(Note: This blog post is long and detailed, and really only for facilitators or hosts who want to run bi-lingual meetings in Zoom. I’m capturing this learning mostly for myself so I can use it easily next time, and I’m happy to share with others exploring this useful functionality of Zoom. Feel free to ask questions in the comments, and I’ll do my best to answer.  Also, click on images to make them larger.)

 

My three, inter-connected virtual workshops this week were unique for a couple of reasons. First, I found it amusing that each workshop was held on two different dates – that was because the online participants were so spaced out in terms of time zones, that for one half we started on Tuesday but for the other half it was already Wednesday. Every workshop was held on two dates! (with the organizing team in the middle in Central European Time working from 21:30 – 00:00 or so every night.)

The other thing that made our three 2.5 hour workshops different was that we used interpretation online, and had two English-Russian interpreters join our meeting. This was new for everyone, including the interpreters and me, so I wanted to share this overwhelmingly positive experience (of course with a few challenges to overcome) and some thoughts about effectiveness from the perspective of the interpreters which I found insightful.

Our programme, spread over three days as it was, was a multi-sectoral discussion that needed to take place in 2 languages – English and Russian. This is a group of conservation scientists from different sectors located from the far east of Russia to the Bay area of the US, who have worked together face-to face in the past, always with translation. Now we needed to take their work into a virtual environment and chose Zoom as our platform particularly because of this new interpretation option. Our two interpreters joined us from their home offices in two different locations, and they translated in and out of both languages.

There were really only 5 steps to get interpretation working:

Step 1: Get the Zoom Business Plan

Zoom had recently offered an interpretation feature that we wanted to test. This option is only available to Zoom Business users. This is the plan above the Pro version that I already had. For this plan you need to pay for 10 hosts at the minimum, and it costs 199.99 USD per month. You can buy it by the month, which is what I did. Upgrading was incredibly easy to do on their website. You click the button and pay. You maintain your own account and all your details and just get the added features from the Zoom Business plan. Usefully, Zoom doesn’t force you to register the additional 8 hosts, just pay for them.  I only have two hosts registered (me and my colleague Lizzie), I will go back to Zoom Pro next month, and when I work with translators again, I will simply upgrade for the time needed.

Step 2: Setting  up your meeting for interpretation

With Zoom Business, now what I see as a host when I create a new Zoom meeting is a box to tick at the bottom of the meeting set-up screen that says “Enable interpretation”. Once you tick that box, you need to put in the email addresses of the interpreter(s) and the languages you will use. Currently Zoom offers options for 9 languages: English, Chinese, Japanese, German, French, Russian, Portuguese, Spanish and Korean. We needed Russian and English, so that was fine. I selected the languages that each interpreter would work in from a drop-down box. You can add many interpreters it seems using the “Add Interpreter” button – after clicking that 10 times I stopped.

Once you set up the meeting, the interpreters get an email message inviting them to join the Zoom meeting as interpreters. That’s really all that’s needed prior to your meeting – very simple!

 

 

Step 3: Once in your meeting: Start Interpretation

When you open the Zoom meeting as the host, you need to click on the Interpretation icon which shows up on your dashboard (bottom of the screen). Once that is open you need to “Start Interpretation”.  This makes an Interpretation icon show up on the screen of every participant. This is relatively easy to forget the first few times you use this function, because as the host you already see the Interpretation button on your screen and assume that everyone else does too. You then might confidently declare that there is interpretation enabled, and then all participants will respond loudly and in unison that they don’t have the interpretation button, they can’t find it and that this doesn’t work. Then you say “sorry” and start interpretation and magically the icons appear and everyone is happy.

This extra step to turn on interpretation probably makes sense so as not to start it before your interpreters are there. My two interpreters were always in the room early, so I could start that even before the meeting officially opened.

 

Step 4: Participants choose their language

Once participants see the Interpretation icon on their screen at the panel at the bottom, they click on the icon to see the language choices for your meeting. Note that by default, interpretation is “off” and they just hear whatever is going on in the main room. They need to choose their language to start hearing the interpreter when he/she is speaking their chosen language.

 

Step 5: Mute original audio

This last step is very important and was an initial source of consternation, taking us a few tests to understand what was going on and what to do about it. So, only after selecting the language of choice, the option to “Mute original audio” becomes active (before you select the language you can see it but you cannot click on it). Unless you wish to hear both languages simultaneously (the speaker and the interpreter) you will want to select this.

When Zoom describes this feature, they make it sound appealing to listen to the interpreters while also having the original language going on softly in the background, simulating a real physical workshop room where you would hear the interpreter in your headset, and still have the original speaker going on in the front of the room at a distance. However, this wasn’t our experience. Both languages seem to be almost the same volume, and with headsets, it was maddening to listen to both languages in both ears at the same time. So other than just dropping in to see that the translation was working, everyone used “Mute original audio” and were happier for it.

Here’s another thing we learned in our testing, the “mute original audio button” is currently only available in the most recent Zoom updates. People with older versions, or company versions that were updated (or not updated) centrally found that they did not have this button and were relegated to either “Interpretation off” (hearing only the language of whoever is speaking – for perfectly bilingual people this is no big deal) or hearing the frustratingly loud mash-up of the speaker and interpreter. This lack of “mute original audio” button was the case in about 25% of our participant tests prior to the workshops. As soon as people updated Zoom they all had the option to “mute original audio”, and their blood pressure went down again.

Eventually, the system worked 100% for everyone, even those who were working in very remote areas. As we had substantive technical presentations in both English and Russian, and only a small subset of bilingual participants, the meeting would not have been possible without interpretation. Zoom made it easy through keeping it all on one platform, rather than having a work around with interpreters needing to set up a separate call, using Skype or other. Another option is always consecutive translation, but that essentially doubles the time needed for meetings and would have slowed us down considerably.

How it felt to participate

I am trying not to be effusive, but we were truly amazed at how well the whole thing worked and how easy it was once you got used to it and set up. One of organizers said that it should be explored even for face-to-face meetings as everyone always has a laptop in front of them and headphones anyways these days. Even sitting in the room, they could log into a Zoom meeting, turn off their video, mute their microphone and pick their preferred language on the Zoom screen. The speakers at the front of the room would just need to have Zoom too and a headset (no video needed as they are live). If participants had a question, they would unmute themselves, speak and the speaker would hear it. There would be no additional interpretation devices to check out and collect, no booths needed, and your interpreters could be anywhere in the world and not in the room. Ah, I get carried away. It is an interesting idea to ponder. Just to note – the interpreters had a completely different opinion on this! (See “How it felt for interpreters” below)

Testing, testing, 1,2,3

As this was new to all participants, hosts, and even the interpreters, we ran 5 interpretation zoom tests in advance of our meetings, where we invited people to join us, walk through the few steps to turn it on and check they had the latest version of Zoom. This also helped us check audio, video, and connectivity issues, which was helpful overall.

I set up the Interpretation tests as separate Zoom meetings, enabled interpretation, invited the two interpreters, and then we hosted a subset of participants each time so that they group was small enough to help and trouble shoot (note that our first two tests were just internal with our friendly and patient organizers). These tests lasted from 15-30 minutes and upon declaring success, greatly helped us move technical issues out of the actual workshop meetings, making starts smoother and punctual.

Final reminder in the meeting

Even with the tests, I opened the first of our three workshops with a few PPT slides to remind people what to do for interpretation, using screen shots. I also included the meeting norms (keep on mute unless speaking, raise hands, etc.), followed by some simple testing of these important functions (“give me a thumbs up if you have this”). I always opened the Zoom environment 15-20 min before the official start of the meeting to trouble shoot with all those who signed in early. And on the last day, where we had a few new external people joining to give presentations, I presented the Day 1 “How to” slides again in the 5 minutes preceding our start time for these newcomers. We had informed them to join us early during the interpretation test meeting.

This all might seem like overkill, but it helped significantly, and made for an effective workshop. The first few times you use interpretation (or even Zoom itself), you can still easily forget where to find things and what to do, and then not know why things aren’t working, descending quickly into general gloom and the potential of existential crisis about whether or not you are going to get this virtual stuff, ever. On a more practical note, even before you get a whiff that people are stuck, you as the facilitator can also invite people who need help to write you in the chat using the “private” option and you can help them individually. After a few times, it is very straightforward.

Ultimately, for participants, once they got there, it was smooth and easy and a little magical to see the videos of their colleagues speaking, mouths moving, and the smooth voice of the interpreter seemingly coming out of it in your very own language. This facilitates discussion and communication among people significantly – brilliant!

How it felt for the interpreters

Talking to our interpreters about these meetings was eye opening for me. I have always been in awe of people who can listen to one language and simultaneously speak another one. I continue to be impressed – our interpreters were excellent, and were themselves learning how to do their work in Zoom.

A number of focused debriefing meetings with them after the tests, and after the workshops themselves, helped us tweak things – but interestingly, not so much from the technology aspect. That worked fine. But more from the procedural perspective. It was interesting to hear them compare their work in a booth at the back of a workshop room, to being plugged in, in front of their computer screens during a virtual meeting.

For them, interpreting for Zoom meetings is now a reality, so they are eager to get up to speed on this. However, their observation is that it is more intense and stressful than providing this service for in-person meetings. Meetings in the Zoom environment, they observed, caused additional cognitive stress. First, because when they are interpreting, they cannot communicate with the host, participants or the other interpreter (who is not in their booth but 1000 km away in their own office).  They cannot bang on the booth to get our attention, or visually signal to the other interpreter when they need something or are having a problem (e.g. if their system goes down, there is an issue with sound quality, or they lose connection – which can happen to anyone, necessitating the need to quickly log out and log back in). They cannot read the chat function when they are interpreting – the chat button lights up but they cannot easily see if it is a private message (e.g. about the sound, etc.) or just people chatting back and forth amongst one another.

Also, when someone is sharing their screen to present this obscures part of their dashboard so they cannot easily other things on their screen, like the time – so need to look at their watch or phone, etc. to know when it is time for the next interpreter to take over. That second interpreter is also not there with them physically to use visual communication to switch interpreters (they work in 30 min shifts).  All these might seem like small things, but when you are using all your full attention to listen to one language and speak in another simultaneously, it is cognitively more demanding to keep track of all these other things going on at the same time.

The second reason that this is stressful is because the Zoom technology does not impose procedural discipline upon participants, which means that the facilitators and chairs need to do that more. In face-to-face environments, when using interpretation systems, some systems do not allow two people to speak at once, and also people raise their real hands, and then push on a button when called, and then they speak. In Zoom however, everyone can unmute themselves and speak at the same time  (I’m sure we have all been on those family zoom calls when everyone is shouting at the same time). People can even speak over one another in two languages! In that case, what does an interpreter do?

To help, there needs to be an emphasis on procedural discipline, which might make the meeting feel more formal, but is really necessary when using interpretation. The Chair or facilitator needs to give voice to participants, and needs to insist on procedural compliance in terms of taking turns, and even trying to leave a bit of space between speakers and language changes, so that the interpreters can click on the other language button when they change languages. It is better for them, they said, if there is no direct contact between participants without the chair giving the floor to people. People also cannot mix the two languages which is very tempting for bilingual people – this is also a rule in F2F interpretation.

Notes for the Facilitator and Host

For the Facilitator of a Zoom meeting, you need to keep your eye on the interpreters’ names in the Participant Panel, and you can even check from time to time that all is going well by switching languages to hear the interpretation (or taking off for a minute “Mute original audio”). One tip for the Host is to rename each interpreter with a “__” (double underscore) before their first name, so that these names are always near the top of your participant screen, which is alphabetized by Zoom (after Host, Co-Hosts, those sharing screen and speaking). That way, you can easily see if for some reason they are not there/drop off the line, so you can stop and wait for them to come back in. If you don’t rename them in this way, their names are mixed in with all other participants and you might not notice if they aren’t there, with a speaker talking away but no interpretation.

This happened to us for a few seconds during one of our workshops, but we just asked the speaker to pause until the interpreter was back, and then to repeat a short segment. We went merrily on and it didn’t happen again.  It has to be noted, that bandwidth and internet fluctuations can happen to anyone these days, when everyone in the world is at home and trying to get online simultaneously – whether they are working or watching Netflix, or both at the same time. We know that these little things always happen in virtual meetings, and of course it is a little more dramatic momentarily when it is the interpreter who drops off, but you just pause for a moment and work through it.

This is surmountable, and our interpreters navigated all this novelty elegantly. We, the organizers, only really knew how much work it was for them afterwards.  I am sure that no one participating felt anything other than a great meeting, supported by equally great interpretation.  For interpreters everywhere who want or need to make this transition to virtual meetings, the Zoom system will become easier to use as they have more and more practice, but the procedural discipline aspect needs to be firmly on the “To Do” list for facilitators.

Some final thoughts

It was exhilarating to try something new and have it work so well! This international group would have had to wait months to meet again in person, and this virtual option allowed them to continue their collaboration in the meantime, from the comfort of their own homes from the far east to the far west.  It goes without saying that your interpreters are critical for the success of your bilingual Zoom meeting. As such, it is important to work closely with them, listen to their perspective and get their feedback through testing of the system in the preliminary stages of workshop development. And of course, remember to thank your interpreters at the end!

(BTW if you need recommendations for experienced Russian-English Zoom interpreters, I have some names to share!)

There is an excited flurry of activity right now among meeting, workshop and conference organizers -and their facilitators -as travel restrictions due to the coronavirus cause cancellations of face-to-face (F2F) meeting formats. Planning meeting agendas are being taken over with the exploration of different technologies, tools and platforms to help hold these events virtually.

But in many ways, virtual gatherings are not so different to their F2F counterparts.

It’s worth remembering, and I am talking to myself here too, that these meetings, workshops and conferences themselves are tools – a means to an end. We don’t organize workshops or conference just to have them – they are not boxes to tick in our annual workplans. We use these gatherings for other goals that are important to us. The most useful thing to bear in mind when looking at all these different models, tools and platforms to convert our F2F meetings into virtual formats is, “What was the end we had in mind?”

What did we want to change or be different as a result of our workshop? What did we want people to know, think or do differently after attending our conference? What did we want to have in our hands as outputs at the end of our meeting?

No doubt there was a task you wanted to complete – whether it was to collect useful input to a strategy development process, collectively write an article, review a set of draft guidelines, or exchange good practice to build community capacities, and so on. There were also probably some softer outcomes in mind, like helping build relationships in a community, reinforcing trust in a process, or inspiring buy-in and support in promoting the final co-created product.

Putting your desired outcomes first will help make choosing the right technology to support it much easier – form follows function (if you will pardon my invocation of an over-used design cliché.) If we take a step back and remember our desired outcomes and outputs, that will help make this conversion-to-virtual process easier, and potentially tap into some creativity in terms of how we get things done virtually.

A couple of other thoughts on virtual workshop design – length and complexity

We observe in our F2F conferences and workshops that even the most well-intentioned participants have finite attention spans. It may be less obvious when people are sitting in an auditorium as they can easily dream away while still looking fixedly forward at the person standing at the podium. They can of course also choose to keep talking to the person they just met at coffee break and leave their seat empty in the plenary room. (It is of course harder to disappear when there are only 15 or 35 people – although they may invoke the “sorry, I couldn’t reschedule this important call.”)

Online, there are a multitude of ways people’s attention can drift away or be drawn away – pulled by their computers, email, various devices. And there is no way to tell if they are even there at all, or just popped out to make a coffee, if they are on mute and no camera is being used.

So the same rules apply to virtual as F2F, keep things short and to the point. In F2F we rarely have sessions that are more than 90 minutes to two hours maximum before taking a break. Within those blocks we use a lot of techniques to keep messages focused, interventions short, pithy and discussions interactive. Virtual sessions should use the same rhythm, sticking to these familiar timeframes, and include well-prepared interventions.

Technology adds a layer of complexity for both participants and organizers. Even in F2F, preparing a presentation and standing up to speak is something that most people are happy to do. But add a PPT projector, slide changer, microphone and sound system, and things can fall apart if not practiced and tested. This is the same for virtual environments where seasoned speakers can be perplexed by talking, keeping an eye on the chat stream, and changing their slides at the same time – especially the first few times they do it. Speaker preparation is something that needs built into both formats.

Although we all have our phones in our hands at every moment of the day, even using polling apps in F2F workshops (like polleverywhere or mentimeter) with an increasingly tech-savvy audience, still creates complications for some. This is why we take time for set up and do some low risk test questions before we use these tools for real data gathering. With online interaction it’s the same, and we do need to add in that additional time for people to get used to the tool – take it slow, make it easy with clear instructions, and practice. It also helps to be humble and invite the audience to join in the experiment of trying new things and invite them to give feedback afterwards on what worked and what could be different next time.

The good part is that people are getting more comfortable with these technologies, at least as users. With this current situation, many more will also get more comfortable with the back end of these platforms and tools as administrators. Whether it is using a polling app on our phone F2F or using zoom in our offices or at home, we are now more quickly domesticating these technologies.

It’s actually a great opportunity right now, and a great responsibility. By doing a good job with your virtual meeting or conference, you are building the capacity and confidence of the whole community to work together in this way. Once people feel comfortable with the technical aspects,  and have a productive and enjoyable experience working together virtually, they will show up differently next time.

This is a valuable mass learning opportunity for our community to learn how to work effectively together virtually. It’s possible that, even without travel restrictions, we may never go back to the same meeting culture we had before. We will still gather, but may be even more ambitious with precious F2F meetings, with their substantial investments in carbon, budget and time. If we get our methods right, we may get the same valuable outputs in virtual formats as F2F, demonstrating that they are not so different after all.

(Photo credit: Bruno Cervera- Unsplash)

You’re not going into the office, you can’t go to that busy cafe, you’re not dropping into a co-working space. You are going to work from home for a while.

At first you think that this will be fun, after all you have worked effectively from home in the past for a day or two to finish that report or work on a proposal. This longer period will see you getting even more done, right? Maybe. What might happen when office workers go home?

Independent workers have set up systems to work effectively at home or in mobile environments. They have home work stations, office supplies and equipment, and that backpack that has every thing and every cable they need to work from anywhere.  But what if its not a permanent shift – just the reality for a while? It’s probably not worth spending time thinking about such things, you just need to get work done at home.

The first day is great, you plow through things; the second day, you get some more done. By the third day it’s getting quiet, just you and your laptop. You schedule calls and have online meetings. But between those you still need to produce something. You find yourself doing lots of email and planning – moving papers from one side of your kitchen table to the other. There are also other distractions trying to grab your attention at home, the laundry, training the dog, the drawer that needs sorting. It’s hard to focus, what do you do next? This isn’t going to work for 14 days.

For the last year, I’ve been working on a couple of larger writing projects. They have no particular deadline, and no pressure. They don’t call me or send me email. They do wake me up in the middle of the night occasionally. But I have to find deep wells of inner discipline and focus to work on them. I have discovered one practice that has helped me enormously to make progress and get things done, that I think might also be useful for workers accustomed to having high contact with others and frequent check-ins, and are not necessarily used to working on their own from home.

This practice was inspired by Focusmate which I discovered last year, and is an online community that literally works together. I thought it was a great idea, but didn’t want to work with strangers. So I set up my own set of Focusmate colleagues – friends of mine who are also working on writing projects and research in some cases, and others who just want an extra layer of accounabilty to get substantive things done. My Focus Friends are in Geneva, Paris, Rhode Island, and Budapest, and I am always glad to add others.

The process is very simple:

  1. Schedule: You schedule at least a 1-hour block with someone and put it in your calendars (I often schedule longer blocks such as 2-3 hours and we my schedule multiple sessions over a few weeks). Send a calendar invite if you like.
  2. Connect: Using Skype or WhatsApp or whatever you like, call each other at the scheduled time.
  3. Set Norms: Agree on your working mode – you will only need to do this once. You will be working together on different things and not talking. You want to limit distraction to the other person, but still have them “in the room.” You need to make a decision on how you will be connected during the hour. With some friends for the work time we leave on our camera AND audio, with others we turn off the camera and leave on audio, and others we turn off audio and leave on the camera. You can decide what you like best with each person.  The idea is to stay connected for this hour and work in companionable silence, as much as possible. You won’t be getting up and down, or taking phone calls, or cleaning your desk. Your goal is to do deep work for an hour on a project of some kind at your computer with someone else, somewhere else, doing the same in real time on a different project.
  4. Share: At the begining of the hour, use the first couple of minutes to tell each other EXACTLY what you will do and accomplish for that hour (use your camera for this if possible). Try to be specific and realistic -how many pages will you review or write, etc.
  5. Time: Set your timer for an hour (I use my iphone timer).
  6. Work: Get to work together – with no talking, just a clicking of keys and/or a thoughtful face (I usually connect with skype on my phone and have it to the side in my peripheral vision).
  7. Report: When the timer goes off, you both stop. Each of you tells the other briefly what they accomplished. It is interesting to note how well you estimated the time it takes to do things. This is great practice – each time you do this you will become more accurate in your estimations.
  8. Break (and Repeat): If you will do multiple 60 minute sessions together in one block, take a 5 min break in between each and then repeat from Step 4 above.

It is amazing what you get done when you add that accountabilty component and know that someone else is “with you” working at the same time, even if they are 3,000 km away. It gives you the comfort of being with others working, as you would feel in an office, which can be a motivator to really settle into a task and focus, and it carves out a dedicated space to do that more creative and original work. It also helps you push past the delicious urge to procrastinate that you might get when you know that no one is watching over you.

I have found this simple system to be incredibly helpful and thought it might be useful for others too. Even when you can’t be physically in your office for whatever reason, with focusmate, where ever you are, you’re in the room where it happens.

 

 

You travel a lot, I travel a lot.  International work is exciting and takes many people to the four corners of the earth. Maybe we go to similar places? Faraway places, or those close by; hot places and cold places; highly populated urban areas and sparsely peopled rural areas. North, south, east, west. You’re a planner, I’m a planner. Let’s work some scenarios.

You are travelling far from home, on another continent. Let’s say you are approximately 5, 702 kilometers from home. You find yourself in a situation where you are relieved unceremoniously of everything you have, except perhaps a small overlooked cabin-sized suitcase in the back of the taxi with some clothes and toiletries. But you no longer have your well-packed work backpack, your handbag, and your tube of flipcharts (just as an example.) You will spend several days to several weeks without some things, and the rest of your life without others.

This post is all about what to do before you get robbed. What can you do to help your future self in that situation, if it would ever happen to you, to make it a little less painful, traumatic, and confusing?

So, let’s make a checklist!

Since you will probably not read all the way to end of this mega-checklist, and hopefully you will never need to, I will put my closing thoughts here, and repeat them again at the end:

My overall advice in such a situation is: be nice, stay calm, say thank you. In the absence of the physical things that accompany us in our daily life, and in an unfamiliar environment, you will need all the new friends you can get.

Documentation and Identity

Scenario: You will have lost your passport, driver’s license, work permit, and so on and so forth. You are now only who you say you are.

  • Have the number of the local embassy that can help you.
  • Travel with extra passport photos in a separate place (or a concealed money belt).
  • Travel with copies of your identity cards in your suitcase.
  • Put copies of all these documents into Evernote or other cloud storage.
  • Update this when you get new ones (rather than procrastinating this).
  • Memorize your log-in to your cloud storage.
  • If you have 2 passports, leave one at home in an accessible place.

Money and Finances

Scenario: You will have no money, cards etc. Not. one. cent.

  • Have the telephone number to 24-hour assistance to cancel your credit cards.
  • Have the number to cancel your bank ATM card.
  • Have someone at home that can Western Union you money (in a perfect Catch22, you will need a passport/ID to get your money, but you can’t get your new passport without money – therefore you need friends who have their own id and money).
  • Use a money belt – split things into different places. Make sure it is not very obvious, or else that will go too.
  • Take out anything in your wallet that is non-essential for your trip or irreplaceable, old photos of kids, cinema card, etc.

Work Computer

Scenario: Your computer and ipad will be gone.

  • Don’t put any files on your desk top.
  • Have all files in dropbox or equivalent cloud storage.
  • An online data backup system, like Crashplan, can restore files to the latest update.
  • Update everything the night before you leave.
  • Have your computer serial number available (in your suitcase and at home).
  • Have a login and memorise it.
  • Use a cloud email like Gmail that you can access from any computer.

Communication

Scenario: You won’t have a phone or email; your Apple watch, remarkably, will just tell the time.

  • Back up your phone the night before.
  • Have an automatic upload for photos to the cloud when you get on wifi and do that before you leave.
  • Keep your Apple watch charger in your suitcase. (Having said that, it is actually amazing how long the battery lasts when it is only telling the time.)
  • On your phone have a log-in, use apps like find iphone, google maps with location sharing, find friend which might help you located your phone. Have a way to wipe your phone from a distance, and someone who knows how to do this, as well as check these apps to see if your phone is still findable.
  • Make sure you have at least 1 or 2 telephone numbers memorised – you laugh, but how many telephone numbers do you know by heart? (and your childhood home doesn’t count)
  • Make sure the people at home will answer their phones at night (as things always happen at night)- find out if they have some kind of night time filter where you have to ring three or some magic number of  times before the call gets through.

Health

Scenario: You might be hurt, taking medication (malaria, or other) and in a Yellow Fever zone.

  • Have copies of your health insurance card and Yellow Fever card (yellow international vaccination certificate) at home and in Evernote.
  • Have a copy of your health policy in your suitcase.
  • Split any medication into 2 places – malaria medication for example as it might not be easy to get a replacement prescription where you are.
  • Have a phone number of your Doctor in case you need to change medications mid-stream and need to ask about side effects. They will ask you exactly what you were taking, so…
  • Have prescriptions scanned and a copy in your case and in the cloud.

Insurance

Scenario: You will need to replace lots of things.

  • Make sure you have travel insurance to cover any loss, and enough of it to cover what you have with you.
  • Keep receipts of things you have with you in an accessible file.
  • Don’t take valuable irreplaceable jewelry, watches, etc. (remember that value is in the eye of the beholder, such as flipcharts).

Work Documentation, Paper Calendar, Paper GTD (Getting Things Done) File

Scenario: You are cursing your analogue tendencies; missing your retro paper calendar, and the lifetime to do list in your paper GTD file that has 10 years worth of “someday/maybe” items that you probably weren’t going to do anways, but now really can’t.

  • Photocopy/scan any documents before leaving that are not already digital (notes, etc.)
  • Update your online calendar with your paper one the night before you leave.
  • Keep a birthday book at home (one that has all the birthdays in it, unless you want to tell the whole story when you uncharacteristically forget an important birthday).
  • Scan your GTD file the day before you leave and put it into Evernote.
  • Don’t keep unique items in your GTD file (precious photos, etc.)
  • Scan any receipts as soon as you get them and upload them to the cloud.
  • Scan paper time sheets or keep digital ones.
  • Put pens and paper in all places (it is maddening not to have a pen).
  • Have some reading in all places (also maddening not to have anything to do or read).
  • Have an itemised list of what you are travelling with – a hard copy with you and at home, and a digital one on the cloud. You can also take a photo of everything you pack.

Travel

Scenario: You are somewhere where you don’t live, you need to get home, and you have no tickets or official identification needed to cross a national border.

  • Have your locator number in your luggage, or in a belt.
  • Have a print out of your ticket in another place.
  • Have someone at home who has access to your emails and can send these things to you (or to the new friend with the phone and computer).
  • Local contacts? They can help you get in touch with the police, give you some money, provide you with a sympathetic driver, lend you a computer to email, a phone to text on, and pen and paper. Maybe they can get you a magazine or newspaper, or a deck of cards, don’t be picky.
  • Make a packet of this travel information, and include your packing list – keep 2 sets with you in different places, 1 set on your desk at home, and 1 set in Evernote.

What the police will want…

Scenario: You will spend many hours inside a police station, watching policemen do their job which was pretty quiet until you came along.

  • An itemised list of items stolen and their approximate value.
  • Sim card number.
  • Registration number of your phone, including the make of the phone.
  • Serial number of your computer, and make of computer (and any other details you know).
  • Passport number (a copy if possible).
  • Photos for the police report (if you don’t have them you will have to go get them taken, so you will need money to get these, and a friend to give you money).
  • Proof of entry into the country (e-ticket).

What the embassy will want…

Scenario: You are at the embassy which is an hour from where you were staying, you were kindly provided a driver, and will need to produce the following:

  • 4 or so passport photos of the correct size. Make sure you know the size or you will do this twice, even for emergency passports, you cannot submit photos that are not exactly the right size. (Note: to get these you need money, and for money you need that friend).
  • Copy of your lost passport and number.
  • More money (30 Euros for example) to get an emergency passport.
  • Application (remember you have no pen – they can usually give you this).

 

The above list makes a good starter checklist – what would you add? You can make it with those little check boxes by each item and keep blank copies in your travel file, or geek out and laminate it and use an erasable whiteboard marker to fill it in each time. (I have not yet done this but the idea appeals to me.)

I hope you never get robbed. But if you do, these precautions will make the long days that follow a little easier. You will notice small things that you have not noticed for years. Your pace will slow down. You will read anything lying around and appropriate a pen and scraps of paper from the hotel to write things down while they are fresh in your mind. You might sit for hours trying to recreate your GTD file on little slips of paper, or play 100 games of solitaire on a spare deck of cards, or finally learn how to use Google hangouts so you can talk to loved ones 5,702 kilometers back home. This not a sad story, it is a learning story, an exercise in reframing that can be helpful when preparing to travel and setting policies on when and how to travel with work.

Oh, and let me also repeat: Be nice, stay calm, say thank you – as you noticed from the checklist above, you will need all the new friends you can get.

How do you go about creating a Pecha Kucha? Well, growing experience with them is teaching us that the process is often quite the opposite of what we usually see when people begin a traditional PowerPoint presentation. Are you among those who start by annotating blank slides with key words and messages and then let the presentation grow from there, hoping the logic will somehow make it work? If so, you’re not alone, and like many if you try and fit this to a Pecha Kucha format you may struggle to match your messages meaningfully across to the 20 x 20 second timed slides. How about trying a different approach? Begin by writing a story. Then match your story across to slides for a much more compelling narrative with visual support. Here’s how.

In preparation for a recent event at which we demonstrated techniques for engaging groups in thinking, learning and working together, we asked one of our favourite clients (thanks Mark!) to help us. We challenged him to create and deliver a Pecha Kucha and he was happy – if a little daunted at first – to oblige. This blog post shares his valuable, pragmatic approach.

Step 1: First determine your key messages – what do you want your audience to think, feel and do as a result of your presentation – and write your story to get your key messages across. (Click here for our blogpost on storytelling.)

Step 2: Practice telling your story aloud and tweak it until it tidily fits into 6 minutes – making sure to breathe, leave pauses, allow time for the audience to absorb what they are hearing and so forth.

Step 3: Once happy with your story, it is time to divide it into 20-second chunks. Literally read and time it out, marking into your script every time 20 seconds passes.

Step 4: Create a table with two columns and twenty rows (for the twenty x 20 second slides you will eventually have). Cut and paste each the 20-second chunks of script into twenty rows of the table. At this point, you may choose to again tweak the text so that it fits more comfortably with the slide breaks.

Step 5: For each 20-second chunk of script, find an image or select one or two key words that best support the content. Enter these into the left hand column of the table.

Step 6: Convert the left hand column of your table into your twenty slides. And, with a little practice, you are ready to go!

Now, a little anecdotal experience… if all of sudden your presenter can’t make it, they may just be able to hand the whole thing over to a trusted colleague! With a timed script ready to go and clearly linked across to the slides, a little time to read and digest was all that was needed for someone else to come to the rescue and do a truly superb job. Pecha Kucha preparation pays!

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For more on Pecha Kuchas, see our many earlier blog posts (enter ‘pecha kucha’ in the search box – left column. Here are a couple of our favourites:

Taking the Long Elevator: 13 Tips for Good Pecha Kuchas

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

Let’s take an example. Imagine you want to have a conversation about future meetings in a large team or organization with a view to – no surprise here – improving them. You likely have opinions about meetings and how they need to improve in the future. All well and good; but in order to get others on board with this change, you need to explore their opinions about meetings and what improvement might look like. So you decide on a quick and easy way to explore what is and what could be.

On A3 sheets around the room, you have converted some statements about meetings into spectrums. On one, for example, is a spectrum with two axes. At one end of the y-axis it reads: “We always get the task done” and the other end it reads “We never get the task done”; and on the x-axis: “We always feel great about the result” and at the other end “We rarely feel great about the result”. On another sheet, you might have a spectrum related to the quality and quantity of participation. On others, a grid question addresses the amount of time spent in different thinking modes (with the thinking modes – critical, creative, etc. – as the column headers and % brackets in the rows – 0-25%, 25-50%, etc.) and a multiple-choice question is about the efficiency of time spent (with different rows from not efficient to very efficient).

With your spectrums in place, you give participants sticky dots and invite them to tour the room independently, placing their sticky dots in appropriate places on the spectrums of various formats. In the first instance, they should place their sticky dots to describe ‘what is’. Next, either using the same spectrum or an identical one stuck on the same board, repeat the exercise but this time using sticky dots of a different shape or colour to describe ‘what could/should be’.

Once everyone has contributed, it’s time to look at the results. You could choose to do this in plenary, but I recommend taking it a step further. Divide the group up into a number of smaller groups (corresponding to the number of spectrums) and provide them with a flipchart template to complete. Give each one spectrum and ask them to complete the template: (1) briefly describe the results; (2) analyze / suggest reasons for the results / assumptions behind them; and then (3) suggest how to get from ‘what is’ to ‘what could/should be’. Allow them 15 minutes to do this work, and then have each group report back to the rest, providing opportunity for others to then react and provide additional ideas.

This process is a great way of generating and quickly analyzing large amounts of information in a highly interactive, participatory way. The outputs are very visual, making great reference material throughout the event that follows. It is really valuable for clarifying perspectives on what is and what could/should be, the direction that the group want to head in, as well as beginning the conversation about how to make change in the desired direction. Try it and let us know how you get on.

If you’d like to keep up with my highlights from TEDActive 2011, I’m tweeting @lizzie_BGL. Blog posts to follow once the dust settles!

We wish everyone a wonderful holiday season!!

I can say “we” officially now, as Lizzie (my co-blogger here since 2006, and former IUCN team member) has joined Bright Green Learning and will start on 1 January. She will bring her innovative learning and facilitation abilities, incredible creativity, and no doubt her “Maximiser” skills to our work. Welcome Lizzie!!!

Happy Holidays and Happy New Year!

When preparing to give a presentation, how do you get started? A list of bullet points? Opening a PowerPoint and jotting down a key message for each slide? Browsing your folder of favourite images to highlight your ideas? Or perhaps like me: with a large table, a big blank sheet of white paper, and an array of colourful pens, sketching out visuals, words and key symbols, with circles and arrows highlighting the connections and helping navigate about the page?

If you are like me, then you’ve probably struggled with the transition from your sheet of beautifully animated paper to a series of PowerPoint slides. All of a sudden, the dynamism, the creative flair, the energy seems sucked right out. Despite your best efforts, clicking through the slides you are disheartened by the linearity, and frustrated by the challenge of retaining the contextual frame for each of your interestingly connected points – a frame which leapt from your one pager. If this speaks to you at all, I have just the presentation tool you’ve been waiting for: Prezi. Check it out here: www.prezi.com. It’s very intuitive to use, and makes a really refreshing change. Systems thinkers especially – this is absolutely for you!

Let me know how you get on.

Remember how you learned to walk? Most of us don’t. For the large part of our lives, we take for granted our bipedal fluency having forgotten the process that first got us there. Observing children learning to walk may remind us. Or watching the scene in the Wizard of Oz where Scarecrow is taken down from his perch. Falling, hobbling, lurching and then learning to step with fluidity, Scarecrow’s bipedal journey begins… and then, as he perfects the flow of out of balance movement between one foot and the other, he even finds himself able to dance!

To address the toughest social challenges of today, Adam Kahane, speaking at the SoL Pegasus Conference, argued that we needed to learn to be bilingual in two “languages” in much the same way as we learned to walk. Drawing on the work of Paul Tillock, he provided two definitions of the essential driving forces behind these languages; 1) The drive of every living thing to realize itself; and 2) The drive towards unity of the separated. Summarizing these into two familiar words, he spoke of our need to be bilingual in the languages of power and love, and be able to dance between them with fluidity. The key, for Kahane, is focusing on the transitions between one and the other.

At this conference, the summaries at the end of sessions are made in different ways – one is with music. Just before the coffee break between conference sessions, two musicians, Tim Merry and Marc Durkee, introduce what some called the universal language of music, distilling the essence of the presentation with spontaneous Brit slam poetry and groovalicious guitar. The chorus of their song for this presentation… Here we go, we gotta learn to dance like scarecrow. Are you and your organization dancing?

Everyone waits for the other guy to change before changing themselves. You first my dear Gaston! After you my dear Alphonse! – reads the cartoon by Frederick Burr Opper. Not so in the case of Vanessa Kirsch, founder and president of New Profit, Inc., as we learned from her and Diana McLain Smith, partner at the Monitor Group consulting firm. Speaking of how relationships make or break performance, this dynamic duo told of the essential readiness needed for reflection and a relational perspective, as relationships are built not born.

Relationships along organizational fault lines are all too often too fragile to withstand today’s pressures, stated Diana. We don’t have the time to play the waiting game. One step at a time we need to reflect on the anatomy of our relationships and the patterns of behaviour, and the quick step may well be what is needed. Whilst we’re not talking Strictly Come Dancing, videoing our performance (our oral and body language) as we go may be the key…


31 out of 40 workshop organizers prefer quick reminders two days before a deadline – or so my learning from last week tells me.

In preparation for a week of ‘Learning Opportunities’ during the IUCN World Conservation Congress in Barcelona, October 2008, I am in regular contact with 40+ organizers of workshops. All are busy people in jobs spread worlwide, offering to share their skills and build the capacities of others to use them.

Over the course of the remaining 4 months – as we put together an online application system for participants, prepare the official Congress programme, develop detailed agendas, collect biographers and supporting materials and make these available on the web – there will be a lot of communication between us. I need to make sure that they continue to cooperate and make my life easy. And I need to help them to help me.

Last Friday was our second deadline (revised titles and session descriptions please). I sent out the request and some guidance two weeks ago. Little back by Wednesday, so I had a decision to make. Sit tight, wait and – come Friday evening – send emails chasing all those who had failed to reply with an impassioned plea and the threat of exclusion from the applicants system? OR a polite, ‘quick reminder’ that afternoon to those i’d not yet heard from. Needless to say, I chose the latter and happily, moments later, in came responses: “Thanks for the reminder – much appreciated!” By Friday evening all had come flooding in. The lesson: help people keep to agreements – it feels good all round.


“The new Al Gore presentation on climate change at Ted’s talk is an inspirational, bright and optimistic approach worth a look at” wrote Nicole Thonnard Voillat – and so I did online at World Changing.

I really appreciated his comments on optismism being not about belief but behaviour which goes beyond our choice of lightbulbs to active citizenship in our demoncracy, mobilizing political will and resources. Stimulating a hero generation with a sense of generational mission is an exciting challenge that I would like to hear more from him on – in terms of what he thinks it will take to do this. Reframing the ‘terrible burden’ on our generation as a fabulous opportunity which we should respond to with profound joy and gratitude is an interesting start…

I wonder how we might use appreciative inquiry to explore examples of past hero generations and learn about how best to leverage another for the future? Thought provoking. What do you think?

Whatever else it is, Weight Watchers is fundamentally in the behaviour change business. It is a business that has been working for 40 years and they say they have changed the lifestyles of millions of people around the world. Now there are Weight Watchers meetings from Brazil to South Africa. And even where there are not formal meetings, there are Weight Watcher Meet-ups, like all over Mexico. This is becoming a global phenomenon all about reducing consumption and adopting a healthy lifestyle which is about more fun (activities) and less stuff (fuel).

Weight Watchers has come a long way in how it tries to get people to change their lifestyles, and how it supports them on this journey (and support is the operative word). They don’t say “You need to stop consuming so much -It’s really bad for you. Here are a few tips, now get on with it.” They promote a programme that is individualised and incremental. But it wasn’t always that way.

In the 1970s being on Weight Watchers was a hardship. There were very strictly regulated menus, few options (either on the programme or on the market), you had to weigh out everything on scales and keep strict track of sizes, portions, etc. Much of the time (although they said this should not be the case) the dieter was hungry. Dieting was equated with deprivation. It was all you could do to stick to the programme. And although the social incentive system was already in place – you got rewards for increments, group meeting were lively and supportive, there was weekly monitoring and evaluation – the effort it took to keep track of your consumption patterns would not easily translate over into a lifestyle change. To make matters worse, everyone’s goal was standardised -your goal weight was calculated as though every person of the same height and gender should ultimately weigh the same thing. There was not much flexibility for the diversity (like metabolism, age, build, genetics) that exists in our human population.

Today, Weight Watchers has learned a lot about what it takes to help people make these changes more permanently, to have fun and feel good in the process, without the feeling of deprivation and hardship. The new programme is much more participant driven. There are lots of well-developed options throughout the programme (one option is a No Count option, that helps educate people to accurately estimate consumption – and it still works) and more fundamentally each person’s goal is calculated individually. The support side of Weight Watchers is still excellent and has been further enhanced through various Web 2.0 social networking tools. Here are some features of Weight Watchers today that reflects their learning about what works :

  • People who are trying to reduce their consumption commit themselves to go to weekly meetings to join a community of others who are doing the same, there is a leader who gives ideas, tips and new information, and people share in conversation what they are learning in their effort to change their lifestyle. People help each other to achieve their goals. (Today there is also an online option, with vast internet interactive capabilities and communities.) Weight Watchers research shows that people who go to the meetings and interact with others are much more likely to succede than those who try to go it alone;
  • Each person has their own goal which is calculated by WW, and based on the results of a self-assessment. There is a weekly check-in and monitoring of progress to reach this goal. The goal and actual number is confidential to the member and the leader, but the rate of change is shared and celebrated, or advice given on how to do better next time;
  • Reaching the goal is not presented as something you do must achieve quickly through heroic effort. In fact, slow and steady is the recommendation, with just a small reduction per week considered to be optimal. The premise is when change is made slowly then it is more likely to stick. Once you reach it, there is another whole programme devoted to maintenance.
  • There is a culture of “You can do it” and the literature and language is all about Success Stories; the leaders are former WW participants, and everyone administering the programme is someone who has successfully gone through the experience and changed their behaviour permanently.
  • No one speaks of deprivation, as that is not thought to be motivational. And there is nothing anymore that you cannot consume; however it is about quantities, and trade-offs. If you want your chocolate cake, be prepared to make a choice about other things for the rest of the day/week. People are in control of their experience, and they still have an overall end-goal in mind, and a set amount of caloric energy that they know they can consume each week that will help them reach it. Weight Watchers insists that people consume their allowance each week, if people try to speed up the process then the feeling of deprivation might result in quitting or splurge.

Now if you thought of people’s carbon diet, how would this translate? Aren’t we trying to do the same thing? Help people who overconsume energy calories to reduce and maintain this? And to want to do it and potentially have some fun doing it? What can we learn from Weight Watchers? So many of our communications about reducing energy consumption is about Save the Planet, and guilt for overconsuming, and giving up luxuries that we cannot always imagine giving up. I think that messaging works for some people. At the same time there can be more than one way to engage what is an incredibly diverse global community, with different goals, aspirations, needs, motivations, abilities. Might such a programme, a Carbon Diet, be another way to help change behaviours permanently? I took a paragraph off the Weight Watchers website and adapted it – I think it just about works for me…

Who We Are- Our Philosophy

Energy Watchers has always believed that energy reduction is just one part of long-term sustainable management. A healthy body and earth results from a healthy lifestyle – which means mental, emotional and physical health. Energy Watchers does not tell you what you can or can’t consume. We provide information, knowledge, tools and motivation to help you make the decisions that are right for you about energy needs and use. We help you to make healthy energy consumption decisions, and we encourage you to enjoy yourself by becoming more active.

To provide motivation, mutual support, encouragement and instruction from our leaders, Energy Watchers organizes group meetings around the world. Meetings members often become meetings leaders and receptionists, sharing the story of their personal success on our Carbon Diet with others. At Energy Watchers, carbon management is a partnership that combines our knowledge with your efforts. And trust us, your efforts will pay off! We help you on your journey by:

1) Helping you make the positive changes required to reduce energy;
2) Guiding you to make positive behavioral changes in your life;
3) Inspiring you with our belief in your power to succeed; and
4) Motivating you every step of the way.

Anyone want to join me on a Carbon Diet?

‘The old adage “Mighty oaks from little acorns grow” may be true, but what do you do when your “acorn” days are far behind you? How do you continue to grow and flourish? Mentoring apprentices and protégés has been a part of business as long as we’ve had crafts and professions. But when you’ve put a few growth rings under the bark, consider the flip side. Sometimes what managers really need is a mentor from a younger generation to inform and inspire.’

As a ‘young’ professional reading this from the much-loved ‘silence car’ on the train from Zurich early this morning, I smile. It comes from a wonderful book – The Ten Faces of Innovation: Strategies for Heightening Creativity – by Tom Kelly with Jonathan Littman, IDEO.

‘Reverse mentoring can help counter your company’s natural tendency to be over-reliant on its experience. Consider seeking out younger mentors to provide insights and initiative about what’s happening in the world today’ (pp 86).

Whether the relationship is formalized or not, most of us tend to have mentors. Yet how many of us have or are ‘reverse mentors’? What does your reverse mentoring landscape look like?

Within the headquarters of my organization, around 30% of our staff are under the age of 35. We are, somewhat controversially, referred to as the ‘young professionals’. Having already gained considerably greater presence, visibility and voice in the last four years, we are now in the process of developing a programme to maximize the value that we bring and receive during our time here. Part of this is expected to be more formalized mentoring. Now i’m thinking that we perhaps ought rather (or at least additionally) be paying more attention and giving more credit to the reverse mentoring at play…? I wonder what our senior colleagues would feel and have to say about that! Any thoughts?

In recent months our organization has undergone some restructuring and our team has accordingly received a new mandate. Whilst continuing much of our existing work, we now have the scope to develop in new areas, including in the area of ‘leadership’. Thinking for some time now about what this might look like, we have been looking at ourselves – as individuals and a team – to see how we might better use and further develop our strengths. In this process, I have been struck by quite how quickly our jobs can evolve. And I have been wondering about the relationship between me and my job. Are my job and I evolving apace? And is there a process of natural selection at work, in which my job has increasingly played to my strengths?

I joined the organization almost four years ago on a short contract as an editor and soon became involved in a number of projects looking at strategic communication and learning. I have since gained valuable experience working with international, voluntary membership networks, developing websites and portals, using web 2.0 technologies, and more recently I’ve added facilitation skills and interactive learning design as ‘feathers to my bow’. In the course of all of this, to what extent have I sought to evolve in response to an evolving job? And to what extent has the evolution of my strengths influenced the evolution of the job? I am not sure of the answer. Nor am I sure of what would be the optimal balance for me and my organization. To the extent that we can influence the evolution of our jobs, how much should we?

The Bibliotheca Alexandrina was, last week, host to a couple of talent shows. One was that of participants in the Youth Employment Summit (YES). Amongst others, Dumisani Nyoni was on stage with his guitar performing a medley of songs from across the world – with his audience standing and singing along as he strums something from a part of the world with which they feel special association. Another, quite different talent show took place during the ‘New Learning for Sustainability in the Arab Region’ event.

Fayez Mikhail, an Information Technology Manager from a large, international environmental organization, took centre stage (well actually just off-centre so as not to obscure the images projected on the screen behind) and showed a talent he had never shown before in almost twenty years with his organization. Fayez has a natural talent for speaking in public. Discovery of this talent was quite by accident. He never signed up for a talent show. We needed a speaker on how developments in information and communication technologies have affected learning within our organization and how we are sharing and learning with others. The speaker would be before a largely Arabic audience. Who better than our Egyptian IT Manager! It didn’t take long for us to close the deal and before we knew it Fayez was on stage and displaying a talent he never even knew he had. (Conversely, during the event we were also presented with performances by that highly experienced public speaker who clearly lacks any natural talent at all and who would have been wise to ask another to do the job for him/her – after all if your lyrics and score are great but you can’t carry a tune you’re unlikely to convince your audience that you belong at the top of the charts).

How can we tap into natural talent in our organizations? Would bringing talent shows into the workplace help us discover talents we never knew we had? And would they help us identify others with the talents we lack who could help us for greater impact? If not a talent show, how can we provide other environments in which we can discover these things? Surely our talents shouldn’t go hidden for almost twenty years. And once discovered, how can we make sure we use these to their full potential?

‘Are formal networks pre-internet artifacts?’ – asked Gillian in her post of August 30th. For some time now, we have been dabbling in and experimenting with the ever-evolving networking technologies available online. Working with a formal membership network of over 600 people worldwide, we have been seeking ways to use online technologies to stimulate decentralized engagement and action.

In 2006 we progressed from a traditional website (in Dreamweaver) – editable only by headquarters staff – to an open-source web-portal. The portal provides all network members with the opportunity to login, edit their user profiles, search other members, and share news stories, coming events and resources. And yet already we can see that the speed at which online technologies are developing means that our portal appears a product of the past. Web2.0 social and professional networking tools have taken centre stage, offering ever-more informality, flexibility, functionality and fun. The burning question – What are the implications for our formal membership network? And yet maybe there’s a bigger question that we ought to first be answering…

For me, the question of a network’s ‘form’ (and related used of tools and technologies) cannot be separated from the question: What is the network’s function? (- For we have all heard the familiar ‘form follows function’ saying.)

The World Conservation Union has over 10’000 expert members in six formal networks (otherwise known as ‘Commissions’). What is the key, generic function of these networks? The Union’s website states that these networks ‘assess the state of the world’s natural resources and provide the Union with sound know-how and policy advice on conservation issues’. Is a formal, membership network the best form to support this function? I think this question deserves further exploration. No further exploration is necessary, however, to see clearly that the formality of these membership networks brings to the Union an essential scientific credibility without which the largest conservation organization in the world would certainly lack influence.

When addressing the issue of form following network function – and the related issue of the most appropriate technologies- how can we address (and perhaps reconcile?) these explicit and implicit network functions for greatest impact? I’m hoping that both my informal and formal networks will help me here…

For professional facilitators practised in the art of designing and running effective group processes, skill in reading the underlying dynamics in a group (‘The Orchestrator’) and maintaining objectivity (‘Under the Neutral Flag’) are two of fourteen key competencies described in the June 2007 issue of The Global Flipchart.

I have marvelled at facilitators displaying these competencies par excellence and have no doubt about how hugely this has helped the group to progress and succeed with the task at hand, whilst also enabling some to find a little insight into their ‘Johari’s window’.

My question, however, is: ‘In what contexts do even the best facilitators need facilitating?’ What happens at meetings of the International Association of Facilitators? When doing their strategic planning, who facilitates? When do facilitators need facilitating?

For many bloggers, keeping up their blog is a vocation. They are completely devoted to keeping their blog warm, talk about it incessantly, obsess over their statistics, and celebrate when people comment on their posts. The only thing that can possibly keep a blogger away from her blog is perhaps…….vacation, vacation, vacation!

As I sat in the dentist chair, turning up the volume on my ipod to mask the drills and trying to focus my attention on the lyrics of carefully-selected sunny-day songs, I found my head filled with questions about dental training. When did this surgeon extract his first wisdom tooth? And how did he learn to do so? Did he learn by doing? (“Oh, so that’s how a jaw breaks, better not do that again”).

A couple of weeks ago, Gillian and I attended a three-day workshop: Performance Beyond Borders – Interactive Training Strategies. An interesting discussion arose around the pros and cons of interactive versus more traditional, lecture-based approaches to training, including:

  • Improved ability to recall information is not always correlated with improved ability to apply and transfer learning;
  • Interactive approaches usually result in a better ability to apply and transfer learning than traditional, lecture-based approaches. However;
  • Improved ability to apply and transfer learning is not always correlated with increased confidence;
  • Confidence in learning approaches depends largely on a learner’s self image, as well as their experience and perceptions about learning (most people think that you need to listen to a lecture from an expert, or read a book with the definitive theory, in order to learn something – that builds confidence, but it still might mean that you are not able to apply the knowledge as effectively);
  • A well-balanced, blended approach (both lecture and interactive) is best.

How had my dentist developed the knowledge, skills, ability and confidence to pull my wisdom teeth? From where did he pull his wisdom and how? Unfortunately when I left the surgery my mouth was all mush and I was unable to ask. On second thought, if he did learn by doing, I might be better off not-knowing.