collaborative plotting for large groups
The recent discussion about using Post-Its and a WiKi-like Whiteboard to facilliate collaboration in a large face to face group meeting finally got me to write up my own use. I have hinted at my method on the "Never Work Alone" Google-group, and you can read it in context on the blog. Here I will now try and write up the complete process and how I used it...
First, some notes. I always assumed my process was modeled after the "Open Space" idea. Reading up on that I'm no longer sure. None the less the process described here worked very well for large groups, and that's what counts. Especially as it not only "worked" as in "produce results", but also fullfilled most of my expectations for it (I will elaborate on those later).
What was the outset?
- The situation: A (very) large group of creative people meet and want to organize a LARP (Live Roleplaying) event together. This scenario was choosen because it fit the original context for the workshop I was planning (it was to be held during a roleplaying convention). But the principles can easily be applied to any other situation where a large and diverse group needs to collaborate efficiently and quickly.
- The goal was to bring together a very diverse group, carter to the needs and desires of each participant and facilliate all this with the minimum of fuss, politics and debate. In short this process was designed to minimize all the known problems and dangers (blocks) of the situation.
- Goal was to reach a state where one could almost talk of a group-concensus as to what and how was to be done. The final decissions might still be done by vote and majority, but ideally each participant would by then already be insync with the group by then.
The whole group meets in a large enough room. The faciliator explains what is to happen and lays down the basic rukes. Cclearly defining the overall goal of the sesion helps focus the participants in this phase.
- "We are here to define what we all want and find a way to encompass the wishes and ideas of each of you."
phase one - collecting ideas
In the first pahase we collect ideas and visions.
The group breaks up to do pair-interviews. Each participant moves through the group to interview each other participant about his/her ideas and wishes for the event. The questioner then notes down the answers in headline form (concepts, keywords, short phrases) on Post-Its. NOTE: participants only ever note down what others answer, never their own ideas. Those will be noted once they are interviewed.
This phase should have enough time for each participant to pair with each other. It is important to keep the individual interviews short as to enable a full round.
At any time participant can offload their notes to the central whiteboard, wall, window or similar surface. All notes will be collected here, unsorted and chaotic at first. Do not sort in this phase. Interviewing and giving answers is what counts now.
The role of the faciliator in this phase is to smooth and guide the process. Disrupt lenghtly elaborations or discussions, give help with asking the right questions, help pair people etc. The faciliuator should under no circumstances take any role in the topic or the crfeation of content. Keep things moving, motivate, guide.
phase two - grouping concepts
Once the pairings are done the group gathers and the faciliator explains the next phase.
- Everyone steps to the board and starts grouping, sorting and clustering the notes as they see fit.
- WiKi like philosophy: everyone is allowed to move, edit and adapt the notes.
- if one note fits equally in more than one place, copy it
- it's ok to add/expand notes, but do not introduce whole new concepts at this phase
- This phase should be done in relative silence. There is no direct collaboration or discussion. If there is debate it is the role of the faciliator to disrupt those debates and stress the WiKi principle.
phase three - interpretion
- Participants gather in front of the board and start to look for a interpretation of what they see.
- This can now include small discussions, but shoudn't go too far
- Some more re-grouping may occur.
- Goal of this phase is for each prticipant to form a mental picture of what is on the board and try to build a big picture out of the parts.
phase four - storyselling
- The group gathers and volunteers step forward to try and tell the story they read from the board
- This an act of storytelling, but also of selling one's personal interpretation.
phase five - finding an consensus
- How this consensus is reached is more or less up to the group involved.
- If the process up to this point was any good, the group should already have a pretty good idea of what could work for all
- Each phase already has 'hidden' mechanisms working towards a group consensus:
- Collaborative filters. Participants are writing down and sorting the ideas of the others. The own ideas only enter the pool through the filter of other participants.
- Being exposed to the ideas of others but w/o the ideas being directly coupled to the persons. Participants have the possibility to take up new ideas w/o being prejusticed.
- There is only the whole group or single one-on-one pairings. The emergence of fractions and sub-groups should be disrupted as soon as these appear. (No in-depth discussion, no debate)
real world uses:
I have successfully used this process with a very divergent group of participants (20+) that had no prior consensus on plot or theme. In the space of only two hours the group had arrived at a point where there was the outline of an intriguing plot and a good general consensus on theme and setting.
It must be noted that this example was a virtual one, as the participants had no real intention or plan of organizing the event in real. None of the participants brought any prior agenda to the session. I still think that this process can very well work to lay a good workable foundation, from which the group could then work.
Also all in all the participants had great fun experimenting with this novel approach and were suprised at the painless and efficient way they arrived at something that might otherwise have been debated over weeks.
- OpenSpace-Online http://www.openspace-online.com/
- first, second and n-th level creativity
- Tinderbox: going from cloud to text
- Limitation As A Creative Tool
- keeping the process
alles Bild, Text und Tonmaterial ist © Martin Spernau, Verwendung und Reproduktion erfordert die Zustimmung des Authors