New Direction 4 – Large Group Interventions

A Visual Flavour of Open Space

In recent years a new method or approach to technology assessment and innovation and innovation and management has emerged.  This approach includes a range of different techniques under the heading ‘large group intervention methods’.

A large group intervention method is an approach to managing technology assessment and innovation and innovation that take place around an event usually lasting one or two days, or even longer.

This event, is based on a collaborative approach, and is aimed at arriving at a shared vision of the future, implementing an existing technology assessment and innovation and innovation programme, solving a problem, designing or redesigning the organisation, thinking about new products and markets, or coming up with a new strategy.  Essentially the process is transformational.

Large crude intervention methods include:

Future search and search conferences

Open space conferences

Real time strategic change

Participative design

The conference model

Future search conferences

The main purpose of a future search conference is to create a shared vision of the future and an agreed strategy.  It was originally developed by Marvin Weisbord and Sandra Janoff.  A future search conference lasts for about two or three days and involves more than 50 people.

The underlying principle of a future search conference is this: ‘bringing the whole system into the same room’ in order to find a shared strategy or vision of the future.

There are essentially five stages:

Stage one: a review of the past from several different perspectives

Stage two: mapping the present

Stage three: creating a number of different future scenarios

Stage four: identifying the common ground between all of the stakeholders present at the future search conference

Stage five: developing and agreeing action plans

Three dimensions or themes underpin this process.  They involve an examination of past present and future along the time line looking at the individual, organisation or community, and global levels.  Participants identify behaviours that they would prefer to leave behind, (‘the sorries’), and also behaviours they would like to take with into the future.  This can focus on past, present and future technology choices.

The conference ends with agreed action plans and technology assessment and innovation and innovation and implementation projects can result from this.

The critical element of a future search conference that is of relevance to managing change and technology is that it rests on the need to involve all major stakeholders.  Therefore, the organisation invites, among others, its major customers and suppliers into the same room.  Resulting change projects therefore often involve at least three tiers of the technology supply chain including the organisation itself.  This approach is growing in use and has been used by organisations in many different industries and of many different sizes.

Open space conferences

Sometimes also referred to as ‘open space technology’, its primary purpose is to create a forum where issues and opportunities can be surfaced discussed and then turned into, real action.  Open space conferences were developed originally by Harrison Owen in the United States.  They can last for any period of time but tend to run for one to three days.  There is no limit to the number of participants!

One of the basic principles of open space is self-management.  Participants create their own programme of sessions which are guided by a particular and explicit theme set before the conference.  The sessions create an opportunity to: explore issues, find new ways forward, express feelings and concerns, and debate opportunities.  The open space conference brings a large group together in order to give their views, share their ideas, and develop practical plans for future co-operative work.  This is particularly appropriate to exploring visions for technology development in an organisation and for engaging is strategic level technology assessment and innovation and innovation.  It is technosophic in its reliance on multiple perspectives.

Open Space is particularly suited to situations where there is a lot of complexity and a range of different views.  It is also suited to situations where urgent action is needed.  The most important factor in an open space conference is that the main issue or theme must be of real and genuine concern to all of those participating.

As with a future search conference, all key stakeholders are invited to attend and participate, though participation is a voluntary.

There are basically five principles or rules of open space:

·whenever it starts is the right time

·whoever comes are the right people

·whatever happens is the only thing that could happen

·when it’s over, it over

·the law of two feet, which states that, if you find yourself in a situation which is not fruitful for you, it is your responsibility to go elsewhere where you can either be learning or contributing

This makes for a very spontaneous event, which begins with something called ‘the market place’, where participants are invited to create the conference programme, by offering to lead sessions, discussions, workshops, debate, on the conference theme.  In technology assessment and innovation, there may be sessions on evaluating specific technology options, on performance measurement and on strategic issues.

Parallel sessions then run, some are well attended, some less well attended, some with no attendance at all, based on whoever turns up!.  Technology is available to enable session leaders to make a recorded note of the outcomes of their particular session, which are collect together into the conference proceedings.  At the end of the event everyone receives a set of reports from all of the sessions, which usually include ideas for change, possible projects and action plans.

This is a conference which does not seem to have much structure yet which is growing in popularity as a powerful way to create vision and change in organisations.  By inviting key stake holders, including customers and suppliers, it is possible to use this conference format as a means of kicking off a technology assessment and innovation and innovation programme, identifying change ideas, and even designing and beginning technology assessment and innovation and innovation projects.

Real time strategic change

The main purpose of this large group intervention is of direct relevance to technology and change management, for it involves designing and implementing organisation-wide change which is sustainable.  Again a process which lasts for about two or three days, this process was originally developed by Kathie Dannemiller and Robert Jacobs.  It involves rigorous analysis of current strategic priorities and agendas.  Actions and decisions result.


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