Capturing the wisdom of crowds through participatory meetings

crowd crowd sourcing dialogue participatory meetings and events systemic dialogue value through alignment wisdom of crowds by Patricia Munro

The essence of our collaboration with a family-owned business over the past four years has been to develop unique ways to maximize the innovative potential of their meetings. The resulting new meeting strategy captures the knowledge and experience of clients and employees as a means to further develop their business.

The following case study illustrates how the power of adopting a 21st century approach for the design of participatory meetings provides concrete and usable results for businesses.  The meeting in question took place over the course of a full day.  In this instance, 60 participants representing key stakeholders in the industry took part in the meeting. The majority of the day's time was dedicated to participants speaking with each other and working out ideas and solutions together. Specific content input was provided by three speakers each of whom spoke 20 minutes over the course of the day.

 

The company in question produces a product which enables a business to eliminate a key business problem – but only when it is used appropriately. What that means is that using the product without a systemic strategy is not sufficient. Several additional processes need to be put in place for the product to work successfully. Unfortunately the complexity of these processes has prevented the product from having the success which had been anticipated as it was launched into the market.

Ensemble Enabler facilitated an initial discussion with the company’s team to explore the focus for the meeting in order to lay a solid groundwork for the participatory process. Out of these moderated discussions with the client's team, an over-reaching purpose for the meeting emerged: „To create awareness of the required systemic application of the product and to understand the barriers to this appropriate systemic use."  An ambitious goal was set to increase industry wide usage of the product by 30% over the next 12 months.  The meeting was designed to serve as a catalyst to achieve this goal.

The company in question produces a product which enables a business to eliminate a key business problem – but only when it is used appropriately. What that means is that using the product without a systemic strategy is not sufficient. Several additional processes need to be put in place for the product to work successfully. Unfortunately the complexity of these processes has prevented the product from having the success which had been anticipated as it was launched into the market.

Ensemble Enabler facilitated an initial discussion with the company’s team to explore the focus for the meeting in order to lay a solid groundwork for the participatory process. Out of these moderated discussions with the client's team, an over-reaching purpose for the meeting emerged: „To create awareness of the required systemic application of the product and to understand the barriers to this appropriate systemic use."  An ambitious goal was set to increase industry wide usage of the product by 30% over the next 12 months.  The meeting was designed to serve as a catalyst to achieve this goal.

The Planning Process

Understand the participants' needs

Much of the key work in a participatory meeting occurs during the planning stages for a participatory meeting. Time is invested to understand the participant's needs and perspectives. These insights serve to inform the conceptual development of a participatory meeting.

Depending upon the available time frame available for the development of a participatory meeting, a spectrum of appropriate ways to assess participant needs and perspectives are available. In this case study, a series of telephone interviews with selected customers/stakeholders with specific topical knowledge were carried out. After all the interviews were completed, the results were analysed to assess to which extent these frames of references fit into the company’s strategy and plan for its product’s use (or not).

Align meeting goals with participant needs

The next phase integrates the company’s aspired purpose with the input from strategically selected customers/stakeholders. An iterative process is used to refine the design for the participatory meeting to reflect the company’s established goals. The design approach for this particular meeting aligned a series of key messages to be discussed by the participants.

The company selected 3 speakers to provide the participants with the required Input which would foster meaningful conversations by the participants. After the key messages for these presentations were finalized by the planning team, each of the speakers were briefed to assure  that their presentations would be in alignment with the overall concept design approach.

Capture a wealth of ideas

Meetings are held to produce useable input and ideas for a company’s business. Towards this end, Ensemble Enabler integrates the manner in which this input is captured during the course of a participatory meeting into its design. Parallel to the development of the flow of the participant engagement and any other elements such as the selection of speakers, the concept development for idea harvesting throughout the meeting is made. Participants‘ input and ideas can be captured by using a broad spectrum of processes. This visualization provides qualitative data for the documentation of subject items which are worthy for further reflection and consideration. Such a visualization which is done in real-time supports a shift in the nature of the participants‘ collective thinking on a certain question or issue.

This case study utilized a method mix of both analogue and digital harvesting methods. The participants were asked to document their findings and aspirations throughout the participatory meeting by using a mix of written post-its and digital entries. The speakers‘ presentation and group discussions were captured by a graphic recorder in real time during the course of the meeting. All of these materials served as the source for a post-meeting analysis of the meeting’s results. Select initial results were presented on the same day of the participatory meeting during an evening event. More detailed results were analyzed the week after the meeting. A digital overview of the results was created to share the overall insights with the meeting’s participants in a timely manner as well as provide a basis for the company to build upon the meeting's results for their subsequent efforts.

 

What impact did the participatory meeting have for the company?

Both the nature of the exchange among the participants as well as the documented results indicate that the company’s set goal to „to motivate these influencers to take action to address this challenge“  was achieved. By monitoring their business results in the next fiscal year, the company will be able to measure to what extent the participatory meeting initiated a process of positive change which will be measured by the increased use of their product in the marketplace.

In addition, the feedback about the meeting’s participatory nature was extremely positive. One participant expressed his deep satisfaction by saying „It was a brillant meeting! I have been to many meetings and conferences in my professional life. This was the first time that  I was given the opportunity to ask my own questions and discuss their implications with other like-minded  colleagues.“

This case demonstrates that a participatory meeting approach speaks to both the heads and the hearts of the participants. Such a carefully developed concept will unleash the knowledge and innovation for a specialized question or issue while also fostering a high level of satisfaction among the participants. When a business re-thinks meetings from this deeply collaborative 21st century perspective, loyal advocates for the company are cultivated and usable business insights are generated.

 

About Author: Patricia Munro

Patricia Munro

Patricia Munro is a Creative Alignment Enabler at Ensemble Enabler. She assimilates new conceptual approaches such as design thinking, action learning and the use of participation in order to enhance the sustainable impact of Ensemble Enabler's endeavors.