Minnesota Leadership Conference


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Why school districts need to think differently about how they communicate with their communities. Also, how the World Cafe model developed by Juanita Brown can be used to answer powerful questions in school districts.

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  • Introduce myself10-year resident of MinnesotaServed on Stillwater school boardNow living in MadisonRecently finished my Ph.D. at the University of Wisconsin-Madison where I little bit about organizational change, school organizations, communication, and public engagement. Returned to school to develop a better understanding of why well-meaning, intelligent people, armed with the latest research had such a difficult time implementing change.I want to share a little bit of what I learned with all of you as you work to make sense of the data discussed here today, and try to figure out want to do about it.
  • Let’s take some time to process the data that has been presented here today.Probably not easy to take, given that you are all dedicated to doing the best you can to ensure your district does a good job. I am reminded of a concept in Jim Collins’ book, “Good to Great” and I think it is work repeating here.“Retain unwavering faith that you can and will prevail in the end, regardless of the difficulties, and at the same time have the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.”
  • With that idea in mind, we will take about 10 minutes to talk at your table about the brutal facts that have been presented here today.Report out the reactions.Let’s keep these ideas in mind as we work our way through the next hour or so.
  • We have identified some key reactions to the data. Let’s now take some time to consider how the way we communicate with the public may contribute to the problem. We tend to focus on communicating TO the public—Communication 1.0 rather thanWITH the public—Communication 2.0
  • Communication 1.0 looks like the left hand columnCommunication 2.0 looks like the right hand columnThe key work is “Dialogue”
  • Because we have had a difficult time moving to Communication 2.0 we often experience this phenomenon.Can you recall times when you have experienced this on your board? And I am guessing that you feel a bit betrayed, like you are doing the best you can and they just don’t understand. But, as the data suggests, they are displaying their hostility toward a process that has largely ignored their input.Now, it is not easy to do, because the public is only involved when they want to be involved, so you don’t have an easy time of it. But, If you begin to think of your job as moving the district toward Communication 2.0, and recognizing that this will not occur over night, you will start to see a change. I have often heard board members say they want to do the right thing, but they are not sure what that is. Today we are going to talk about some actions you can take to begin to engage in Communication 2.0.
  • Before we get into how, let’s take a look at some reasons for getting into the engagement business in the first place.Student performance is better when the community is engaged—perhaps the most important reason to consider community engagement. When the district is in chaos, it is hard to see how students can be learning.In a times of chaos and change, ongoing communication is required if we are going to build trust and good will with the public. In times like these, it is difficult to over-communicate.Perhaps most important, the context has changedThe world, Minnesota, and expectations (as seen in the data) of public schools have changed.This means, whether you realized you signed up for this, you are in charge, along with the superintendent, of leading a culture change in your district. Communication plays a role in this process, which occurs both internally and externally, with staff and community.
  • The work of the school board is changing along with the work of the internal organization as changing context and state and federal policies exert pressure on schools. Your role as a leader takes on increasing importance in this change process. Effective leadership requires effective communication. We are talking about moving from Communication 1.0 to Communication 2.0. Communicating to the community will continue to be important, people will always need information, but this is no longer sufficient. Today, you must engage in dialogue. The reasons for this will become more apparent as we talk about problem solving and the nature of the problems we are faced with today.
  • When we think about problem solving, we tend to take a rational approach. It looks something like this, where we follow the steps expecting to come out at the other end with a workable solution,yet….
  • This is one more reason why we need to engage with the publicThe problems are not only complicated—they are wicked
  • Wicked problems don’t follow the rational pattern. Instead, they require an iterative process, where we continue to learn about the problem as we attempt to develop the solution. We learn we need to go back and gather and analyze more data as we formulate a solution. As we attempt to implement the solution, we further learn and have to make adjustments, maybe returning to the data gathering stage as we further refine what we know about the problem.
  • Wicked problems have certain characteristics that make them wicked. It is not simply that the problem is complicated that makes a problem wicked. Wicked problems do not have right or wrong solutions; no easily discernable end; are unique and novel; and perhaps most importantly are not easily understandableA problem can be quite complicated, yet be relatively tame. Don’t confuse complicated with wickedness.For example, building a new school is quite complicated, but the building does indeed get built. There are certain engineering principles that must be followed, we may make decisions about what to include in the decision (swimming pools, auditoriums, football fields), but there is a beginning and an ending to the project.
  • How do these problems differ from the building example?There are a number of solutions we can consider. Let’s take the violence problem.What are some of the things we could do to address the problem.Different solutions arise from different ways of seeing the problem. You might think that instilling more discipline is the way to go. Or you might think that providing more support to troubled students is a better solution.There is no one right answer. And, what works in one school probably won’t work in another. Often times we haven’t considered all of the possible outcomes when we employ the traditional rational model of problem solving and later have to face the unintended consequences of our solutions. Can anyone name some of the unintended consequences of zero tolerance?A problem can be complicated but still not be a wicked problem. Putting a man on the moon was not a wicked problem, although it probably had some wicked sub-elements.
  • Today, we are thinking a bit about the data that was presented and how we might go about engaging with the public so that we once again have the kind of support for public education that Minnesota has long been known for.The first step in thinking about how to dialogue with the public is to determine what level of commitment we are willing to make to the public. We need to match that commitment to the commitment we are asking the community to make to us and our process.
  • As we work to try and address these kinds of problems, different stakeholders in the community may have different ideas about how to solve the problem.Because there is no one end point and no one solution, it may seem like it is impossible to actually develop a plan that could work. Rather than trying to reach agreement on one particular solution, it is more realistic to provide an opportunity for people to develop shared understandings about the problem and shared commitment to the possible solutions. People need to understand there is often a tension between what is needed to be done, and what can be done. Board members need to develop a more sophisticated understanding of the organizations you lead so you can foster a climate that provides an opportunity for people to develop this shared understanding.This is where community engagement enters the picture. Providing opportunities for stakeholders to dialogue gives them a chance to develop these shared understandings.And people who have a chance to dialogue in this manner are more likely to support solutions that may not be directly in their best interest. This is a time-consuming process, but the investment can yield better results, then the way we have approached problems in the past.
  • The first step a board must take is to engage in a philosophical discussion about engagement. What are you willing to commit to the process? If you ask the community but are not willing to give serious consideration to what they say, you only succeed at creating the loyal opposition.
  • This chart from the International Association of Public Participation is an excellent tool for thinking about engagement activities but most importantly, what you as the convener is willing to commit back to public as you ask them to participate. I have only showed you one component here, the promise you as the convener are making to the public. The Inform level is what we tend to do in Communication 1.0. Notice that as you move across the spectrum your commitment to the process increases, that more of an exchange emerges.
  • As you think about the level of commitment you are willing to make, you need to think about what that means for the kind of activity in which you are going to engage. If you create a task force, you are asking members of the public to engage at the Collaborative level. If you don’t intend to make the corresponding commitment back to the public, do not choose this type of engagement activity.The complete chart is available at the IAP2 website and includes information on the public participation goal and example techniques that align with each level of impact. We have included information on this tool in the handouts.
  • This means we need to engage in dialogue among ourselves before we can engage with the community. What do we hope to accomplish? Why do we want to talk with the public? What are we willing to do with the input we get from the public? You want to be purposeful in your engagement.The task force example.
  • Community engagement is not a one-shot activity. It requires a long-term commitment if you are going to do it right. It is about engaging in dialogue, something we don’t usually do in our public input sessions held at our board meetings. It is labor intensive; planning for good dialogue takes time. And it will take time for both the board and the community to develop a level of comfort with the process. And some activities require expertise that the board and the district may not possess. For example, is you are going to survey the district, it is in your best interest to hire a professional, as was done by the Decision Resources that did the survey that has brought us together here today. Finally, community engagement is itself a wicked problem. There is no one right way to engage with the public. It is also an iterative process that provides opportunity for us to learn more about the problem as we attempt to develop the solution.
  • While there are a number of engagement activities that require a level of expertise, the World Café model is one that is easily implemented without a high level of expertise. The most important components are the development of powerful questions, and making an effort to extend a genuine invitation to the public.People sit at tables, like you are here, and engage in conversation around powerful questions. One person at the table serves as the recorder.After 20 minutes, everyone except the recorder moves to a different table, one where no one from their previous table is sitting.After a second 20-minute round of conversation, the groups can mix a third time if time permits, or groups can report out their findings.Finally, as a whole group, participants identify themes and patterns.Before adjourning, some preliminary next steps should be identified from the patterns.While the process does not require a high level of expertise, it does require planning.
  • Things to think about when planning a World Café event:Purpose—what is the reason for bringing people together?Space—need to feel safe and inviting—consider the invitation and physical set-up to create a welcoming atmosphereThe invitation—you need to use multiple modes of invitation and the more you can personally invite people, the more success you see. In addition to the blanket handout that is sent home in the backpack mail, think about who you can connect with personally. Who can those people connect with personally? Personal invitations work better than blanket invitations, although you should still extend the blanket invitation to pick up people who you might not think of when extending personal invitations. Think about groups that you might not usually consider—church groups, Head Start and other parenting classes, for example.Powerful Questions—this is central to the process, we will talk about this more in a bitParticipation—the small group component of the model makes it a little easier to include everyoneDiversity—because people move from table-to-table, they have an opportunity to discover other perspectivesOverall themes—after several rounds of table talk, the whole group can begin to discern overall themes and patterns. People begin to see patterns, and start to develop a deeper understanding of the problem.
  • I continuously trip over Einstein quotes as I read about engagement, problem-solving, and creativity. Here, he indicates the importance of the question and we are now going to spend a few minutes looking at the components of powerful questions, as they are central to a successful process. If we can ask the right questions, we stand a much better chance of walking away from the event with useful information that can help us move the district forward without creating the loyal opposition.
  • Often times we are unsuccessful with our engagement activities because we ask the wrong questions. I served on a committee with a superintendent who insisted you needed to have something concrete to offer the community to react to. In his case, he always meant a plan that was nearly completed, perhaps including a few options for people to mull over. However, what happens then is people choose between the alternatives and then spend the rest of their time advocating for their position. For example, Boundary Plan A versus Boundary Plan B. We are often resistant to making changes because we have invested a lot of time coming up with the plans, and feel it is too late to make changes. And there is seldom agreement in the community, so one side “wins” and one side “loses.” The two sides dig in and everyone leaves unhappy. Often all you accomplish is creating the loyal opposition. The community is unhappy because they feel (and to some extent they are justified) that you didn’t really want input, you wanted approval. You are unhappy because you feel you asked them and yet they are not satisfied. Those ungrateful citizens, what do they want from you? The key is to ask the right questions! Powerful questions can focus people’s thinking and energy toward positive action. First, you must include them early in the process, not after you have developed plans in which you have invested significant time and effort. Rather than developing a plan for which you want approval, develop questions that will stir participants to dialogue and discovery that will provide you with a framework in which to develop the plan.
  • Engaging people around powerful questions will better serve your purposes. Rather than asking people to make choices between competing plans, you can engage them in dialogue that will better inform the decision-making process. More importantly, you will provide an opportunity for their learning as well.
  • Powerful questions do not simple emerge. Considering three factors can help us develop powerful questions
  • The first factor is construction. Using words at the top of the pyramid will make for stronger questions. Why might it be that our relationship with the community has its ups and downs? rather than Are you satisfied with the relationship the district has with the public?
  • Match the scope to your needs. You cannot take on the challenges of the whole state of public education or even education in the state of Minnesota. Does your question apply to the district, one school in the district? Focus the scope of the question so that when you figure out what to do, you can take effective action. You don’t want to spend your time developing a solution that cannot be implemented because you have exceeded (or underestimated) the needs of your problem.Any questions about developing questions? If not, we are going to move forward with our own World Café event.
  • We all have assumptions, what is important is to consider how they affect our ability to formulate the questions. For example, What do we change? assumes that everyone agrees that a change is needed. Let’s consider facilities: emerging research indicates that smaller schools, even at the high school level, aremore conducive for student learning. Yet, we often see growing communities where there is a reluctance to build a second high school—what will happen to the football program if we do that? Some might assume that academics is the priority, and they could be wrong in this example. So, try to uncover your assumptions in constructing the questions, and consider ways to uncover the community’s assumptions regarding the issue.
  • These are the questions we are going to use as we engage in the World Café process. We will take about 25 minutes to discuss, then switch groups, take another 20 minutes for discussion, and then report out the ideas discussed and look for common themes and patterns. We will take a few minutes at the end of today to determine what next steps we might take, and whether those steps will take place in your individual districts, as part of this larger group, or perhaps, both.We are now going to practice the World Café model. We have developed what we think are powerful questions for our conversation today. I need someone at each table to volunteer to be the recorder. This doesn’t mean you don’t participate in the conversation, but it does meant that when the others rotate, you will stay put. You each have a placement that you can use to take your own notes or jot down ideas you want to bring to the conversation. For the recorder, we ask that you use the extra placement to record. We will collect the placemats and post the information to a Google group where you all can continue the conversation. We will take about 25 minutes to talk about the questions, switch groups, spend another 20 minutes in discussion, and then report out. The questions are: What do you want to have happen within the framework of an “engaged” community?What seed might we plant together today that could make the most different to the future of public education in Minnesota?Now, we’d like everyone at the table, except the recorder, to move to a different table. Be sure that whatever table you go to, you are the only person from your initial table. You want to be with a completely new group. Now take another 20 minutes to discuss the questions.We will now report out the results of the conversations.Take notes on chart paper of reporting out, and collect the placemats.
  • Before we leave, you need to remember that once you walk out the door after completing the conversation you are not done. You need to consider that the conversations are data, and you need to systematically analyze the data.We don’t’ have time to get into this today, but there are ways to approach data analysis that are simple and effective. The important point is that you do indeed, give serious consideration to what people told you. As I said at the beginning, You must confront the brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.
  • Any questions about the World Café model before we move on? Karen and Linda are going to give you some practical tips for engaging with the public. We will then finish up with some conversation about next steps.
  • Minnesota Leadership Conference

    1. 1. Community Conversations: Building Relationships in Support of Public Education<br />Deb Gurke<br />Wisconsin Association of School Boards<br />MSBA Leadership Conference<br />January 14, 2009<br />
    2. 2. Confront the Brutal Facts—The Stockdale Paradox<br />Collins, Jim. (2001).Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap . . . and Others Don’t. New York: HarperBusiness, 2001.<br />
    3. 3. Reflecting on the Data<br /><ul><li>What is your initial reaction?
    4. 4. What questions do the data raise in your mind?</li></li></ul><li>From <br />Communication 1.0 <br />to <br />Communication 2.0<br />
    5. 5. As schools and communities move from<br />communication to engagement<br />communicate to deliberate with<br />public hearing community conversation<br />seeking to establish/ seeking and finding<br />protect turf common ground<br />public relations public engagement<br />
    6. 6. “The alternative to engaging with the public will not be an unengaged public, but a public with its own agenda and an understandable hostility to decision-making processes that ignore them.” <br />Steve Coleman and John Gotze, <br />Bowling Together, 2002<br />
    7. 7. Reasons to Engage<br /><ul><li>Students perform better
    8. 8. Honest communication builds trust
    9. 9. Accountability and communication build good will
    10. 10. The context has changed</li></li></ul><li>“The ability to communicate across the various constituencies of the organization (both internal and external) is the key to effective leadership.”Margaret Wheatley <br />
    11. 11. Traditional problem solving method<br />Gather Data<br />Analyze data<br />Formulate <br />a solution<br />Implement a solution<br />
    12. 12. “Some problems are so complex that you have to be highly intelligent and well-informed just to be undecided about them.”<br />Laurence J. Peter<br />
    13. 13. Solving Wicked Problems<br />Gather Data<br />Analyze data<br />Formulate <br />a solution<br />Implement a solution<br />
    14. 14. Characteristics of Wicked Problems<br /><ul><li>Solutions are not right or wrong
    15. 15. There is no stopping rule
    16. 16. Each problem is unique and novel
    17. 17. You don’t understand the problem until you have developed the solution</li></li></ul><li>Examples of Wicked Problems<br /><ul><li>How do we deal with crime and violence in our schools?
    18. 18. How do we close the achievement gap?</li></li></ul><li>Today’s Wicked Problem <br />How do we reconnect <br />with the public <br />to reestablish trust in <br />and support for public education?<br />
    19. 19. How do we deal with wicked problems?<br />By creating shared understanding <br />about the problem, and <br />shared commitment to <br />the range of possible solutions.<br />
    20. 20. First steps to engagement <br /><ul><li>The board…
    21. 21. Engages in philosophical conversation
    22. 22. Determines level of commitment
    23. 23. Develops policy that reflects their commitment</li></li></ul><li>
    24. 24.
    25. 25. The goal is to engage the right publics at the appropriate time with the most helpful processes for making decisions.<br />
    26. 26. Community Engagement….<br /><ul><li>Takes time to develop real dialogue
    27. 27. Is labor intensive
    28. 28. Often requires skilled facilitation
    29. 29. Is itself a wicked problem</li></li></ul><li>The World Café Model<br />Easy-to-use method for creating a living network of collaborative dialogue around questions that matter in service of the real work.<br />2008 The World Café. http://www.theworldcafe.com<br />
    30. 30. Café Guidelines<br /><ul><li>Clarify the Purpose
    31. 31. Create a Hospitable Space
    32. 32. Explore Questions that Matter
    33. 33. Encourage Everyone’s Participation
    34. 34. Connect Diverse Perspectives
    35. 35. Listen for Insights and Share Discoveries</li></li></ul><li>“If I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on the solution, I would spend the first 55 minutes determining the proper question to ask, for once I know the proper question, I could solve the problem in less than five minutes.”<br />Albert Einstein<br />
    36. 36. Powerful Questions<br /><ul><li>Generates curiosity in the listener
    37. 37. Stimulates reflective conversation
    38. 38. Is thought-provoking
    39. 39. Surfaces underlying assumptions
    40. 40. Invites creativity and new possibilities</li></ul>Art of Powerful Questions, Vogt, Brown & Isaacs, 2003<br />
    41. 41. Powerful Questions<br /><ul><li>Generates energy and forward movement
    42. 42. Challenges attention and focuses inquiry
    43. 43. Stays with participants
    44. 44. Touches a deep meaning
    45. 45. Evokes more questions</li></li></ul><li>Components of Powerful Questions<br />Construction<br />Assumptions<br />Scope<br />From the Art of Powerful Questions, Vogt, Brown & Isaacs, 2003<br />
    46. 46. Construction<br />More powerful<br />WHY<br />HOW<br />WHAT<br />WHO, WHEN, WHERE<br />WHICH, YES/NO QUESTIONS<br />Less Powerful<br />
    47. 47. Scope<br /><ul><li>Keep the boundaries realistic
    48. 48. Consider the needs of your</li></ul>specific situation<br />
    49. 49. Assumptions<br /><ul><li>Use appropriately
    50. 50. Check for unconscious beliefs</li></li></ul><li>Our questions <br /><ul><li>What do you want to have happen within the framework of an “engaged” community?
    51. 51. What seed might we plant together today that could make the most difference to the future of public education in Minnesota?</li></li></ul><li>Analyze <br />the <br />Data<br />
    52. 52. “Public schools are crucial to the sustained vitality of American democracy. And a supportive and involved public is crucial to the survival of public schools.” <br />Reasons for Hope, Voices for Change<br /> Annenberg Institute on Public Engagement for Public Education<br /> <br />