Friday, 27 November 2009

Open Space and Community Cohesion

I had a very enjoyable time yesterday taking part in a practitioners network meeting organised by iCoCo - the Institute of Community Cohesion (see During the day we got to talking about the use of Open Space as a method not only to coordinate plans around Community Cohesion in localities but also as a way of building cohesion itself. Time ran out on us sadly - but it is a dialogue I hope to keep going.

(You can join in too, if you wish, by either joining the OSlist - an email network of OS practitioners around the world by registering at this address or by registering to join the iCoCo forum by registering at this address or both! Both are open fora.)

In the course of posting ideas around this issue the facilitator of what looks to be a fabulous event got in touch: Linda Mitchell. She sent me this link to a site which has links to what happened in this OS meeting about community cohesion in Leeds. It is well worth a visit and explore!
Our Bringing People Together event took place on Thursday 21st May 2009. The day was full of passion, lively discussion and great ideas and the energy was fantastic all day. Over 20 separate workshops took place and they have been pulled together into a report...

Click here for a link to the page.

Monday, 23 November 2009

Making whole systems work

This is my model of how to achieve whole system change using the kinds of events I have described below in various postings such as here, here and here!

We need complexity to be 'held' (or 'cradled' even) by the system itself. It is not a question of hiring some super bright team of consultants at huge expense to come and 'do' change to the system. In my view - the best (i.e. most sustainable, efficient, effective and adaptable) organisational / system comes from the system itself. (Please see my other blog for lots of ideas that are all about doing that.) The processes need to be assembled to enable the system (i.e. all the people who know care or can do something about change) to understand and harness its own complexity. It is unlikely that this can be done by anything (or anyone) other than the whole system itself.

Creativity is required so that new solutions can emerge. In attempting to make improvements there is, in my experience, a great deal of doing the same things only harder or longer. We need to stand back, and take a sideways look, and do something different! (Perhaps the 'solution' to low rates of breast feeding in some communities, for example, is not a whole number of new 'Mother and Baby' groups but instead a 20 metre high sculpture of a woman breastfeeding her baby in the local shopping centre...!) If you always do what you have always done, you will always get what you have always got (as someone once said - but I don't know who though!)

Finally we need commitment. Without involving and really engaging people: the people who will have to take the actions forward, it is unlikely that the improvements will actually happen in the long term in my view. I have seen far to many ideas & great plans, no doubt brilliant in conception, fizzle out for want of someone to take it forward.

To get these three components present, we need imaginative processes that inspire people to think of different things. This may need (what I call) 'Blue Peter' type materials (glitter, cardboard tubes and glue) to encourage people to 'mess around' with what the future needs to be. Or you may just need to 'Open Space' and allow people to think and talk without boundaries or someone telling them what they should be discussing... (as most structured events & conferences do...).

We also need a focus on the future, so that people are helped to think about what could be rather that what wasn't. Yes, of course, there must be reflection on the past ('those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it' George Santayana) but it is vital, in my view, that people are encouraged to gaze into the future and consider what could and should be.

Finally the last ingredient is the need for authentic dialogue. In the events I have run, one of the things I say (and I try to say as little as possible and essentially just get out of the way as soon as I can) is that everyone has something to say and everyone should be respected. And respecting someone means that it is OK to disagree or agree. There should be courtesy and honest inquiry in bucketfuls. On the otherhand, deference, paternalism, and unctuous patronising conversations where professionals 'listen' carefully to users / customers / citizens and then ignore what they say a day or so later have no place in authentic whole system processes in my view.

In this way 'getting the whole system in the room' can be a hugely powerful motor for change that delivers the kinds of robust results that all the stakeholders want and need.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Virtuous leadership?

‘If a prince wants to maintain his rule, he must learn how not to be virtuous, and how to make the best use if this or not according to need’*

This is one of Machiavelli’s statements that have led to his notoriety. For him, being virtuous, or not, is merely a means to an end.  In this respect there is no virtue.

But, is there a modern and ethical message here? This statement could be interpreted as ‘be deliberate in how you act – you should always be focused on what you are trying to achieve’

Or am I being too charitable to Machiavelli? How would you interpret this statement?

(*Excerpt from * Machiavelli “The Prince” – translated by George Bull – Penguin 1961)


The ‘Concise Oxford Dictionary’ (6th Edition) defines ‘Machiavellian’ as ‘Deceitful cunning … advocating the use of even unscrupulous means to strengthen the state.’ Machiavelli has had a bad press ever since his book ‘The Prince’ was published in 1513.

But did Machiavelli, instead, have some rather interesting things to say about leadership that may be relevant today?

Have you read his book?

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

What is Strategy & Strategic Thinking?

Here are two definitions I work with:

Strategy is a process by which an organisation (or system, or part of an organisation) continues to shape and realise its destiny; in the context of its changing environment; with the aim to enable all of its stakeholders to achieve success

Strategic thinking consists of all the ways in which we can consider the ideas and influences on our strategy and construct robust plans to achieve it

What are your definitions?

Intelligence - and trying things out...

If intelligence is ‘knowing what to do when you don’t know what to do’* then leadership should be about growing this ability in your organisation. Good strategic leadership is partly about imagining futures for the organisation. Even though many (if not all) of these futures will never happen – the act of imagining helps people know what to do when they don’t know what to do.

As a leader – how are you involving your colleagues in imagining and managing the future?

How much will this help your organisation be light on its feet?

*Often credited to Piaget