Following are a variety of formats and methods that can be introduced in place of more traditional lecture-based formats and classroom seating. What these formats share is a greater focus on the needs of the participants and increased opportunity for interaction. These relatively simple shifts in emphasis will have a profound impact on the attendee experience.
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Open Space Technology (OST) is an approach for designing meetings or events that do not have any formal agenda beyond an overall purpose or theme. OST allows groups of all sizes to create an agenda for a complete multi-track conference in a relatively short time using simple guidelines. At the conclusion of the meeting or event, participants usually gather to debrief.
Open space meetings are characterized by a few basic elements:
- An invitation that explains the purpose of the meeting
- Participant chairs arranged in a circle
- A “Bulletin Board” of challenges or opportunities posted by participants
- A “Marketplace” of breakout spaces where participants can “shop” for information or ideas
Typically, an open space meeting will begin with short introductions by both the sponsor and the facilitator. The sponsor introduces the purpose and the facilitator explains the open space process. Then the group creates the working agenda from individuals post on the bulletin board (or other large surface). Each individual “convener” of a breakout session takes responsibility for naming the issue, posting it on the bulletin board, assigning it a space and time to meet, and then later showing up at that space and time, kicking off the conversation, and taking notes. Notes are compiled and shared with all participants.
Harrison Owen, author of Open Space Technology: A User’s Guide, identified several principles and one law that describe the open space process. The principles are:
- Whoever comes are the right people (all you need are people who care)
- Whenever it starts is the right time (spirit and creativity do not run on the clock)
- Wherever it happens is the right place (space is always available)
- Whatever happens is the only thing that could have (once something has happened, it’s done—and no amount of fretting, complaining or otherwise rehashing can change that. Move on.)
- When it’s over, it’s over (we never know how long it will take to resolve an issue, but that whenever the issue or work or conversation is finished, move on. Do the work, not the time)
The Law of Two Feet (or the Law of Mobility) states that if at any time you find yourself neither learning nor contributing, you are encouraged to use your two feet to go someplace else. The law gives all participants the right and the responsibility to maximize their own learning and contribution.
For more information on Open Space Technology, see www.openspaceworld.com
An unconference is a participant-driven meeting that uses variations on the Open Space Technology methods introduced by Harrison Owen in his book, Open Space Technology: a User’s Guide, namely, the attendees create an agenda and anyone can initiate a discussion of interest to them. This form of conference is particularly useful when the participants have a high level of expertise or knowledge in the field the conference convenes to discuss.
An unconference can be conducted using a number of facilitation styles. Some of these are:
- Birds of a Feather
- Fishbowl (conversation)
- Knowledge Cafe
- Lightning Talks
- Pecha Kucha
- World Café
For more information on unconferences, see www.unconference.net
Unpanel (also called Fishbowl or Samoan Circle)
An unpanel is a form of dialog that can be used when discussing topics within large groups and is often used in participatory events like unconferences. The primary advantage of an unpanel is that it allows the entire group to participate in a conversation.
Like a traditional panel, there are usually 4-6 discussants on a topic who sit in a circle (the fishbowl) while the audience is seated in concentric circles around them. In an open fishbowl, one chair is left empty and any member of the audience can join the conversation. When this happens, an existing member of the fishbowl must voluntarily leave the fishbowl and free a chair. In a closed fishbowl, all chairs are and remain filled. To start the fishbowl, a moderator introduces the topic and the participants start the discussion. When time runs out, the fishbowl is closed and the moderator summarizes the discussion.
For more information on unpanels, see www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fishbowl_(conversation)
This exercise is ideal for highlighting the range of perspectives in a group.
A facilitator asks a question of interest and directs participants to take a stand along an agree-disagree spectrum, which can be imaginary or a strip of tape along the floor.
The facilitator then interviews people at different points on the spectrum about the opinions they hold. This process creates a shared experience while demonstrating the range of opinions in a community. It can serve as an anchor for additional conversations.
Speed geeking is a participation process used to quickly view a number of presentations within a fixed period of time. Presenters do a five-minute presentation/demonstration for a small audience. After five minutes, the audience moves on to the next demo/presentation area. This repeats for a full hour. This format is a great way to see many short demos in a row with advantages for both sides: presenters refine their pitch through repetition; the audience moves from demo to demo, efficiently using their time while exposing themselves to different concepts. A large room is an ideal venue.
Arrange all presenters in a large circle around the edge of the room with the audience in the center. Divide the audience members evenly among the presenters. After a short presentation (usually 5 minutes) and Q&A, each group moves to the next presenter and the presentations begin again. The session ends when every group has attended all the presentations.
A World Café is a conversational forum that allows for in-depth exploration of subjects and related issues. Tables are set like a small cafe with approximately 4-6 people per table. A topic is put forward and participants discuss the topic for about 20 minutes. At the end of the allotted time, a participant is chosen to stay behind and summarize the conversation to the next group that comes to sit at the table. The other people move on to different tables and another round of conversation commences. At the conclusion of three rounds, the conversation notes are collected and can be shared with the participants verbally, physically or electronically.
A variation on a World Café, a Knowledge Café begins with the participants seated in a circle of chairs (or concentric circles of chairs if the group is large or the room is small). A facilitator explains the purpose of Knowledge Cafés and then introduces the topic and poses one or two key open-ended questions. For example, if the topic is performance improvement, the question for the group might be: “What are the barriers to performance improvement and how do you overcome them?”
When the introduction is complete and everyone understands the topic at hand, the group breaks into smaller discussion groups to discuss the questions for about 45 minutes. A facilitator does not lead these small group discussions and no summary of the discussion is captured for sharing with the larger group.
Participants then return to the circle and the facilitator leads the group through a final 45-minute session, in which people reflect on the small group discussions and share any thoughts, insights and ideas on the topic.
A Knowledge Café is most effective with between 15 and 50 participants. Thirty is an ideal number of people. If there are more than 50 participants it is usually necessary to employ microphones for the large group conversation, and this tends to inhibit the flow of the conversation. One to two hours is required for a worthwhile Knowledge Café. The only hard and fast rule is that the meeting is conducted in such a way that most of the time is spent in conversation.
For more information on World Café, see www.theworldcafe.com
Graphic Facilitation (or Graphic Recording)
Graphic facilitation is the practice of strategically combining words and images to convey information. Graphic facilitators use large sheets of paper or whiteboards to document dialog and group activities using images, symbols and words. Graphic facilitation is based on the idea that ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’ and that in this time of accelerating change, images can often convey information more efficiently and effectively to a wider and increasingly more diverse audience. Visual language can be a useful tool in helping people tolerate ambiguity and communicate quickly, often before concepts are ready to be communicated using traditional writing.
For more information on graphic facilitation, see www.ifvpcommunity.ning.com or
Appreciative Inquiry (AI) is an organizational development method that focuses on optimizing what an organization does well rather than on minimizing or eliminating what it does badly through a process which ‘appreciates’ the positive and engages all levels of an organization, often including its customers and suppliers.
The AI model is based on the assumption that the questions we typically ask tend to focus our attention in a particular direction, often toward problems or challenges that need to be fixed or solved.
AI takes an “asset-based approach” that assumes that every organization and its people have positive aspects that can be built upon. It asks the question, “What’s working well?” AI believes that when all members of an organization are motivated to understand and value the most favorable features of its culture, it can make rapid improvements.
AI utilizes a 4-stage process outlined below:
Discover The identification of organizational processes that work well.
Dream The envisioning of processes that would work well in the future.
Design Planning and prioritizing processes that would work well.
Deliver The implementation (execution) of the proposed design.
The process does not stop when a plan or design has been implemented. It leads to the next process, creating a cycle of continuous improvement.
The phrase ‘innovation game’ refers to a form of primary market research developed by Luke Hohmann, author and Founder and CEO of The Innovation Games Company, where customers play a set of directed games as a means of generating feedback about a product or service. The research is primary because the data collected is gathered directly from customers or prospects and is intended to answer a specific research question. (Secondary research is data collected previously by others, usually through primary research, that may or may not address a specific research question.) “Customers” who play innovation games are commonly direct recipients or consumers of a specific product or service. In some cases, though, game players may be any person or system who is or would be affected by a product or service.
Innovation games are directed by a facilitator whose responsibilities include:
- Explaining the game(s) to be played
- Controlling the pacing and tempo of each game
- Monitoring participation levels, and
- Managing time of the overall game-play event
The successful operation of an innovation game relies on collaborative play among the participants and a set of observers drawn from disparate functional groups within an organization. For example, a typical game setting for a word processing software might include participants drawn from two or three corporate customers along with observers comprising the product’s quality assurance manager, technical architect, product manager, developer, sales executive, or anyone else on the product team. Arguably, the most important observer is the product manager because that person is responsible for acting on the data generated by the game. However, a single observer cannot possible capture all of the nonverbal and nuanced communication that players exhibit, so all observers play a significant and irreplaceable role in the effective utility of the game.
Innovation Games is a suite of games developed by Enthyosis founder Luke Hohmann. These are designed to support agile programmers having tools to interact with and learn from their customers. These support communities understanding opportunities for innovation.
For a list of innovation games, see www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Innovation_game
Gamestorming is a set of practices for facilitating innovation in business meetings. A facilitator leads a group towards some goal by way of a game or structured activity that supports creative problem solving.
Most games involve 3 to 20 people and last from 15 minutes to an hour and a half. A game suspends some of the usual protocols of life and replaces them with a new set of rules for interaction. Games may require a few props such as sticky notes, poster paper, markers, random pictures from magazines, or thought provoking objects.
Gamestorming skills include asking questions (opening, navigating, examining, experimenting, closing), structuring large diagrams, sketching ideas, fusing words and pictures into visual language, and most importantly, improvising to choose and lead a suitable game or invent a new one.
The book, Gamestorming, by Dave Gray, Sunni Brown and James Macanufo identifies over 80 games, their objectives, number of players required, rules of play, etc. Another book, Innovation Games, by Luke Hohmann includes another dozen creative games often used in product or service market research.