Author Archive

Celebrating failure

Wednesday, May 5th, 2010

Many of us are talking about the lessons and insights that emerge from failure. So this is an invitation. Add a comment about your failures and what you learned about evaluation of behaviour change.

Here’s one from facilitation to get us started, about my failure to practice the principle of letting the group do the work. I was working with a large and diverse group that was trying to determine the content of a new approach to operating. Instead of letting them get on with it, I facilitated a process with them where I became attached to the content, which meant I started manipulating how the group worked with that content. I soon noticed some participants disengaging from the process to varying degrees – some completely (by leaving) and others by being present physically, but not in any other way. The whole process, including content, had become mine, not theirs. So I put the pens down and stepped away, saying something like, “over to you now”. And I left the room. When I returned they had worked out what needed to be done without me and were getting on with it. A lesson for me to continue the practice of getting the group to do the work.

How about you? What have been your lessons from failure?

Viv McWaters

Show Me the Change Conference begins

Tuesday, May 4th, 2010

IMG_2493As I sit here it’s mid-afternoon on the first day on the long-anticipated Show Me the Change Conference. About 180 people have gathered in Melbourne to explore topics and pose questions, share ideas and tools around evaluating behaviour change. I’ve met people with a wealth of experience and others bring new enthusiasm; there’s conversations of all shapes and sizes; there’s the usual challenges of working in large groups.

Chris Corrigan opened space this afternoon and about 40 topics went up on the wall to be discussed today and tomorrow. I can sense more topics brewing.

While many people have experienced Open Space as a process before, for many people it’s their first open space gathering. Open space taps into people’s passion around the topic and enables them to set the agenda (rather than a designated group pre-determining what everyone wants to talk about/listen to). Open space is an example of complexity in action.

Every now and again it’s good to be reminded about what makes open space work. Many of us try and intellectualise too much, and make it more complicated than it needs to be. Harrison Owen reminds us about the four principles and one law of open space, and what these mean in terms of the practice of open space in our lives and organisations.

The Principles:
Whoever comes are the right people
Whatever happens is the only thing that could have
Be prepared to be surprised!
Whenever it starts is the right time
When it’s over, it’s over.

The Law of Two Feet
If, at any time, you find yourself in a place where you are not contributing or not learning, then use your two feet and go somewhere else.

In response to a comment on the Open Space List regarding internalising these principles and law, Harrison Owen, wrote the following. I think there’s great wisdom in this.

I suspect that it is more a matter of remembering what we already know and for one reason or another have chosen to repress. All of this goes with the idea that Open Space is truly not something new and radically different. In fact it is a forceful confrontation with a pre-existing condition. We are already in Open Space by virtue of the fact that we have forever been in a self organizing world (the usual 13.7 billion years stuff).

The Law and the Principles are descriptive of normative behavior in a self organizing world, and therefore Open Space, I think. In short, we do all of the above all the time — unfortunately we usually feel guilty about it, and because of this, we tend to do it/them badly, or at least awkwardly and grudgingly. Thus with the Law: when faced with a nonproductive situation (no learning, no contribution) we always leave (hearts and mind out the window) — but the body remains feeling miserable, and making others miserable as well. Once we get the picture, things work better, and we feel a lot better. But it is not about doing something new, or internalizing some new truth — but rather remembering what we already knew and doing what we should/could have been doing in the first place.

Why bother with all this? Well if nothing else, I think it makes our job as consultants and facilitators a lot easier. First of all we are not inviting our clients to engage in risky behavior. Quite the opposite, we are opening a space in which they can really be themselves. And the real risk is to continue with the non-productive, guilt inducing, dependant behavior. The old Marxist Battle Cry might have some application here (with modification): People of the World Unite — You have nothing to lose but your chains.” In a word — Be yourself!

Hear, hear!

Viv McWaters

Post Conference Tyranny Busting!

Thursday, April 15th, 2010

In the organisational world, there is a prevailing idea that change is difficult and stressful, and that innovation is scarce and requires effortful management to succeed. Overlay evaluation and is it any wonder we get stuck? iStock_000006967350

We’re going to explore how this is reflected in three tyrannies:

  • The tyranny of the explicit and the fear of not knowing.
  • The tyranny of excellence and the fear of not being good enough.
  • The tyranny of effort and the fear of failure.

Once you can recognise these tyrannies and the effects they have on how we work, the next step is to bust them. We’re planning to explore these tyrannies and highlight some ways to bust them with a series of practical and impractical exercises. We’re going to reveal our own prejudices about facilitating change and innovation, which emphasize letting go of the effort to be spectacular in favour of being open to surprise and attentive to small ideas instead of chasing grandiose visions.

These are based on years of wrinkle-inducing experience, and in particular our shared interests in Open Space, improvisation and creativity. With a special nod to Keith Sawyer’s recent book, Group Genius. Keith says, among other things, that “virtually all of the conventional wisdom on creativity and innovation is false”. That has a few implications for behaviour change programs, we think.

Exactly what will happen depends, as always, on who turns up. We can promise a range of verbal, physical (but not difficult), meditative, reflective, amusing and extraordinary activities all designed to help you notice more.

If you go on to use all this to help yourself and others to be more creative, more fulfilled, more beautiful, thinner, richer, healthier, then we’ll be delighted for you. But no pressure.

Oh, and we think this also might help in our understanding of complexity and behaviour change, and even evaluation.

This post-conference workshop will be hosted by  Johnnie Moore (UK) and Viv McWaters (Australia).

johnnie2g2 Johnnie Moore started his career as a speechwriter to Lord Sainsbury before working in advertising. After many years of successfully dressing mutton up as lamb, he became a facilitator working for a wildly varied array of clients from big fat corporates to small charities and all shades of organisation inbetween. He has worked with clients such as Johnson & Johnson, National Public Radio, O2, PwC, The Clore Leadership Programme, NESTA, American Express, the BBC and Channel 4.

Viv McWaters has dabbled in journalism, community education, science and improvisation, which makes an ideal platform for her current career as a facilitator.She works with people to tap into their creativity and leadership potential, and has worked in places as diverse as Armenia and Zambia.

Register here for this post conference workshop.

What's a circus got to do with evaluation of behaviour change?

Tuesday, April 13th, 2010

iStock_000008780927We’re having our conference dinner at the National Institute of Circus Arts in Prahran. It’s an amazing space and the circus students will be providing entertainment throughout the night.

The dinner itself is designed to enable continuing conversations and building of relationships. That’s because one of the key principles underpinning Show Me The Change is “conversations first, relationships, then transactions”. Why? Simply because transactions without a foundation of relationship are doomed to failure at worst, compliance at best.

The circus has transformed itself, from the use (and abuse) of animals to modern theatre, that still applies the ancient improvisation of clowning and physical theatre. It’s this transformation that is of interest to us as evaluators of behaviour change in complexity, and the concept of liminal space, that is so well articulated in the trapeze.

I wrote about liminal space here. Here’s a part of that post.

When you’re asking me to change a particular behaviour (even if it’s for my own good, or for the well-being of others, or even the planet) you’re asking me to let go of something familiar and take up something unfamilar. That space between letting go and grabbing on to something new is called liminal space. You’re asking me to enter a space of unknowing, of uncertaintly and of change. Is it any wonder I’m reluctant?

I’m more likely to enter liminal space if I think it’s OK, if I feel safe, and have some idea of what I’ll be grabbing onto. Think of it this way. If you were a trapeze artist, would you let go of the bar if there was no safety net and no-one on the other trapeze to catch you? Or if the trapeze is a bit of a stretch for you, think of monkey bars at the playground. Spend some time watching kids playing on them. There you can see liminal space in action. It’s not possible to make any progress on monkey bars unless you let go of one bar before grabbing hold of the next one. In fact, that’s probably an even better analogy for behavior change, because on the monkey bars, you usually hedge your bets – holding on to the previous bar with one hand while grabbing the next one with the other. Sooner or later though you STILL have to LET GO to progress.

So in our behaviour change programs, what are we asking people to let go of and how are we supporting them in liminal space?

So I’m looking forward to some great conversations and some great entertainment at the circus on Tuesday May 6. How about you? Click here to book for this great dinner.

Viv McWaters

Action & change challenge

Thursday, March 18th, 2010

The US National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation has just released a report on democratic governance. The action and change challenge is of particular interest:

More and more people are coming to realize that addressing the major challenges of our time is dependent on our ability to collectively move to a new level of thinking about those challenges, and that dialogic and deliberative processes help people make this leap.  Yet we continually struggle with how best to link dialogue and deliberation with action and change, and with the misperception that dialogue and deliberation are “just talk.”

You can download the full report here, or download a 3-page overview here.

Sandy Heierbacher, author of the report, also highlights a couple of promising frameworks.

Maggie Herzig’s Virtuous and Vicious Cycles” model is presented, which acknowledges the systemic and cyclical nature of dialogue and deliberation (as opposed to a linear progression of steps or stages).  And Philip Thomas integral theory of dialogue seeks to reconcile the seemingly incompatible views of dialogue he came across while working on the Handbook on Dialogue published by the United Nations Program on Development and its partners.  Thomas interviewed some practitioners who felt, for example, that personal transformation among dialogue participants was a critical outcome to emphasize in the Handbook, while others he interviewed wanted to de-emphasize and even eliminate such concepts from the book and focus primarily on political processes and outcomes.

Viv McWaters

People matter!

Tuesday, March 2nd, 2010

Evaluation of behaviour change. No mention of people there. Yet it’s people who are at the heart of behaviour change and evaluation. This was brought home to me vividly in this post from an aid worker in Haiti where assessments are an integral part of the response process.

As I write this, I’ve been in Haiti one day shy of a full month. And the truth is that I have spent the majority of my time here up to now chained to a desk. Yeah, I’ve done a few field visits and been to a few cluster meetings, but the reality is that what was most needed by my team was a “text bitch.” So that is what I was.

And so I confess that while I was very willing to do it, I was also a tiny bit disappointed two days ago to find that what was most needed from me was data-entry. Not having deep, intense, heart-wrenching conversations with earthquake survivors, not making big decisions about big numbers, not negotiating complex partnerships with diverse stakeholders.

Nope. Data-entry. Someone had to enter assessment data into an Excel spreadsheet. It is incredibly important to do it and do it accurately. And it’s also incredibly unglamorous. Me, my laptop computer, my iPod and a mountain of hand-written rapid assessment surveys.

About two thirds of the form was numerical, and so entering that data got to be pretty mechanical after the first hour or two. But that last third was all qualitative stuff: open-ended interview questions where at times the respondents appeared to have rambled or gone on wild tangents. But it didn’t take long to see obvious patterns emerging in the ways that people in Haiti seem to view their situation.

If those surveys that I entered are representative of the larger sample, more than anything else, people in Haiti are scared and hungry. Scared of another earthquake. Scared to sleep indoors. Those from host communities, are scared of all these people coming in who they don’t know. Some of them are scared of evil spirits. Many are scared of evil people.

There are no jobs. They have no money. Frequently listed coping mechanisms include “begging”, “nothing”, and “wait to see what God will do to us.”

And they’re hungry.

I have been to a few hardcore places in my time, and I now include post-earthquake Haiti in that “hardcore” category. I am generally able to detach emotionally in the moment for the sake of getting through the task at hand. But this one seems different, somehow. Maybe I’m getting soft. For the past three weeks images of people’s limbs protruding from beneath piles of rubble in downtown Port-au-Princehave been coming back to me during the night. But those images, dramatic as they are, were replaced two days ago by a few lines of scrawled Creole (with English translation) on a smudged piece of paper. A description of chronic, always-in-the-back-of-your-mind hunger by someone who’d lost everything:

“The hunger is… a hole beneath our hearts.”

A good reminder, that in any situation, extreme like Haiti or everyday like assessing local community sustainability behaviour, it’s about people. People matter!

You can read the complete Tales of the Hood post here.

Viv McWaters