Over the years I have experimented with various ways of converging/prioritizing in more than 100 events.
First I used the 55 sticky dots (Delphi) that Harrison has in his book...with groups of up to 250 without ever having had the need to do it electronically (there always were plenty of participants doing the counting).
What I noticed every time was that in this way you always get 6 or 7 (rarely 5 and even less often 8) issues with lots of dots, then a broad field with markedly fewer dots and usually one or two with very few dots regardless of how many participants or issues there were. I sort of liked this predictability.
A couple of observations that got me thinking about the whole process:
-the issues with the largest number of dots often did not get acted on at all
-when there were people who thought themselves in a "minority" with their issues not getting lots of dots they got together and simply put their related issues in one cluster adding the dots and proudly proclaiming that they also had one of the highranking issues (for which they then developed action plans)
-lots of people seemed much less interested in this process than in the previous mode of being (in open space)
-some people developed action plans that had no direct link to the high ranking issues
Ok, observing this, I felt that there must be a way to be closer to where the passions of the participants were.
Delphi being a predictable statistical method supports the generation of data on the "system's" reading on where priorities are (ranking of issues) but less on where the passions of individuals joined by other individuals are on action.
This data is an interesting piece of information especially for leaders and management and, I think, supports their tendency to act on things that have priority often leading to overload and overwork and overplanning and eventually defeat.
Ok, so I skipped Delphi and all other form of ranking but was still attached to the "converging" idea.
My new design then was to have the entire group (the largest group that ever did this in my practice were 100 people) arrange all issues in "Families" (from the notion of "related" issues which is part of the Delphi Design). This worked very well. Funny thing was, that usually, regardless of number of issues or group size, there were 5 or 6 or 7 "Families". All issues always found a family in this process. Sometimes there were issues that belonged to more than one family. That was taken care of by creating a duplicate so that the issue could be in 2 or 3 or more different families (this was not facilitated, just the design explained and go).
This process, inclucing finding a "Family "name for each cluster takes about 25 minutes regardless of number of issues or group size (never had a group of more than 100 do this, however).
Observation here was, that in effect, again more data was generated on how the system sees the situation....yes, more participation and a lot of activity involving the entire group but still, action planning did not take place for each family.
Eventually, I skipped that design, too and have action planning without any prior ranking or prioritization or messing in any other direct way with the issues.
1. Circle. Book of Proceedings are deposited in the center.
2. Participantse are invited to take a book and take 25 or 30 or 45 minutes, depending on how voluminous the book is and how much time there is available and whether or not the individual reports had been posted before -- and are asked to return to the circle by time x.
3. Circle. Participants are invited to offer corrections and ask questions on anything that needs clarification.Enough time for everyone to get the "facts" straight.No "new" discussion at this point.
4. Circle, still. Transition: I ask people to deposit their books etc. under their chairs recalling that they have worked for so many hours on so many issues and produced so many reports that are now in the book. And then I ask "What does all that mean to you, to your work, your life, the organization you work and live in? You have 7 minutes to reflect just on your own. There is paper and pens to jot down things if you find that helpful".
5. The 7 minutes are spent in the circle, a great hush spreads, utter silence and concentration.After 7 minutes I give the faintest possible temple bell sound and invite them to spend 13 minutes in pairs to draw on each others ressources to understand better what all they have been engaged in the last x days for their future. A great din breaks lose, everyone engaged in intense interchange.
6. Ring the bell (loud, this time) (in the meantime A3 sheets and markers returened to the center, pinwalls spread around the circle) and I invite people to reflect on what it is that needs to grow hands and feet and a heart and a head (sometimes I add "and wings") and to step up, write it down, state their name, state the action planned and hand it to one of the helpers (they spread the action sheets around the room).
The number of actions people are wanting to take is pretty unpredictable. I saw situations where a group of 27 had 35 actionplans, or a group of 100 with 12 or 200 with 27.
7. Participants are invited to go to the action plans that interest them, see who else is there and work out the next steps. A seperate A4 (letter size) form with the following headings: Action, people involved, steps (sometime step1, 2, 3), Date of next activity, name of contact person.
8. Action plans are announced by contact person (45 sec/each), additions or questions from the entire group invited after each report.
9. During closing circle high speed assistants and xerox machines produce Book of Proceedings Part 2, so that everyone takes a complete set of action steps with them after closing circle.
10. Follow up meeting (already agreed upon and scheduled long before the open space in the planning session with the planning group and sponsor and communicated with the very first invitation to the open space) is pointed to with the remark that this second part of the documentation will be a valuable ressource in the follow up meeting.
The next challenge comming up is an os with 650 participants where action planning is part of the game.
I know that someone in this list has done that before! Let me hear about it.
One last thing: the present form of action planning that is part of my way of working is also the most challenging for the sponsor. If there is any remnant of "control" desire this is the point where it will surface.
Typical questions: how will we coordinate this mess? what happens to oddball ideas? what will happen to people when we dont want to support the kind of action they propose?
To the last question I usually say: make no promises ahead of the game that you are going to support any of the action plans that people think up. Just let them know what you believe deep down anyway that they will come up with more action plans that will benefit the entire organization than management could ever dream up on their own.