A few years back while at Ashoka Changemakers, I, along with representatives of 4 other organizations, was invited by Pierre Omidyar, Ebay Founder and CEO, to a boot camp. The aim was to help us to ramp up our efforts to accelerate social change in the online open-source movement. Between the caliber of the top-level executives in attendance and some of the tightest and most engaging training design imaginable, you couldn’t help but feel privileged to have been invited.
It has been a while since I felt that same attention to detail on the part of a facilitation team or such genuine intent to delve into the knowledge and experience of participants to create the groundwork for shared learning. Within the first 10 minutes at the ABCD consultation it was clear that the workshop had been designed for us. My colleague Pong Leung and I had not found ourselves at the end of a five-year process but at the beginning of something that promised to be a strong resource in pursuit of our own efforts.
Our design team at The Natural Step is preparing to launch our Energy Futures Lab (EFL). The EFL combines our own Framework for Strategic Sustainable Development (FSSD) with best practices from the social innovation lab field to shift a divisive and polarized debate to imagine the energy system that the future requires of us.
A few highlights that Pong and I are taking back – first regarding the facilitation:
- Each facilitator had a stake in the process. Some had dedicated over five years to the ABCD journey. Their passion was present but never overwhelmed. From the first half hour we newbies enjoyed every opportunity to profile our own work and to pitch our ideas. They were able to create a sense of ownership over the process and outcomes of the workshop in the first half hour. A key to building trust and ownership critical for collective impact.
- Reporters were incorporated into each exercise and key transition points were inserted to summarize the discussion highlights and provocative questions. Progress and momentum were reinforced, as was our role in shaping the process itself resulting in authentic co-creation moments throughout. You knew where you were and where you were going at all times. This is how rapid feedback loops are meant to work.
- The group had five years of research for us to get caught up on, yet the questions regarding ABCD were answered without ever overwhelming us or front-loading the session with information. It felt current, full of relevant lessons to enhance our own work and an evolving theory of change. There was a clear sense of how close or how far from the milestones we were, and an open question of whether ABCD had arrived – i.e. if the process will indeed impact the municipal decision-making.
As to the actual deliberate dialogue ABCD process insights, Steve Williams, Mark Cabaj and I will be shaping what we hope will be a strong public engagement strategy. The workshop surfaced a number of crucial research questions that we will explore:
- ABCD sifted through the many diverse deliberative Similarly we face an enormous challenge in evaluating the many models and possibilities open to us as we design our own process. How can we leverage ABCD deliberative democracy research to develop the most appropriate frameworks for our leadership cohort and public engagement strategy?
- With ABCD’s acumen in engaging diverse cohorts, what insights can they offer on working to connect civil society organizations, getting the eyes of the public on this work and drawing attention to the shared values being surfaced through these sessions? What is the relationship of constituency identity, held values and narrative framings? How does community identity affect narrative messaging? Can shared values between distinct constituencies provide a bridge to shared narratives?
- We understand that there is creative tension at the heart of our EFL design. We are exploring what is the right balance between prescriptively focusing participants vs. allowing ideas to emerge. The ABCD workshop started with one of the most diverse cohorts imaginable but arrived at 12 concrete recommendations. How can we too learn to walk the tightrope with such grace?
The timing was right for David’s invitation. Our team is hungry to hear both ABCD’s best practices and the cautionary tales. We want to avoid, where possible, being blinded by our passion for deliberative democracy. Our intent is to design in this space with humility and curiosity for the huge challenge ahead of us. And with respect for those around us who have taken on this audacious challenge of working toward creating the public engagement opportunities necessary to getting change unstuck in the energy system transition.
Thanks David and team for clearing some of the trail for the many organizations at the workshop. From our team’s perspective, we have a great deal to learn on this journey.
Delyse Sylvester is Director of Strategic Communications with The Natural Step Canada. With fellow senior change leaders with Ashoka’s Changemakers, she built an award winning open source platform to scale over 30,000 social innovations globally by leading over 60 co-branded campaigns with partners such as National Geographic, Nike, GE, G-20, Ebay, Google, and the Robert Wood Johnson, Rockefeller and Gates Foundations.