In this DwD session with Stephen Sillett, we explored the nature of emergence in structured facilitated workshops and the approaches to breaking structure in planning and convening to create the conditions for generative emergence. A good cross-section of Toronto’s current generation of innovation leaders attended, about evenly balance between social innovators and business/design consultants. Th first sketch of the evening mapped the sectors and approaches from particpants during our check-in.
We used the Groupworks Pattern Language (available for download) to discuss and incorporate instigating (evocative) patterns for emergence. Several key patterns are core to engaging vitality and dynamic emergence in a group intervention: Emergence, Improvise, Letting Go, and most of the patterns included in Flow and Faith.
While these sound like simple expressions within a convening structure, they are not easy choices in practice. When actually facilitating large group interventions, we often follow a strict plan of events, agreed upon in advance with our sponsors and stakeholders. Two questions explored in the session:
How do we best change options or parameters of a scripted workshop while maintaining integrity of the purpose and ensuring high-value outcome intended?
What happens when we change the structure and process of workshops, possibly violating key elements of a plan or facilitation approach?
The function of non-dual experience, BOTH / AND becomes operative here. How do we know how (and when) to restructure, reduce, accelerate, or improvise within a well-defined group process? How does an interplay of structure and emergence in facilitating group interventions relate to these shifts?
Experienced group facilitators know well the difference in experience and participation between following a script and drawing out emergent engagement. However, experience also tells us there’s a balance, between some structure and some emergence, and a dynamics shift that occurs between them. Are these transitions between structure and emergence the key to creative balance in workshops? Also, even with experience these is a point at which we realise that changes to the workshop context, content of process fall outside previous encounters, and levels of uncertainty rise. How do we deal with this uncertainty? When should we say “let’s give this a go!” and when “this is not viable, it is not ethical to proceed!”
Sketches by Patricia, playthink.com. Harvest of evening final dialogue, as summary.
Small groups developed engagement stories and models for exploring these interventions in engagement. These were developed from several design provocations:
- Use of time: Some activities are multi-day journeys, others 1-day, 1 hour or last only 10 minutes.
- Modularity: How do we scale to the needs of our stakeholders?
- Intensity: Activities may vary in their level of intensity regarding participation, accountability, pressure to meet deadlines, level of physical activity
- Outcome: Some processes may work toward consensus, others toward proposals, others are more fluidly co-creation .