2. Simple sketches make your participation strategy clear

How Sam Kaner’s simple diagrams give us a way to think together about participation

This stuff matters

So let’s get concrete about this abstract term

What’s in a participation strategy?

  • Who gets together when, and to what end?
  • How do we give a collective effort a really good beginning?
  • People start out seeing things differently; how will they get aligned?
  • How will power be distributed? Who gets to say what happens next? How will decisions be made? How will the whole thing be managed?
  • How will this group of people go through a creative process together to sense what’s up, conceive some things worth trying, try them out, and establish the outcomes they want to keep living with?
  • What about money and logistics and all those details?
  • How do we defend against the many risks: paralyzing disagreement, dysfunctional power, the fog of uncertainty, etc. etc.?
  • Overcoming near-term blindness, to take the long view
    Moving the conversation with stakeholders and sponsors from “come facilitate our workshop” or “help us with our collaborative project” to the longer strategic view of a collective effort.
  • Mapping activities in sequence
    As people who support organizations and communities with good process, facilitation, education, and exploration, we do our best to make wise choices in sequencing activities. We’ve used all sorts of lists and maps for this, but never settled on a happy convention.
  • Making different strategies visible and clear
    When planning is collaborative, it is important that everyone involved can be imagining, comparing, and discussing the same things. (And in the classroom, a strategy can seem so abstract, so hard to grasp; making them visible is key to understanding.)

Sam Kaner’s “participatory decision-making”

Sam Kaner, “Participatory decision-making in multi-stakeholder collaboration,” vimeo.com/32178909

First a basic description, then some additions

The basic language

Stakeholder groups

Different stakeholders in a collective effort
A series of gatherings, with some work to do in between

Diagonal groups

A “diagonal group,” diverse in power and viewpoint

Large gathering

A large and diverse gathering (left) and a not so diverse gathering

Example: using what we’ve got so far

The board and its committees plan and work between community meetings

Stages or phases of effort

A series of phases, “zoomed out” for big-picture overview
Zooming in on Phase 1 to see the detailed strategy

Example: Healthy Christchurch

High-level overview of the Healthy Christchurch strategy (Sam Kaner)
Front-end planning by a diagonal group (Sam Kaner)
Months of effort by a core team, sponsors, and the whole community, ending in a weekend festival (Sam Kaner)
Six years of emergence across the community, sparked by the initial stages (Sam Kaner)
A team, with stakeholder input and regional authority, make investments in desirable and sustainable outcomes (Sam Kaner)

Representing different kinds of authority

Executive authority

Subject matter expertise / subject matter authority

Process authority

A note: Kaner’s book is great.



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Marc Rettig

Fit Associates, SVA Design for Social Innovation, Carnegie Mellon School of Design