Category Archives: Facilitation

Facilitation Network Weaving

How Spaces Matter

Working at CoCo, photo credit Negstad Consulting

Working at CoCo, photo credit Negstad Consulting

There are many reasons I recently partnered up with Lisa Negstad to get a full-time office space at CoCo Minneapolis.

High on that list is that the space gives me excuses to expand my professional network.  That’s possible because it feels good – both physically and socially.

The way the physical space feels makes me (and hundreds of other people) want to be here.  You can see the soaring ceilings, the beauty, the brightness from big windows, and the openness of the space.  The umbrellas show that they’ve thought hard about how to define space — to make it feel somewhere — while maintaining the openness.  The permanent spaces where I now sit have semi-transparent dividers that encourage you to not bother but also get to know your neighbors. Maybe they read Alexander’s The Timeless Way of Building and Newman’s Defensible Space?

It’s harder to see the social space in the picture, but there are hints. The physical set-up encourages people to meet at the reception/waiting area/central coffee station. The clear delineation of quiet and social work spaces ensures that people who want to focus have a place to do that — and gives those who want to interact permission to strike up a conversation when facing strangers across your desk. There are some informal social events (Beer ‘n’ Chat Tuesday afternoons), and slightly more formal lunches or launch events to encourage mixing with just enough structure that it’s OK for the introverts.  There’s even an internal online social network for the screen-focused.

The lessons here translate to public spaces and to network weaving.

  • How do you make physical and social spaces places people want to be?
  • What strategies make them welcoming and comfortable to everyone, regardless of personality, interest, gender, race, etc.?
  • How do you allow enough excuses for serendipity and interactions to happen AND enough
    invisibility” for people to feel comfortable?

When it’s done right, wonderful things emerge from controlled chaos.


Network Weaving – Accomplish More, Do Less

Network Weaver Handbook

Network Weaver Handbook

For the last nine months, I’ve been exploring a new way of thinking about what I do.  That’s when I went to a workshop on Newtork Weaving, an introduction session to the concept.  I immediately saw ways it could support my work with the Alliance for Healthy Homes and Communities (through Minnesota Green Communities), as well as with the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition.

The basic concept is that by

  1. effectively engaging networks of people who
  2. share one or more common goals and
  3. all bring different resources and skills

you can accomplish more, but do less.  There’s more detail on how to do that, of course.  It includes creating the right sort of common culture, comfort with a lack of centralized control, recognizing both the strengths and weaknesses of people and working with them, and filing in gaps in the network.

Based in social network theory, June Holley has put together a set of writings, tools, activities, and worksheets to turn that theory into something easily used by people who want to do specific things.

I participated in a 5 month intensive practicum on network consulting led by June Holley and Kristin Johnstad, and will be posting more about how I’m translating that learning into action.  I’ve signed up for the Network Weaver consultant team, too. I’m primarily focused on engaging stakeholders, and am using micro-grants, mapping, and specific activities you can weave into regular meetings to build a network-weaving-friendly culture.

In the mean time, you can learn a bit more by watching this video.




Why Anthropology?

While I’m trained as an applied anthropologists, mostly my work is around green building work.  So when one of my green building newsletters came with an article heading, “Anthropologist on the Design Team: The Making of An Unangan Home,” I took notice.

Mostly, we anthropologists “pass,” with job titles hat don’t reveal our training.  I find that sharing my training aloud results in finding a lot more anthropologists out there than I would ever have imagined.

Anyway, in this example, a green building competition was organized around designing for a remote Aleutian Island site.  Most of the residents of the specific village are Unangan native people.  By luck, one of the design team members brought an anthropologist who had worked in Alaska, and the post tells an entertaining story of how her involvement dispelled a number of inaccurate assumptions and facilitated the residents thoughts on their own housing needs.

The team turned out a pretty cool housing design, too.


Supervising without Authority?


Clown in Figi - by petersbar on Flickr Used under Creative Commons, Some rights reserved

Clown in Fiji — an example of a mutually beneficial relationship.

Last weekend, someone mentioned how difficult it is to supervise people if you don’t have the authority to impose consequences when they don’t their job.

That reminded me how I often work in settings where I’m accountable for making things happen, but I don’t have any formal authority. I facilitate collaborative initiatives, or write white papers, or manage volunteers.

This lack of authority has never bothered me. My inner Minnesotan would much rather rely on softer tools to make things happen. And the part of me that reads scientific research knows that authority is the last-ditch attempt to motivate someone, and almost any other approach is more effective.

I start by helping people see the self-interest in taking on something that beyond their normal “job.” If you get cited as an expert in a research paper, or if you both want a policy change, or if you get to learn new skills while expanding your professional network, you just might sign on.

Of course, being willing to help out with a project doesn’t always reach to the smaller details of getting things done. Someone needs to set an agenda, someone needs to make those follow-up phone calls, someone needs to draft the proposal. For that sort of thing, it’s all about the relationship, and more basic psychology.

People often do things because they want to maintain a relationship. You like or respect one another, and you don’t want to lose that. You know there may be referrals sometime in the future. So after someone signs on, I often start building a relationship — lunch or coffee, a chance to talk about the shared work, and hopefully an opportunity to find something in common or learn about one of their passions.

That relationship is part of the psychology; we like to reciprocate and to do things for people we like. Getting a verbal commitments to do something helps — we like to think of ourselves the kind of person who keeps a promise. So clear expectations go a long way. I’ve found asking people personally and directly to… draft and send out the agenda by a specific date… or call so-and-so before Tuesday… or whatever specific task by whatever date is likely to get you a yes, especially if there’s a relationship. You may need to send a reminder, but it’s likely to get done once there is a commitment.

One last pro tip. Remember to say thank you often, privately and publicly.

Affordable Housing Facilitation

Leverage => Change

I am constantly challenging myself to find effective ways to leverage change in the world.  Sometimes it’s minor, like how to reduce my yardwork responsibilities.  Often it’s ambitious, like reducing apartment building utility consumption across Minnesota, or changing culture to make bicycling so normal people don’t even notice they’re doing it.

The Social Innovation LabI embed those efforts into my work and life, not necessarily focusing on it as my primary goal.  That’s why I was honored when long-time friend and fellow consultant Michael Bischoff of Clarity Factilitation invited me (as program coordinator with Minnesota Green Communities) to participate in a Social Innovation Lab as a system change case study. The Lab will focus on identifying and working with leverage points for change in complex systems.

I want to share a couple of leverage points I’m using in my current work. read more »

Communication Facilitation

Doing Outreach – What Gets Noticed?

Doing outreach for the EnergyScoreCards Minnesota pilot project, our team spent a lot of time developing language and materials to share with the hundreds of owners we were inviting to participate.  Making follow-up phone calls to folks who received electronic outreach, a few comments have surprised me.

One, in particular, stays with me.  The company has a lot of older, master-metered buildings – perfect for getting maximum benefit from the pilot.  “The pictures on the website were of new complexes, so I didn’t think the program was for us.”

EnergyScoreCards Minnesota image

One of the illustrations on the EnergyScoreCards Minnesota site

I’m thankful I persisted in making follow-up calls – they did sign up.  And, it’s a good reminder to me to always step back again and again, to think carefully about the image that is presented, asking, “Can all the folks we hope to reach relate?”


Facilitation Green Building

Engaging People, Successfully

Minnesota Green CommunitiesAt Minnesota Green Communities, we’ve been hearing more and more frequent requests for assistance in successfully engaging residents in sustainability living.  Building owners know they – and residents – won’t see the full energy and water efficiency benefits or the health benefits of building green if the residents aren’t on board, too.  read more »


A Facilitator’s Test

This month, I’ve been trying to figure out how to help colleagues take advantage of people who want to help out.  Basically, helping busy people get the help they want and need.  This is my daily task as the manager of a collaboration and meeting facilitator.  As of a couple weeks ago, I’ve volunteered to do it for volunteers, too.

I’m fairly involved in the one-year-old Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition.  One of our main goals is to build our membership, our political clout, our base – and get more volunteers involved so we can get more done.  We want to build an organization that looks like this:

Engagement Pyramid from Groundwire

Engagement Pyramid from Groundwire

For our many successes in year one, on this front we’ve struggled.  read more »