Storming into action

I’m a firm believer in the power of experience, of doing, in learning. Nothing new there – it’s pretty standard practice nowadays and variations of experiential learning cycles abound.

For me it’s about emotional engagement. I can learn without doing. I can learn from books, videos, presentations and all that jazz. But it’s sometimes hard to know what I feel about something until I grasp the nettle and try it out.

Viv McWaters and Johnnie Moore have written about what they’re calling “action storming” or “problem theatre” – just one method they use to shift people from thinking about to doing, from head to heart. It’s a method they’ve used to get people exploring working with ‘difficult people’, something that comes up for every group of would-be, or existing, facilitators and trainers. Action storming draws on a number of strands of dramatic technique.

“This involves trying different approaches in quick succession, and as soon as someone in the group makes a suggestions along the lines of, “Why don’t you try…?” we invite them to tags the protagonist out and do what they have suggested – try something. We’ve found it creates a completely different way of tackling those difficult moments. Instead of theorising about what might work, analysing different responses and becoming increasingly abstract, Action Storming is far more concrete. You can see a physical shift in people when they get it – when something they try just works. Sometimes it’s obvious, sometimes it’s a surprise” Viv McWaters

Here’s a slide show they’ve put together to promote the technique:

Action storming,Viv McWaters

Emily and myself use a couple of related techniques in our facilitator training for Transition Leicester’s Footpaths project. The first  involves stepping into the role of the ‘difficult person’ to glean insights into their side of the story and then stepping back into facilitator role to act from a position of new-found understanding and confidence. The second is a quick-fire try-out of possible approaches to a common difficult scenario. It’s amazing how quickly people’s understanding can shift from a few minutes of doing and observing their peers doing.

I’ll keep reading about Viv and Johnnie’s technique with interest, but look forward more to doing it.



One, two, three

Here’s three posts that caught my attention this evening:

The power of peer-to-peer networks

Johnnie Moore’s talking about distributed models of conversation in meetings in his recent blog A few thoughts on peer-to-peer networks in meetings. Sensible stuff that addresses the problem caused by that common belief that “we all need to hear everything“. In consensus decision-making circles that can be magnified into “we all need to decide together on everything“.

Johnnie says:

“One objection to those more informal methods comes from people who say that they can’t know everything that’s happening in the room. But I would counter that methods A and B only allow the illusion of hearing everything by throttling the amount that can actually be said by most people and forcing it to remain unspoken.”

There can be dynamics around trust, status in the group and more at play here. The bottom line seems to be equal access – plenary formats rarely, if ever, allow everyone in the room to join the conversation as equals.

In terms of decision-making, when researching our brief history of consensus post, I was grabbed by the description of the Hanseatic League’s dynamics. The League was a 13th to 17th century Northern European trading alliance. If I’ve understood it right, those cities and merchants’ guilds that wanted to discuss a trading venture simply got together and did so, and ultimately made their decision by consensus. Those that weren’t interested simply abstained from both conversation and decision. No judgment accrued to either position. Simple and refreshing.


Emergent design

I’ve been pondering what Training for Change call emergent design a fair bit of late – comparing it to what I do at the moment, wondering how much further I have to go to be allowing the flow of a workshop to be genuinely emergent. I often plan in detail. I have argued in the past that it’s that planning that allows me to be flexible: it builds my understanding of the group, of the aims of the day, of a variety of possible approaches – so that when I’m with a group I can change my plan with relative ease and confidence. So Johnnie Moore’s recent post Time grabbed my attention. A snippet:

Until I am sitting in the room with the participants, I don’t really have a clear idea of what I want to do, moment to moment. Once I am in the room, I find the next activity usually suggests itself

Now that feels like a step beyond what I’ve described above, and one I’m keen to play with. I’ll be at a weekend event in April, looking at Training for Change’s direct education model, which includes emergent design. Who knows, perhaps a catalyst for playing around and trying out a few new steps? I’ll let you know how it goes.