Large Group Techniques

Often referred to as ‘getting the system in the room’, Large Group techniques are what we use to help an organisation arrive at a shared understanding of a situation. There are two main variants: Open Space Technology and Future Search. Regardless of which of these techniques is to be employed, we add two other components: a) the use of a system dynamics model to help guide the workshop and to reflect it’s findings; and b) mess mapping for representing shared understanding as it emerges.

Gather The System Elements and Get Them Talking To Each Other

A lack of shared understanding usually manifests itself as different groups of stakeholders who are certain that their ‘take’ on the problem is the right one with other views being correspondingly incorrect. Visual display helps create shared understanding by bringing to the surface the contradictions which are inherent in the conflicting views of different stakeholder groups. A mess map is a mural which represents a common mental model of a complex problem. It shows the relevant and important chunks of information about the problem from the perspective of the different stakeholder groups and their relationships to each other - click here to see an example of a typical mess map. Although the result may look slightly chaotic, the elements are in fact carefully structured, labelled and colour-coded and it should be remembered that the map is a representation of a messy problem. The primary value of a mess map is that it is constructed by the workshop participants who having started with a blank canvas, iterated through a process to arrive at the final map, resolving contradictions on the way. As every modeller knows, active client participation is the key to getting it right, but more importantly, the map will incorporate the diverse worldviews of the team. It will bring out previously unseen causal connections, contradictions and hidden assumptions and will serve as a useful communications document when the case for change is being made.

Typically as a result of one 3 day session we expect to generate more understanding, more teamwork, more actions and more follow up than could otherwise be expected.


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