Testing the Strijp-Spark Methodology as a face-to-face workshop.
To all the lovely people who attended the Peer Test on June 29th, thank you so much for participating! It was an excellent opportunity to put some of our ideas into action. We have learned a lot about how we can host the next session to be even better.
Recap: what was the point?
As we mentioned on the day, when it comes to big topics and opportunities for change, more brains are better than fewer. The obstacle you encounter is that round-table conversations don't scale well. How can you constructively facilitate the organisation and communication between these people?
We noticed that traditional methods for brainstorming in a large group weren't harnessing the full potential of the crowd. Often, organisers split the public into large sub-groups and give them a single problem statement they must tackle together. After coming up with their solution, the sub-groups pitch their idea to the whole crowd. The most popular ideas are the "winners." Though this method can be effective, there are many problems with it. Groups waste time working on (subtly) flawed ideas that someone in another group could have tested and caught early.
Cosign - Collective superintelligence
A different way of brainstorming in a large group. Instead of wicked problems demanding complete ideas that would compete for victory, we thought it would be worth trying something completely different. Initially, a facilitator gives many small groups relevant and bite-sized prompts. These are exchanged between groups to facilitate a more extensive, emergent conversation. As the conversation continues, these small groups whittle initial prompts into strong statements or expand them into divergent webs of controversy. - How interesting!
You were the guinea pigs for our first experiment! In the next section, you can see the general results of the session. We can send a personalised report of how your inputs impacted the discussion if you would like.
We were testing a number of things during the day. Specifically group dynamics, prompt structure and the quality of the emergent conversation.
Many of you pointed out that the smaller groups were easier to manage, and that shuffling the groups lead to a nice variety of conversation. We noticed that each group had a very specific flavour informed by its members. Some groups were highly productive, others less so, but they has deep and sometimes difficult conversations.
We tested three kinds of prompts on the day: Anecdotes, Statements and Questions. We noticed that statements and questions lead to the most dynamic conversations and that groups cared more about the quality of the conversation than the quality of the prompt itself. In this way, anecdotes were not effective in promoting active discussion as they seemed to close off the discussion rather than open it up.
We identified 7 themes in our analysis.
- Benefits of community organising
- Drawbacks of community organising
- How-to, tips & advice
- No discussion
Most common theme
The vast majority of discussions were about how one might best organise a community, under the “How-to, tips & advice” theme. It seems that people are great at giving advice to strangers, who knew? 😉
Most uncontroversial prompt
The most uncontroversial statement was about the benefits of community organising. This was “liked” by three groups, but all groups noted that the discussion went nowhere because there was no “problem” to unpack.
55. Organising a community has many benefits! During my student time, I organised various activities with the student athletics association. That was (1) very enjoyable, (2) a good way to get to know people even better, (3) instructive and (4) a way to keep it affordable for all members by organising everything ourselves.
The most controversial discussion was centred on prompt 33: Communities must be open to newcomers. The discussion gravitated towards the idea that communities should be open enough to find new members and closed enough to retain a unique identity.
33. Communities must be open to newcomers Communities must always be open to people that are new and never look down on those who join later or for different reasons.
Another controversy was whether democratic decision-making was a universal good or an optional feature. Post 82 sums it up nicely.
82. No democracy by force Most of the time yes, need to have some degree of transparency and democratisation - need to have an opt in. Advantage of non-democratic communities that are transparent is quick decision making, but not everyone has a say in it.
The prompt under the theme “difficulties & drawbacks” that received the most likes was #47.
47. Herding Cats Community organising can often feel like “herding cats”. Getting a large group to agree on an activity and specifically a time and a place is almost impossible without serious (often one-sided) effort.
The advice, to paraphrase, was to hold things lightly (don’t get your whiskers in a twist) and to look for other leaders to help share the burden.
What to do with troublemakers?
Another struggle that led to discussion emerged from prompt 17. How can you deal with troublemakers? The responses were both light-hearted and thoughtful.
71. Send them to prison 1. First be patient, try to have constructive dialogue. If the rules keep being stepped on, proceed to: 2. Have hard limits, be strict in those, stand by those limits at all times. 3. Send them to prison.
Explore the map!
Feel free to explore the full conversation here. Happy exploring!
Now we will get to work improving the workshop! We anticipated that there would be problems, and stress testing the method pointed out specific areas for improvement. There are many things to unpack here, so let's break it down.
Room for improvement
- Some groups received a prompt that someone in the group had already worked on. That was not the intention!
- The handwriting was sometimes hard to read which made transcription difficult.
- The live translation was difficult due to the need to transcribe handwriting before the first pass of machine translation.
We liked that groups were able to work on pen and paper to brainstorm and sketch, but the submission of prompts could also be done “digital first”. This would solve the problems mentioned above. In the next test, we will try to facilitate the communication between the archivist and the groups using a digital tool, probably WhatsApp until we find/build a better alternative.
Room for improvement
- We didn’t want to run out of prompts during the discussion, so we actually collected too many prompts before the session then we could use in the end. This, combined with the slow information processing made the emergent conversation rather “flat” - we were able to address many prompts, but the deepest conversation only went “back and forth” three times.
- As mentioned previously, the anecdotes seemed to close down the discussion rather than open it up.
Next time, we will collect fewer prompts so that the focus quickly shifts to content generated during the workshop. This should lead to a deeper conversation with more twists and turns. In the future, we will also limit prompts to statements and questions.
Room for improvement
- We heard from a few people that the location was hard to find.
- Many people had to ask where the toilet was etc.
We will spend more effort on adding signs and step-by-step instructions on how to reach the site.
You made it to the bottom, thanks for showing so much interest! If you would like to be involved with further developments, such as volunteering at our much larger event in September, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with some details on what you would like to contribute. 🙂
From Eve and Jor: Thank you! ✨