Openly Inviting Participation

Hold the Ladder for Me“Enjoy serendipity, discovery, emergent social learning, into a never ending journey towards understanding complexity. Make the emergent learning and spiralling of discoveries a social purpose, a learning to learn process, a metacognition…” *

Being part of Creating the Future is always an adventure. As a living laboratory, our work is about pushing boundaries and exploring what is possible, all to answer these two questions:

1) What really creates positive social change?
2) How can social change efforts infuse those effective frameworks into all their work?

We know the answers to both those questions will be found in research, and in developing effective approaches that don’t yet exist. We know the answer to #2 will require teaching those new approaches, and engaging a new conversation about social change work – and life itself.

We also know the answer will require that changemakers see what those new approaches look like in action – to move beyond imagining what it might take, to actually see it in real life.

And so, Creating the Future’s board voted last month that from now on, every internal meeting at Creating the Future will be held via a live-stream with concurrent text chat, so anyone anywhere can not only watch, but also participate, right then in real time. Our board meetings, R&D team meetings, internal training sessions, planning meetings, branding meetings, fundraising / resource development meetings – EVERYTHING we gather to discuss – will be open and participatory, for all the world to see AND be part of.

Beyond Transparency
Some people call this transparency, but for us, it’s more than that. “Transparent” suggests a barrier that is see-through – a glass door vs. a wooden door.

“Openly engaging and participatory,” on the other hand, means there is no door. “Open” is about inviting people in, and their feeling perfectly natural stepping in, because the line between “in” and “out” has vanished. “Open and engaged” is about not having to reach out to the community / focus outward on the community, because there is no “out” or “in,” there’s just “all of us together.”

What We Expected (And What We’re Learning So Far)
The board brainstormed what this open engagement could make possible – for our mission, for those who participate, for those who just watch. So far, in just the 2 weeks of our beta-testing, we have already blown those expectations out of the water. Here’s just a sampling of what we’re experiencing.

More People, Deeper Engagement
We’ve been surprised at who has been “in the room” with us – sometimes folks we didn’t know cared, other times people we’ve never even met. Yet there they are, participating as a natural part of the meeting. Without opening up our internal meetings, we never would have a) known these people were interested, nor b) had them get so involved so quickly.

Example: Kim Tso not only watched the meetings, but used these sessions to practice her new skill of graphic note-taking, sharing her notes after the sessions. She has since offered to have that note-taking be one of the actual  Google-hangout screens, to share those notes in real time during the meetings. NONE of this would have happened if we’d met on our own behind closed doors.

Co-creation and Shared Learning
In all these meetings so far, participation has created a richer and more layered result than if it were just the few people who might normally be in a closed-door branding or resource development meeting. Questions have prodded us to clarify our thinking and explore different possibilities. Ideas have been shared. The soup has become much richer by everyone bringing what they have to the pot.

Everyone Learns
People who are watching are learning not just how to be more open, but the content itself of whatever we are working on.

A consultant told us, “I never get to see how other consultants do their work with actual clients. I’m now thinking about new ways to work with my own clients.”

A social entrepreneur watching our branding session with Zach Braiker told us, “His questions about language immediately made me think about the language at my own web site.”

And university professors are already planning to make our board meetings assigned viewing in their classes.

All that benefit, while we do the same work we were going to do anyway.

Proprietary (Mine) vs. Shared (Ours)
If the social change arena is serious about knocking down silos, that demolition must start with each of us, as individuals and as orgs. However one of the preconditions for each of us to act in a way that is more interconnected than independent is that we need examples of what that might look like in practice.

The need for those examples becomes even more clear when we consider that virtually all the examples we currently see in our day-to-day lives focus on individuals and organizations building strong independent efforts, vs. the “us” focus of community working together.

Even in these first 2 weeks of beta testing, we know that we are already serving as an example, so that people can see and feel what it would be like to open up, to knock down the “me” walls and to become the “we” of community.

What’s Next
As we continue this grand experiment into a new way of “being the behaviors we want to see in the world,” we hope you’ll check in to see what we’re up to. Join one of our meetings – watch and listen, or maybe even participate (You can subscribe to be notified of upcoming meetings here). Let us know…

  • What are you noticing, realizing, observing?
  • What is standing out for you?
  • What are you learning?
  • And how we can do this better, so that the result is more learning for you – whatever it is you are learning?

Being a living laboratory means every action is an opportunity to learn (which also means there is never failure, there is just learning!). Thanks for being part of the adventure with us!

* Many thanks to Giorgio Bertini for these words of encouragement, as he shared his wishes for Creating the Future’s journey into open engagement. 

8 thoughts on “Openly Inviting Participation”

  1. I thought I was a futurist. What you are attempting with “openly inviting participation” is beyond anything I had imagined at this time and place. To take the concept even deeper, you might figure out some way of getting the listeners to provide live-stream ratings as the discussions proceed (akin to what CNN does not during Presidential debates).

  2. I think this is ground-breaking. Casting about for new ways to overcome old barriers – what you are doing is very appealing. I am happy to engage with you and will be sharing this with all my colleagues.

  3. As one of the participants in this, an idea that occurs to me is that we need a simple hook that we can use that is as effective as the slash open idea promoted by open data activists:

    I wonder if we ask every nonprofit to set up a page called /openboard or /opengovernance? And you might think about what are the defining characteristics of a nonprofit that practices /openboard? (That implies i havent read your blog! By this I mean you do at least 3 things – eg publish the minutes/papers; I’m thinking ‘in camera’ is still too daunting for most)

    Even if this is too simplistic for what feels like something really good, its great to mull these things over.

    Best wishes

  4. Karen:
    Oh wonderful! Can’t wait to have you in the room with us!

    And Barry, you’ve got me smiling – ratings suggest a TV show or some such. We’re not seeking approval – we’re seeking participation! And if folks are participating, they will be sharing their thoughts with us far more meaningfully than an anonymous thumbs-up-or-down can convey.

    The goal is that our work be as engaging and participatory as possible. I hope you’ll subscribe for updates and join some of those conversations!

    • I was envisioning something much richer than thumbs up or down, altho the CNN example is what popped into my mind. My unformed vision is that observer-participants will be periodically prompted to rate the strategies under discussion in terms of their simplicity, ease of implemenation, aliveness, etc. In a sense, allowing particpants to offer numeric feedback into the mix as a stimulus for elevating or refocusing the discussion in the direction of extracting more possibilites. There is that old cliche about “bringing everyone to the table” which works well with small numbers. With large numbers, most participants are reduced to sound bites. My suggestion, fuzzy as it is, was aimed at enriching participant feedback when large numbers are being engaged.

    • Whatever concept you are working on, it is useful to set up some value-based criteria against which it can be assessed–with the ideal aim to max out each value. For example, if you are working on a fund development plan, the team might select value-criteria like: simplicity, playfulness, and wholeness from a value list. The ideal fund development plan then, for the team, would be one that is simple, playful, and has integrity.

      Okay, now you create a scale from weak to okay to strong to brilliant for each of these three values–to reflect how well team members and observers feel it is reflected in the current version of the plan. As work on the plan progresses, periodically you poll all the participants and invite them to rate the current version of the plan in terms of these three values. If it feels right, after seeing the ratings, you can stop the planning action and explore the ratings themselves to see what is scoring high or low and why.

      This process accomplishes two nice things: (1) it insures that any content discussion is infused with value flavoring in a simple and largely non-obtrusive way and (2) it provides a vehicle for everyone to express what they are thinking/feeling even if they are not as clever or glib as the most vocal in the room with the content under discussion.

      Was this explanation helpful?

  5. Barry:
    Much clearer – thank you. I think you will enjoy this – where we do what I think you are suggesting, at least partially.

    Because we hadn’t announced that particular session far in advance, there wasn’t a lot of participation in the process (a learning point – internal meetings are often more spontaneous than allows for people outside our office to drop everything and participate). But in the next few weeks, as the planning continues, we will be matrixing again, and again asking folks who are watching to add their own criteria.

    Which is why I think your point is so important, that as participation increases, we may very well need to shift approaches, and for us, that will be something to learn, and to then share as we learn it. One thing that is already clear is that this approach will require not just a “tech person” to watch that side of the sessions, but someone who is monitoring the input from folks other than those on the screen. All a huge learning path!

    I just hope you’ll continue to be part of it!!



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