A number of things have been happening over the last few weeks that have me thinking about change in our institution and how we work. I am working on a SharePoint site for the board, thinking about another for tracking proposals and follow-up, there has been the recent talk about the financial situation and financial projections, ITS/ICT is reorganizing, and I did a workshop with some ITS employees to look at challenges we face and possible solutions.
In all cases, people are thinking (or dreaming) about possible futures.
There are a number of different ways to approach dreaming about the future. In some cases, we entrust that responsibility to a single person or small group of people. They will collect some data, and then go away in a back room and come out some time later with a solution (or design). Traditionally, this is the role of an analyst (financial analyst, business analyst, systems analyst, etc). This approach works great when the problem is well understood and there is some measure of cause and effect. This is a “knowing problem” where an expert can come in and knows how to solve the problem.
What do you do when the problems are bigger? Social problems, problems involving many stakeholders (who have to come to some measure of agreement), or problems involving SharePoint often are not so easily solved by the expert analyst because the cause and effect is not obvious, or may not be known until the solution is tried out. So, how can we approach these kinds of problems?
Build shared understanding
There are a number of ways to build shared understanding, facilitators attempt to do this all the time. As any good facilitator will tell you, there is no single facilitation technique that will work in all cases, but there are some techniques that have a broader range of useful situations than others. Unlike an analyst, the facilitator is not there to solve the problem for you, but to help you (the group) figure out a solution that will work.
I have been studying and working with a couple of techniques to improve my facilitation skills over the last few months. I see the methods as complementary, and each has a wide variety of situations it can be used in.
Game storming, innovation games, or serious games all refer to almost the same thing – using games to get a group to think about things in different, often creative ways. There are hundreds of different games that can be played, each game plays to different possible outcomes, and people are inventing different games all the time.
The workshop I led with ITS people used a game called “Cover Story” to think about how we could address some of our challenges. The basic idea of the game is to ask participants to think about a future where the problem has been solved so successfully that a major magazine is doing a cover story about the solution. Participants are asked to craft a cover, headlines, side bars, illustrations, etc. and to present their solution to the group at the end.
After the game is done, the facilitator writes up a report based on the ideas presented, and the information collected during the game. Writing up the report can take a few hours of effort following the game, so it is important to plan for that.
In the case of the ITS workshop, the report proper worked out to be 6 pages including a number of challenges identified, solutions proposed, and 6 recommendations to the leadership of the unit. Only 1 of the recommendations was related to SharePoint, showing that this technique is useful in a variety of situations and for examining a variety of possible solutions.
Issue mapping is a technique that is used to examine complex (or wicked) problems. These problems tend to have no right solution, just better or worse solutions, much like deciding how best to structure things in SharePoint.
I gave a demo of issue mapping at the February SharePoint SIG meeting, and have since completed a class on issue mapping. As part of the class I have been using the technique with a couple of groups to examine multi-faceted problems and have found the technique useful in getting into details that might not otherwise have come to light.
Creating an issue map is something that takes some practice to be able to do well. Mapping a conversation live will involve the mapper working on a computer using specific software (it’s free) while the map is also displayed on a shared display to the group. A small group can work well in a small meeting room with a display, for a larger group a high resolution projector would be needed.
I am sure I will write some more about issue mapping in the future, in the mean time, if you would like a demonstration of how it can work, please contact me.
Implementing SharePoint for a large group such as a college or department does take a bit of planning. The key to remember is that you need to take off your analyst hat and put on your facilitator role, this is because the users are the experts in their work, you are not.
Thanks for reading.