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Who owns your event?

June 20th, 2016 by Adrian Segar

owner appreciationWho owns an event? The usual answer to this question is “the event’s sponsors”, i.e. the people and organizations that decide to hold the event and contribute the resources needed for the event to occur. Sponsors typically define the context, format, scope, and desired outcomes of an event, so they are clearly key candidates to be considered as owners.

But I think there are other plausible answers to this question.

Increasingly we are moving to event models that make participants generators of event value. Conferences that leverage all the expertise in the room, rather than the contributions of a few experts. Meetings that become what the participants want and need them to be, autofocusing on the topics and questions that are of genuine relevance, rather than sessions predefined six months in advance.

Yes, sponsors define an event’s boundaries and make it happen (for which we should all be grateful). But at participant-driven and participation-rich meetings, the shaping and contributions that participants provide are crucial for the event’s success. Without this input, such events are worth very little, so isn’t it fair to say that, under these circumstances, the participants are owners of the event as well?

And there’s another way to think of event ownership. As facilitator Dan Newman points out:

“…participants enter an event owning practically nothing, but they come out the other end owning a powerful experience constructed of things they’ve seen, heard or heard themselves say.”
—Dan Newman, From the Front of the Room: Notes on Facilitation for Experienced Practitioners

If we think of an event as the thing that happened between the moments when the first attendee arrived and the last person left, we are ignoring the changes in the knowledge, viewpoints, and connections, and the subsequent outcomes that the event created. The participants not only own their event experience, but also the consequences of their participation. The changes that result loop back on the event’s sponsors, influencing their future choices. Thus, participants are event owners because, to some extent, they control what happens next.

To conclude, I like the idea that both sponsors and participants are the owners of events. By consciously bringing participants into the realm of ownership, we widen the community that makes the event what it is, and this benefits all the players.

Reduce Chinese-style self-censorship at your meetings

June 13th, 2016 by Adrian Segar

Lost in fog 8160237809_e1baab76d9_kThe Chinese government runs a massive online censorship program. Why mention this on an event design blog? Well, the most effective aspect of China’s online censorship regime illustrates what happens when you don’t incorporate covenants into your meetings.

Tech In Asia explains:

“Imagine being near a steep cliff. During the day, when you can see clearly, you might walk right up to the edge to take in the view. But at night or during a thick fog, you’re probably going to steer well clear of the cliff’s edge to ensure that you don’t accidentally misjudge where you are and tumble to your death.

China’s vaguely-defined web content rules and inconsistent censorship enforcement work the same way as the fog near a cliff: since people can’t see exactly where the edge is, they’re more likely to stay far away from it, just in case. There’s no toeing the line, because nobody knows exactly where the line is. So instead of pushing the envelope, many people choose to censor themselves.”
The cleverest thing about China’s internet censorship, Tech In Asia

As I’ve explained elsewhere, good covenants publicly clarify the freedoms that attendees have at an event, like the freedoms to speak one’s mindask questions, and share feelings. When such freedoms are agreed to individually and as a group at the start of a meeting, ambiguity about meeting behavior dissipates. The cliff edge dividing acceptable from unacceptable behavior becomes much clearer, liberating participants from uncertainty about what is O.K. to say and do.

When attendees feel safe to share and empowered to ask questions and express what they think and how they feel, what happens at a conference can be amazing. I’ve been using explicit covenants for fifteen years, and in my experience, effective learning, meaningful connection, engagement, and resulting community all noticeably increase.

If you omit group covenants at your meetings, you default to an environment where most participants will self-censor their behavior to some degree. Given that it takes about five minutes to explain and obtain covenant commitment, it’s crazy to miss out on one of the simplest and most effective things you can do to improve your meeting.

Don’t just read this, nod your head, and forget about it. The next time you run a meeting, introduce covenants at the start (Chapter 18 of The Power of Participation: Creating Conferences That Deliver Learning, Connection, Engagement, and Action has full details) and discover the power of covenants for yourself and your attendees!

Bonus insight on another relationship between censorship and meeting design: How you may be treating your meeting evaluations like a Chinese censor.

Photo attribution: Flickr user zedzap

Feedback Frames—a low-tech tool for anonymous voting

June 6th, 2016 by Adrian Segar

Feedback+Frames+open+with+coinsJason Diceman is developing a novel tool for anonymous voting — Feedback Frames.

Unlike high-tech audience response systems, Feedback Frames are refreshingly low-tech (no computers, clickers, smartphones, power, or technical support required). One graphic explains the tool:

Feedback+Frames+-+how+it+works

 

Although I tend to prefer public and semi-anonymous techniques for the participatory voting I use extensively in my facilitation practice, Jason’s approach is a refreshing alternative to the complex (and typically expensive) high-tech ARS methods routinely used for anonymous voting at meetings.

Jason created an even lower-tech (free!) tool Idea Rating Sheets in 2004 (originally called “Dotmocracy”) to “make it easier to find agreements in large groups”. He has been a Senior Public Consultation Coordinator for the City of Toronto since 2010, and is working to crowdfund his invention. Visit Feedback Frames to learn more.

An introduction to participatory voting—Part 3: Public, semi-anonymous, and anonymous voting

May 31st, 2016 by Adrian Segar

Students_raising_hands_11173204566_245f234493_kIn the first two parts of this series on participatory voting at events, I introduced the concept and compared low-tech and high-tech approaches. Now, let’s explore an issue that should (but often doesn’t) determine the specific voting methods we choose: knowledge about how other participants have voted.

High-tech methods typically default to anonymous voting: i.e. we have no information on anyone’s individual vote. Audience response systems (ARSs) — which combine an audience voting method such as a custom handheld device, personal cell phone/smartphone, personal computer, etc. with a matched receiver and software that processes and displays responses — are so commonly used to provide anonymous voting at meetings today that many event planners and attendees are unaware that public voting is a simple and, in many cases, more useful alternative.

As you might expect, public voting methods allow a group to see the individuals who have voted and how they voted. (For a list of anonymous and public participatory voting techniques, see Part 2 of this series.)

In Part 1 of this series, I explained why using public voting techniques is key to creating truly participatory voting:

“Allowing participants to discover those who agree or disagree with them or share their experience efficiently facilitates valuable connections between participants in ways unlikely to occur during traditional meetings. Giving group members opportunities to harness these techniques for their own discoveries about the group can further increase engagement in the group’s purpose.”

It’s also worth noting that public voting offers follow-up opportunities to uncover group resources, interest, and commitment on specific action items from individual participants.

Anonymous voting informs us about a group’s collective opinion but hides individual opinions. As mentioned in Part 2, anonymous voting is certainly appropriate when we are exploring deeply personal or potentially embarrassing questions: e.g. “Who has or has had a sexually transmitted disease?” But how often is this necessary? In my experience, the vast majority of questions asked of a group during meeting sessions are not sensitive, and there is real value in participants’ discovery of others with like-minded and opposing views via public voting.

Some argue that anonymous voting is necessary to avoid a bandwagon effect, where people vote in a particular way because other people are doing so, rather than expressing their own opinion. Although no one can divine participants’ true beliefs, a facilitator who creates a safe environment for individuals to express any opinion will minimize groupthink during participatory voting.

For example, when I facilitate The Solution Room, a session that provides just-in-time peer support and answers to a pressing professional challenge, I ask participants to place themselves in the room to show how risky it feels to share the challenge they have chosen. As I do so, I say “I’ve had challenges where I’d be standing over here, and others where I’d be standing over there.” Sharing my experience that any position along the riskiness spectrum might be appropriate for me helps to support and legitimize each participant’s choice.

Finally, there’s a form of participatory voting I call semi-anonymous that’s essentially but not perfectly anonymous. Two common examples are dot voting (described in detail in Chapter 49 of The Power of Participation: Creating Conferences That Deliver Learning, Connection, Engagement, and Action) and crowdsourcing techniques involving group posting of written notes on walls or tables. Although in principle, continuously spying on an individual participant could allow observation of specific votes, such surveillance would be pretty obvious, impracticable for multiple participants, and is realistically unlikely to occur in practice.

The next time you need to determine a group’s response to a question, take a moment to consider whether anonymous voting is really necessary. In the majority of cases you’ll find that public voting is a better choice, allowing participants to learn more about each other while setting the stage for a deeper look at the issues uncovered.

Photo attribution: Flickr user gpforeducation

Participatory voting at events: Part 2—Low-tech versus high-tech solutions

May 23rd, 2016 by Adrian Segar

GMIC 2014 crowdstormingIn Part 1 of this series I defined participatory voting and we explored the different ways to use it to obtain public information about viewpoints and participants in the room, paving the way for further useful discussions and conversations.

There is no shortage of high-tech systems that can poll an audience. Commonly known as ARSs, Student Response Systems (SRSs), or “clickers,” these systems combine an audience voting method—a custom handheld device, personal cell phone/smartphone, personal computer, etc.—with a matched receiver and software that processes and displays responses.

Here are three reasons why high-tech ARSs may not be the best choice for participatory voting:

  • ARSs necessitate expense and/or time to set up for a group. No-tech and low-tech approaches are low or no cost and require little or no preparation.
  • Most ARS votes are anonymous; no one knows who has voted for what. When you are using voting to acquire information about participant preferences and opinions, as opposed to deciding between conflicting alternatives, anonymous voting is rarely necessary. (An exception is if people are being asked potentially embarrassing questions.) When a group of people can see who is voting for what (and, with some techniques, even the extent of individual agreement/disagreement), it’s easy to go deeper into an issue via discussion or debate.
  • Participatory voting techniques involve more movement than pushing a button on an ARS device. This is important, because physical movement improves learning. Some techniques include participant interaction, which also improves learning.

That’s why I prefer no-tech and low-tech techniques for participatory voting whenever possible. No-tech techniques require only the attendees themselves, while low-tech approaches use readily available and inexpensive materials such as paper and pens.

Wondering what no-tech and low-tech techniques can be used for participatory voting? Here’s a list, taken from a glossary of participation techniques covered in detail in my book The Power of Participation: Creating Conferences That Deliver Learning, Connection, Engagement, and Action.

Body/Continuum Voting: See Human Spectrograms.

Card Voting: Provides each participant with an identical set of colored cards that can be used in flexible ways: typically for voting on multiple-choice questions, consensus voting, and guiding discussion.

Dot Voting: A technique for public semi-anonymous voting where participants are given identical sets of one or more colored paper dots which they stick onto paper voting sheets to indicate preferences.

Hand/Stand Voting: In hand voting, participants raise their hands to indicate their answer to a question with two or more possible answers. Stand voting replaces hand raising with standing.

Human Graphs: See Human Spectrograms.

Human Spectrograms: Also known as body voting, continuum voting, and human graphs. A form of public voting that has participants move in the room to a place that represents their answer to a question. Human spectrograms can be categorized as one-dimensional, two-dimensional, or state-change.

Idea swap: A technique for anonymous sharing of participants’ ideas.

One-dimensional Human Spectrograms: Human Spectrograms where participants position themselves along a line in a room to portray their level of agreement/disagreement with a statement or a numeric response (e.g. the number of years they’ve been in their current profession.)

Plus/Delta: A review tool that enables participants to quickly identify what went well at a session or event and what could be improved.

Post It!: A simple technique that employs participant-written sticky notes to uncover topics and issues that a group wants to discuss.

Roman Voting: Roman Voting is a public voting technique for gauging the strength of consensus.

State-change Human Spectrograms: Human Spectrograms where participants move en masse from one point to another to display a change of some quantity (e.g. opinion, geographical location, etc.) over time.

Table Voting: A technique used for polling attendees on their choice from pre-determined answers to a multiple-choice question, and/or for dividing participants into preference groups for further discussions or activities.

Thirty-Five: A technique for anonymously evaluating participant ideas.

Two-dimensional Human Spectrograms: Human Spectrograms where participants position themselves in a two-dimensional room space to display relative two-dimensional information (e.g. where they live with reference to a projected map.)

And what are public, semi-anonymous, and anonymous voting? We’ll explain these different voting types and explore when they should be used in the third part of this series.

 

Asking for help

May 16th, 2016 by Adrian Segar

Asking_for_help_9401173747_98abe42405_k

Sometimes, the best thing we can do is to ask for help.

I had been fretting for several months on how to move ahead on convening and facilitating more of the participation technique workshops that are dear to my heart. What would the interest be? How would I market them? Which countries and venues should I consider?

The exploratory work involved was daunting. I started some market and venue research in my spare time, but progress was slow. There was so much to do before I could even begin to announce anything.

Finally, I realized I was acting like the person (stereotypically a man, right?) who’s lost and can’t bring himself to ask for directions.

I needed to ask for help.

It was hard for me to get to the point of asking for help. Despite knowing and preaching about the power of networks to create change, I was trained to figure stuff out by myself, and I still often revert to that old mindset. My ingrained instinct is to investigate a situation by looking at possibilities, only finally moving to action once I’ve got a solid plan. Sometimes that’s a good strategy. But sometimes, I need to practice transformational tourism.

Merely looking at [or listening to] something almost never causes change. Tourism is fun, but rarely transformative.

If it was easy, you would have already achieved the change you seek.

Change comes from new habits, from acting as if, from experiencing the inevitable discomfort of becoming.
Transformation tourism, Seth Godin

I became someone who asks for help. In 30 minutes I wrote a request for assistance on this blog and promoted it through my usual channels on social media: Twitter, LinkedIn, Google Plus, and some Facebook event professional groups.

The results were swift and gratifying.

Within a week I had been contacted by numerous friends and colleagues, and had found several partners who were a wonderful logical fit.

Two weeks later, we began planning workshops in the United States, Canada, and Europe!

I hope I’ve learned something. I hope that next time I’ll be ready to ask for help a little sooner.

How about you? Don’t be like this guy.

Try a new habit.

Ask for help.

You may be amazed at what happens when you do.

Photo attribution: Flickr user marinadelcastell

New Participation Techniques Workshops are coming!

May 9th, 2016 by Adrian Segar

Help request for workshops
I’m really happy to announce that I am now planning to hold extended Participation Techniques Workshops in the United States, Canada, and Europe.

Thank you! Asking for your help to get my participation techniques workshops underway was clearly the right thing to do! Within a week I had been contacted by numerous friends and colleagues, and found several partners who were a wonderful fit.

Full details can be found on my new Participation Techniques Workshops page. Learn who can benefit from these workshops, why you should attend, read testimonials from past workshops, browse the syllabus, and review the list of upcoming workshops. Interested? Then sign up to be informed about current and future workshops and/or contact me to discuss how we can partner to make a workshop happen near you.

Healthcare professionals want participant-driven events too

May 2nd, 2016 by Adrian Segar

boring meeting 370268513_6c026f08e3_b

75% of healthcare professionals want to have input into the content of meetings they attend. Yet 36% have never been asked to provide input into any agenda or program. These disconcerting statistics are two of the research findings in a February 2016 report The Future of Meetings [free download] commissioned by Ashfield Meetings and Events.

Though healthcare meetings were ranked just behind professional journals (92%) as the second most popular (87%) regular channel for learning, the survey of 237 healthcare professionals from 11 countries across the Americas, Asia, and Europe found “nearly 40 per cent of those interviewed have not had a positive delegate experience at the meetings they have attended.”

I wouldn’t be surprised to find that these findings, from a meeting sector that is relatively well-funded and certainly capable of supporting high-quality meeting design, would be replicated at most conferences held today.

Meeting owners and planners: it’s time to supply what your attendees want!

A hat tip to MeetingsNet‘s Sue Pelletier for making me aware of the report via her article “Research Puts Some Science Behind Scientific Meetings“.

Photo attribution: Flickr user markhillary

Participatory voting at events: Part 1—Introduction

April 25th, 2016 by Adrian Segar

Choice- Red pill, blue pill

Look up “voting” on Google and the top search results are dominated by links about electoral voting. Making decisions (about elected leaders, opposing choices, and action plans, etc.) is the first function of voting that comes to mind for most people.

In a participatory meeting environment, however, rather than simply a means to make a decision, voting is most useful as a way to obtain information early in the process; a “straw poll” that provides public information about viewpoints in the room and paves the way for further discussion—a process I call participatory voting.

Ways to use participatory voting

Perhaps surprisingly, voting is not a simple, well-defined process. The International Society on Multiple Criteria Decision Making lists more than four thousand articles on decision theory in its bibliography. Voting, it turns out, can be a complex and subtle business.

For most of us, “group voting” brings up the concept of voting as decision-making. But voting can be used to test learning, and to elicit and share information. To guide your choice of the participatory voting techniques I’ll cover in later posts, here are short descriptions of various ways to use voting in meeting sessions.

Determining consensus
It’s often unclear whether a group has formed a consensus around a specific viewpoint or proposed action. Consensual participatory voting can quickly show whether a group has reached or is close to consensus, or wants to continue discussion. It can also pinpoint those who have significant objections to a majority position and give them the opportunity to clarify their reasons for opposition.

Making decisions
How people use voting techniques depends a lot on their presentation/facilitation/management style. If you are focusing on making a decision, voting is a tempting method to obtain an outcome. But if a vote is held prematurely, before adequate exploration of alternatives and associated discussion, the “decision” may have poor buy-in from those who voted in the minority or who feel they weren’t heard. People will rightly feel ambushed if they are asked to vote on a decision without adequate warning and opportunities for discussion.

Thus, if you plan to use voting for decision-making, explain up front the processes and time constraints you will be using prior to the vote. Unless the vote is purely advisory, give participants the chance to determine what they will be voting on, and how it will be framed. Such preparation lets people know their opportunities to shape discussion, and minimizes the likelihood that unexpected premature voting will cut off exploration of important creative or minority options.

Testing learning
Polling an audience is a time-tested technique, as old as teaching itself, for teachers to obtain feedback on student understanding. “Pop” quizzes, multiple-choice tests, and modern Audience Response Systems can be useful ways to test audience learning. But they have their limitations. As Jeff Hurt explains:

[Audience Response Systems] are good for immediate feedback. They are good for ‘knowledge learning.’ Studies show they increase engagement and let someone know whether their answer is right or wrong. In short, they are good for surface knowledge. They however do not promote deep learning…which leads to higher level thinking skills such as estimation, judgement, application, assessment and evaluation of topics.”
Facebook comment by Jeff Hurt

The participatory learning philosophy I espouse concentrates on these deeper learning skills. From this perspective, traditional voting supplies limited information when used as a testing tool.

Setting context
We know that small group discussion is key to effective learning during an event. But how do we set an initial context for discussion? Participatory voting techniques supply important information about the views, preferences, and experiences of participants, both as a group and as individuals. This information can then be used to set up appropriate discussions.

Eliciting information
Perhaps the most important benefit of participatory voting techniques is their ability to elicit important information about the people, needs, and ideas in a group and make it available to the entire group. Although some voting techniques can be used to provide anonymous or semi-anonymous information, I believe that sharing information provided by group members to group members is one of the most powerful ways to strengthen connection, openness, and a sense of community in a group.

Allowing participants to discover those who agree or disagree with them or share their experience efficiently facilitates valuable connections between participants in ways unlikely to occur during traditional meetings. Giving group members opportunities to harness these techniques for their own discoveries about the group can further increase engagement in the group’s purpose.

Determining the flow of group conversation and action
Participatory voting techniques such as card voting provide large groups the real-time feedback required to productively steer a complex conversation to best meet the needs of the group.

Planning action
Finally, we can use participatory voting to uncover group resources, interest, and commitment on specific action items from individual participants.

Some concluding observations about voting

If you’re using voting to test understanding of a concept or explore a group’s knowledge of a topic, include time for small group discussion before the vote. Pair share is a great technique for this. Provide enough time for each participant to think about their answer and then have them pair share their understanding. After the vote, you can facilitate a discussion with the entire group about the differences uncovered.

To avoid making premature decisions, use consensual voting to uncover significant alternative viewpoints and test the depth of agreement before confirming that you have substantial agreement through decision-oriented voting.

Think about when and how you use voting. Voting on alternatives that have been inadequately explored or discussed is counterproductive.

Use public voting methods whenever appropriate—which is, in my experience, most of the time.

If people wish to “sit out” their vote when using participatory voting, support their right to do so unless you are testing for consensus, in which case it’s reasonable to ask for their feedback. Consider using anonymous voting if people seem reluctant to express an opinion.

[This post is adapted from a (longer) chapter on participatory voting in The Power of Participation: Creating Conferences That Deliver Learning, Connection, Engagement, and Action.]

Red pill blue pill image modified by yours truly, attribution W.carter under CC BY-SA 4.0 license

A request for workshop help

April 21st, 2016 by Adrian Segar

Help request for workshopsI am looking for your help to hold workshops that I believe will significantly improve the quality of meetings.

Since 1992 I’ve been developing participation techniques that radically improve conference sessions and entire meetings. Over the last five years I have run a variety of 3 – 8 hour workshops where participants learn to facilitate and appreciate some of these techniques through direct experience. These meeting industry workshops have been very well received (references are available if you don’t know my work).

I believe there’s a real need for extended versions of these workshops — lasting 1½ – 2½ days — to give meeting planners, facilitators, and presenters a comprehensive interactive learning experience of these simple, yet powerful and effective ways to improve learning, connection, engagement, and action outcomes at our events.

I love designing and running these workshops, and I would like to offer them anywhere in the world there’s sufficient interest. They will typically be small, between 15 to 50 people.

I am not interested in making a ton of money doing this, just covering expenses and my standard fees. The more people who attend a workshop, the less it should cost them.

So I’m looking for partners and volunteers: people and organizations who are interested and willing to help make these workshops happen.

Perhaps:

  • You know people and/or groups who would want to attend and are willing to solicit them?
  • Such a workshop would fit into and complement one of your events?
  • You own a venue that could be used to host the workshop?
  • You, and perhaps others you know, want to attend one and have ideas about holding it at your location or for your community?
  • You can help in some other way?

I’m open to any kind of workable relationships (yes, you can be reimbursed/paid for your contributions) that make these workshops possible. Although my books continue to sell well and influence event design all over the world, after 25 years I’ve learned that most people only fully understand the value of these eye-opening ways to transform meetings by experiencing them, rather than reading about them.

Would you like to make these workshops possible? Can you help? Then I’d love to work with you. Please contact me at adrian@segar.com.

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