Debrief of the Scenario Workshop at M-ITI 20140116-17 (notes from Nik & Maja)

Preparation:

  • we prepared well in advance (began in November for a January workshop) through email and skype conversations to clarify the aim. it was an ambitious aim, but the process was well suited for it. A question remains what can the participants prepare before they come to the workshop. Should we specify more specific tasks/questions? Or would we be setting ourselves up for disappointment, because people wouldn’t get around to preparing?
  • two faciliators co-designed the workshop (Maja: first pass 1/2 day, both 1 day (on and off on the plane) + the evening before and during, both mornings)
  • the group: 9 people are a good size for this method. it was beneficial that they all knew each other and that the topic was 'urgent’. these two factors made them informal and relaxed with each other, while also motivated and engaged. several people were quite skeptical at the beginning, but as we were addressing the questions they’ve been struggling with and getting deeper to the essence of where they’d like to go, they participated wholeheartedly. Several participants commented that the process allowed them to get to the bottom of things much quicker than usual. One of the participants found that the proces didn’t allow sufficient discussion about the problems. This is indeed true, as the process focusses on generating awareness about the situation as a whole, rather than specific problem solving. We did keep refocussing the conversation to “what could you do about it” rather than allowing lengthy discussions about all the things that are difficult and problematic. However, if people need to have problem solving discussions, this can perhaps be scheduled as a part of the follow-up.
  • ice breaking exercises: worked well on both days, as a mix of physical, personal, spatial and appreciative thinking - encouraging laughter and literally 'ice-breaking' (first day: sociometry, AI, second day: constellation based on AI outcomes)

First day:

  • as with several previous groups, coming up with a core question is a somewhat awkward process. could we structure this session more to help participants get more easily into the 'inquiring' state of mind (e.g. the question game https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Questions_%28game%29)?
  • the session on “what things are fixed” was perhaps wrongly phrased. it was vague for the people what they should consider 'fixed'. a better way to begin might be to 'map the current situation' (if you would describe your situation to a friend (or some other person), what would you say? what constraints are there, what is fixed and what is in flux)? A facilitation part to improve is to have a set of guiding questions that can apply for any context, then work more specifically.
  • defining the key factors worked well (first in a dialogue, then reporting back to the group)
  • drivers: we might need more structured conversations around trends to avoid too many generalisations. maybe the moderators need to keep asking questions until the trend becomes specific enough - if a trend is too big/general, it’s easier to ignore (e.g. sustainability, climate change…). Keep asking - how is a trend directly related to the question? There might also be something to improve in the phrasing of trends. how do we look at drivers as dynamic forces? perhaps look at specific responses to trends rather than trends in general (e.g climate change is certain, but a response to it isn’t)?
  • the importance scale needs refining: eg. important-very important - extremely important - essential. With this group relative ranking with no numeric values worked well (but it doesn’t work well in every group!)
  • critical uncertainties: diamond graph is a clear way to get to most uncertain aspects
  • scenarios - can facilitator help with more guiding questions? are there general questions that could work with all scenarios? creating scenario skeletons works well with 2 facilitators: one to guide conversation the other to write, summarise, link. at least 15 minutes per scenario.
  • answering core question in each scenario: takes at least half an hour. It needs one facilitator to keep rephrasing (best to work on a black/whiteboard as there will be a lot of erasing…
  • just coming up with scenario skeletons isn’t enough. they question is what are you going to do with the insights - need the second day to translate the insights into some kind of action. otherwise the insights and intention dissipate easily.
  • it isn’t about the scenarios, it’s about the question, scenarios help clarify the question, but we need something else to get to people’s commitments to do something about it.

Second Day

  • we had to improvise and redesign the plan to accommodate the discussion about the 'research core' - we took several hours diversion, that helped answer the core question. this kind of ad-hoc workshop redesign needs a lot of flexibility and improv skills from facilitators, but the group felt that their concerns are hears and was therefore keen to accommodate rough edges in facilitation.
  • scenario testing - how to get from here to there? good to get signals for all scenarios, but focus on one or two that are inspiring for the group - they will most likely be the ones that need most work getting from here to there. people got excited about talking of 1 scenario, the rest was done quickly with postits. a good clarifying question to ask when people are identifying signals - would this signal only lead to one or to more scenarios?
  • after 'how to get from here to there' it appeared that a longer discussion was needed about the 'research core'. we redesigned the programme on the spot to make this possible: individually designing moodboards to describe research core in the preferred scenario, quick individual presentations (elevator pitch) of the research core, writing down what came out of the mood boards and elevator pitches, discussion & (re)phrasing of the research core. elevator pitch was perhaps a wrong metaphor for a research insititute, but it got the participants to be very concise. we would have to come up with a different metaphor for this group so the participants don’t have to make sales pitches (perhaps if we had more time to prepare this we would have come up with something more appropriate). although it was a bit messy, this process got us to the core relatively quickly. it helped to focus the next workshop (Capstones) using the research core we came up with.
  • short individual reflections after lunch on both days are necessary to ease people back into the process. good for them to walk away from the room, but it’s difficult to get people to not talk to each other. perhaps a more structured sending people away one by one in different directions (or some other clear instruction where they should turn away as soon as they see another participant in their visual field) might be a good thing to try.
  • era chair profile: we asked the participants to make linkedin pages - a metaphor to encourage thinking about characteristics of a person they want to work with. the metaphor was appropriate for this group (they’re searching for a professional person to hire), but it wouldn’t work everywhere. in any case it has to be something to get a conversation started that helps participants to understand the character before role playing it. The discussion took a while, and the session felt cut a bit short.
  • role playing (now, 1 year, 5 years looking back, 5 years looking forward): participants enjoyed it and found the exercise useful to better understand what would the ideal ERAChair be like and how they would relate to him/her
  • summarising of the whole very helpful. this is an important task for the facilitator.
  • listening circle: helpful for closing remarks, it allows everyone to say a few things, but without going into lengthy discussions.

Follow Up

  • as we stayed in Madeira for another workshop, we noticed that the process kept evolving in participants’ minds. They were referring to the scenario names quite often and we had many discussions about 'how to get from here to “Further” (the preferred scenario). It was obvious that a break was needed for things to settle, but also that a follow-up discussion about the practical next steps was essential. We came up with a few next steps during the workshop, but it was only at the 'all hands meeting' 5 days later that it became clear what the next steps would be. it was important that one of the facilitators was at this meeting - which points to the need to follow up. how do we deal with the follow up several days after the workshop? This demand might emerge during the workshops, so we should keep some time available for follow up. Or we can suggest to schedule follow up meetings with facilitators as a part of the scenario planning process. If we make prehearsals an essential part of the process, the follow-ups are obviously a part of it. But even without prehearsals the follow-up conversations can increase the level of agency and commitment for everyone involved.