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The Change Handbook

The Change Handbook: The Definitive Resource on Today’s Best Methods for Engaging Whole Systems by Peggy Holman

Some favourite excerpts…

High involvement means engaging the people in changing their own system. It is systemic because there is a conscious choice to include the people, functions, and ideas that can affect or be affected by the work.

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That is, people were not involved in group settings where they could collectively explore possibilities, surface and test assumptions, and develop plans to address areas that they agreed would benefit all involved.

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What’s needed for effective, sustainable change are sessions in which people collectively explore each other’s assumptions, seek and expand common ground, shape a desired future, and jointly take ownership of the solutions to the issues at hand.

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For sample budgeting templates, visit www.thechangehandbook.com.

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In reviewing the paths of inventors, developers, and leading voices of established methods, I uncovered a subtle yet essential shared journey called the Cycle of Mastery (see figure 1). These masters flow through this cycle in three phases: Method, Blend, and Invention.

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• Make a clear choice to engage. The primary aim for involving people is NOT to reduce resistance and create buy-in. These are by-products of a more compelling reason to engage people—wisdom. The people in the system, when engaged, will ensure that the best decisions about the future are made. As a result, people see themselves in the answers that emerge and begin integrating them immediately. That is why breakthroughs from these methods can far outstrip anything that comes from the top down.

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We also contacted people one on one, asking how their communities wanted to be engaged. Using that information, we structured focused conversations to explore economic, physical and environmental, and social issues.

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Metalogue Conferences are also successfully used for consulting to organizations, especially for strategic issues. For this purpose, the conference structure was refined into four distinct phases:   Phase 1: Setting the tone—conversation in rotating groups Phase 2: Unfolding the structure of the conversation—introducing dialogue principles and holding a large group dialogue Phase 3: Thinking together about the issue—open space workshops Phase 4: Bringing forth the future—a reflective dialogue and then self-organized workshops for next steps   The first phase is crucial to enhance curiosity and openness. The dialogues foster community spirit and a dialogical attitude in all conversations. The last phase ensures commonly acceptable decisions and personal responsibility for implementation.

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When you see the following—hopefully items in all four categories—it’s highly likely you have a sustainable change occurring. The four categories of evidence are: • Direction • Energy • Distributed Leadership • Appropriate Mobilization of Resources

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If a dialogue and deliberation process does not transition to action of some kind, participants may feel unsatisfied and frustrated. Participants want to understand how their work makes an impact—or how they can make an impact themselves. The process and purpose shape the form that actions take.

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These steps support participants in creating the collective wisdom essential for sound, achievable decisions and policies, and the common ground essential for effective, sustainable action.

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OPENNESS TO AN UNKNOWN OUTCOME Setting an intention—improving productivity in an organization, or improving relationships or policy in a community—focuses the work, but defining specific outcomes hinders creative possibilities and sets the process up for failure. Trust that the process enables the participants to reach the best outcome for their organization or community.

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When there is a clear outcome in mind from a process, advocating for a position may be more appropriate than engaging people in dialogue and deliberation. Advocacy focuses on a particular goal, while dialogue and deliberation cannot guarantee that participants will come to a particular conclusion.

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We organized ourselves according to the patterns of OST—patterns fundamental to human relationship: • Meet in a circle; • Begin in silence to listen for the creative spirit; • Establish a marketplace so individuals can offer whatever they are guided to share—and the emergent field can show up; • Honor and welcome the “stranger” (or the unexpected!); • Reflect on our learning; • Practice dialogic conversation to hear and respect all voices and ways of relationship.

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When contemplating fundamental change, my first advice is, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” In short, make sure you really want to take this trip before you start. With specific reference to Open Space, the advice is—if you can find any way other than Open Space to do what you want to do, do it. The reason is simple. With Open Space the good news and the bad news are identical: It works. In Open Space, every group I have worked with becomes excited, innovative, creative, and ready to assume responsibility for what they care about. This all sounds wonderful, but at times for some people, it also sounds like a prescription for going out of control—and they are right. If maintaining control is your fundamental intent, for goodness sake, don’t even think about Open Space. On the other hand, if you are prepared to believe in the people, trust them, and acknowledge that in all probability they are the true experts about what needs to be done, then Open Space will deliver—and you can be sure that fundamental change is a likely consequence.

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In October 2002, MVP used the Technology of Participation (ToP)® methods to create a five-year strategic plan to address the question, “What must the WHO/PATH partnership do as a team by 2007 to successfully deliver on the mission of the Meningitis Vaccine Project?” To create the plan, ten WHO and PATH staff members met for two lively days at MVP’s offices in Ferney-Voltaire, France.

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A few important guidelines or conditions that need to be present for the success of any group considering the use of these methods are: • The group has the authority or authorization to make substantive recommendations, decisions, or plans at some level about the topics or arenas in question. • Key stakeholders will be engaged in various ways in the planning or decision-making process, including those whose subsequent support may be essential to its success and those who are expected to implement conclusions or plans arrived at by the group. • Participants in the process see the need for others’ contributions and are willing to make an effort to work together on the matter at hand. • Leadership is prepared to commit the time and resources required to deal responsibly with the topic—in helping to codesign the process to be used, in sponsoring and enabling the event itself, and afterward in following through with support for the outcomes of the event.

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In the Consensus Workshop, all contributions are received and treated with respect. Ideas are not evaluated, nor is the group asked if it agrees or disagrees with any one of them. Instead, the question is where the group sees relationships between different ideas. Once clusters or gestalts of related data have been formed, the group discusses each cluster and determines where it points to an arena of agreement on the issue under discussion.

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In Whole-Scale events, the group remains whole because the microcosms in the room develop a shared picture of the present, the future they yearn to create, and actions to move forward. Once an event ends, the common picture begins to fragment. People return to their “silos,” new information emerges, people leave, and new ones arrive. Staying whole in thinking becomes the organization’s challenge over time. Practical approaches to staying whole are: publishing the results and commitments made, creating cross-functional teams to carry out change initiatives, and setting dates to get back together so people can learn from their experiences and decide on next steps. People need opportunities to share their struggles, celebrate their successes, and regularly reconnect to the common database.

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ENGAGING AS MANY MICROCOSMS AS POSSIBLE Sustaining momentum requires re-creating key elements of the large group meeting on a day-to-day basis. As the organization moves forward, it must continue bringing together groups representing the diverse functions, disciplines, levels, and options existing in the organization. New microcosms have to be engaged, such as action teams and implementation teams. Microcosms can convene in large group meetings, checkpoints, deep dives (a series of focused, one-half to one-day meetings, each tackling a specific topic), and reunions. As more people engage in more microcosms, two things happen: (1) you move faster and (2) sustain and create new change energy.

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The clients’ purpose is their combined responses to, “When you look into the future, what do you yearn to see?”

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The Process Talking Object Round One: Holding the talking object, each person says their name and speaks to the topic for a minute or two. Talking Object Round Two: Deepening the reflection, each person speaks for a minute or two. Open Dialogue: Placing the talking object in the middle, it is unnecessary unless someone wants it to claim the next speaking opportunity. Final Talking Object Round: Each person makes a final comment.

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Two “Traditions” • No committees will be formed—No to-do lists, collective action planned, or efforts to get everyone to agree on anything. • No marketing—no causes, candidates, events, or services promoted to other participants.

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FUTURE SEARCH PRINCIPLES • Have the right people in the room—that is, a cross-section of the whole, including those with authority, resources, information expertise, and need; • Create conditions where participants experience the whole “elephant” before acting on any part of it; • Focus on the future and seek common ground; • Enable people to take responsibility for their own learning and action plans.

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Ultimately, the point of scenario thinking is not to write stories of the future. Rather, it is to arrive at a deeper understanding of the world in which your organization or community operates, and to use that understanding to inform your strategy and improve your ability to make better decisions today and in the future.

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When the larger group of people get together for planning purposes, several things happen that don’t necessarily happen when three people get together: • Participants realize that there is more knowledge of the business spread through the organization than assumed, and this diversity of knowledge makes discussions about the future possibilities much richer • Participants begin to understand each other’s assumptions and perspectives • The capacity for strategic thinking is disseminated beyond just a handful of people • People working together in the SC increases the coherence of the organization into the future • There is energy for implementation of the action plans because there is joint ownership of the plans that the participants developed • This energy makes dissemination of the strategy content quicker and easier

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To achieve a strategic impact, this approach integrates AI, Dialogue, and the whole systems approach with a framework that builds upon an organization’s positive core to SOAR. By focusing on Strengths and Opportunities, organizations can reach their Aspirations (desired outcomes) with measurable Results by: 1. Inquiring into strength and opportunities; 2. Imagining the best pathway to sustainable growth; 3. Innovating to create the initiatives, strategies, structure, systems, and plans; and 4. Inspiring action-oriented activities that achieve results (figure 2).

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The teams were instructed to pretend that AVA had been destroyed the night before and they were to design their ideal from scratch. The idea is to get them to focus on what they want rather than getting caught up in what already exists. During the first two hours, they generated a list of bulleted statements or “specifications” about the ideal AVA. In the next hour, they began creating a design that would bring about the specifications.

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Idealized Design kicked off with an all-day session involving 48 stakeholders, including students, faculty, staff, alumni, board members, benefactors, and management. The participants were divided into four teams of mixed stakeholders.

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After lunch, the subteams presented their designs to each other and then went back into their subteams to go into more detail and to incorporate aspects of the other teams’ designs that they liked. The designs were subsequently synthesized. In the following months, a core team added additional detail and planned implementation.

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Idealized Design starts with initial kickoff sessions (see figure 1) ranging from a half day to two days depending on the complexity of what is being designed (simple product—half day; redesign of organization—two days). Follow-up sessions, held over subsequent weeks or months, involve creating a design that will bring about the desired properties or “specifications.” The design is circulated to a wider audience for input on how it can be improved. A completed design is then settled. Implementation planning takes place in parallel.

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(Values into action) Working in small groups, individuals explore the focus issue through a few questions: • Why do they care about the focus issue? • How do their most deeply held values and convictions motivate them to take positive action? • What examples of positive efforts are already being taken to bring about change for people affected by the issue?

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• What commitments to action will individuals make to engage members of their own community to make a difference on behalf of those impacted by the issue?

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Toward the start of the meeting, we ask several individuals affected by the issue to share their stories with the entire gathering. These presentations put a “human face” on the issue. In order to gain a more nuanced understanding of the issue’s complexities and dynamics as the meeting proceeds, academics/practitioners give brief presentations, followed by small group conversations to further explore the issue. These presentations help participants establish a rich assessment of the issue based on its history and evolution over time. Graphic recorders work with pastels on eight-foot banners to capture in images and words the ideas, associations, emotional rhythms, and questions that arise during large group reporting. In addition, individuals work with the recorder to capture their ideas in images. The resulting multicolored graphics cross linguistic barriers and create a rich reminder of both the ineffable and the expressible.

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We developed this approach focusing on individual action, rather than on gaining common ground for collective action, for several reasons. First, those attending this meeting would not likely meet again. In addition, many would not have easy access to travel or communication, making joint projects unlikely. Finally, in our organizational development practices, we have observed how, after attending a large group meeting, individuals will engage others in their local community or organizational department in collective action. The seeds for such individual action are planted during the meeting, but they don’t often become part of the collective discourse during the meeting. Sometimes, these individual projects become the foundation for systemic change.

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Asking unconditionally positive questions at such times can overcome fear, uncertainty, and doubt—questions like these World Café classics: What question, if answered, would serve us all well in this situation? What could our community, our organization also be?

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 “What does it mean to do journalism that matters?”

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Time and Diversity / What Emerges

  •        Less than one day, limited diversity / ideas and relationships (new connections)
  •         At least two days / special projects (temporary structures and leaders)
  •        Long events (3 – 7 days) / glimpses of emergent leadership and structures (temporary experiences of fluid form, fluent leadership)
  •         Multiple experiences / self-managed teams and committees (new structures, fluent leadership)
  •        Ongoing pattern / emergent organization/community and governance (fluid form, fluent leadership)

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When we come together to play and be, we are truly ourselves. When we are truly ourselves, it is wonderful and when we act collectively in that wonder we do transformative work for our community and our world. —Brad Colby

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Here are some questions to consider with regard to identity: • What is our intention? Who are we? • What space do we claim? How do we want to be recognized? • What do we want to call ourselves? What label do we choose? • What is the case that we can make for the value we add; a case that calls people to learn and practice the methods? • Are we effectively communicating our work and our field to various audiences around the world? • What is the connection between the value of our field and the public good? • How can we craft an image that helps the world to find us and get our support? • How can we make our work more accessible to more of the world? • What else might you add?

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Consider the following questions: • What have we learned thus far . . . what do we know? • What are we yearning to know more about? • What does the world need right now and what can we innovate to better serve those needs? What can be anticipated? • What is emerging as our methods take communities and organizations to new heights? • What happens next when an organization or community embraces the methods, embodies its fundamentals, and develops an advanced sophistication? • How can we share our learning so that we can accelerate the development of robust approaches? • How might we blend our in-person practices with online technologies? • What else might you add?

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