By Lisa Tolentino, HC Link Community Consultant with the Ontario Healthy Communities Coalition
Note: This is the second blog post in a series on facilitation techniques and approaches that will be written by various HC Link staff over the next little while. This particular segment focuses on an approach to Peer Sharing, which allows you to draw on the wisdom of those around you.
Following our bi-annual conference last November, we received numerous requests asking for more information on an activity that we facilitated during the Plenary Session on Day 2 called, Wise Crowds. This fun approach to collective problem-solving and networking went over very well with participants!
A Liberating Structure*
Wise Crowds is a technique that was developed by Henri Lipmanowicz and Keith McCandless, who are the authors of a book and website called Liberating Structures www.liberatingstructures.com . The purpose of the Wise Crowds technique is to:
- Uncover solutions to common problems/challenges;
- Tap into the intelligence of the diverse opinions available within a group;
- Generate results without using “outside” expertise;
- Actively build learning, mutual support, and make peer connections;
- Refine one’s ability to give, receive, and ask for help;
- Liberate the wisdom and creativity that exists across sectors and disciplines; and
- Create the conditions for unimagined solutions to emerge.
Wise Crowds enables you to engage a group of people in helping one another. You can use it with a large group (as we did with over 100 people at our conference), simultaneously with various small groups, or even with a group as few as four. In a short amount of time, individuals referred to as “clients”, ask for help and receive it from other group members. Each of these “consultations” draws on the knowledge and experience of those in the group, so that participants find solutions to real-life challenges, and also increase their capacity for problem-solving. (Lipmanowicz and McCandless, 2013; www.liberatingstructures.com/13-wise-crowds)
HC Link Coordinator, Andrea Bodkin, and I both took a Liberating Structures training workshop where we had learnt the Wise Crowds technique. So we were eager to share it with others when it came time to pick an activity for the conference. Sarah Christie and the Physical Activity Resource Centre (PARC), who sponsored the session, also loved the idea of using it!
We Planned for Success
We determined ahead of time that the purpose of the session was to both facilitate networking, and to gather feedback and advice on the types of challenges that participants were experiencing. We knew that some participants would know each other but that most were likely strangers to one another. While we were aware that this was a one-time event, we were conscious that participants had the ability to make connections and develop longer term relationships. We also knew that people would be coming from different sectors, but that all of them would be interested in and/or working to create Healthy Communities (the common ground). Given that they were coming to our conference, we expected that most of them would be familiar with facilitated processes and have had a positive experience with them. Finally, we polled registrants in advance about their challenges and hopes for the conference – so we were aware of what topics and issues they wanted to discuss, as well as their areas of expertise.
We wanted to set things up so as to enable the greatest amount of information-sharing and draw upon the knowledge, experience and ideas of everyone in the room. Considering we were working with such a large group, we decided to identify the “clients” in advance. On Day 1 of the conference, we asked individuals to identify themselves and be prepared to briefly describe: a) a challenge that they were dealing with, and b) the advice or help that they were looking for from other participants. We explained that they would present their challenge in small groups and then listen as other group members provided suggestions and recommendations.
When the session began the next day, we clarified that anyone not acting as a client would be acting as a “consultant”. We asked the consultants to then draw on their skills and experiences from within their own communities and areas of work, so as to offer advice to the clients. One-by-one the clients posed their situations to their small groups, and then they moved onto other tables so as to further gain from the expertise that was located there. In this way, they were able to benefit from consultations at three different tables.
Not only did the “clients” receive suggestions and ideas for addressing their challenges, but the “consultants” also gained by learning from and connecting with the other consultants in the group. Therefore, everyone was engaged in benefitting from the know-how and inventiveness of those around them. To close the session, we ensured that there was time at the end of all of the consultations to both de-brief the activity and further allow participants time to connect with the people that they had just encountered.
Organizing for Variety
Like most great facilitation approaches this one was created based on ideas that came from others, and Lipmanowicz and McCandless (2013) make it clear that the Wise Crowds technique was actually inspired by Quaker Clearness Committees. They also provide all sorts of ideas for organizing the activity differently. In designing the session for our conference, we ourselves became aware of a whole host of ways that we could have used this technique.
For instance, instead of the clients moving from table-to- table, the consultants can do this – it encourages physical activity by more of the participants, and also allows the clients more time to reflect on the advice that they have just received. If you want more people in the entire group to be able to act as clients, and/or you need to be mindful of peoples’ ability to move, you can even arrange it so that no one has to change tables at all – you can set it up so that they just rotate who acts as the client at each table (i.e., three different people could each get to present their challenge to the same small group). This can also allow each of the small groups to focus on a particular topic or area of expertise like: working with youth, addressing issues in rural areas, building partnerships, etc. Also, if space, equipment or noise volume are issues, you do not have to use tables at all and need only have circles of chairs – this way people will likely lean inwards and huddle together like a sports team, which further encourages a sense of team work and makes connections. The possibilities are endless…
If you would like someone from HC Link to help facilitate this activity at one of your events, don’t hesitate to contact us!
* To learn more about using this technique, please visit: www.liberatingstructures.com/13-wise-crowds/ , or refer to the book: The Surprising Power of Liberating Structures: Simple Rules to Unleash a Culture of Innovation. Henri Lipmanowicz and Keith McCandless. Liberating Structures Press. Seattle, 2013.