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f2f-meetings of SDC networks – lessons to be learned (II)

October 05, 2010 | bit-wartung | SDC Networks |

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Michèle picture for sdclanBy Michèle Marin
By now, a series of the SDC networks have come up with their first international f2f meetings. Their experiences reveal a few recurrent lessons to  be learned, and trigger questions on how to best manage a f2f event. The SDC Learning & Networking team reflects upon them in a loose series of blog posts. This second post considers implications of the 1/3 principle (cf. post I, Sept.8) on planning a f2f, and explores concepts suitable to meet upcoming participants’ needs during a meeting.

What does an outrigger boat have in common with planning a f2f?
As reflected upon in my last post, preparation and programming may not as much be a question of participatory decision making processes as of finding a balance between expert-inputs and space for interaction and exchange among participants (cf.1/3 Principle), leaving a sound portion of time and space free for upcoming needs of participants
Hereby, f2f-organisers need to ensure coherence between announced and acted out program. This implies a thorough planning of the methodology well in advance. Add the necessary coherence between single days and blocks (the famous “fil rouge”), and coherence between promoted and lived network-culture (“walk the talk”) and you will get a few more colours to the complex picture of planning a f2f.
Postulating thorough planning in the same breath as free space for exchange may seem contradictory at first glance. At second, flexibility to meet upcoming needs of participants during the meeting does neither contradict nor prevent from planning a f2f-meeting from “from soup to nuts”.

Just as navigators, network moderators organising a f2f are challenged to define a destination of common interest, to choose and launch a suitable boat and reach destination in good time, not knowing in advance where the winds will come from, how the weather will affect both, the crew and the cruise. How to plan in this context?

Time, space and choice
Evidently, planning sufficient time is key to any kind of f2f-concept. Speakers may speak longer, technical failures may cause delay, unforeseen questions arise or meta-discussions need to be dealt with. One SDC network suggests to program only about two thirds of the full duration, and keep one third as a leeway for delays and for meeting upcoming needs.
Seemingly evident, participant’s feedback indicate clearly that this remains a lesson to be learned: Meetings are expensive, time and resources limited – naturally, many networks want to take most out of a meeting by putting the most possible into it, but would take more out of it, by putting less into it.
Flexibility to meet arising needs of participants can be provided for in different ways:
On the one hand, it may come in handy to have some methodological alternative(s) ready, in case the planned method is not well received by the participants.
On the other hand, there is a series of methods and tools specifically designed to foster interaction and free exchange. Good experiences have been made in SDC networks with the “Open Space” methodology. This method is known to kindle enormous energies and bring forth fast and well documented results by inviting people to take responsibility for what they personally care about. Suitable for small and large groups it is best applied when work to be done around a central topic is complex, ideas and agendas diverse and time limited.
Further, “fair”-like methods (knowledge- or experience-fair; idea market) as well as “world café” have generally been well received by participants according to f2f reports. Positive feedback include individual choice of focus, and the combination of substantial work with interpersonal exchange: Whereas – as a participant put it – “interaction for interaction’s sake” may not be to everyone’s taste, thematic marketplace-methods may suit both, those who favour interaction and exchange, as well as those who give priority to content-work – a “winwin” situation.

Navigating with care
Guiding a discerning crew to a set destination in good time, eventually cruising through unexpected waters, may be quite demanding for a facilitator. SDC networks applied mainly different strategies to meet this challenge:
Some hired an extern professional facilitator. Besides the securing facilitation expertise, this option had the clear advantage to unburden Focal Points or network-members during the meeting, allowing them to fully engage in thematic discussions, while preventing the ambiguous double-role of being simultaneously moderator and content provider of a discussion. In several cases the professional moderator was considered instrumental for the tangible results achieved as well as for keeping up a good atmosphere during the workshop. The lesson to be learned is that an extern facilitator needs to be pulled on the boat very early in the process, given clear objectives for the meeting, be well briefed and kept up to date regarding the network’s development.
Others opted for self-moderated blocks, delegating input, method and facilitation blockwise to participants or experts, with or without an overall moderator. In either case the conclusion is that an overall facilitator clearly helps to uncover the “fil rouge” between single blocks and steer towards the set goals.
In either case, so called “process monitors” represent an effective instrument to back up facilitators. As a f2f report illustrates: “On each day we had two participants volunteer as “process monitors”. Their feedback on participants’ reactions proved most valuable to the steering group and on the last two days led to major changes in the event program (i.e. less expert focus, more horizontal exchange)”.

Applying the above lessons of SDC networks, future f2f organisers may not be opting for a conventional type of sailing-boat, but rather for an outrigger-boat: robust, and fit for purpose even in challenging waters.

 

Comments to“f2f-meetings of SDC networks – lessons to be learned (II)”


  1. Riff Fullan says:

    Dear Michèle,

    An excellent metaphor, the boat for a face-to-face workshop! I fully agree that intensive planning coupled with a high level of flexibility is a winning formula. As you mentioned, such flexibility can come in a couple of ways: first, to have part of the agenda open to being determined by participants themselves (very useful to maximize their ownership in the event *and* to ensure that current ‘hot issues’ can be raised), and; second, to be ready to change processes/methodologies in response to the ‘winds’ of how participants are receiving them.

    This balancing is sometimes very difficult to achieve, but it is a crucial aspect of respecting the participants and their commitment of time and energy to doing important work together.

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