Pecha Kucha type presentation formats).

All this is still a lot of talking. What about having a whole session where no one talks at all? Maybe something like a Dotmocracy session could be a calming and still productive way to spend an hour after lunch. I have seen this done for evaluations, but not as it is described here as a way to gather inputs on a specific idea. If you look at the template, it is obvious how you can use this for brainstorming, and you don't even need those sticky dots that can be a pain to cut anyways. This looks like something that could also work with very large groups, similar to the Camps and Pecha Kuchas described above.

Maybe I am oversensitive to boring. And yet, there are productivity gains to be made from spicing things up, speeding them up, tapping into enthusiasm and creativity, and cross-sector learning from the IT sector - not just from their methods, but also from their eternal willingness to borrow, adapt and mash things up. And for Facilitators, boring is not what we want to pop into people's minds when they think of our work (I was going to say "is the kiss of death" but that sounded rather unappreciative). At least there is no shortage of intriguing pathways to explore, these are just a few, if we want to help try to bring an end to boring.

The Climate Change Playbook: The Making Of

Can you imagine getting an invitation to a workshop that has as its main goal playing 20 games? Would you go?

Those invitations went out a few weeks ago, and we had a very good response to a test workshop we held in Bonn aimed at playing and discussing 20 games that deliver messages around climate change, using systems thinking concepts.

Dennis Meadows, Linda Booth Sweeney and I have been working together for the last few months to take 20 games from the original Systems Thinking Playbook, written by Linda and Dennis, and adapt them for climate change learning. That process is more complicated than you would think! We each have 6/7 games we are working on, originally selected from a larger number in the original book, and folding in climate change messaging is like a dance. You need to deeply understand the dynamic of the game and what happens (or could happen if adapted). With that in mind you need to move your focus over to the climate change world and consider related dynamics, whether in the natural or human (political/economic/social) systems. Then it is an iterative thought exercise to bring those two elements together so that they work elegantly together in the end and are not too contrived.

Sometimes it is very obvious how the game and the key climate change learning points link and relate. And sometimes it is like doing sudoku in your head. It took us from 6-8 hours per game (so far) to make the connection strong enough to use.

There are different ways to make this link (between the game, climate change and systems thinking). You can change the frame of the game to put people in a climate-related context while they play. You can use the debriefing questions to guide people in making the link with the climate debate or dynamic. You can put in data, an observation, quotes from climate specialists, or elements from the news and current events to anchor the game to climate change. Or in some cases you can play the game and ask people what the link is (of course you need to have an answer too in case you draw blank stares).

We tried all of these approaches in the test workshop for our 20 games. They all worked in different ways. Of course, we were fortunate to have a room full of climate and games specialists, which our partners from GTZ (GTZ Climate Task Force) had invited, to play through the games, analyse them and give us great feedback to further strengthen the climate learning.

Our agenda was simply a list of games, and our table of contents will be that too. So we wanted to create a of narrative that held them together, a thread that helped facilitators and educators understand how they might use them. We created two organizing principles for the games day, which we will also use for the book.

First, we used a systems "map" as the organizing principle. This was a stock and flow diagram with stocks such as CO2 in the atmosphere/ocean, heat in the atmosphere, and ice cover, and flows like CO2 emissions, heat in, heat out, ice melting, etc. We had that up in our workshop room and positioned the message from each game around these elements (sometimes before and sometimes after the game). It was not too much of a stretch to map out the lessons from the games - some of which were about natural aspects, and some were more human system dynamics with communication messages, collaboration and competition, etc. We found it useful, and people appreciated this signposting to pull the games together.

The second way of clustering the games was by use. Some of the games are mass games which can be used for large audiences, who might be sitting in an auditorium. They can be used during presentations and speeches to make points, and people can play them sitting in their chairs. Some of the games are demonstration games, which a small number of volunteers can play for a larger group of say 35-50, and the lessons will become obvious to both those playing and watching. The third type of game is a participation game which everyone needs to play to draw the learning, so this would be for a typical workshop size group of 10-25 people.

We also used materials as a criteria for selecting the games initially, not wishing to have any of them be too materials/equipment intensive. In the end, our games kit included: Ropes, balls, coins, paper cups, markers, scrap paper, pens, hula hoop (collapsible), ball of yarn, a newspaper, and a rubber chicken. (I always worry about a customs agent opening my bag in a crowded place.)

We spent 8 hours that day playing our games, each of which run from 2 to 25 minutes in length. We used a 10-minute plenary discussion after each game to identify with the participants ways to strengthen either the game mechanics or the climate change frame and lesson. We also used a Games Review Sheet, so that people could note any thoughts they had during the day individually. I came away with over 50 pages of notes and ideas!

We are now integrating the ideas, revising our games and their write-ups, each of which is from 3-5 pages and written for the facilitator. There is still plenty of writing to do to produce the book and we hope to finish in July. It never made sense to sit at our desks and write games. This test workshop was an important and useful step in the process. There is a saying in gaming that you have to test play a game 10 times before it is really good. We have all played these games dozens and dozens of times in their original format. But they're different now in some subtle and important ways, so this was an important step in "the making of" The Climate Change Playbook.