The Transformation Project – part 2


Richard Moore

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rkm website

The Transformation Project – part 1

Vision-development weekends
The primary activity of the project team is the organizing of weekend events, each event advancing the vision-development conversation. These events have two parts: a two-day council session (involving people with specialized knowledge), followed by an evening public meeting. The council’s job is to come up with a practical future vision for some area of concern, and the public meeting is where the all-important conversation occurs, between ‘ordinary’ people and ‘special-knowledge’ people. 

Each weekend is focused on a given question, something that needs to be better understood, so the vision-development process can move forward. People are invited to the council who have knowledge and/or ideas to contribute to the given question, and the question is framed in a particular way.

For example, suppose the basic question is, “What is the best monetary system?”. The question would be framed something like this: “If we were building an ideal world, what monetary system would you recommend for that world?” The idea is to focus on imagining the butterfly world, and not get stuck in the box of what might work today, in the caterpillar world. Almost anything we can imagine is probably doable: the task of a vision-development weekend is to imagine what we really want, guided by an understanding of what appears to be feasible. 

The council session, lasting the better part of two days, uses a particular process, Dynamic Facilitation (DF). A council might have anywhere from 5-20 participants, and 12 would probably be the expected average. We need enough people to provide a representative microcosm of the knowledge and ideas that are relevant to the question under consideration. If there are a lot of distinct viewpoints, then we need a lot of participants. 

The DF process is ideally suited to our purposes for such a session. DF is very good at getting everyone to fully express their diverse ideas and concerns, and DF is very good at getting people to work together, creating a new answer, a new approach, that finds the synergy among the ideas, finds ways to deal with all the concerns. 

DF is a powerful, proven process, that is able to tap into the full potential creativity of the council. The outcomes of DF sessions are typically characterized by participants as ‘significant breakthroughs’, and participants typically express considerable enthusiasm and energy around ‘their creation’. A feeling much stronger than mere unanimity-of-viewpoint. 

Following the council session, there is a break for food and rest, and then the council participants show up at the public meeting. The meeting kicks off with talks from each of the participants, relating their experience of the session, and presenting what they came up with. The enthusiasm typically shines through in such DF-council talks, and this tends to engage the audience, leading to energetic breakout conversations afterwards.

The people who come to the public meeting are hearing ideas that are hot off the press, from the folks who spent the weekend coming up with those ideas. These aren’t stale theories of experts, these are fresh ideas, developed during a weekend of conversation, and the conversation is still open – now, after the talks, it’s the public’s turn to join in. There are appropriate processes for this part as well, perhaps World Cafe, or Open Space, or something else, depending on circumstances. 

With the council, we’re bringing in a representative microcosm of creative thinking in a certain area; with the public meeting we’re bringing in a representative microcosm of the general population, perhaps with a bit of local-specific bias. The weekend is serving, more or less, as a representative microcosm of the whole society, proceeding with our ongoing conversation, involving people with specialist knowledge and the rest of us, as we continue to develop our vision of the world we really want.  

Telling the story of the conversation
The principle of the representative microcosm means that each of our weekend events is a conversation that belongs to the whole society, something that happened on everyone’s behalf, and something that needs to be shared as widely as possible, in a useful, accessible way. 

The other primary activity of the project team is to produce and make available a summary video of each weekend event. The video will include some footage from the public meeting and the talks, enough to convey the flavor and enthusiasm of the event, and enough to anchor some of the key ideas in direct, first-hand testimony. But the main content of the videos will be a presentation of the ideas, and the flow of conversation that generated those ideas, including the flows that happened in the public meeting. 

The video tells the story of the conversation, and it strives to tell the story in the most accessible, graspable way. There is a quite interesting genre of idea-expression art, cartoons and storyboards and the like, that represent ideas and relationships in creative ways, making complex ideas understandable. Or sometimes a simple graph or diagram is what’s called for. And of course there’s the voice narrative, which is typically the backbone of such videos, with the images playing a supporting role. 

These videos need to have high production values, and they don’t need to be long; a well-crafted 30-minute video could probably do a very good job of telling the story of a weekend’s conversation. The goal is that if someone sees the video, and pays attention, they will then be up-to-date on that thread of the conversation, and able to join in, if the opportunity arises.

Each of our weekend microcosm conversations is intended to be part of a larger, ongoing conversation. The videos provide the bridge, connecting one weekend to another. If a given weekend is intended to pull some threads together and develop them further, then the session can start off with a viewing of the latest episodes of the relevant threads: the new session can pick up where the previous ones left off.

The videos will be made available online, YouTube or whatever, as soon as they are produced. The project will have a website, where the collection of videos will be presented in an organized way, that shows clearly the thread paths among the conversations. Anyone can visit these sites, look at the latest episodes, and catch up with the current conversation.  And anyone can go back in time, and trace the development of any thread in more detail.

Weaving the threads of conversation
The initial series of weekend events will be devoted to exploring an identified list of questions, not yet specified, which together cover all the major areas where vision needs to be developed. The initial series gives us a first-draft vision in each of the identified areas, and the visions may or may not be compatible with one another. 

Each event in the initial series starts a thread in the larger conversation. The next step is to survey the threads, and identify some ‘most needed’ next conversations. Perhaps two threads need to be brought together, to iron out conflicts, or to explore potential synergies. Or perhaps a thread needs more work, new kinds of knowledge need to be brought in, and a follow-up weekend is called for. By artfully weaving and developing the threads, the conversation can be systematically moved forward. 

Each new combination of threads, and each bringing together of new microcosms, adds to the overall coherence of the evolving vision. If we proceed in this way, with the help of our appropriate processes, I would expect the conversation to make progress rather rapidly. A DF council, with the right microcosm and right problem statement, generally comes up with some very good solutions, solutions that should be at least in the right ball park. With an on-target process like that, not very many iterations should required to weave the threads together, harmonize them, and converge on a coherent vision of an achievable better world, one that a significant microcosm of ordinary citizens have participated in creating.

Imagining a coherent better world isn’t really so difficult, if we apply ourselves, once we liberate ourselves to focus our attention on what is possible, and on what we really want. Once we do know what the adult butterfly looks like, then we need to start visioning backwards: “What foundation do we need to lay down, before we can start building the new systems? What scaffolding will we need to hold the systems together until they’re complete?” And then on to, “How do we build the scaffolding?”, etc. etc. Again, people with special knowledge come into the picture, this time more in a problem-solving role than an envisioning role.

The blueprints for our butterfly are constructed in reverse order, beginning from the adult form. It’s like when you have a plane to catch, and you compute backwards when you have to be at the airport, when you need to schedule your taxi, what time you need to set your alarm for, what time you need to go to bed, etc. When we have our vision, we know where we’re going. We then need to compute step-by-step backwards what we need to do to get there. And again, it should not take a large number of iterations in order to converge on the blueprint sequence, probably less than it took to converge on the vision.

When final convergence occurs we then have a comprehensive program defined, a story that tells us how to start building the world we want, beginning with what is operating around us, morphing step by step into what we want, the system always functioning during the process, with the frequent help of temporary scaffolding. Anything less than this would not yet have converged, would still be in conversation, with obvious problems still to be dealt with.

Part 3 tomorrow: Achieving self-organization; Bringing in the 99%