For years, name tags looked something like this (above): Name, title and organization. Small, business card size and with a pin on the back that always meant that no matter how many times you adjusted it, it listed slightly to starboard. The printing was also pretty small, making people with personal space issues perpetually nervous.  Name tags are changing, here are two I received more recently that start to work for you on a lot of levels.

This GTD Summit name tag is twice as big as the first, measuring 9cm x 11cm and popped into a sleeve hung on a sturdy cord. The first name is pulled up by many font sizes, and your identity within the community gathering is added to the information given. For an international group, skipping the official title and adding your country helps give more backstory for discussion.

This name tag, used by TED Global this year (as last year), is even bigger. Measuring in at 12cm x 19cm, it is laminated into a block hung by a cord connected by clips on both sides – this you can see from a distance which helps at crowded receptions and also presumably to monitor entry to the venue and satellite events held all over the city. On the name tag the first name again stands out, encouraging people to be on an informal,  first name basis. The photo is an interesting addition (mine is pretty standard, but many people had unusual studio photos that gave away some secrets of their passions). Below the title, organization and place of origin (also helpful for languages), comes a section called “Talk To Me About:” followed by three key words. We were asked to pick these to add to both our online profiles as well as our badges, to give anyone approaching a substantive starting point for a discussion. Again, lots of creativity can go into these three words.

Another cool feature of this  name tag was that on the back you had the programme for the week, colour coded day by day, with the session titles, speakers names and timing. Social events and venues were also added. So when you are sitting in a big conference hall waiting for a speaker, or at coffee wondering if you wanted to go back to the big room or sit in the simulcast lounge, this information was at your fingertips to update you on what’s happening and for quick decision-making about where you should be at any moment.

In the end, a name tag is both for the person wearing it as well as everyone else attending the event, it provides provenance, establishes identity in the group, and also, if it is designed to do so, can help encourage engagement that starts further down along the usual small talk trail of questioning.

The next time you make one, think about how the name tag can be an intervention in itself? Think about how many different items of information are useful to include – and what you want the impact to be. Can it help people be on time, help people find their own language groups,  identify similarities and diversities for you so that you can get right into the most interesting conversation, encourage informality by picking out the first name, give you the sense of being one of the in-crowd by wearing a huge identifier?

Now, that’s what’s in a name (tag)! Any other innovations to this workshop staple to add?

We are currently running a Facilitation learning programme with a large organization here in Geneva that is focused not so much on tools and techniques, but more on the design of facilitated learning processes, and what it means to be the person leading them. Overall we are working to help people use facilitation in a very nuanced, thoughtful way rather than as a blunt instrument.

We have a session that is focused on ourselves as facilitators and for that we use any and all information that people have generated over the years (their choice) using diagnostic tools such as MBTI, Strengthsfinder, FIRO-B, etc. They can also talk to friends and family to get some inputs. The objective is to reflect on how our behavioural preferences might manifest themselves in our facilitation and group process leadership work.

It has been a very interesting thought exercise to try to identify times when our individual behavioural preferences might really help our processes, or might get in the way. Just asking the question – How might my behavioural preferences manifest themselves in my facilitation work – is an intervention in itself as it is something most of us don’t consider or consider very often.

We both give examples of where we see our own preferences at work, and take the exercise one step further to talk about how, once we are aware of them, we manage these. We are both very different facilitators, Lizzie and I, and it is interesting to see what we both actively do to make sure that the best outcome is achieved.

I grappled with one of my behavioural preferences recently during a large group facilitation exercise in Mali. My FIRO-B results in inclusion are rather high (expressed and wanted). This is a good thing, of course, when it comes to working successfully with groups, and at the same time it gives me a challenge when ownership by the group is one of the soft outcomes desired of a facilitated process. This might be the case for a network building meeting, one generating an action plan or campaign, or a Youth Call to Action – as was the case in the Mali event.

For any facilitator high in inclusion, turning over the process, standing back and letting the group take over takes deliberate thought and action and can really work against that behavioural preference to be in the middle of everything until the very end. But that ownership outcome demands it. In Mali, at the end of our process, that hand over needed to occur and did occur, but it was a little messy and felt for some as though the process was listing to starboard. As easy as it would have been for me to step in (my inclusion was ready to jump), I didn’t. I was present, I helped from the floor, I gave advice when needed, but the group representatives and the process we had set up took over, and they finished the work, and could revel in their success in doing it themselves.

That was hard for me personally, but very good for the process.  Lots of additional relationship building, deeper perspective sharing, and considered decision-making might have been lost if I had run that process myself right to the very end. And these outcomes can be used as social capital when this group meets again.

We use other examples of how our behaviour preferences map over to our facilitation work, and we talk about what we do to manage these, whether it is to design in specific things (like a handover point), to working with a co-facilitator that balances them out, to contracting differently with the group. We all have preferences that both make us good at being facilitators and that also might get in the way. Being mindful of these, and frequently asking the question – How might my behavioural preferences be showing up in my facilitation work? – is a good way to constantly be learning when I’m the Facilitator.

Related blog posts:
What Did You Say? Building a group’s capacity to deal with its own issues
A sampling of good intervention statements to use when you are trying to help a group work through its issues, take control of the process and lead its own development.

You Have the Right to Remain Silent
Reflections on dealing with a group that has different inclusion needs – just because someone is not talking doesn’t necessarily mean that he/she is not engaged. Watch jumping up that Ladder of Inference!

Understanding What We are Bringing to the Party: Group Process Consultation Resources
A list of tools and resources that facilitators and Group Process Consultation practitioners can use to explore their own impacts on a group.

Yesterday at the beginning of our training course I asked my trainees a check-in question, “What do you think you will have to do to apply your learning today?” I wanted people to think about their own processes of learning and to share with each other some reflections on what it would take for them to translate the content of the training course from theoretical, or passive, knowledge to something that they can actually do. Effectively, from an experience in a workshop room, to something they will be able to draw upon easily in a real-life situation.

They were surprised at that question, and found it tricky to answer. However, translating information from a page/mouth of an expert “Trainer”, even when supported by some practice exercises, into something that you can do/use yourself takes lots of considered individual work. Most people’s response to this question was to “Practice, practice, practice” – which is true, but there is so much more.

This question also made me pause, as I realised that I had gone through the same process for the training I was giving right then – that I was as much of a Trainee as my participants were.

I have given many Training-of-Trainer (ToT) courses over the years, for many of the fields in which I work. In my groups of Trainees I would have both people familiar with the content and those for whom it was fairly or completely new. The ToT would deliver the content and training process, we would practice different elements, and finally we would demo the module (whatever it was) together for a completely new group of participants. Then these newly-trained Trainers would be sent off with a beautiful Trainer’s manual and all participant materials, handouts etc. I would always be available to answer further questions (even to this day). But definitely the Training-of-Trainers experience doesn’t stop there. It is just a fraction of the learning experience needed to be able to go from the ToT workshop to being able to deliver the content.

This particular training course that I gave yesterday is one of the first times that I can recall that I was trained in an area where the content was broadly new to me – it is in the galaxy of the tools and skills that I use, but I had never worked directly in the area or used the particular tools that I was being asked to train others to use. That did not necessarily mean that I would not be good as a Trainer, it happens all the time (and actually that is precisely why there are Training of Trainer courses!) However, when the content is rather new it does mean that additional individual work to assimilate the content with enough confidence and expertise to be able to effectively transfer that learning to others is critical and time consuming.

Making it Mine – Going from Trainee to Trainer and Learner to User

During the ToT that I myself took to be a Trainer in this new field, I took copious notes on both content and process, even verbatim notes from the master Trainer. When she delivered her slides, I wrote down her text and examples beside the slides. When anyone asked a question, I wrote the question down and her answer. When we did an exercise, I not only recorded my group’s answer, but also the answers of the other groups. I noted when she handed things out or used a flipchart and wrote that into the agenda. When we used job aids, I wrote down how she briefed the exercise and then debriefed it. At the end of the ToT, I had recorded as much process data as I could notice to go along with the content descriptions.

When I got home, I went back through my notes. But it wasn’t until I was called to deliver that training myself that deepest learning kicked in. Here are a few things I did to make that that training course content mine:

  • Connect the Content to Me- Finding My Own Stories: I found in my own experience some connections between the new content and what I had already learned and done in life – things that substantiated my being a Trainer in that area. It was a little stretch, but actually not as much as I thought. Some of the core skills I was using in other areas. That steadied me a bit. Initially I was nervous because I didn’t have years of specific experience to draw upon, but when I made these connections I could find my own stories.
  • Integrate Process Notes: I developed for myself a detailed Trainer’s Agenda. I used my own template and rewrote the agenda with all the process information, timing, and segue ways included. A simple agenda existed from the ToT with a separate process note for new Trainers, but I needed to work through the logic of each session and bring these together into a logical narrative in my head, and make something I could follow on the delivery day.
  • Get an Overview of Materials and Equipment: I created a materials and equipment list, and made a note on the Trainer’s Agenda which materials were needed where. This also included a list of what needed to be prepared in advance (at home and in the training room). With all of this thinking done, I could concentrate once I was in the session on the content.
  • Fill in Knowledge Gaps: I went through all the content PPT slides and made sure I understood exactly what they meant – for this I needed the notes I took when the Master Trainer delivered it. I researched all the questions I had and all those I could anticipate (e.g. people asking where that fact came from, getting a good definition of a term, understanding the difference between x and y). I also took out lots of transition slides and builds in the PPt that, for someone who is less familiar with the content (or at least not the original creator) or who has a different pace, just makes it look clunky.
  • Reduce What You Have to Remember (Part I): Create a Detailed Flipchart Agenda for the Training Room. I created a flipchart agenda to keep up in the room which was more detailed than usual, as much for me as a guide through the course as for the participants . Whenever I needed a flipchart in the content delivery, I put a number for the flipchart on this agenda. Then I numbered my flipcharts with post-it notes sticking out the edges (like tabs in an address book).
  • Reduce What You Have to Remember (Part II): Make Job Aids. I made up some new Job Aids/handouts for some of the exercises which had all the instructions on them – every thing I would say to brief them.
  • Reduce What You Have to Remember (Part III): Put Instructions on Flipcharts. I also made up a set of flipcharts with all the exercise instructions on them so that I would not have to remember every tiny detail myself (I might but I might not).  
  • Create a Trainer’s Manual: I put together all the separate pieces I had from the original ToT and that I had created into a ring binder to organize in one place all the materials and documentation. Each session had its own section which brought together my notes, with those of the Master Trainer so I had them for quick reference if need be. There was a section with my process agenda with the original participants agenda behind. One section had my new PPt slides with my notes and examples and stories, with the original one from the ToT just behind. There was a tabbed section for each exercise, with a separate sheet with briefing and debriefing notes prepared, and any associated handouts, all combined with the Frequently Asked Questions I had picked up from the ToT. This way if I had a moment during group work, I could scan ahead to remember points for the next session if need be.

All this preparation happened BEFORE I got to Practice, Practice, Practice.

Through delivering this new course, I have developed a lot of new empathy with my Trainees of the past (and future); learners who are invited to come to a ToT and to become a Trainer on a topic that perhaps they have never trained before that day. We all need to know what we are signing up for when we go to a Training of Trainers Course, or providing one. As a Training Trainer we are effectively giving our Trainees a ToT group experience, and also a lot of individual follow up work as well, if Trainees really want to be able to deliver that training themselves. ToT organizers should be very aware of this critical work outside the ToT itself and talk through a strategy to help individual Trainers make this leap.

I think having now had this experience myself, I will devote much more time discussing with the Trainees what they will need and want to do to be able to apply the learning in a training situation – from something coming out of my mouth to something coming out of theirs. And in the future I will push even further into that learning space with participants to help them develop a strategy for that,. Just as I asked my participants yesterday to do.

I wrote this text (below) in the context of a Strategic Review I conducted for the Training Department of a big international development NGO. They wanted to explore ways to transform their existing training practice into a more contemporary “learning” model.

I pulled this text out again today because I am writing a manual for a facilitation learning programme that we are developing for a partner right now. I wanted to remind myself of this and thought I would share it.


A Learning Programme calendar, course description, or even agenda, is an intervention opportunity not to be missed. In a world of choice, it is a perfect way to communicate and feature your learning product(s) to potential learners, whether in-house or external.

Imagine that your learning programme was an excellent quality restaurant and the learners were valued diners. What is on the menu for your selective learning customers? Does it look good? Does it sound like something that the diner would enjoy? Would it satisfy her? Will the final product deliver what it promises on the menu?

How can learning providers (or facilitators) write their programme calendars, descriptions and agendas like a menu at a great restaurant and mean it? People need to read the course description and say, I want to take that course!

Consider testing course titles and descriptions on colleagues and potential learners first. Bear in mind, these tantalizing descriptions must also be true, nothing is worse than ordering a delicious sounding dish and having it turn out to not be as good as it looks on the menu!

I was just asked by a partner to send through some questions on which we could base a first workshop design discussion. I looked back at my learning design blog post Good Learning Design Discussions: Where to Start? (which incidentally and surprisingly just moved into the top 3 most read posts on this blog) and I think the questions there are very good for capacity development design discussions.

For a network workshop design discussion, I wanted slightly different questions, so I sent these instead:

1) What outcomes do you seek? What do you want to be different after the workshop ends?
These can be hard outcomes (such as a programme development process put into place, or to have a more consensus around prioritised items for a research agenda) and “soft” outcomes (such as more commitment, more enthusiasm, more engagement, better relationships among participants.)

2) What physical products do you wish to have as a result of this workshop?
Do you need a set of comments and inputs on a document, a strategic plan, a set of targets and possible solutions?

3) Who will be attending?
What are the numbers and kinds of participants who will be invited to attend? What are their motivations for attending?

4) Where will the workshop be held?
What kind of physical space are we working with for the event?

5) Where does this workshop sit within larger processes?
 To which larger processes would it contribute or be informed by?

These first five questions would get us started; check these first ones off and we can continue from there.

Sometimes the math behind learning and collaborative events and processes is pretty impressive. For example, I used the slide above in my intro at a recent multi-Stakeholder event.

  • 198 was the number of people who had registered to attend.
  • 12 was the number of hours each of us would spend in session over the two-day workshop.
  • 5.5 was the number of hours that we would be on breaks (coffee breaks, lunch and receptions) prime time for informal networking (about 30% of the total, not too bad).
  • 2,376 was the number of person hours in total that we would be working together – which adds up to roughly 59 person weeks/or over a year of work (with no holidays!) 
  • 16.5 is the number of hours that it would take if everyone spoke for 5 minutes in the plenary, one after the other with no breaks (and no podium/panel speakers).

The last point is especially provocative from a group process point of view, and interesting to point out – if the group is large, and the format is plenary, and if you want to hear from everyone (because for example its a stakeholder dialogue), and everyone feels they have to speak in the plenary to be heard, it is a zero sum game.

With the math it becomes quite clear and a powerful rationale for both (a) design decisions such as adding into the agenda all kinds of small group discussions, pairs discussions, talks to your neighbour after a speaker or before a plenary discussion (and maybe some good capture tools if you want to collect these thoughts). There simply are not enough hours available for everyone to speak in plenary; and (b) on-the-spot facilitation decisions such as helping people understand that they need to be brief and concise in their interventions from the floor and also from the front (panel, podium or other). This way if the facilitator selects someone new instead of someone who has already spoken, even if they are literally jumping up and down, an understanding of the math may help foster some understanding and patience with the process.

Invoking the math can also help people gain a greater understanding of what is being invested (e.g. 2,376 person hours) and also what that might cost if it was monetized. It also speaks to what can be accomplished if that time is used most productively (design again – do you want it to be spent listening to speakers?)

Do the math, it can be a powerful intervention for all – participants, organizers and learning/process designers!

Synchronicity. That is the best word I can come up with to describe my first introductions to ‘Business Model Generation: A Handbook for Visionairies, Game Changers, and Challengers’ – simultaneously via my neighbours the Ortelli’s who know lead author Alexander Osterwalder and rightly thought it was a book I would love, and via my Hub Geneva collaborations with Patrick Keenan of The Movement who’s partner Alan Smith led the handbook’s design. Thank you all!

It aims to help people understand and methodically address the challenge of business model innovation. It addresses the questions:
How can we systematically invent, design and implement powerful new business models?
– How can we question, challenge and transform old, outmoded ones?
– How can we turn visionary ideas into game-changing business models that challenge the establishment – or rejuvenate it if we ourselves are the incumbents?

Not the typical strategy or management book, it is designed to convey the essentials of what you need to know to work with business models quickly, simply and in a visual format. Examples are presented pictorially and the content is complemented with tools, exercises and workshop scenarios you can use immediately.

Having incorporated the core tool – the Business Model Canvas – in a couple of workshops, there is plenty of learning to share. So here I write up some of my own process notes to help anyone else interested in using the Canvas in a workshop setting when time is limited. It is a very participatory, learner-centred, peer-learning approach.

Using the Business Model Canvas in Workshops

1) Set Up: Mount a very large Business Model Canvas (approx. 6 flipchart sheets) on a wall. Mark on this the block names: Customer Segments; Value Propositions; Channels; Customer Relationships; Revenue Streams; Key Resources; Key Activities; Key Partnerships; and Cost Structure. (See sample in photo above.)

(If you are dealing with ‘Beyond Profit’ business models, you may like to add also Social and Environmental Costs; and Social and Environmental Benefits as described on pp265.)

2) Understanding the Canvas Blocks: Having prepared ahead of time an A4 sheet for each block – on which is written one question that best guides people in determining what content goes in each of the canvas blocks – ask participants to randomly pick a sheet (e.g. place them face down and ask them to select.) Depending on group size people may get more than one or may share one between a few people. Ask the group to read silently the questions on their sheets and consider which block the question relates to. Once they have a good idea, ask them one at a time to read out their question and suggest where it belongs. The rest of the group then says whether they agree or think it belongs somewhere else, and – once there is consensus – stick it on the wall-mounted canvas.

For example, for the block ‘Customer Segments’ the question on the corresponding A4 sheet may be along the lines of: “To whom do we offer products and services in response to their problems / needs?” Continue until the group is satisfied that all the questions are in the right blocks.

Already the group is actively engaged in establishing understanding of the different Business Model Canvas blocks, and participants are helping one another learn about it along the way – rather than listening to an ‘expert’ present it to them.

3) Detailing the Features for Each Block: The next steps also require some advance preparation. This time it is post-it notes (or ‘stickies’); lots of them! For each block, write up a handful of examples or prompts, drawing from the material in the handbook if desired. For example, if we take Customer Segments again, we know from the previous step that we are looking for clients to whom we are offering products and services in response to their problems / needs. In this step, the post-it notes might include: mass, niche, segmented, diversified, multi-sided, and so forth – with a brief explanation of each. Take the group of related post-it notes, and stick them to an A4 sheet labelled with the block title. So for each block on the Business Model Canvas you an a sheet of prompts.

Repeat the process for step 2, asking people to choose a sheet and then determine – as a group – where the post-it notes belong. Note that these prompts are not necessarily the answer to the question “To whom are we offering products and services..?”. Rather they just provide a means to better describe the business model, so we can say, for example – “we offer our services to X, a niche market…”

4) Designing Your Business Model: Once the the group has constructed this canvas, complete with questions and prompts, it’s time to dive into working through an example. I like to divide the group into small teams and have all these teams work on describing a “business” that is known to everyone – such as their own! Then when they present back, consider where there is agreement and where some divergence is present. A great launch pad for the next step – considering what the business model could be!

I hope this helpful. Perhaps one last thing – the ISBN: 978-2-8399-0580-0. Happy Modeling!

Sometimes as a learning practitioner you are working with a third party process holder, and not (at least not in the most initial stages) with the learners themselves.

For example, you might be designing a lessons learned workshop to collect experience that informs planning for a large conference, you might be designing a capacity development programme for farmers around rainwater harvesting, you might be helping high-level decision-makers develop better policy frameworks for climate change adaptation, you might be helping a whole staff strengthen their facilitation skills, etc.

How do you structure a discussion that gets you the design of a learning programme, process or event? Where do you start?

Of course, there are plenty of ways to go about this. Here are a set of questions that I often use to inform an initial design that I might offer, providing the basis on which the design conversation continues:

Question: What change do you want to see after your programme/process/event?

This is a great question as it gets to the purpose of the event, it helps the process holder be clear about the outcome they want, and lets you, the designer, gently probe some of their assumptions about what and how things change in their context. It also signals that learning, in this case, is not an end in itself. A next question might be:

Question: Who needs to make these changes so that the practice or context changes in the desired direction?

This question explores the learner group – to see if it includes all the people that are needed to make the change.  It might also open up some discussion of segmentation, perhaps the programme needs to have different components for different groups – for practice, policy, support etc. If you want to probe the audience question a little further in terms of readiness, and to get some good material for the rationale for the learning initiative, you could ask:

Question: If I would ask some members of this group if they needed or wanted to make this change, what would they say? (and why?)

Further questioning might give you some information on what this group needs to learn, according to the process holder (this can be tested through some useful demand articulation with the learner group later – but not too late!) The following question also expands the notion that learning is just about information (knowledge acquisition), towards the behaviour change aspect (e.g. practicing using knowledge and know-how):

Question: What kind of information, tools, practice does this group need in order to make this change?

You could explore learning preferences and good practice further by asking for some stories of successful past behaviour change and learning:

Question: When this group has changed its behaviour in the past and learned something new, how did that work? What conditions were present?  How long did it take? What helped make it stick?

You could find out what kind of methodologies for learning are preferred- no doubt they will be mixed and individualised – but there might be some interesting patterns in the answer to this question:

Question: How do group members like to learn, and in what format do they like to engage in learning?

Through the above question you can explore how the group might react to innovation or new methodologies and techniques. This might also give you some idea about how “safe” the environment is for learning.

These are just a few starters of the many questions that can help guide an initial learning design discussion – what other questions might you add? Where would you start?

As Facilitators and Trainers working with new groups and organizations, we occasionally get strong reactions to descriptors like “interactive”, “games-based”, “experiential” when explaining our work. When you dig a bit deeper into those responses, you hear stories of team-building sessions gone awry, icebreakers that were too “silly”, or activity choices that were “pointless”, in someone’s estimation.

The gap in meaning, I might guess, is due to the absence of metaphor.

Metaphor is the concept of understanding one thing in terms of another – or constructing an analogy between two things, ideas or actions.

Picking the right team building game for example, is not just a question of what the facilitator likes or feels competent delivering; it is selecting a game that provides a platform to explore some of the key issues that the team has, and creating a metaphor in a game that lets team members identify them, work through them, test options, discuss them based on the behaviour in the game, and then draw lessons or ideas that can be useful in their daily work. 

Even a quick activity, like an icebreaker or introductions, can be linked to a useful metaphor too. For example, I recently used Thiagi’s Hello game to both have people collect information about their experience, expectations, etc., which was good insight in itself, and then in the debriefing asked the group to think about how the exercise might be a metaphor for their work. This game features a number of small groups concurrently collecting information from the whole group in very short segments for planning, collecting, analysing, and reporting of around 3 minutes each! This particular group had some issues that team members wanted to explore about dealing with time pressure, with cooperation and information sharing, and this game was perfect for both introductions and to begin to lightly focus and reflect on these things, even in the first 15 minutes of the day.

Think about where you can find or create metaphor in  facilitation and training work. Any extra design element, no matter how small, that makes the link between the activity or game and the work that people are doing (or hoping to do better) can deepen the connection and the learning. And of course, it is important to bring attention to the metaphor, through debriefing, questioning, noticing. Your role as a facilitator is to help people see and make those connections. When done with skill, this helps makes both the meaning of the activity as well as your choice in introducing it much more obvious to participants. Finally, it optimises the time and refreshingly gives people permission to play again (“serious play” of course).

Some groups might need some extra work to help regain credibility for experiential learning. By strengthening the metaphor and meaning of games and activities, you are both investing in a group’s future success learning together through interactive techniques, and also hopefully softening resistance, making your life easier on the day and afterwards.

As learning practitioners, we are always interested in reflecting and learning for improved performance. Here’s a little summary of some recent research in performance development trends.

Approaches to performance development in organizations are shifting significantly. A clear trend is emerging, moving from ‘evaluation’ or ‘assessment’ – which has historically focused greatly on the achievement (or not) of quantifiable goals and contribution to the organizations strategic objectives – towards performance ‘conversations’ – which explore also the behaviours that account for specific business outcomes: the ‘how’ in achieving and contributing. Exploring this ‘how’ requires paying greater attention to professional ethics and inter-professional relationships. Hand-in-hand with this behavioural element of performance conversations is the trend towards a more ‘positive psychology’ – and a more ‘appreciative inquiry’ – cognizant that performance conversations have great potential to incentivize and result in improved performance when designed and managed with a future-orientation, implying future success when positive traits are cultivated, key strengths encouraged and individuals’ motivational needs addressed.

Well aligned with these trends is the emerging and growing use of 360 degree performance conversations which are proving a powerful performance development approach. As conversations related to behaviours are subjective and difficult to quantify, these benefit from a 360 degree approach allowing much greater differentiation than any ‘assessment’ by one person alone. The 360 degree approach allows each member of the team to understand how his/her effectiveness is viewed by a wider variety of others (colleagues and potentially also customers) based on the behaviours they may variously see, generating a more accurate, balanced conversation. In the process, team members become more accountable to each other – an accountability intrinsic to the success of teams with interconnected, interdependent members – as they share the knowledge that they provide input and have the opportunity for positive influence on each member’s performance. Another great advantage to the 360 degree approach is encouraged communication, exchange of information and learning.

If you’d like to read more, try the following:

1. “360 Degree Feedback: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” by Susan M.
Heathfield, 2010.

2. “Positive Words for Key Strength Performance Reviews” by Erick
Kristian, 25 July 2010.

3. “Can a positive approach to performance evaluation help accomplish
your goals?” by Karen S. Cravens, Elizabeth Goad Oliver, Jeanine S.
Stewart, in Harvard Business Review, 15 May 2010.

4. “Embedding sustainability/ethics into performance reviews” by
Miriam and Marc, Harvard Business Review blog, May 24, 2010

5. “360 Degree Feedback” by Alan Chapman, , 2009.

6. “Performance Conversation Tips: Effective Performance Coaching” by
Joni Rose, 30 April 2006.

7. “Motivating Positive Performance; Understanding Motivational Needs
by Joni Rose, 15 April 2006.

8. “Appreciate Performance Communication Process – a Manual” by Unity,
2006, in the Appreciative Inquiry Commons.

Two things I heard today just converged for me. The first one was a report from a meeting where a senior government official, considering a learning proposal, exclaimed:

“More results, less process!”

The other is a quote sent to me by a wise colleague from the Balaton Group, a cherished network, which is simply attributed as being a Japanese Proverb:

“Vision without action is just a dream, but action without vision is a nightmare.”

As learning practitioners, I guess our challenge is to find this delicate balance.

I think all of us would instinctively answer this question with a “Yes”, but how often do we actually take steps to create an interesting visual “learnscape” around us, particularly in our temporary learning venues.

At least 99% of the time, the spaces that we use for our workshops, whether for strategic planning, team development, training or other, are square rooms with white or beige walls. All the chairs are the same. The tables might be rectangular, square or round, and probably all the same. The windows are uniform, the walls are blank. The latter is often a good thing, particularly if you want to hang up flipcharts and the products of your work. At the end of the workshop the walls may be covered and the “journey” of the workshop evident for all to see.

But what about the first morning, when people first walk in? What do they see and how does it set them up for the exciting, creative and productive experience that you will help them co-create with your terrific interactive agenda and fast paced repartee?

It is interesting to notice when workshop or conference organizers do take the external environment and the challenge to create visual interest into consideration. I think that conference organizers perhaps try a little harder as they assume that the participant experience is more passive, so they add a plant or a sofa. Actually, TED Conferences are really brilliant at this, the stages that you see in the videos, or as a participant from the floor are intricate, rich and interesting.  Watch a minute of this Tim Jackson TED video for an example of the eclectic mix of background articles they use. Or take a look at the photo I took of a panel discussion at the TEDGlobal Conference I attended last summer. The TEDXChange Geneva event that Lizzie organized also featured a whole task list on procuring props for the stage, shipped in from Zurich, to make the background for the speakers and the conversations look interesting, including a vintage coke machine, a wagon wheel and more (see photo here), which all tied in some way with the talks being given.

When you can’t truck in props, you can still create visual interest in other ways. The recent Membership Meeting of a standard setting textile product group that I facilitated featured a sample from their first harvest on each table – there to admire, feel and connect people with their process. In the room as people entered were also maps of their strategic regions, with photos of the value chain stakeholders, and posters created to show the value chain. We used these for one of the first exercises, and put them up before we started for the visuals and to get people in the theme of the meeting from the onset.

It you want to leave the walls free, what about the ceiling? I was mesmerised by the big room at the Hub in Brussels, where we had a recent LEAD Europe (Leadership for Environment and Development) training course gathering, where a local artist had hung a cardboard sculpture. How visually stimulating it would be to have a workshop in that space! I remember during past IUCN Commission on Education and Communication workshops, there would be bouquets of fresh flowers, and bowl of bright fruit and chocolate on all the tables. I remember a facilitator from Disney telling me that at some of their planning workshops, each participant would have their own placemat and setting with drawing paper, coloured markers, playdough, lego or other small items to “play with” while the meeting was going on. What can you bring in that will be different and interesting to look at/interact with during your learning exercise?

Creating stimulating visual environments for learning, even in our temporary workshops spaces, can enhance creativity and spark ideas and engagement. It can signal that something different is coming, something that will connect people will both their left and right brains. You can do this by moving people around, by using different rooms, by going inside and outside, and also by looking differently at your main workshop room and setting and thinking more about how you can make it visually stimulating. Even you are a canvas – people will look at you, the facilitator, trainer or organizer for HOURS, what colours are you wearing???

It’s the end of another year, and whether a leg cast, or just office closings give you some extra time to think, it is undeniably a great opportunity to go back over your year and see what worked in 2010, and what you would like to do more of, or differently, in 2011. When are you having that conversation with yourself?

The last 2 years have seen major changes for many knowledge workers in terms of work mode and even flow in some cases. Knock-on effects from financial contractions in most organizations have brought changes in staff composition, mandates, activity budgets, work modalities (from decentralisation of team members to outsourcing workstreams entirely), and more. With all of this movement and activity, now in its second year, how is it going? And what are we learning?

I can explore that question for myself, as I sit in my office with my coffee.  I have also been interested in a different, more collective, approach that some other professionals are taking to answer that question for themselves.

I recently received an email invitation from another working facilitator/trainer in my area asking me to have a coffee and discussion with her around some informal research she is doing to better understand organizational motivations in this new financial climate. She sent me a nice, short email giving me some information about her work, what she was learning about her offer (which has some similarities to mine) and her hypothesis about what is changing in organizations around learning and training (and what that means for her offer). She set up an interesting debate!

She asked if I would be happy to explore this with her, and then told me why she wanted to speak to me about that (she knew or renewed her understanding of my background and personalised her request.) Finally she said she would write up her findings from this series of interviews and share it with everyone who contributed.

This collaborative approach to reflection and learning appeals to me, and I also think it is very clever, for a number of reasons. First, just in her email she told me more about what she is doing and wants to do. I do know this fellow facilitator, but it has been quite a while since I have spoken to her substantively about her work, and I wouldn’t have known that she is shifting her focus, expanding her offer, and how she wants to engage with organizations. And now I do. She also gave me all of her new contact information in this message. As an independent worker, I frequently have requests that I cannot fill (for content or availability reasons); she is much more on my radar screen now, even if I don’t or am not able meet her (although I probably will because I enjoy her company and also for the next few reasons). After the meeting, this will be even more true, for both of us actually.

Second, her line of questioning and framing intrigued me. These are also questions that I have. I may or many not entirely agree with her hypothesis, and by giving me questions she wants to explore, rather than just topic headings to discuss, she is already getting me thinking, and more eager to engage in this discussion with her. By using this approach I see that we will be doing some peer learning here, not just a straight brain picking, as she shares her own ideas about what is happening in the kinds of organizations with which we are working. Again interesting for independent workers who don’t always have the opportunity to do this.

Finally, she intends to give something synthetic back, to report on her learning across these conversations, and to help me answer some of my shared questions through her informal research. I might even be able to blog about it, so multiple benefits (sharing it with all of you!) Of course, she will really have to do this final step of the process as promised, and I assume that she will and look forward to her results (especially if I have been able to contribute to them too). Overall it sounds like a useful learning project that I would like to do, but probably won’t, and I am happy that she will do it and share her findings.

I hear from a number of independent workers that their traditional stomping grounds are shifting with the changing times, with new financial parameters in institutions, with new technology sources of information and expertise (and marketing), with new types of constellations of internal and external workers. It is an interesting time to reflect on what you are doing, how you are doing it, and how it is working. And either you can do that yourself or you can find a way to do that with others. Either way, ……. (add in tag line from international sports shoe company here – sorry, couldn’t resist.)  Happy Learning!

I am currently working with a team focusing on biodiversity conservation and assessment to “makeover” an existing training curriculum into one even more interactive and learner-focused. As a part of this process I offered to put together a selected list of resources, from the raft of those available, that are particularly useful to me in this kind of work.

As trainers, capacity developers, learning practitioners, and facilitators we have before us a veritable sea of interesting tools, techniques, and even toys that have been developed to help make our events successful and enjoyable (yes, we have discovered a learning space where we can have fun and learn at the same time!)

Because this sea is vast, we each have our own parts that we prefer. And our selection of what we bring with us may be different every time – we might dip in and out, or we might dive deep into one area or another. It’s always varied, to keep both us and our co-learners fully immersed and engaged. What follows are some of the places I go to find inspiration (many I have written about on this blog and in these cases I will link up the posts or the tag).

Of course I always approach an event from the point of view of its learning objectives. Once those are clear, how you achieve these is an exercise in building an agenda or process that will, as much as possible, bring people out of their everyday discussions into a vibrant learning zone. Try…

I use “games” frequently in my learning work, whether they are quizzes (see: Want to Learn More: Take this Quiz), experiential learning processes (see: An Appetite for Experiential Learning), or introduction games (see: An Amazing Group of People), or others. I find they help tap into the natural curiosity of learners and participants. I have written quite a bit about using games (see the tag: Games), and I frequently use the Thiagi Gamesite for ideas and for ready to use games, as well as Thiagi’s books, such as this one on interactive lectures, for when you can’t avoid a presentation. I adapt games, create new ones (see: Make a Game Out of Any Workshop Topic: The dryer the better), and get ideas from other trainer’s games. Brian Remer and The Firefly Group have a nice website and Games newsletter called the Firefly News Flash, for example. I also use the games of Dennis Meadows, such as Fishbanks and Strategem in my work, as well as the Systems Thinking Playbook (NB: We are writing a new Systems Thinking Playbook on Climate Change right now that should be published by GTZ in the next months.)

Discussion and Co-creation Techniques
There are so many wonderful tried and tested techniques and processes available now with which people are getting more and more comfortable (facilitators and participants). I’ll list a few of these here along with some of the blog posts we’ve written about our learning using them. What is also intriguing, once you get really familiar with them, is to mash them up! This helps them be even more suited to the particular needs and interests of your group. Among these is Open Space Technology, developed by Harrison Owen which has a whole community (OpenSpaceWorld) of connected users (see: Opening Space for Conversation (and Eating Croissants)). We have enjoyed learning about and using World Cafes (see: Our World Cafe: Kitchen Table Conversations for Change), and this methodology has also gone global with a useful website (TheWorldCafe) full of its own tips and resources. We have built numerous Conversation Cafes – into our sessions (instead of holding them in cafes). These are slightly different than World Cafes – they are hosted and build conversations without people moving tables.

Specialisations to Add
To a good interactive learning base, you can add some special features to your event (warning: with too many it starts to become full sensory overload). The selection also depends of course on your goals and objectives. What about Storytelling (see: My Point? To Be a “Story” there Must be a Point)- story circles, featuring cases as stories, etc. Anecdote from Australia has a wonderful website showing how you can “put stories to work” and a good newsletter by the same name. Check out their learning White Papers for interesting applications and how to’s. We also have a tag on Storytelling on this blog.

Improv Comedy and Theatre
I love the idea of adding Improv comedy or Theatre activities, especially if you are working in leadership, presentation, conflict resolution, teambuilding or just to spice things up and get the group thinking more creatively. I have been to a couple of Improv Theatre application workshops and have experimented with adding this to events (try to go further than role play.) (see: People Buy Adjectives). John Cremer gave an excellent workshop at last year’s European IAF Conference on using Improv and his website gives more ideas about how to use it for creative thinking and presentation skills learning. If participants need to give presentations as a part of their learning event, why not start with a little interesting improv training on this?

Visual Facilitation
There is a great deal of nuance here around graphic facilitation, visualisation, graphic recording etc. which I lump together as “visual facilitation”. The bottom line is that real-time visuals are created to capture the discussion and activity threads of your event. (see: Making Memories: Improving Your Impact Through Visualisation, Slam Poetry and More). We have worked with a Danish-based group called Bigger Picture, who are members of a larger, global Visual Thinking community called VizThink. We have contributed to visual murals at Society for Organizational Learning Conferences, worked with cartoonists at several IUCN events, all with great results, tapping into visual learners, and giving an extra dimension to our work. Visual facilitation works best when time is given in the session to have participants co-creating, developing personalised icons and talking through what is being visualised.

Systems Thinking
This is one of my personal passions – using systems thinking tools for learning. We have experimented a great deal in applying an approach that might initially appear to be too complicated to introduce in a short workshop. It does have a specialised vocabulary, a number of graphic tools and a set of conventions. We have a tag on this blog devoted to using systems thinking (see: Systems Thinking) which features posts on using it for strategic planning (see: Building Capacity in Systems Thinking: Want More Amplification? Don’t Call it Training), and exploring ways to help learners pick it up and use it in experiential ways (see: Working With Systems Archetypes in Learning Contexts). Systems thinker Linda Booth Sweeney has an interesting site devoted to systems thinking learning and storytelling, and has developed a useful systems thinking resources room.

And So Much More
You can actually find inspiration all around you for making your learning events more meaningful, more engaging, more powerful. Look everywhere (see: When I Was a Game.) Why not do your reporting back after group work borrowing from the current trend in micro-lit? (see: Micro-Lit: Too Wordy, Try it Again or the longer Trendspotting: Micro-Lit and Other Applications) or have all your presentations time in at 6 minutes and 40 seconds because they are given as Pecha Kuchas (see: Taking the Long Elevator – 13 Tips for Great Pecha Kuchas). This great technique helps speakers get to the point by putting all of their inputs into 20 slides, auto-timed at 20 seconds each. Presentations in general can have a myriad of formats – even PPT can be replaced by Prezi (see: Preparing a Presentation? Read this Praise for Prezi) or any other number of innovations (see: The End of Boring: Borrowing, Adapting and Mashing for Facilitators).

Send your working groups on a walk, use the cafeteria or hallway for a session, make cool job aids (get inspired for your handouts by David Seah’s Printable CEO series.) Pull one of your main presentations up into a webinar (see: Look Behind You! The Webinar Facilitator’s Non-technical Checklist), or instead of a live speaker, find an excellent TED Talk video which presents the content in an engaging 15 minutes (see: On My Way to TEDGlobal).

Through this process you will “Learn how to speak agenda” and will be able to both design for interest and impact, and also to write up your agenda like it was a menu at a restaurant. Think of yourself as a diner, if you got this menu (agenda), would you want to eat at this restaurant (or attend this workshop?)

And Finally (although I think this beach is endless)…
A recent book by the World Bank called The Black Box of Governmental Learning, which I am reading right now (download it for free from their website), starts with an interesting history citing the progression of learning in this domain  -governmental- although I find it widely applicable from my experience. It talks about the change from expert-driven learning which is lecture-based with limited interactivity, to the newly evolving paradigm of learning with each other. The tools and techniques that I list above can help makeover a learning event from a one-way teaching model, to one where everyone jumps into the topic together.

Such a long list might seem indeed for a trainer or facilitator like jumping in at the deep end yourself, and yet you can wade slowly into this sea of interesting learning tools and techniques, until you find your own favorite place(s). Good luck! Fellow trainers and facilitators, please add your favorites in the Comments section below!

Where do we stand in the work to save and improve lives around the world? What changes have taken place in the last decade? What does the future hold? Listening out for some learning for the future, here are some highlights I took from TEDxGeneva’s TEDxChange event: The Future We Make.

1. Learn to save lives. Learn from a local innovator, a barefoot entrepreneur, a world leading corporate giant. Learn across sectors and scales. Look, listen and learn closely. “Success is relevant because if we analyse it we can learn from it and then we can save lives.” (Melinda Gates)

2. Bye bye linear, hello loops. Take time to understand the system you’re operating in. Create feedback loops to achieve your goals, leveraging energy from throughout the system so it’s not all on you. (Gillian Martin Mehers)

3. Be one step ahead: Diagnosis pays. Never mind the naysayers. Invest in investigation. Don’t stop at symptoms. Diagnose your enemy. Minimize medication (scale up tests and the need for antimalarials drops – see Senegal). Resist fuelling resistance. Eliminate malaria. (Rob Newman).

4. Warmly welcome the wonderful world of statistics. Let data be your guide. And keep it modern, refreshing concepts as you go along. (Can we really still call a country – Singapore – with one of the lowest child mortality rates in the world “developing”?) (Hans Rosling)

5. Bowl in the light. Demand real time data. Turn the lights on. You need to see the skittles and know the score so you can decide on your ball, approach and spin. (And you need to know whether you’re hitting the skittles in your intended lane or next door!) (Melinda Gates)

6. Make a smart entry. You’ll make little progress reducing the strain on natural resources with family planning until you’ve figured out infant mortality. Suss out the system first. Identify the obstacles to change. (Patrick Keenan).

7. Change with children. Children are the Revolutionary Optimists of Calcutta slums. They are the educators and group leaders. “It is our duty – our little brothers and sisters,” they say as they champion and double Polio immunisations, carrying fellow children to clinics. (The Revolutionary Optimists)

8. With women and girls too. Look at Malawi. “Women and girls will lead social transformation.” (Graça Machel)

9. Up the ubiquity. Take a master class from the ubiquitous. Learn to get everywhere from Coca Cola (who serves the equivalent of every man, woman and child on the planet a glass of coke a week) and Thai condoms. (Mechai Viravaidya)

10. Parle local. Be aspirational to beckon new behaviours; avoid avoidance messages. Even if people need something, you still need to make them want it. Take toilets in India, for example, and match them to courtship. Remember, “No loo, no ‘I do’”. (Melinda Gates)

11. Promote promise. Polio. 99% reduction in 20 years. We’ve come so far. How amazing would it be to eradicate this disease?! We can overcome Polio and make it the 2nd disease ever to be wiped off the face of the planet. (ibid)

12. “Aid-u-tain”. Play snakes and ladders (“Auntie takes her pill in the morning when she wakes up. Very good. Up the ladder you go.”) And let the Olympics save some lives (“why just run around?”). (Mechai Viravaidya)

13. Involve everyone. Empower the people – from policeman plod and cabbies to vendors in local corner and coffee shops. “Would you like a condom with your cappuccino?” (ibid)

14. Ever-re-design you. One designer candidly speaks of his purposeful and personal trajectory to maximize impact, ever re-designing his design career. What are you doing to maximize your impact? Reflect on re-designing your career to leverage more change in the system. (Patrick Keenan)

15. Encourage for the cause with networks. Change making needn’t be lonely. From the power of one to the power of many: network your knowledge and scale up confidence, assurance, courage, commitment and even career change. (Cheryl Hicks)

16. Converse. Conversations matter. Talk about action, however small. “We’ve got the future in our hands, lets build it in our minds.” (Bajah and The Dry Eye Crew).

Systems Thinking Learning: Stand Alone or Integrated?

This year I have been working with LEAD Europe (Leadership for Environment and Development) to integrate systems thinking effectively into the leadership curriculum. Last year, I contributed a stand alone module to the LEAD Training (Using Systems Thinking: How to Go from 140 PowerPoint Slides to 2), and think that this year’s more integrated and incremental approach is much more effective, not least because with case-based training you have real content to use as examples and group work.

This year, in the first of the two LEAD Europe week-long training sessions, I introduced the overall concept of systems thinking, and two diagramming tools – Behaviour Over Time Graphs (or Reference Mode Diagrams), and Causal Loop Diagrams (or Feedback Loops). And we used lots of systems games to illustrate the points, I even created a new one called the Flash Mob Game.

The second LEAD Europe session just finished in Brussels earlier this month, and during that week the systems learning focused on Systems Archetypes. This is the first time I have gotten that far with systems thinking learning with a group, usually I only have time to get through the diagramming tools, so it was learning for me too!

10 Systems Archetypes and Where to Learn More

There are some very good resources about systems archetypes. I really like this paper by William Braun titled, The Systems Archetypes,  and the online resource Archetypes: Interaction Structures of the Universe by Gene Bellinger to list two.  These ended up being good references for the work that groups would be doing on this topic.

I could not imagine anything harder to understand and do something with, than me standing up for 1 hours and giving a lecture about the most common systems archetypes. According to Braun and Bellinger they include (sometimes the names differ slightly):

1. Limits to Growth (Limits to Success)
2. Shifting the Burden
3. Drifting or Eroding Goals
4. Success to the Successful
5. Escalation
6. Fixes that Fail
7. Growth and Underinvestment
8. Tragedy of the Commons
9. Accidental Adversaries
10. Attractiveness Principle

These names are intriguing, seem simple enough, although not completely self-explanatory. Still, using an hour of time to go through them, their generic structures, examples, and the insights thay they give sounded too passive and abstract to be useful to the learners.

Using Peer Learning, Even for Complex Issues

Over the time I had worked with this interesting cross-sectoral group of LEAD Associates, I had seen them to be real self-starters, and still maintaining a helpful stance towards one another. We had worked hard to create a collaborative co-learning space in this programme (rather than a competitive environment). So instead of “teaching” on this issue, I decided to support them as they made these archetypes meaningful for themselves. I started by giving a brief high level overview (e.g. what are they and why they can be helpful). To reinforce the message about paradigms, mental models and habits -which may hinder you from seeing the systems around you – I used 3 short systems thinking, experiential learning games (Colour/Flower/Furniture: See post How Deep Are Your Neural Pathways?), Pens, and Arms Crossed (watch Dennis Meadows run this game in the video Change is Difficult.

Then I put people in six randomly assigned (e.g. pick a card) groups, gave them some background resources, a flipchart template to fill in (see above photo), and had them pick a slip of paper with one of 6 of the archetypes written on it out of a hat. The groups were then given 45 minutes to create their own description of the archetype, give some examples of where they have seen these patterns in real life (including the context of the full-day simulation that we would be conducting on Day 4 of the training), give some insights about what one can do when you spot this particular pattern or archetype, and finally draw a Causal Loop Diagram that illustrates the concept. Each group then picked the name of an archetype out of my hat and that was their archetype for this exercise. They went outside and went to work.

What ensued was really peer learning and team learning: They used the handout resources, explored understanding, corrected any language or comprehension mis-matches, and told stories as examples from their own experience as well as from the case study of this module (the EU carbon emission targets) which was also the basis for the simulation.

When they returned to the plenary, they presented their archetypes and then answered questions/comments from the group, their peers.

When we started, no one had any experience with systems archetypes. However, by the end of this session (2.5 hours) they had a very deep understanding of one (and how it worked, and where it could be useful), and a good understanding of the others, as they listened and talked to their different peers presenting the explanations. For them, I am convinced that this was much better than sitting in chairs and listening to me talk and show them slides of 10 of the most common archetypes. In this scenario, they would not have had the practice identifying and using them.

Using Systems Archetypes

When I designed this session – self-taught systems archetypes – I wondered if it would work. I was pleased that it worked so well – the examples were excellent, the whole thing was personalized, and I could simply intervene to add stories or correct things, as needed. I had time to help groups that might have been stuck, and question them in ways that would get them to think about the issues at a different level.

To reinforce this learning later in the week, I offered a prize for anyone who used or referred to a systems archetype within the context of the simulation. Interestingly, I found many examples of how systems and the archetypes were being used. As a reminder of our archetypes, we kept all the flipchart explanations/diagrams in the room for the rest of the week.

I could have made up a job aid that described in that way all the archetypes, and simply presented it. But this way, the self-taught approach – with participants making their own set of personalized “job aids” for future use – turned out to be an extremely effective way to transfer messages and learning about systems archetypes.

There are so many kinds of workshops/meetings/events, with as many different kinds of objectives and outcomes desired. Each needs a specific structure and build to get successfully from start to finish. For veteran facilitators this might be a statement of the blindingly obvious. However, we do have our favorite sequences. We have tried and tested frames for group work, our signature activities and games, our question stems that we draw on and adapt to many different contexts. We might also do more of one kind of workshop than others – more retreats, or relationship building, or strategic planning, or stakeholder dialogues. These big categories indeed might have archetypal sequences that we can use as building blocks and rely on for winning results.

When the Stakes Are Even Higher

When we get into a new category of work, that is a great opportunity to think again about our favorite workshop outlines. For example, how different might an agenda look if you are consensually negotiating a text that will be binding on those in the room (and many others who may not be)? This is an interesting context as stakes will no doubt be much higher. In this context, participants may be formally representing constituencies (where their re-election depends on successfully serving their interests), others may be spokespeople for higher-level absentee decision makers (who may sign their paychecks). There might also be observers, funders, hosts, and other non-voting participants, who might still have significant impact on the final decision.  There may also be significant power asymmetries, along with the familiar cultural and sectoral diversity and personalities that we see in all of our workshops. Ultimately jobs and much more may be at stake. All together this might make agreeing on a black and white text in a defined period of time an exciting couple of days for a facilitator.

Some of the differences between such an agenda and one devoted to, for instance, strategic planning by project teams, might be how and when you work with the product (text) itself. Some of the things I have noticed revolve around timing and placement of the decision moments in the overall workshop agenda. These might sound simple, and can make a difference for a successful outcome:

  • Watch attendance and travel: If this is a high stakes decision-making meeting encourage people to be there for the duration of the meeting, and if necessary make an agreement that if people choose not to stay it indicates their agreement of the final decisions of the group.
  • Have clarity on decision moments: Make certain participants are clear WHEN the readings will be and decisions taken, so that they can arrange phone checks or access to other decision-makers at critical times. It helps them avoid scheduling other work or calls at those times and also helps them arrange their schedules to be present (mentally and physically) when they need to be.
  • Keep extreme realism in timing: Because timing will be important throughout the event, keeping to time is even more important – make sure this particular agenda is super realistic (as opposed to optimistic), and build in some extra discussion time where possible (can a less important agenda item for the group be pushed into their next meeting?)
  • Make it visual: When it comes to the text itself, make sure that the text is put up on PPT point or visually in the room and not just read out loud to the group. The meaning is much clearer and easier to discuss as a group when people are able to read and mull it over together.  
  • Externalise the decision: Making it visual (rather than oral – as in reading) also externalises the words (e.g. de-personalises the text) so that the group can own it and it is not affiliated with any particular position or the opinion of the reader(s). 
  • Provide something to take away: Have a print out of the final text too, that people can use to check with counterparts who are not present, or can use to read later on their own or in caucuses. Don’t make people write it down for themselves.
  • Build in check-in time: Give people time after the first reading to check with their constituencies if necessary or with their bosses.
  • Sleep on it: Try to get the text work done before the last day, so that people can sleep on it and discuss it informally.
  • Take a second look: Have a second reading of the decision taken on the final day. Make sure this is not in the last few hours of the workshop in case there are still open issues which can be dealt with in time.
  • Don’t push it: Introduce no new issues on the last day of the work together.

There are many other familiar activities that can and will feature along the course of the negotiation. There will be the relationship building, the mapping of opinion, the exchange of perspectives and reality checks. With this kind of high stake workshop, the steps of the negotiation and decision-making process need to be perfectly placed so that this central aspect of the group’s effort doesn’t create a hurdle but a gateway to … (ok, giving up on the horse-racing metaphor here, it’s sounding more like the stable floor than the track – you know what I mean!!) 

(Note from me: This (rather long) post was inspired by my partner in this exercise who challenged me to try to blog about our own process reflections. It seemed congruent to frame it as a “How To” – so this is my learning about learning!)

In many project documents and programme concept notes you see mention of building on or using learning from best practice. But how exactly do you go about collecting this, and in what form can you use it?

Identifying Patterns

We recently finished a 6-month learning exercise at a large international NGO which explored this issue. It focused on learning from a number of experiences in the last 10 years in a newly developing area of partnership work for the organization – providing independent advice for businesses on biodiversity conservation in their operations. The HQ programme manager saw some patterns developing that she thought would be interesting to capture, organize and make available for other colleagues around the world who were interested in adding this kind of work to their portfolio of projects.

We were also curious to see if there was a way to describe some of the common components of the processes that were being used as models that made them more easily transferable. And we wanted to learn from the Project Managers living and breathing these experiences about what worked and what they might change, if they did this again, in the different stages of their process. These included areas like governance, communication, contracting, etc.

Don’t Shelve It! (Why to Collect It in the First Place)

In this case, there were several reasons for collecting best practices:

  1. To help understand more about staff member’s work in this new field and to make it visible;
  2. To provide Project Managers doing this innovative work with an opportunity to reflect on their process and what they are learning, and to document this;
  3. To provide interested staff members with some basic “how to'” information, as well as to connect them with a set of experienced colleagues to whom they can go for advice; 
  4. To develop a set of models – in the form of diagrams, generic steps, and actionable insights –  that help to lightly organize the experiences (which developed organically in many cases). These model descriptions can help staff and potential partners more strategically choose from amongst them when a collaboration opportunity arises, and also help this new practice be more effectively communicated internally and externally.

The learning exercise therefore had two target audiences – staff members (both running these partnership projects or interested in starting them); and potential new partners. The first was considered to be more important at this stage as a focus of the learning exercise. As these are very different audiences, two separate products were designed as vehicles for the best practice information collected – a “How To” learning document for staff, and a promotional brochure for potential new partners.  The first one took 6 months to write, and the second took 1 day.

Do It in Steps: How We Collected Best Practice

A. What Makes for Best Practice? Identifying the Cases
One of the first steps in the exercise was to identify the cases that would become a part of the learning and analysis. We found that we did not need to worry about how to categorise “best” cases (by anyone’s subjective standard) as in every case Project Managers could pick out aspects that were working very well, and could also always pinpoint things that could usefully change or had changed for various reasons. Good practice was a better frame as it exhibited itself in every case we analysed, whether in setting up the project Advisory Board, how stakeholders were integrated, developing strategic reporting time lines, or using formal team building. Each Project Manager had innovated in interesting ways, and also had naturally come up against challenges. In some cases, they had effectively solved them for each other, but prior to this exercise no format existed to capture and exchange on these items.

We started with 10 cases and ended up using 7 of them for various reasons. We tried to get a variety of experiences from different parts of the world that were well established (i.e. had been going for some years, or were nearly completed) and for the most part well-documented. Each however had something in common, they worked with a new business partner with a specific goal of providing independent advice for biodiversity conservation.

B. Creating an Opportunity for Reflection: Gathering Information
For each case, although for most cases there was lots of descriptive documentation on the web, it often did not include process information. It was mostly framed as reporting details and quantitative data. We did use that as background, but our main input was conversation based, using Appreciative Inquiry stems for questions (e.g. focusing on what is working). So Skype or face-to-face interviews with the Project Managers and, in many cases, other delivery team members external to the organization, were built centrally into the process.  We focused in the interviews on what people thought worked very well and what could be different to make the experience even more successful. Creating an opportunity for reflection, we asked about learning along the different stages of the process, from preparation/set up through delivery, to reporting. And, because this was a newer area of work for an well-established organization, we explored perceptions of risk. We specifically asked for Tips for future project managers who might be running a similar exercise, and on the qualities that Project Managers needed to have make the project successful.

C. What’s Bubbling Up to the Surface? Developing the Model
It was only after all the cases had been written up, that we could step back and try to understand what some of the commonalities might produce in the form of a generic model or structure. In the stories of the Project Managers there were definitely repeating elements, process steps, even challenges. Some features were shared across all the cases, for example, all had some similarities in sequencing of process steps, all had a governance component – an external Panel or Steering Board that helped the advice given be truly independent, all were set up with some form of formal agreement between two organizations even if a larger number were involved. Across these common elements much good practice was exhibited.

Other things in the cases were clearly different, and what became apparent as we looked deeper, was a framework model that included the goal of the process, especially the depth of outcome desired – was the change on which the project focused a remedial action (e.g. trying to fix something in a specific location like a lake, harbour or protected area?) Or was it aimed at much broader social change? This was linked to the level of intervention – a field operation, a company, sector, supply chain or society. Each of these in turn had an optimal level of stakeholder involvement. We plotted the categories of projects and the individual cases along these lines to see what we would get.

What this analysis produced was a useful tool, a diagram, which collected the different kinds of experiences in one place, based on their key features. It effectively organized the diverse experiences in a visually interesting way and could be used as an aid to guide an exploratory discussion with new staff member or with a potential business counterpart.

D. Pulling it All Together: Producing the Best Practices Product
The “How To” Learning document was an exercise in synthesis. Although we had collected a binder full of data, and held hours of interviews, the result had to be a crystallisation of the learning. In the end, the main body of the document was 22 pages of text with diagrams which included an overview of the main categories we identified, each with a set of steps for implementation, tips for setting up and managing the processes, communication lessons, and a discussion of potential risks and management options. It was in the Conclusions section that we introduced the model that situated all the experiences into relationship with one another based on the features mentioned above (depth of outcome desired, stakeholder involvement, and scope of intervention). The case studies and resource documents were alphabetised in the Annex, along with a matrix snapshot of the cases in terms of their exact cost, time frame, managers, and level of public disclosure. The cases studies were also referenced throughout the document in the form of a three letter code, set up as a key at the beginning, so that for any tip or process step, readers could refer back to a real example in one of the case studies.

A Challenge We Faced in Developing Best Practice Advice

Even though the framework model was a key intellectual input into the learning exercise, we chose to put it in the Conclusion. This decision was based on what we found as one of our key challenges in this overall best practices process.

Innovation in organizations can happen in many different ways. A new idea or practice can be developed centrally and then tested in different locations/conditions to see how it works. The lessons can be gathered and analysed. This more top-down process exhibits a certain amount of standardisation at the onset, although different contexts will see practice gradually diverge from the first model. Another way, however, is more bottom-up. Some internal or external opening or trigger (policy change, global change, etc.) sparks new practices start to occur organically in different places and these experiences start cropping up in parallel to one another with very little horizontal interaction. They each understandably develop their own vocabulary, labels, and a proliferation of process peculiarities. If at this point you decide to undertake a learning or best practices process that includes some sort of meta-model development – which need a certain level of harmonisation of labels and a set of common concepts – then you might find this a little more challenging. You can still find incredibly useful best practices, and will get to be creative about the categorization and labelling of these.

In the end, each case we explored was indeed unique, and at the same time, their goals were very compatible, which made for a rich value-adding exercise to look across them and understand what makes for best practices, so that they can be shared, communicated, and used for continual improvement through learning in the future.

This morning I went to an interesting Writer’s workshop on publishing – it ran the gamut from traditional book publication to online self-publishing. It reminded me of some of the things that I had learned doing this myself, which I had never recorded. So before I forget, I thought I would blog this experience for my own future reference, and anyone else interested…

A few years ago I published a book for my father, who had written a novel for a niche market, using one of the better-known self-publishing companies at the time, Xlibris. There are plenty of these online services now, in addition to this one, such as Virtual Bookworm, Lulu, iuniverse and so on. I won’t bother to compare them here; if you are interested in an overview of what’s on the market check out the Incomplete Guide to Print-on-Demand Publishers which includes up-to-date prices, packages, royalties and services for over 50 self-publishing companies.

Today this is a real option for authors; and an opportunity that can have a steep learning curve along the process from taking a manuscript in Word through to a book that you can hold in your hands.

What I would do the same next time:

Use the editing service: I managed to get a special that included editing in the print package price, and although I had edited it myself thoroughly once, and had another external editor lined up, I decided to try Xlibris’s editing service. It was really excellent – I could not believe how many glaring inconsistencies there were in the text, from names to spellings. The editor was first rate, no doubt from sheer volume and experience, and I was delighted to have used their in-house service.

Personalise the cover: For the book cover, I asked a friend Chris Gould who is a professional photographer and photo-montage artist to do the design. Because I knew him well, and he knew my father, the author, it took only a couple of brief conversations for him to come up with a wonderful design, something that would have been hard to convey using a template or to explain to an anonymous designer.

Get the text as complete as possible BEFORE sending it to the company: I spent many hours reading, checking, and editing the document before I sent it into the Xlibris machine for layout and formatting, etc. Because the original document was in Word, I could easily spell and grammar check, print and proof it. As a result, I didn’t have to worry about slowing down the process with this once it started with the publishing company, which was full of other unanticipated tasks, such as writing up the dust jacket texts, the online descriptions, author bio, summary (short, medium and long), etc.

What I would do differently next time:

Watch the retail book price: Because there is no stock kept for POD books, and because of the cost of printing small quantities each time, the retail price of these books is high compared to traditional publisher prices. It can be up to double the price, for example, what might cost US$8.99 in paperback in a bookshop, might cost around US$15.99 as a POD book (even when you order it in a bookshop). This is fine for a real niche market, or a textbook/coffee table book, but it is high for a regular fiction paperback that is trying to compete for general readership.

At Xlibris you have a choice to bring down the retail price, and of course it is at the expense of your royalty (e.g. you can take it down to US$1.00, but no less). Depending on your goals for the book – from just getting it out there, to actually making money from it – that can affect your choice of publisher, or your decision to publish at all. The cost to the author of self-publishing is around US$500 – US$1000 (with some less and many more costly). So, if you are even out for cost recovery, at US$1 royalty per book, you still have to sell between 500-1000 books to break even. Note that the average book sales for POD books is under 200 (some information on sales statistics here)!

Layout and page count: I would pay much more attention to the page count, and related to this the font size and margins. There is a cut off point for printing related to pricing and I had not paid enough attention to this. The book ended up with smaller than normal margins, that were obviously designed to get more words on the page, to have less pages, and therefore cost less to produce. This turned a normal size book into something that looked more like a novella, which ultimately makes it even harder to sell at the higher prices.
Plan better marketing in the first year: It is normal to think that in the first year, with a little advertising the book will sell itself (and it does to a certain extent); however, that is just the time to organize the biggest advertising push, including all the social media tie-ins that are available to authors these days. After the first year, some of the shine comes off, and the book becomes one of the Long Tail titles that can still pull in some sales, but less and less as years move on.
All in all, I would still self-publish, the experience was good enough. I would probably shop around for the best deal (e.g. lower basic costs), and take recent recommendations from authors, now that it is quite a common process (at the time I did it, I didn’t know anyone else who had self-published). I would make sure the layout was appropriate, not too condensed. And I would not do it for the money, but for the other things that publication can bring – visibility, the exercise of taking a set of ideas to a polished final format, an easier and more user-friendly way to share information.
Next time, however, I might not make a physical book, but an e-book. And that would probably provide a whole new learning opportunity around a publishing process.

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…)

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 ( 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:

Maybe I’ll see you there!

I am at a workshop of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Commission on Education and Communication (CEC) in the Scottish Highlands (beautiful, yet not the best place to be when an Icelandic Volcano erupts.) CEC is one of IUCN’s 6 expert Commissions, which are global knowledge networks of individual practitioners that contribute to the organization’s conservation and sustainability work.

CEC aims to innovate; it is the learning and education-focused network within the IUCN system. New tools, social media, innovative learning has always been an area of exploration for the CEC. For example, in September 2007, it held a workshop on New Learning for the Arab Region at the Library of Alexandria in Egpyt where we looked at all kinds of social media and technologies. CEC makes an effort to test and model new tools and technologies in its work.

This meeting has been no exception, thanks to Posterous (self proclaimed as the “dead simple place to post everything”). We have been experimenting using Posterous as workshop support and it has been working brilliantly, making us virtually paper free, helping with simultaneous reporting, and providing practically instant feedback on group work and planning. Here’s how we have been using it:


  1. We opened the free Posterous account prior to the event and restricted the membership to the participants, closing inputs and accessibility to those attending.
  2. We sent out an initial email to participants with the URL and information on how to use that, so they had it prior to (if they had time) and upon arrival, and asked them to bring their laptops to the meeting.
  3. We arranged for wifi in our room and helped everyone get on, then we demonstrated Posterous on the first day and had everyone make their first post (posting is done through email message. e.g.
  4. Then we were off!

In-Session Use

  1. No More USB Keys – Presentation Support: There was an updating/reporting session of the beginning of the agenda where people reported on what they had been doing. We asked people to send their PPT to Posterous first (not before they arrived, just before they presented.) We had Posterous open on our screen in the front of the room, and people could either show their PPT through Posterous, or not and simply refer to it, so that people could look at it later. So no multitude of USB keys, no swapping computers, and no asking after the fact for people’s slides sets or sending them around by email (or worse, printing them and handing them out).
  2. Instant Stars – Real time photos/videos: At ramdom points during the meeting, someone with an I-Phone (me in this case), took short videos asking people for opinions about the meeting, or talking about their inputs, as well as photos, and immediately sent them to Posterous as an attachment to an email for people to see and hear as the meeting progressed. They uploaded in a minute to Posterous and were embedded within the blog space, complete with title and tags.
  3. Nothing Lost – Group work immediately captured in different formats: No longer do people need to take flipchart paper home to type up group reports (or lose), nor stay up at night to do it. We had people in small groups type results directly into Email as they were being produced and at the end of their group work, post them to Posterous. We also had people photo their flipcharts and send the photo. You could even use your phone to video one of your group members talking through the flipchart and post that to Posterous. All this happens simultaneously. We also did our workplanning like this and it is the first time I have left a meeting where all the workplans are done and on the web, accessable to all, and forming some kind of “officialness” that helps tracking and generates commitment. (And can be tagged to organize)
  4. Meeting Done, Reporting Done (Collectively): If everyone is posting things as they are being created – including discussion products, workplans, photos, videos, and attachments, interesting URLs – when you walk out at the end of the meeting, the reporting is effectively done. There is perhaps a short tie-it-together synthesis, but all the documentation produced is already there.

We are just about to end our meeting, and no paper has been circulated, no flurry of USB key swaps, or promises to send around this or that. It’s done, organized neatly on the simple Posterous interface, and we all have access to all the inputs, products and materials, to get on with once we return home. And we all contributed to it, through the simple means of email.

This video link was sent to all of us attending the upcoming meeting of IUCN’s (International Union for Conservation of Nature) Commission on Education and Communication. I’m proud to be the Specialty Group Leader for a Community of Practice focused on Learning and Leadership, a group which itself explores new learning approaches. I hadn’t seen this video on the Social Media Revolution yet, and enjoyed its concise and in-your-face delivery. It rings true from what I have been hearing at the various conferences, from Online Educa last year, to the Social Business Summit last month. It will be interesting to discuss it with this group as I have not seen very big pick up of Social Media in the large international environmental organizations in Europe. Looking forward to getting some good examples to share after this meeting later this week.

I am just about to comment on a PPT presentation that a couple of elementary school students made about what to do in case of a tornado (Among other things: Seek shelter under a sturdy table in the basement. If there’s no basement available, go to a first floor, small bathroom opposite of the tornado. Did you know that?) A teacher in Pickerington, Ohio (population 9,792) is running a timely project with his class on extreme weather conditions, what causes them and what to do.

But they aren’t making posters and standing up in front of their class (well, they might be doing that too.) They are doing their project using social media, so their learning becomes the learning of many. The students are doing their reports on tornadoes and hurricanes and the like in PowerPoint (with very nice visuals and lessons in word count that any good conference presenter should know). They are posted on a website in blog format, and they’re inviting comments through word-of-mouth viral spread from all over the world. To incentize interaction, they are giving the teams with the most comments, and with the comments from the furthest away, a prize. (Thus the reason I was called in I guess – an Ohioan who cares about tornadoes, based in Switzerland.)

The comments they are getting are interesting too, lots of positive feedback on their delivery, extra information and geographical comparisons from people who live far from their small mid-western town. No amount of classroom interaction would get them that.

I’ll put the link here, just for now, in case you want to go and give them some information on extreme weather events from your part of the world. As our climate changes and social media is just the way things are done, these kids will be doubly prepared!

When I worked in an NGO environment, we didn’t ever really notice how long it took to do things. We experimented very briefly with time sheets (about a month) and found that tricky and even a bit boring to note down how every 15 minutes was spent, mostly because there was no real incentive to do so. We did do some internal billing, so on a project basis from time to time we kept track. But even in these projects it seemed that planning meetings were so frequent and long and often multi-topic, that after a while, it didn’t make sense to try to allocate that time. So we never got a good sense of how long it took to do things.

Now that I am working independently I have all kind of incentive and a direct imperative to be scrupulous about the time it takes me to do things. I now have a very elaborate system that I use to keep track of time and the result of this kind of observation is very useful. Not only is it essential for billing, but it starts to show patterns that help immensely to make more accurate projections about how long things will take (useful both in the proposal and negotiation stage of projects). That of course doesn’t mean that the other party has the same belief in your figures that you have, but at least you will know how close the time allocation is to what it will actually take you, and how much you might potentially be doing pro-bono.

I feel like I am prudent in how I use my time; indeed, many simultaneous commitments (work and home) and multiple ongoing projects force me to be most economic with it. Plus I have been very deliberate in my collection of reusable learning objects (RLOs-templates, activity briefs, job aids, games, etc.) which help me pass on this benefit in time savings from past investment in documenting things. Since I started keeping records nearly a year ago, and 26 projects later, this is a sample of what I am noticing about how long things take:

  • Writing a blog post (from first letter to final publish): 1 hour
  • Writing a proposal with a budget: 2 hours
  • Developing from scratch a 90-minute “training” session (part presentation/part group activity- including consultation, revisions, preparation, & delivery): 10.5 hours
  • Preparing an individual coaching programme (design, preparing/holding 6 sessions): 25 hours (3+ days)
  • Collaboratively developing a training programme curriculum (multiple events with companion 370-page participant’s handbook – writing through to final proofing for printing, with some inputs coming from other sources): 172.5 hours (21.5 days)
  • Developing a 1-day facilitated planning workshop for a new client (design, consultation, and fully briefing the facilitator who delivered it): 16.75 hours (2+days)
  • Developing a 1-day facilitated training workshop for a university client (with a separate content expert providing central input, including delivery): 17.5 hours (2+ days)
  • Developing and delivering a 4-day facilitated partnership-building workshop (with multiple presenters, generative dialogue and strategy component): 64.25 hours (8+ days)
  • Design input for a 3-day conference for 300 people (including 2 parallel workshop designs and delivery, plenary activity design, coaching for other workshop presenters, plenary moderation and delivery): 80 hours (10 days)
  • Strategic Review and Advisory Report for a large training department (consultation, 6 day site visit for interviews with travel, online survey, web2.0 query and social media scan, preparation of 70-page report of feedback and recommendations, all original writing): 128 hours (16 days)

I could go on. What I notice is that time expands a little for new clients (trust building, multiple revisions, many conference calls), and for developing new materials or new approaches for known topics. Collaborative work obviously takes longer as there are many more partners and opinions to take into consideration, and more revisions as a result. Larger scale of an event also means more time as there are more delivery agents that need coordinated, coaching, briefing, etc.

Report writing is harder to judge, and it takes longer than you imagine, not only for creative delivery but for editing and layout. For a project that includes part original writing and part working with other sources, like creating a participant’s manual, my past experience shows I can produce about 18 pages a day (as a ratio, that includes all the consultation, revision, proofing, etc.). For completely original writing much less: about 4 pages a day, depending on how much data collection is needed. I am doing a project right now that included 16 interviews to produce a 25 page highly synthetic how-to document plus annexes, and this is going to take more like 15 days (or 2 pages per day ratio.)

These things take time, and the more accurate you can be in capturing this data, and learning what makes creates divergence from your standard ratios, the clearer and more accurate you can be in your discussions with partners. Then you can choose your options, based on experience and learning about the way you work.

What are you learning about the time it takes? (and indeed, this blog post took exactly 1 hour, practically on the dot!)

I have just finished writing the report for a very interesting study aimed at a reconceptualising a large organization’s Training Division into a Learning Division, and exploring what that might mean for its structure, task orientation, skill sets, and correlated processes and policies. It was a fascinating exercise in both retrofitting and growing new functionality in the division, all the while maintaining ongoing delivery to support the institution’s goals and objectives.

My report had a number of suggestions which were very much informed by all that I am seeing and experiencing in my work with various organizations and teams, and hearing in related communities of practice, about the changing face of learning. The first three suggestions were:

* Moving from Training to Learning
* Blending Formal with Informal Learning
* Exploring New Learning Technologies

Today, synchronicity (and a good network) provided a number of useful resources that capture these trends, and help substantiate these suggestions in a succinct way; so I thought I would share them here (on our 300th blog post!).

The first was an interesting LinkedIn slideshare called The Changing Face of L&D which was posted recently by Jane Hart from the Centre for Learning and Performance Technologies and Jay Cross’ Internet Time Alliance. This was a presentation to the Learning Technologies 2010 conference in London, and shares in a neat visual way how the social media revolution has precipitated a social learning evolution. (Thanks to Michael Randel for sending that!)

Then I read today’s Chief Learning Officer e-news, which featured an article by Agatha Gilmore titled “Tweet This: Creating a Social Networking Strategy” which helps organizations reframe their question from “Should we address social networking?” to “How will we address it?” It also offers some good suggestions for CLOs on the policies that are needed to make this addition to workplace learning work best.

And finally, a spirited discussion on the LinkedIn Chief Learning Officer Group mentioned Josh Bersin’s December 2009 white paper on “Enterprise Learning and Talent Management 2010: Predictions for the Coming Year” (which I just read today), which includes 12 predicted strategies for organizations this year including, “We are shifting our focus from e-learning to We-learning,” and “Learning Management Systems will continue to evolve into talent and information learning platforms, and Collaboration Systems will become hotter. Other learning tools will continue to grow.”

There is a lot of noise in cybersphere about all this, and (full disclosure) I am definitely an advocate. If it is indeed here, now there is definitely some work to be done in our organizations and businesses to think very practically about what that means for our existing work in capacity development and learning. Thankfully these do not sound like distant, frontier concepts anymore. They are right on our doorsteps, waiting to be invited in.

I am writing what’s turning out to be a very long report that’s thinking about the evolution of training into learning. And I’m very much enjoying the late night research part, which flicks me serendipitiously through many of the grainy midnight channels of the World Wide Web, as well as into some brighter and more highly produced mainstream offerings.

Last night on my channel surfing, I clicked onto Jay Cross’ newest article on Chief Learning Officer called, “Dirty Words” and have not stopped thinking about it. It wasn’t the title that got me, it was the story, of course.

It was a cautionary tale.

There is indeed something deliciously self-perpetuating about a new field of work, once you can get past the nay-sayers and eye rollers, into a set of early adopters who can help to develop the shared vocabulary, the group of interconnected concepts, the specialised actions that can be attributed to “practice” in the field.

These people start to move ahead with it. They spin off a set of correlated concepts, further definining the field, making distinctions and boundaries that set the new off from the old. There is a sense of identity of the group, and a set of short hand terms and labels emerge. You can get pretty far into it before you notice that the buzz is contained in a small (but hopefully growing) group of practitioners. The attractiveness of the cache sits rather uncomfortably with the kick you get from proselytising the new message (dooming you to putting yourself out of an elite job, and into a historical role as one of the First).

That is what I hear Jay Cross talking about in his article on Dirty Words. As learning and informal learning, rather recent in their more specific usage (several years, short in the grand scheme of things) has developed this far, with its pantheon of leaders, its specialised journals, its sub-themes, and key words. In his article Jay reminds us how other people in our institutions (those with the money as well as the need) might hear their learning teams talking and what they think when they hear some of our accepted buzz words.

I am writing my report, fully pro-learning and full of venacular for me, to an audience that has yet to be convinced (not about learning, but about the subtle difference between what we are talking about now and what went before – such as training and capacity building.) I say “A Field is Born!” but they might hear it as “#$%^&*!”. This advice from Jay is coming at a good time. When I go back through my report, I will have to remember to use my PG filter (Practitioner Guidance Suggested).

Just published by Fast Future is a study commissioned by the UK Government’s Science: So What? So Everything campaign on the Shape of Jobs to Come .

The study produced a list of 20 jobs for 2030, which I thought I would share because Rohit Talwar, from Fast Future, keynoted at the International Association of Facilitators European Conference in Oxford last September. His presentation, “Dancing in the Dark: The Future Business Environment”, thoughtfully provoked us all consider how we as facilitators might keep up with the game as the institutions we work with, and the profile of people in them, potentially change.

In that context, he had us imagine a participant group with, for example, age ranges fom 18-200. He questioned how will we structure our sessions, breaks, marketing, preparation, when everyone has global internet exposure and is hyperconnected? How will we work in an extremely resource constrained world – green our events, dramatically reduce costs, save time? When there is incredible ethnic as well as other diversity in the room, how will we celebrate that as well as continually work on issues of difference and potentially tolerance? And so on. For some, parts of this future are already here.

I received this list of future jobs this morning and blogged it because I thought it was interesting to consider how facilitators and learning practitioners might flex methods now for working with all kinds of change in the future (whether it is with body part makers or not!):

The Shape of Jobs to Come list of 20 future Jobs in 2030 (taken directly from their list published on the links above today):

1. Body part maker: Advances in science will make the creation of body parts possible, requiring body part makers, body part stores and body part repair shops.

2. Nano-medic: Advances in nanotechnology offer the potential for a range of sub-atomic ‘nanoscale’ devices, inserts and procedures that could transform personal healthcare. A new range of nano-medicine specialists will be required to administer these treatments.

3. ‘Pharmer’ of genetically engineered crops and livestock: New-age farmers could be raising crops and livestock that have been genetically engineered to improve yields and produce therapeutic proteins. Possibilities include a vaccine-carrying tomato and therapeutic milk from cows, sheep and goats.

4. Old age wellness manager/consultant: Specialists will draw on a range of medical, pharmaceutical, prosthetic, psychiatric, natural and fitness solutions to help manage the various health and personal needs of the ageing population.

5. Memory augmentation surgeon: Surgeons will add extra memory capacity to people who want to increase their memory capacity. They will also help those who have been over-exposed to information in the course of their life and simply can no longer take on any more information thus leading to sensory shutdown.

6. ‘New science’ ethicist: As scientific advances accelerate in new and emerging fields such as cloning, proteomics and nanotechnology, a new breed of ethicist may be required, who understands a range of underlying scientific fields and helps society make consistent choices about what developments to allow. Much of science will not be a question of can we, but should we.

7. Space pilots, tour guides and architects: With Virgin Galactic and others pioneering space tourism, space trained pilots and tour guides will be needed, as well as designers to enable the habitation of space and other planets. Current projects at SICSA (University of Houston) include a greenhouse on Mars, lunar outposts and space exploration vehicles.

8. Vertical farmers: There is growing interest in the concept of city-based vertical farms, with hydroponically-fed food being grown in multi-storey buildings. These offer the potential to dramatically increase farm yield and reduce environmental degradation. The managers of such entities will require expertise in a range of scientific disciplines, as well as engineering and commerce.

9. Climate change reversal specialist: As the threats and impacts of climate change increase, a new breed of engineer-scientists will be required to help reduce or reverse the effects of climate change on particular locations. They will need to apply multi-disciplinary solutions ranging from filling the oceans with iron filings, to erecting giant umbrellas that deflect the sun’s rays.

10. Quarantine enforcer: If a deadly virus starts spreading rapidly, few countries, and few people, will be prepared. Nurses will be in short supply. Moreover, as mortality rates rise, and neighbourhoods are shut down, someone will have to guard the gates.

11. Weather modification police: The act of seeding clouds to create rain is already happening in some parts of the world, and is altering weather patterns thousands of miles away. Weather modification police will need to control and monitor who is allowed to shoot rockets containing silver iodine into the air – a way to provoke rainfall from passing clouds.

12. Virtual lawyer: As more and more of our daily life goes online, specialists will be required to resolve legal disputes which could involve citizens resident in different legal jurisdictions.

13. Avatar manager / Devotees Virtual teacher: Avatars could be used to support or even replace teachers in the elementary classroom, for instance, as computer personas that serve as personal interactive guides. The Devotee is the human that makes sure that the Avatar and the student are properly matched and engaged, etc.

14. Alternative vehicle developers: Designers and builders will create the next generation of vehicle transport using alternative materials and fuels. Could the dream of underwater and flying cars become a reality within the next two decades?

15. Narrowcasters: As broadcasting media becomes increasingly personalised, roles will emerge for specialists working with content providers and advertisers to create content tailored to individual needs. While mass market customisation solutions may be automated, premium rate narrowcasting could be performed by humans.

16. Waste data handler: Specialists will provide a secure data disposal service for those who do not want to be tracked, electronically or otherwise.

17. Virtual clutter organiser: Specialists will help us organise our electronic lives. Clutter management would include effective handling of email, ensuring orderly storage of data, management of electronic IDs and rationalising the applications we use.

18. Time broker / Time bank trader: Alternative currencies will evolve their own markets – for example time banking already exists.

19. Social ‘networking’ worker: Social workers will help those in some way traumatised or marginalised by social networking.

20. Personal branders: An extension of the role played by executive coaches giving advice on how to create a personal ‘brand’ using social and other media. What personality are you projecting via your blog, Twitter, etc? What personal values do you want to build into your image – and is your image consistent with your real life persona and your goals?

Whether you agree with this list or not, it is still interesting to consider how things change (both with the people and the context) as a learning practitioner and facilitator, and consider how you notice this, and how you adapt your practice to work with it.

Tweet version:
Dry topic? Make a GAME: Take topic, identify behaviour desired, make game to practice (team it, test it, time it), add drama, give prizes!

Imagine you have what might otherwise be a dry topic, like sharing a complicated membership application process (not that some people won’t find this exhilarating, of course). As exciting as that topic might seem to those people, you cannot imagine being able to keep a workshop room of 30 people’s undivided attention long enough to go through all the 18 steps (no joke), including the many subtleties and elaborate intricacies of the process, as told by one of the experts.

You still need to transfer the skills and knowledge – why not make a game of it?

You might go about it like this:

1. Pin down a goal: What do you want to be different? For example, regionalising a complicated membership application process so that everyone can conduct it, and not only a handful of HQ people.

2. Identify desired behaviours involved: What do people have to do to achieve this goal? For example, A) following the steps of the application process in the right order (order in this case is important because you need to have the right information to meet different external deadlines imposed by a larger governance and funding process), AND B) be able to make judgements on the quality and completeness of application information submitted at different steps. Here we have two very specific actions – perhaps two different games? (We made two games to keep elegantly simple what could otherwise have been too fiddly.)

3. Develop game materials: What are your physical manifestations of the game? For example, can the steps of the process be put on paper and then separated like a puzzle (without the step numbers of course), to be put back together? Can the questions be put in the form of a quiz worksheet?

4. Design the game mechanics: How do people play – in teams or individually? Are there specific roles? What are the steps of the process? What is moving around – are they building something, answering something, putting something in sequence?

5. Set the rules: What are the rules – what you can and cannot do? What do people have to do to “win”? (Be very consistent with the rules if you give them, otherwise some people get very frustrated if shift happens. Make very few and stick to them.)

6. Time it: How long is a round? How long is the game? (Make sure to keep to the time and don’t go soft on it unless specifically contracting an extension or change with the group, or else the boundaries of the game start to blur.)

7. Record it: How do people record their progress? (back to that quiz sheet) How do they know when they have won? Is there a place to record scores? (what about a big team scoreboard like in baseball?)

8. Test it: Who is the authority who will announce the winner? If appropriate, do you have on hand the “suggested answers” and someone who can explain them?

9. Add drama and surprise: Where can you add some of the fun that goes with games? Mysterious prizes – like a Skip-a-Session-To-Go-Shopping Card? (even better than Get-Out-of-Jail-Free!) Running light commentary like at an auction or football game? New unusual seating arrangement or new room? New teams with different team names? A “judge” as a role play? A bell or whistle to signal round changes?

10. Celebrate it: What is the prize for winning? Chocolates to share? Longer coffee break? First in line in the lunch buffet? The glory of being first (Note: Personally, I get a lot better engagement with more desirable prizes – excuse a pertinent yet non-work example: I cannot get my kids excited to compete in the Getting Dressed in the Morning Game if they know the prize is a Big Kiss from Your Mother.) Also, if you have two games, give different prizes.

11. Debrief it: How can you help the teams make the points? What questions can you ask for people to notice their learning or question aspects of the practice?

It’s certainly not as easy as it sounds to make a good game that people will have fun playing and also have it be a successful learning intervention. One of the most important steps is of course:

12. Practice it: Make sure you know how to brief and debrief it, know and have tested the rules, and have all the measurements of success and prizes ready to go.

Then change the name of your workshop session from: Introduction to Regionalising the Membership Application Process to GAMES DAY! (and at the end of the session, instead of “Good Work” you can delightfully say “Thanks for Playing!”)

I have been spending the last weeks at my desk developing a shared “curriculum” for a trio of sustainability leadership development programmes in different parts of Africa. I find myself writing about activities that help people make impact in their contexts and communities, and about how to take ideas from rhetoric to behaviour change.

That’s what I’m writing about, but what I’m doing is actually the opposite. I’m taking action and putting it into words. And I realise as I write this shared curriculum, ostensibly from existing materials, for a global programme that has already existed for some 15+ years, how useful and unusual it is for practitioners to take this extra step in their capacity development and facilitation work. That is, to actually write their “curriculum” down, or record it in some way – to capture more than just the content, but the learning process used (the learning objectives, the frames, the questions, the activities, the timing, etc.) Here are a few reasons why I think this is useful and important in this day and age.

Finding efficiencies and economies of scale

This curriculum development exercise was initiated because of a consolidation of three existing programmes who want to create efficiencies and economies of scale from sharing past and future learning investments and practice. These programmes are located in the same “region”, but that region is Africa, and we all know how big that is. So frequent face-to-face work and oral exchange becomes less viable, and flying the one person around who knows how to do X-by-heart is also more problematic. It needs to be documented some way so that everyone can use it.

Democratising the learning process and creating on-demand resources

Writing the process learning down, or recording it in some way, helps move the learning from the expert model, where the knowledge is kept in one or a few people, and makes it available to a wider community of other facilitators (or would-be facilitators). Although distance knowledge sharing is aided by conference calls and video skype, (although still somewhat limited by accessibility), it is still rather impossible to download days (or years) of process this way, and unless you record the exchange, it is not available later when you might need it as an on-demand resource. And even if it is recorded, it is probably not tagged so not searchable later (and who will wade through 40 hours of hand-held workshop video?) I know change is coming in this area because I participated in a demo webinar of Quindi, which is a software package that aims to capture all aspects of meetings including video recording, which then is organized through tagging and bookmarking, but I have only just heard of this recently and not seen it in practice yet.

Promoting knowledge retention and exchange

When each programme team started their own training work many years ago, they probably did not anticipate that they would be in the position one day where they needed to share everything. In this global programme there were initiatives to report on curriculum, outlines were shared, presentations made, but not a lot of learning content was shared across the network and used by other programmes. As a result, I am not finding as much of the curriculum and learning process documented as I would like for this exercise I’m undertaking. It exists in the heads of the facilitators and faculty, but without a great deal of investment, that is very hard to use. Putting action into words can help document the learning process into reusable learning objects which then can be shared and really used.

I wouldn’t mind how this was done – practice and learning materials could be taped and YouTubed and well-titled, recorded into how-to podcasts, blogged, or simply written up (well-labelled -not pdfed please, what a pain to reuse!) and stored on a hard drive somewhere ready for emailing, even better on the cloud. Not only would it be useful for me, but it would be useful for anyone new (and in this time of high turnover, new colleagues are not unusual.) We would all benefit from this tacit knowledge of how things work, whether it is to build it into a new learning process, or share good practice with other parts of the larger leadership development network.

Creating Social Learning Opportunities

Writing things down or recording them in any way takes time, and it is certainly easier for a facilitator to simply have a learning framework in your head, to put together your materials and make it happen. And this immediacy can be very good for learners (but not so good for your peers – in fact, the better you are at facilitating learning activities, with your stock of tried-and-true games and activities, the less likely you are to record your process I find.) However, I think you can do both. If you want to contribute to social learning, and in turn benefit from the conversation that happens when someone can see and query your practice, then find some way to record it and make it useful to others who can then benefit from your work and grow the practice overall.

People who work in leadership for sustainable development need to help leaders make transformational change, and put their words into action, but in order to help this leadership learning community to strengthen its own practice, we also need to put this action, somehow, into words.

I just spent the last two days at Online Educa, one of the largest global conferences for technology-supported learning and training, held annually in Berlin. It is my third time attending and every time I return full of new ideas and a glimpse at the future learning trends through the eyes of some of the top thinkers, academics and techno-geeks. This year was no different.

Each year there is some tool or topic that is capturing the excitement and imagination of the 2000+ participants. When I first attended in 2006 it was blogs and wikis, with many people enthusing about their experiences with these young tools. At that time we had just started this blog, so were eager to hear how people were experimenting with theirs for learning. Informal learning was also a topic with Jay Cross’ original book on this published.

In 2007, the buzz was around real learning applications in virtual worlds, like Second Life (SL), which most people had discarded as playgrounds for slackers. Many formal and informal learning experts were exploring and exploiting their potential for all kinds of learning. Podcasting was also a hot topic, and mobile learning was a beginning topic of conversation then, but was being drowned out by SL avatars and a much bigger conversation about the quality and quantity of user-generated content. (I’ll never forget plenary speaker Andrew Keen -author of The Cult of the Amateur: How Today’s Internet is Killing Our Culture- who was boo-ed for proclaiming to the audience of thousands of otherwise very polite internet enthusiasts that wikipedia and the internet was being written by monkeys, or something to that extent.)

Trending this year were a few things: Tools like Twitter were not only mentioned in practically every session, but also was being actively used to extend the learning beyond the seminar rooms throughout the conference. All kinds of video application was also a trend, from having school kids use the video clips they took with their phone for show and tell, to the question of whether YouTube and its mega supply of how-to, just-in-time learning content might ever replace formal training. Mobile learning was also very big this year, with everyone doing it on their I-phones (or other, although I saw lots of them) as well as discussing the future of learning as being “hand held”. This was linked to an ongoing discussion about the coming of cloud computing, having everything in the “cloud” with ubiquitous access, where any user can access any content, anytime with their phone, PDA or even a TV. One plenary speaker heralded the end of “bulky” laptops, while holding up one of the smallest I’ve seen.

I myself found it fascinating that I only turned on my own PC once the whole two days (and that was for a skype call to Sweden). Not that I was taking notes and talking instead, no, I was on my phone the whole time. I used it to Twitter the conference, used it to give feedback in sessions on, to ask questions of other participants, to meet and interact with many people, and more. Instead of sitting down to write my blog posts, I micro-blogged the whole time (I would have never found the hour it takes me to write a proper blog post during that fast-paced conference.) And in doing got some experiential learning in “going mobile”, learning alot about this new handheld future, from many who do it so expertly.

In fact, my last Tweet from the Conference was: “#oeb2009 Difference @ OEB for me this yr: Didn’t use my laptop at all- all interaction with mobile & found it great- Next yr no pc 4 me!”

Learning can be a useful accelerator for the work you do. It can help keep you motivated, let you experience your progress in a different way, keep you engaged with wider processes. So how can you build more learning into your work life? As a learning practitioner, I asked myself this question, and here is what I came up with:

1. Ask great questions
It is surprising how many people don’t ask any questions, or only ask rhetorical, obvious or yes/no questions. Try to ask engagement questions that people want to answer, questions that ask people to think and share. Ask questions of yourself (like I just did). For all of your questions, consider how you ask them – an approach like Appreciative Inquiry can help you refine your questioning practice (it even works on yourself).

2. Listen for learning
Listening is a companion to number 1: How often do you ask yourself as you go into a listening or a conversation opportunity, “What do I want to learn?” Answering this question can help you listen very differently and more deliberately. You can also ask yourself, “How am I listening to this?” This can help you explore your openness to learning at that moment, and to notice when you are most receptive to new ideas and messages (and when you are not).

3. Be a better storyteller
Storytelling has so many contributions to make to learning, as we have written about so many times. It helps take you through the process of packaging your learning for better recall and resuse, makes it easier to repeat/retell (thus further embedding it), and makes your learning more useful not only to you, but also to others, as you do the work for them to distill the most meaningful parts of some experience or learning.

4. Start a blog/vlog
For so many reasons, blogs help you be a part of the conversation (even if you are only talking to yourself). They provide an opportunity to notice your experience and a provide a virtual place to record it. Because it’s public, it asks for some quality control (through, say, number 3 above.) Its chronological organization and tagging helps structure your experience, so it can be used as a knowledge management tool. And I personally use it to strengthen my reflective practice, more on this below.

5. Join a community of practice
These can be physical, virtual or both. They can help you share and be shared with, providing rich opportunities for peer learning. They can be even more useful if you use them to practice some of these other learning tools, like asking great questions, and listening for learning. If you don’t find a community of practice that fits, can you start one? (Ning makes this easy for virtual CoPs.)

6. Practice it
Find opportunities to try something again. Maybe you went to a great visual facilitation workshop – how can you continue to practice that even if you are a beginner? As you sit in on a conference call, or in a meeting, can you doodle icons of the conversation process ?

7. Move your learning into a different side of your brain
Can you add an image to the theory, or link your learning to a physical experience that makes the point visceral? Can you draw a diagram that explains your thinking in addition to writing a paragraph about it? Can you move your learning from knowledge to behaviour change, from left brain to right?

8. Notice/Map your personal knowledge management system
If knowledge is a flow, how are you tracking the flows? What kinds of tools are you using to manage this flow – google is good of course, and what other kind of nets are you throwing out in the ocean of information to help you get the quality of inputs you need when you need them? In effect, what are you using as your personal knowledge management system? For example, do you have a list of the gurus in your field whose blogs or tweets you follow? Do you tag useful incoming content in your gmail or in a delicious account? Can you improve your email management system (e.g. through something like Inbox Zero?) Plenty of opportunities exist in the Web2.0 world of today.

9. Be deliberate about reflection
People use different means for this, and generally agree that they are more fully present for learning when they are actively reflecting on their experience. Capture, whatever your tool – journaling, blogging, songwriting, slam poetry – is helpful for many reasons that can be found in the points above. The choices you make about what to record helps to prioritise information, makes it more reusable and, depending on your tool, makes it available on demand for both yourself and others.

10. Help other people learn
In addition to the obvious social value of this, learning through teaching (with a small “t”, thus not necessaily in a formal learning setting) is a well known way to embed learning. How can you volunteer your learning to others and in doing so practice and progress your own? Every conversation is an opportunity to exchange, so you don’t need to have a classroom environment to help other people learn.

11. Know your own learning preferences
There are of course diagnostics around this, and I think one of the simplest ways to identify your learning preferences is to ask yourself some questions (and voila we’re back to point 1): “When was the last time I learned something new? What were the conditions that helped me learn? What was I doing? What were the people around me doing to help me learn? In what situations do I learn the best?”

Learning happens continually, and still there are always opportunities to integrate it more powerfully into personal practice and team practice, even without a training budget. For example, just writing this blog post gave me an opportunity for learning, which combined many of the above. Once you get out of the formal learning environment it’s free for the most part, it’s relatively easy, and still, it takes a little thought, and perhaps a change in daily practice. The rewards, however, can be great – a boost in productivity, satisfaction, direct engagement with your topic, as well as an opportunity to strengthen yourself as a practitioner and further increase the value of your contribution to your community(ies) of choice.

Many of us go to hours, days, even weeks of meetings and workshops as a part of our working life. Then when we return home have the added pleasure of trying to remember what happened and what we agreed to do.

Thankfully many of us also have developed good systems for tracking our next actions (I’m happy with my GTD practice, which 2 years after adopting is still going strong), and of course we also rely on the organizers to send out a report which further reminds us what happened and what’s next. These reports take many forms, and a good one is one that we a) actually read, that b) keeps the interest/excitement/momentum of the hours/days everyone spent together, and c) encourges follow-up on our part.

With the flurry of meetings and workshops that most people experience as part of their work process, how can you make your own event memorable? What can you add during and after the event that makes it stand out and finds a little home in the grey matter of each participant for the duration of your collaborative work?

Helping people remember is something that can be built into a workshop process. Like the deliberate process of creating a story from an experience – it helps people to organize and contextualise information, distill its meaning, reorganize it into a lean narrative, and create a product (story) with title or tag that is easier to remember and reuse later.

You can of course, literally, ask people to create stories from their experiences at the end of a workshop, and practice telling each other these stories and notice the great ones (people can always share and use each other’s stories). You can also use techniques like some we saw at the Society for Organizational Learning conference last year, which had “Weavers” (two charismatic people who opened and closed each day, Sonny and Cher style), who effectively linked or wove together what was going on in the conference into funny stories and jokes -again contextualising the information and applying it to real life in a humorous way. They created and told the stories for us in that case.

That conference also had a Slam Poet duo – Tim Merry and Marc Durkee – who by the end of each day had written a rap-like song, with guitar accompaniement, which pulled out a few of the strongest points from the day’s plenary presentations and built them into a strong refrain. To get big messages to stick, they even had a sing-along component. You can’t get much more memorable than that (600 people singing along to the key messages over and over again).

Visual facilitation and graphic recording are two practices that also help to create icons and memory triggers for participants, not to mention helping information and data creep over from our rational left to the creative right side of the brain (more brain real estate cannot be bad). The image above (of me!) was created in a recent workshop by Fiami, a Geneva-based graphic recorder and visual facilitator, who worked at the back of our room to capture the essence of the discussion in one pane images which are informed by his work in “bandes-dessinees” (which translates (poorly) into comic strips). His work creating one frame images with captions is slightly different than the main-stream graphic interpretations by visual facilitation groups such as Bigger Picture, a Danish group with which we have also had the pleasure to work.

Bigger Picture, like many of the visual facilitators who work in the tradition of David Sibbet and The Grove (often credited with first bringing strong visuals into planning and strategy processes), capture the process in murals which visually track the progress, decision, discussions of the group in real time. With this approach, at the end of the workshop, you have a large graphic artifact (literally meters of interconnected drawing) which ultimately can be reproduced as a poster for each participant if you have the budget (they are not cheap). These mural creation processes, which do go on quietly at the back of the room during your meeting, have the most impact if some time is built into the agenda for participants to interact with the visual – validate it, add their own post-its of icons and meaningful words here and there, and reflect on some of the key messages. With these visual “fingerprints” of participants embedded within it, the final visual’s utility as an aide memoire is greatly enhanced.

The number of groups around the world working in visual facilitation is growing. Many of these practitioners are connected through networks like the International Forum of Visual Facilitators and vizthink which operate globally, the latter of which includes all kinds of applied visual techniques.

Whatever you do (come up with your own!) you can increase your chances of success, longevity of ideas, and active follow-up to your workshop by being more memorable for participants. It might feel a bit risky at first, but my experience has been that participants are most thankful for the extra help making their time spent with you in the workshop more actionable.

I just spent a worthwhile 30 minutes reading Brenda Bence’s, “The Top 10 Branding Mistakes Entrepreneurs Make”. Since I went independent in June this year I’m still getting my head around many aspects of what it means to work independently. I thought this was a useful set of points for newly independent workers to consider – it works almost like a checklist, if you turned it around with an appreciative frame (I am not too fond of thinking in mistakes, I rather prefer opportunities to do things differently, which is a little easier on my ego.)

One of the first things that struck me among those 10 points was the second one (the first one about company names I felt pretty good about). The second point is: Forgetting that you are your brand. I type this as I sit on the Heathrow Express on my way to an afternoon meeting in a multi-national’s corporate Headquarters in London with a purple and black backpack and jeans. I am definitely going to change for my meeting this afternoon, and what if I bump into the whole group in the lobby before I even get there?

I would like to hope that my brand is more than just the aesthetics, and at the same time some branding expert/communication specialist/marketing guru might disagree with me, at least partially.

Before I became independent I worked for a string of sustainable development institutions, from small to large – an academic institute, a leadership training foundation, a conservation organization/NGO. The larger they got, the more people who were holding up the brand, and perhaps the stronger the corporate branding (and thus the lighter the individual brand within in.) When you turned up at meetings you were a person from that INSTITUTION, and although you obviously had to sound and look ok, the reputation of the institution made up for any shortfalls (e.g. from lost luggage, thus the tennis shoes at the conference, on down.)

And now I’m independent, and at least for the moment, it’s just me.

Of course I have a certain persona/reputation within my networks, with people who have known me and worked with me for years. But what about the new people, those that I am meeting for the first time? I can always quote my CV to them, if I get the opportunity, and still, the further I get from being an ex-staffer, hiding behind a great big brand, the more I need to build my own.

(Later) So, I made it to my hotel and managed to check in and get up to my room undetected, and of course, the electronic key didn’t work. On my second pass through the lobby I was not as lucky. That rather embarassed greeting of new colleagues from around the world firmed up my resolve to start thinking a bit more about what I want my brand to say about me, all the time, and what I want to say about my brand. After all, I’m not with the brand anymore, like Brenda Bence says, I am the brand.

(Next action: Reframe to make this sound less frightening and more exciting…)

All week I have been working with a mixed Private Sector/ Not-for-Profit group (the latter from one conservation organization) in a joint learning exercise about partnerships between these two different sectors. It was structured in an interesting way, the first two days were internal to the conservation organization, with headquarters staff joined with their regional and national office counterparts. The third day invited a wide range of interesting and interested multi-nationals, and the final day featured a more intimate meeting between those private sector partners with a more formalised relationship with the NGO, and the relationship managers from both organizations.

This was a marathon meeting for some, and almost more so because of the highly interactive nature of it – no sitting and vegging out during hours of plenary presentations. At the same time, this intense interactivity in a workshop – working in pairs, individual reflection with Job Aids, trio Peer Consult walks, Learning Cafes, Graffiti Boards, Carousel discussions – all has accelerating affects on the group development process. And if you succeed and get far enough in developing trust, open communication and comfort around authenticity in the group, what that often means is that at one point in the agenda, the group kicks out one of the exercises. I’ve seen it happen over and over again.

That happened in our meeting, and while my counterpart (who had picked that session to facilitate) was a little distressed by this, I saw it as a strong indicator of success.

How can it be successful if a group decides to not play along with an exercise, but instead tells you that this is not the right question or activity, and proposes another one? That sounds scary from a facilitator’s point of view, and this might sound counter-intuitive: if you are a good facilitator you need to be ready for that.

When a group kicks out a session, it can be a sign that the group, the network or team that you are building, is making its own decisions. It knows where it needs to go, and is comfortable enough with the relationship they are building together, and with the facilitator, to articulate that (in the nicest possible way as we experienced). The group exerts its independence and drives the conversation in another direction. Potentially this new direction involves the Elephant-in-the-Room question – that might have been perceived to be uncomfortable or unsafe early on in the relationship building process – and for which resolution is critical to overall long-term success.

For the facilitator, the right reaction, like in good improv theatre, is to say “Yes!” and go with it. Seeing a decline in dependence on the facilitator at the end of a workshop is always a good thing, and can even be built into the agenda, as the group will continue on its own afterwards, and manage its own processes. So it is an excellent thing if this independence can occur and be practiced in the safe, face-to-face environment of the workshop.

So if a group throws out your exercise, think about it, it might be a sign of a job well done!

I am way behind in my blogging, mostly because I have been completely obsessed with another blog – one I set up in July for my Father that is not as different as I had imagined from this blog on Learning. The topics are very different, his blog (Outdoors with Martin) is about squirrel hunting, building farm ponds and the best places to catch large mouth bass. But his orientation is purely “how to” which definitely appeals to my learning side.

But that is not what is keeping me on his blog more than mine right now. Granted I try to post one of his articles per day (he is an outdoor and travel journalist with an archive of thousands of published newspaper articles just the perfect length for a blog), which takes me about 20 minutes to put in the links (they were originally print based), and update any dates or figures (what is the 2009 teal duck limit in Ohio?) Sometimes I find out odd things that need a little rewrite, like that the great State Park Lodge that my father raved about in a 2005 article burned down last year.) It is critical for him that all the dates, telephone numbers and so on are up-to-date.

But just the time spent on the other blog isn’t what’s keeping me off this blog.


Oh my, I love the statistics that WordPress gives you (we decided to set it up on a different blog platform as a comparative experiment). We have set up a Sitemeter account for the new blog too. We are literally swimming in positive feedback – data about where the people come from who are checking your blog, who has referred you, which article is getting the most hits, what key words people typed into a search engine to get what article. That information sets up a positive feedback loop that just keeps you, the blogger, on that site, posting, researching, reading.

Maybe it is just for the extremely curious, but I think there is a business end to this too. For example, there are a few topics that are getting by far the most traffic on my father’s site, odd things – using solunar tables for hunting and fishing is the top, after that building perfect farm ponds, raising peacocks, and growing nut trees. I would think that it might be interesting to write more on these niches, if that is getting the most interest. Reader feedback, that is one of the reasons to write a blog.

When Lizzie and I set up this Learning blog in 2006, we made a decision NOT to collect statistics. I set up a SiteMeter page, but it never worked on this Blogger site (maybe because we had a referral page?) In any case, we decided we didn’t want to be driven by the statistics but by our own learning and desires to create reusable learning content. I still think that is completely valid. However, I guess I didn’t know what I was missing!

Now my suggestion for a new blogger would be to use a site that has a good stats function (like WordPress and not Blogger – sorry Blogger!), and link up Sitemeter as well. And to actively use that information on what people are reading, how they are skipping through your blog, and how they are finding you, to make your blog even better and keep you interested and energised, through powerful direct feedback.

In January of this year I wrote a blog post called The Return of the Age of Education, where I wondered if the kick one gets from acquiring stuff could be replaced by that from acquiring knowledge. Effectively, could personal growth replace economic growth? Can acquiring knowledge replace acquiring things? (For example, I was going to experiment with growing all my garden plants from seeds this year.)

I asked that question last week at our Balaton Group Meeting to University of Surrey Professor Tim Jackson, one of our speakers and a member of the UK Sustainable Development Commission which produced the recent, provocative report Prosperity Without Growth.

His answer changed the way I’m thinking about how learning can best contribute to sustainable development, and changing the social logic is a part of this.

Why do people buy things? (Probably there are many individual answers to this question.) Tim Jackson questioned greed as the primary driver. People may instead buy things to gain a place in the community. Tim drew on Adam Smith’s linen shirt example and spoke about the life without shame and the symbolic function of materials good and the importance of these commodities in our lives. So if buying is linked to participation and placement in the community (like keeping up with the Jones’) then individual learning may not be a good replacement, or at least not good enough.

So instead let’s look at community learning. Could this help people find their place (and minimize their need for stuff?) There are many examples of social “experiments” in intentional communities, local currencies, community agriculture schemes, which may better connect individual learning, through community learning, with sustainable development goals.

Of course it is not as simple as all that. In the current economic model, employment is a big driver, and it gives people the money to keep buying, which stimulates the economy, and signals to businesses to produce more stuff, that workers have to make, which keeps people employed. All this works until consumers stop buying (then comes the credit, for a while…) Replacing buying with something else has other consequences in the current system. One quote from this presentation stuck with me: Growth is unsustainable but degrowth is unstable. Tim gave some of the conclusions from their report Prosperity Without Growth, and if you’re interested in thinking about alternatives to the current macro-economic system, its worth a look.

Imagine you and another trainer got together and could dream up your perfect training centre. What are some of the things that you would avoid, that have driven you crazy in the past, in various hotels and conference centres around the world? Heavy or fixed furniture, poorly lit rooms, carpeted walls, struggles getting one more flipchart at 11pm, getting internet connections for speakers – you name it. What trainers and facilitators want more than anything is flexibility. How might you design a centre for maximum flexibility?

This morning I had the pleasure to visit just such a training venue outside of Geneva called Ecogia. It is the main training centre for the International Committee of the Red Cross. And in fact, it is the manifestation of the vision of two trainers, Christiane Amici Raboud, now the Director of Ecogia, and one of her ICRC colleagues, also a trainer at the time. They seemed to think of everything and built up a delightful learning environment for both their peers, and the participants who spend time at Ecogia.

Each meeting room is the ultimate in flexibility. Everything is on wheels, the tables, the chairs, the projectors – there are even mobile units that people can wheel around after them to hold their materials and documentation (with handles at the front and perfect height for humans as opposed to smaller mammals). Each of these items has a very small overall footprint and weight – the tables quickly fold up into slim objects that look like flipcharts, the chairs are very light, the projector is in a trolley (and the cables are in the floor) so you can use any wall as a projection screen.

Even the lighting is flexible. In the main room, the projector is linked to automatic blinds and dimmers, so when you are ready to go, you push the button and the lights immediately go off and the blinds down; when the off switch is pressed, everything lights up again. No fumbling around in the dark looking for blinds and switches.

There are plenty of break out spaces, and to make it easy for groups to move around with their work, many walls are magnetic, and flipchart headers with strong magnets on them, filled with paper, are easy to take off one magnetic wall and into another room. Meeting rooms which have wall paper (the Centre was originally an 18th century orphanage, with modern additions, and has kept its charm), there are full length magnetic strips or clip in strips for flipcharts.

Of course there are many great training centres in the world, frequently very expensive and exclusive, often the domain of private sector clients. However, Ecogia, which has the majority of its clientele with the ICRC, also rents its meeting rooms and sleeping rooms to other organizations, all at compassionate cost-recovery rates, in keeping with the ICRC’s community values. It also offers simplicity in both reservation, and an all-inclusive equipment etc. package. No negotiating late in the night with a junior manager who doesn’t want to part with that additional flipchart or projector because it is not on the reservation. Also surprisingly included – all the bedrooms and many small meeting rooms have internet-accessible computers, are connected to printers and have free phones!

I must say, I was impressed. And I could clearly see, as Christiane kindly showed me around, the care and thought that had gone into every aspect of the centre. I love the idea that some trainers got together and tapped their learning about what works in training spaces, and then used it to make an innovative new place that uses learning for learning.

I wrote a post in March about learning through repetition, versus intense bursts of learning – so the benefits of 15 minutes of Spanish a day for 2 years versus the same amount of time in a one-month intensive each summer. This apparently deepens your neural grooves and helps you really learn something (See para 2 of Golden Nuggets from the GTD Summit – notice also Michael Randel’s comments about the timing piece).

Well, I checked that recently when I did two things that I have not done for over 25 years. I picked up my silver Stradivarius Bach trumpet and played a high school fight song, and caught four nice largemouth bass on a rooster tail spinner (albeit not at the same sitting, or standing, as it were).

I had no idea that this intrinsic knowledge was still there. It made me wonder what else there is still sitting in there waiting to be used, or re-used?

Indeed, 25 years ago, I played my trumpet nearly every day over a seven year period. I was in the marching band, orchestra and in a jazz band. I even got to leave school from time to time to play taps for military funerals in our small town. (Because I was paid for this I got a lifetime of confounding responses to the workshop icebreaker game “2 Truths and a Lie” -no one ever believes that I was a Professional Trumpet Player – it almost made standing in the snow behind a tombstone half a mile upwind from a 21 gun salute worthwhile.)

I probably played that particular fight song thousands of times. Any one Friday night football game, win or lose, would have produced dozens of opportunities to do so, not to mention the practice drills, and the end of every single, daily 45 minute band practice. I picked up the music for that song two weeks ago, looked through it and played it without hesitation, the second time from memory. My kids were amazed, they couldn’t even get a non-frog sound out of the instrument and they’d never seen me and a trumpet in the same room together.

Bass fishing was a similar experience. Over the years I have had a few opportunities to drop a worm on a hook into a farm pond and pull up a few bluegills. However, casting for large mouth bass with a spinner takes a little more than watching the bobber go under in shallow water and pulling up the fish. Although I found bass fishing again – getting the lure just where you want it and reeling in at the right pace – after decades of not casting, nearly as easy as that. I could even strike so that the bass were lip caught and could be happily released instead of having to practically surgically extract the hook, which never bodes well for their continued longevity as anything other than turtle bait.

Fish filleting also came with the memory package (the bluegills my boys caught), as I got to bring back those specific skills to create lunch. This was not like buying fish in the supermarket and taking off the skin, this was like taking the shiny excited fish out of the bucket of water and making it into tiny lunchable boneless, skinless filets. Something that as I get older and perhaps more sympathetic to vegetarianism, I find harder mentally to do, although I could do it almost mechanically and of course did it all the time without hesitation when I was younger and living in a rural community.

It seemed so easy, it took so little time and those abilities were back. It made me want to remember what else I have really learned in the past, perhaps long forgotten, that I could bring into service now. And somehow reapply – my guess is that trumpet playing and bass fishing might be hard to integrate into my current line of work. Although if one of my goals was to meet some new people in my local area, and perhaps work more at the community level, I can assure you that I never thought of joining the fanfare (local village bands notorious in Switzerland for playing long sets after speeches at national celebrations, and before the drinking starts.) But maybe I should.

And I’m sure that I could come up with multiple parallels between bass fishing and leadership learning if I tried, it might make for some good learning anecdotes – at least for me.

What kind of motivation does a trainer need to liberate herself from an unweildly PowerPoint slide set? What about the above – might that work for you too?

Last Wednesday in London I delivered a systems thinking module for LEAD Europe Cohort 14 (I was the Director of Capacity Development at LEAD International for 6 years). For several years at LEAD I delivered a systems thinking training module that had 5 heavy PPt files which contained over 140 PPt slides. People generally liked the module, and it was always a bit of a marathon and rather overwhelming even in its one day version.

Last week I delivered the module with the same learning objectives (common archetypes, goal setting, Behaviour Over Time graphing/Reference Mode diagramming, and introduction to Causal Loop diagrams), in half the time, and with only 2 PPt slides! Even with this incredible dematerialisation (literally and figuratively), people found the module incredibly useful and perhaps even more deeply so.

What could get me to break my dependence on that pile of carefully crafted slides, and get me closer to the point in half the time?

I knew that in the amount of time we had (4 hours) there was simply no way I could run through those slide sets and do the exercises. So I decided to change the format, and have me be the medium for content delivery rather than the slide deck. As a result, people really got more of me, the trainer, as I went through the steps with them of the various games and exercises, helped them identify their own examples for application, and coached them as they tested the two diagramming tools on these examples. Because they were interacting with me instead of the slide set, I got more immediate feedback, which gave me more confidence in what I was delivering, which in turn helped me to resist hiding behind an enormous slide set.

Here are a few other practical things I did to reduce my need for slides:

  1. I wrote the schedule on a flip chart and used it for signposting and transitions, instead of slides. This was for myself as much as participants. I also wrote up the short hand of the overall sequence and narrative of the module and carried that around with me so I could make and remake the key points for people, and never lose the plot that was so carefully constructed in the slides.
  2. I learned the game briefings by heart and gave them orally with a physical demonstration to help people follow (rather than the rules on a slide and a picture of the action);
  3. I took out ALL the examples. As heretical as that sounds, it helped quickly contextualise the tools for this particular group, as they came up with stories related to their collective knowledge based on past discussions. For example, I gave people the archetypes (like “better before worse”), with a cartoon which illustrated each one, and asked people in pairs to come up with the examples of these archetypes from their discussions together that week, as well as from their own life and work. These were then used to breathe life into the generic structures (rather than my generic examples).
  4. My only 2 slides described the anatomy of the two diagramming tools, which I put up to talk through briefly. Then I took them down. I had photocopied these and put the tips on the back, (e.g. for selecting good variable names, or for assigning polarity on a CLD), and handed these out, so that they could be used as a reference when they drew their own diagrams.

Overall it was an exercise in getting to the essence of the learning. Deriving the most critical points, and having people do all their learning through application. It was such a success, I will probably never use those 140 slides again!