Consensus Facilitation Workshop Handout | IA Summit 2010


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This is the handout I wrote for participants in the Consensus Facilitation workshop to take home.

The session itself was an actual consensus facilitation workshop for the 22 attendees. We used the focus question, "How can we improve the IA Summit?" and worked through individual brainstorming to small groups to full group sharing, organizing and naming.

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Consensus Facilitation Workshop Handout | IA Summit 2010

  1. Consensus Facilitation Workshop Gabby Hon | IA Summit 2010 | Phoenix, AZ 10 April 2010
  2. Table of Contents ✤ What is Consensus Facilitation? ✤ When & How to Use Facilitation ✤ What You’ll Need ✤ Starting Out: Getting Centered ✤ The Focus Question: Providing Context ✤ Ideation: Letting Minds Roam Free ✤ Selecting: Choosing the Best Ideas ✤ Grouping: Finding Similarities & Differences ✤ Identifying: Naming the Solutions ✤ Reflection: Moving Forward ✤ Reading List & Resources 2
  3. “We also call this process 'coming to unity'. My experience of the process is closer to dialogue than debate or discussion, but goes still beyond that. We speak to the 'center' rather than to each other, with spaces of silence between speakers. It is the most respectful way of coming to decisions that I've ever experienced.” –Sue Starr, on Quaker consensus 3
  4. What is Consensus Facilitation?
  5. “A consensus articulates the common will of the group. Consensus is a common understanding which enables a group to move forward together. Consensus is reached when all participants are willing to move forward together, even if they do not agree on all the details.” –pg 5, The Workshop Book: From Individual Creativity to Group Action 5
  6. What is Consensus Facilitation? ✤ Very simply, Consensus Facilitation is the act of enabling a group of people with disparate backgrounds, opinions and goals to decide on a course (or courses) of action for a given situation. ✤ Consensus Facilitation requires a disinterested leader whose only goal is to bring the common will of the group to light. ✤ Consensus Facilitation requires active listening, inquisitiveness and an open mind from both facilitator and participants. 6
  7. When & How to Use Consensus Facilitation
  8. When Can You Use Consensus Facilitation? ✤ When a group of people needs to plan: for the future, for the near term, for the unknown. ✤ When a group of people needs to solve a problem (or problems). ✤ No problem too big! No problem too small! ✤ When a group needs to do some research. ✤ Consensus Facilitation can help the group narrow the focus. ✤ When a group needs to make a decision. 8
  9. How Can You Use Consensus Facilitation? ✤ To find solutions to one big, commonly acknowledged, easily understood problem. ✤ To brainstorm new ideas for a company; a project; a hobby; a non-profit; a paper--anything, really. ✤ To explore a large, amorphous, hard-to-define topic that is causing discord, confusion, frustration or apathy. ✤ To do a deep-dive into one solution your group generated during an earlier consensus workshop. ✤ To bring all the relevant parties in a project to a common understanding of and agreement on how to move forward. ✤ To teach a group of people how to do consensus facilitation. 9
  10. What You’ll Need for Consensus Facilitation
  11. Gear for Consensus Facilitation ✤ 1-4 hours of uninterrupted time. ✤ This is the hard part; people are busy and people hate long meetings so you might have to break a big topic into smaller topics and smaller time blocks. ✤ A table with enough chairs for the participants. ✤ A room big enough to accommodate the table and to support moving around the room. ✤ A bunch of Sharpies–at least 1 for each person attending. Black ink is best. ✤ Lots and lots and LOTS of Post-It Notes. ✤ No, really: more than you think you could need. And then more. ✤ You can stick with plain yellow or get crazy with colors–doesn’t matter. ✤ A wall or board onto which you can stick, unstick and re-stick the Post-It Notes. 11
  12. People for Consensus Facilitation ✤ This isn’t a normal meeting–it’s more important than that. ✤ At the same time, getting the right mix of people is key. ✤ Does the project coordinator need to come to a facilitation that seeks to solve a tricky design problem? ✤ Probably not. ✤ Use your judgment and ask for opinions from key team/group members. ✤ All meetings are political–people who aren’t invited might be angry; people who are invited but don’t want/need to be there might be angry. ✤ Think of ways to reach out to people who are part of the group who aren’t invited–offer to keep them in the loop. 12
  13. Leading a Consensus Facilitation
  14. Starting Out: Getting Centered
  15. A Small Caveat The next few pages provide a background on Quakerism in order to explain the idea of getting your facilitation participants centered. This is not intended to be an endorsement of Quakerism or an attempt to proselytize–both because a) Quakers don’t proselytize and b) I am not a Quaker. I did, however, attend a Quaker college (Earlham, in Richmond, IN) and saw firsthand just how profound the change is that comes over a group–large or small–when they are given time to center and prepare themselves to participate in a group activity. In this crazy, always on, 24-7 world we live in, being present is remarkably difficult. When there are big problems to solve, finding ways to help one another be fully present is a terribly important skill. Centering is one way to achieve that. 15
  16. A Little Bit About Quakerism ✤ Quakers (The Religious Society of Friends) are a Protestant sect that came to America to escape persecution in England. ✤ Pennsylvania was founded by a Quaker: William Penn. ✤ Quakers believe in a personal and direct connection to God–without the need for the intervention of clergy. ✤ Quakers are committed to non-violence and consensus in their daily lives. ✤ Quaker religious gatherings are called meetings and they occur at a meetinghouse, not a church. ✤ Quaker meetings are either programmed or unprogrammed. 16
  17. A Little Bit About Quaker Meetings ✤ Programmed meetings involve one member of the congregation giving a prepared talk–or sermon–on a topic of concern to the congregation. ✤ This type of meeting was added in the 19th century to accommodate converts to Quakerism for whom traditional unprogrammed meetings were too unfamiliar. ✤ Unprogrammed meetings involve the members of a congregation sitting in silence, speaking only if they feel moved to do so by God. ✤ Unprogrammed meetings necessitate what Quakers call ‘centering down’. ✤ “The first task Quakers undertake when meeting begins is to center down, to still the clamor of the world, to turn our attention to the inner voice.” ( 17
  18. Why Getting Centered Matters ✤ We are all multi-tasking nightmares who struggle to concentrate on one thing for more than 3 minutes. ✤ We all spend up to 50% (and often more) of our days in meetings and running between meetings. ✤ We rarely get to do our work while at work–instead, sneaking it in between meetings, over “lunch” and in the evening and on weekends. ✤ We are fractured and unfocused pretty much all the time. ✤ We spend the first half of any meeting dealing with the outcome of the previous meeting–not paying attention to the issues of the meeting we are currently in. 18
  19. Getting the Group Centered ✤ At the start of the facilitation, welcome your group and tell them to take about 5 minutes to clear their minds: ✤ Write down the a list of things they’ll need to do once the meeting is over. ✤ Get a beverage or snack. ✤ Make a quick phone call. ✤ Check e-mail or voicemail. ✤ At the end of the 5 (or so) minutes, welcome the group once again and instruct them to remove all laptops, cellphones and notebooks from the table. ✤ Ask that all cellphones be either turned off or set to vibrate. ✤ Explain that you’re all creating a space in which to brainstorm open and freely, without distractions. 19
  20. The Focus Question: Providing Context
  21. What Is a Focus Question? ✤ The Focus Question identifies the central topic or area of concern which the group has gathered to address. ✤ The purpose of the Focus Question is to frame the group’s attention, inquiries and brainstorm work within a specific context. ✤ Example: “Today, we’re going to brainstorm around a process issue here at Initech: how can we can improve the TPS report process?” ✤ More relevant example: “Today, we’re going to brainstorm around collaboration: how can we can improve the collaboration between the Creative and User Experience departments?” 21
  22. Step 1: Set the Context ✤ Introduce the Focus Question and explain why it’s important to your group/project. ✤ Give a general overview of how the meeting will proceed: ✤ “We’ll be using a workshop format that begins with each person working individually to brainstorm ideas around <<Meeting Topic>> and then coming together as a group to share and organize our ideas.” ✤ Explain the expected outcome of the meeting: ✤ “At the end of the meeting, we’ll have a series of solutions/steps we can all use to address <<Meeting Topic>> in a constructive manner.” ✤ Specify the amount of time: ✤ “We’ll have a total of two hours for this workshop. If we need to go over by 10-15 minutes, does that cause any serious problem for anyone today?” ✤ Explain the guidelines and assumptions: ✤ There are no wrong answers. ✤ Each person will get many chances to speak and be heard. ✤ Everyone here has the wisdom needed to address this topic. ✤ Clarify your role as Facilitator: ✤ “I’m here to make sure the workshop proceeds on track, help you get answers to any questions you might have during the workshop and enable constructive dialogue.” 22
  23. Ideation: Letting Minds Roam Free
  24. Get Ready, Get Set. . . ✤ The first real part of the workshop is the individual brainstorm: when you ask the participants to write down answers to the Focus Question on their own. ✤ Ask participants to write down as many answers to the Focus Question as they can think of in 3-5 minutes. ✤ Explain that answers should be descriptive–more than 1 word but less than a sentence. ✤ Give participants the permission to think big and crazy–now’s the time to think way, way outside that box! ✤ It’s good to reiterate the key guidelines here: ✤ No such thing as wrong answers; ✤ Each person will get many chances to speak and be heard; ✤ Everyone here has the wisdom needed to address this topic. 24
  25. Go! What to Do While Brains Storm ✤ Now that you’ve set the participants free to ideate on their own, you should move into the background–but don’t tune out! ✤ Instead, observe the group: who are the ideation whirlwinds, whipping off ideas faster than the speed of light? Who are the folks who have been chewing on their Sharpies for 30 seconds, looking around nervously? ✤ Make yourself available in case someone needs help–brainstorming doesn’t come naturally to some people and they might need some prompts. ✤ Be ready in case the group finishes early. 25
  26. Selecting: Choosing the Best Ideas
  27. From Ideating to Reviewing ✤ Give the participants a 1-2 minute warning prior to the end of individual brainstorming time. ✤ Now that they’ve brainstormed, you want to introduce some review time to their work. ✤ Ask the participants to look back over all their ideas and select the 3 best ideas. ✤ What does ‘best’ mean? Good question! ✤ “Best means the ideas that really resonate the most with you–the ideas you look at and think, ‘This is good stuff!’” ✤ Gut checks: does an idea make you smile? does an idea get your heart racing with possibility? does an idea support a key project or company goal? does an idea help drive the topic forward? ✤ Give the group 1-3 minutes to select their best ideas. 27
  28. From Reviewing to Sharing ✤ At the end of the analysis time, it’s time to bring the participants into small groups to share their ideas. ✤ You’ll want the small groups to be as diverse as possible–break up cliques and get people out of their comfort zones. ✤ More than that, you want to enable people to be exposed to new ideas and ways of thinking: put a conservative bank client in a group with the talented, tattooed Art Director; re-seat the UNIX dev next to the Account Director. ✤ This re-seating removes a lot of restrictions from people–no worries that the Creative Director will dominate all the junior designers in his group or that the lead, aggressive client will dominate his coworkers into only supporting his ideas. 28
  29. Guide for Re-Seating ✤ If you’ve got a group of around 20-25 people, create groups of 4-5 people each. ✤ If you’ve got fewer folks, keep the groups to around at least 3 if you can. ✤ It’s also good to have people get up and physically move to a new seat whenever possible–movement gets the blood and brain going. ✤ Give people at least a minute to introduce themselves or provide mini introductions as you create the smaller groups. 29
  30. Instructions for Group Sharing ✤ Ask each participant to to share and discuss their 3 best ideas with the group. ✤ The groups should look for overlaps in ideas and decide how to remove any duplicates. ✤ If a group needs to write a new Post-It with the consolidated idea, they are free to do so. ✤ At the end of the small group discussion (about 15-20 minutes), each group should have 5-8 ideas they want to share with the whole group. ✤ Each selected idea should probably be rewritten on a new Post-It in BIG letters so that it can be easily read from anywhere in the room. 30
  31. Grouping: Finding Similarities & Differences
  32. Finding Meaning “A consensus workshop is not an analytical process, but a process that belongs to inquiry. . .An inquirer [...] comes at a topic with an open mind and looks for a creative or viable option, or for the facts of a particular matter. . . It seeks a breakthrough of insight that is contained in the data but is also beyond the data.” (The Workshop Book, pg. 71) 32
  33. Get the Ideas On The Wall ✤ Now that all the participants have brainstormed on their own, shared their ideas with a small group and decided upon 5-8 ideas from the small group to share, it’s time to SHARE! ✤ Explain that after you get all the groups’ best ideas on the wall, that they’ll all work together to group the ideas. ✤ Go group by group and have a representative present each of the group’s selected 5-8 ideas to the larger group. ✤ Tell the whole group that if anyone has a question about an idea, they can ask for clarity. ✤ The facilitator is also allowed to ask for clarity! ✤ After the representative presents an idea, have them stick the Post-It on the wall for everyone to see. 33
  34. Alternate Option: Getting Everything on the Wall ✤ If you’ve got time, you can do the Post-Its-on-walls exercise in waves. ✤ Start with the 5-8 ideas selected for sharing by the smaller groups. ✤ Then ask the groups to send up ideas that are unusual or really different. ✤ Then ask everyone for the ‘stragglers’–the cards that didn’t make the first two cuts. 34
  35. Grouping the Ideas ✤ When all selected ideas are up on the wall, it’s time to start grouping similar ideas together. ✤ Make sure the participants know it’s okay to come up and look at the Post-Its up close–there are a lot of ideas to review. ✤ Ask the group “Where do you see similar ideas that are pointing to the same issue?” or “Are there two or three ideas on the board that are neighbors?” ✤ Read Post-Its out loud as needed. Ask for clarity on ideas as needed–that clarity can come from the idea’s author or from another person or even the group as a whole. ✤ This allows the group to start taking collective ownership of the ideas and begin to invest in them. ✤ Discussion of the ideas is good–judgment, however, needs to be held in check. Diffuse negative commentary by asking the person a series of ‘What’ and ‘How’ questions: “Dave, that’s an interesting point–what are you hearing in this idea that drives your comment?” or “How could this idea be worded to make more sense to you?” ✤ When ideas are paired together, ask if the group agrees–allow discussion. Let people defend or argue against a pairing. Ask for clarity. ✤ If the group decides that one Post-It actually represents two or more unique ideas, make sure to break each idea out on to its own Post-It and place each in the appropriate grouping. ✤ When 4-6 ideas have come together in a group, make a small sign with a random symbol (a circle or squiggle will do fine) and use it to ‘label’ the group. ✤ Then, as ideas outside the group are added, participants can say “Well, Add a Writing TPS Report category to the time entry system’ belongs to the triangle group.” ✤ Continue until all the ideas are in distinct groups and each group has a unique shape or symbol label. 35
  36. What Grouping Looks Like At First Pay money for each TPS Put TPS reports on Get rid of TPS reports report written intranet Monthly bonus for # of Send TPS reports out as Let people give TPS TPS reports filed on editable PDFs information in weekly time meetings instead Gift certificates for Put Michael Bolton in team w/ most TPS charge of all TPS reports filed per month reports 36
  37. Identifying: Naming the Solutions
  38. Names Give Meaning ✤ After you’ve gone through and grouped and temporarily labelled all the ideas on the wall, it’s time to pause and reflect. ✤ “We’ve got a lot of really good ideas here and some clear groups–let’s think about how to name them. How about circle group, first?” ✤ Read through each of the cards that have been grouped underneath a symbol label and then ask the group for any key words or phrases that stand out or reappear. ✤ “What is this group of ideas talking about?” ✤ A guide to judge a good cluster name is if it is an answer to the Focus Question. ✤ Provide Cash Incentives for TPS Report Completion would be a good name for a group of ideas that are trying to answer “How can we improve the TPS Report process?” ✤ If the group is large, time is short or you have a lot of idea groupings to name, break the participants into groups and assign them a cluster to name. 38
  39. What Grouping Looks Like With Naming Provide Financial Digitize TPS Find New Ways to Incentive Reports Get TPS Info Pay money for each TPS Put TPS reports on Get rid of TPS reports report written intranet Monthly bonus for # of Send TPS reports out as Let people give TPS TPS reports filed on editable PDFs information in weekly time meetings instead Gift certificates for Put Michael Bolton in team w/ most TPS charge of all TPS reports filed per month reports 39
  40. Reflection: Moving Forward
  41. We’ve Got Solutions–Now What? ✤ Now that the team has spent 1-4 hours (or more) brainstorming and collectively working to come up with solutions for the Focus Question, they’re tired, excited and . . . a little apprehensive. ✤ You’ve got to provide them with key achievable next steps to take after they leave the room. ✤ The team should feel that their work will not be for nothing. 41
  42. Ideas for Action ✤ Ask for volunteers: “Who will take charge of finding ways to encourage financial incentives for TPS reports?” ✤ Ask if the solutions are, in the group’s opinion, ready to take to the leadership for implementation. ✤ If the group thinks they need more time with a solution, suggest picking one and spending an hour running through it via a consensus workshop. ✤ Set the date as soon after this workshop as possible–don’t lose momentum. 42
  43. Thoughts on Facilitating
  44. Truth? Facilitation Is Hard ✤ You are a catalyst. ✤ You are the invisible deflector, the calmer of rough waters. ✤ You are there to bring out the best in the group. ✤ “. . . leading is about serving the group and helping it do its job.” (The Workshop Book, pg. 110) ✤ You are not there to win or show how smart you are or to stealthily advocate for your ideas or opinions. ✤ Remember that the participants own the workshop. ✤ “A facilitator needs patience, flexibility and faith in the group’s capacity to work its way through issues.” (The Workshop Book, pg. 126) ✤ Be curious. ✤ Be attentive. ✤ Be funny–but only when appropriate or necessary (hint: to defuse tension or animosity) ✤ Listen 80% of the time (more if you can). ✤ “The facilitator listens, as it were, with a third ear, to pick up the significance of what lies behind participants’ words.” (The Workshop Book, pg. 115) ✤ Talk 20% of the time (much less if you can). ✤ Observe. ✤ Find patterns. ✤ Do the best you can but remember: this isn’t about you. ✤ Ideally, the group should not remember what you did. In this way, it’s a lot like good design and good design is invisible. 44
  45. Reading List
  46. Consensus Facilitation Reading List ✤ The Workshop Book: From Individual Creativity to Group Action, R. Brian Stanfield; 2002, New Society Publishers ✤ The Art of Focused Conversation: 100 Ways to Access Group Wisdom in the Workplace, R. Brian Stanfield, Editor; 2000, New Society Publishers 46
  47. About Gabby Gabby Hon is an independent Senior User Experience Consultant based in Chicago. When she’s not working, playing poker, futzing around with photography or being harassed by her 3 cats, she facilitates UX Book Club Chicago. She graduated from Earlham College in Richmond, IN with a B.A., English. This was her first time at IA Summit. She can be found at the various places below: Twitter: @gabbyhon LinkedIn: Blog/Portfolio: UX Book Club Chicago Twitter: #uxbookchicago Blog: 47