Review: The Handbook of Large Group Methods–Creating Systemic Change in Organizations and Communities

5 Star, Change & Innovation, Democracy

Larrge GroupSomething May Be Missing, But World-Class Original Merits Appreciation, March 19, 2008

Barbara Benedict Bunker

I agree with the reviewer who notes that something may be missing (other slices of large group imagination and so on) but what I see in this book is a 5 star original updating the first original work. I am also impressed by the manner in which the author-editors have engaged a total of 49 collaborators.

Despite its size this is an easy to read and appreciate book, and in my own limited experience within this literature, stands in a class by itself.

Key Point: Must recognize and engage ALL stakeholders, including those that may be “external” to “the system” but are either inputs or outputs or victims, etc.

Key Point: This literature has developed from the 1960’s focus on the social psychology of organizations, to the social psychology of networks.

Key Point: Many Small Groups = a Large System (susceptible to whole systems methods) = Future Search and Shaping.

Key Point: Real time strategic change is now known as whole-scale change (I am reminded of Kirkpatrick Sale’s seminal work, Human Scale

Five methods for planning the future:
+ Search Conference
+ Future Search
+ Whole-Scale Change
+ ICAA Strategic Planning Process
+ Appreciative Inquiry

This book was published before Jim Rough’s pioneering work at the Center for Wise Democracy or Tom Atlee’s Co-Intelligence Institute. See:
Society’s Breakthrough!: Releasing Essential Wisdom and Virtue in All the People
The Tao of Democracy: Using Co-Intelligence to Create a World That Works for All

Large Group Methods (LGM) is very ably presented by the authors and collaborators as being ideal for working with diverse groups that have different cultures, structures, and priorities. I am reminded that we live in a world dominated by pyramidal organizations that still believe in top-down elite “command and control,” and this book is therefore a revolutionary handbook for enabling bottom-up sense-making and localized social resilience.

Key point: whereas the first book focused on methods, this book focuses on challenges, the challenges rather than the methods are driving the practices.

Here are my fly-leaf notes. Some books I read to learn in depth, others I read to learn what I do not know and persuade myself the authors are essential future consultants. This is such a book. In my lifetime I cannot learn what these 49 collaborators articulate so capably.

WIDELY-DISPERSED ORGANIZATIONS
+ Defining and holding the vision
+ Tolerance for Ambiguity
+ Relationship-building

WHOLE-SYSTEM ENGAGEMENT WITH COLLABORATIVE TECHNOLOGY
+ 10% technology, 90% human interaction
+ Higher quality goals and strategies result
+ Faster decision making
+ Rapid global stakeholder alignment
+ Enhanced organizational readiness for implementation
+ New model for governance as well as participation

ORGANIZATIONS IN CRISIS
+ Focus
+ Timeline
+ Openness
+ Involvement
+ Preferences stimulate engagement
+ Seek coherence
– Directional
– Relational
– Task
– Contextual

POLARIZED AND POLITICIZED ENVIRONMENTS
+ LSG methods are more respectful of differences
+ Trust & Transformation
+ Multiple competing interests accomodated
+ Clearing the air
+ Working with tensions
+ Seven Principles
– Focus on common ground
– Rationalize conflict
– Manage conflict
– Expand individuals’ view of the situation (beyond egotistic)
– Acknowledge history of group conflict and feelings
– Manage public airing of differences
– Reduce hierarchy as much as possible

COMMUNITIES WITH DIVERSE INTEREST GROUPS
+ Different from organizations, less structured, more ambiguous
+ Need sponsorship and sustainability of effort
+ Need representative planning groups from across the community
+ Skilled facilitators are essential
+ Conclude by recognizing, recording, and tracking commitments

WORKING CROSS-CULTURALLY
+ Be aware of what you do not know
+ Relationship-oriented, NOT “USA Work Before Pleasure”
+ Respect desire to maintain distance and privacy
+ Pace of decisions can be very slow
+ Respect desire to be part of a collective voice instead of an individual on the spot
+ Four Worlds
– North = intellect
– South = feeling
– East = intuition
– West = pragmatic
+ Conversations are for:
– Relationships
– Possibilities
– Action

EMBEDDING NEW PATTERNS
+ Patience
+ Respect self-organizing tendencies
+ Keep it simple

The resource section contains three additional contributions. The middle one, on graphics, captured my attention.

GRAPHICS:
+ Engage participants
+ Focus and ground energy of group
+ Provide space where participants feel heard
+ Bridge cultures
+ Surface unheard voices
+ Provide summative and integrative function
+ Provide continuity and enhance sustainability

I have personally witnessed the effectiveness of graphics at Nexus for Change and Bioneers. It is a hugely impressive technique for eliciting, capturing, and visualizing the disparate contribution of many individual minds. Those who are able to execute this function are gifted.

My eye was also caught by Covision’s fast feedback cycle (bottom to top):
+ Ambivalence
+ Awareness
+ Understanding
+ MUTUAL Understanding
+ Alignment
+ Buy In
+ Commitment

The book ends with a reading list (part of what persuaded me it is better to engage these talents than try to replicate their knowledge), short bios of the very impressive collection of 49 collaborators, and a first-class index.

This is an important book. See also:
The Change Handbook: The Definitive Resource on Today’s Best Methods for Engaging Whole Systems
The World Cafe: Shaping Our Futures Through Conversations That Matter
How to Change the World: Social Entrepreneurs and the Power of New Ideas, Updated Edition
The Cultural Creatives: How 50 Million People Are Changing the World
One from Many: VISA and the Rise of Chaordic Organization
Collective Intelligence: Creating a Prosperous World at Peace

I am limited to ten links. See also Group Genius, Five Minds, Smart Mobs, Wisdom of the Crowds, Wealth of Networks, Revolutionary Wealth, Infinite Wealth, Wealth of Knowledge, Army of Davids, etc.