Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Factors for having successful Large Scale Interventions

In March 2011 I had the pleasure to visit the Phd Graduation ceremony of Tonnie van der Zouwen at the Tilburg University. There she presented the main conclusions of her publication "Building an evidence based practical guide to Large Scale Interventions".  Main question in her research was "What are the key factors for having a successful Large Scale Intervention (LSI), that can contribute to sustainable change?"

Factors for a successful LSI
Sofar worldwide the Open Space method, Future Search and World Café are the most applied Large Scale Intervention (LSI) techniques. For her research Tonnie van der Zouwen compared a number of Open Space events where she was involved as a facilitator.  Some of the events were successful and generated sustainable results and changes. Other events were less successful and did not attribute to drastic changes or other ways of co-operation between partners.  Based on her comparison she came up with seven key factors, which can make a LSI successful in realising sustainable change:
  1. Be consistent in applying the principles of the LSI-methods (Open Space, Future Search, World Café) as a facilitator. The more you get away from the basics, the less effective they are;
  2. The system of partners and stakeholders most be ready and prepared for a LSI intervention. The leaders must be open to share decision making power and be prepared to listen to input and contributions  from stakeholders;
  3. The LSI must be worth the investment and doing. A LSI has a lot of risks, when it fails. It can kill the belief in the benefit of participation;
  4. The facilitator should work on what is possible in regards to possibilities and ambitions. A situational approach having an optimal match between situation, the task (goals of the LSI) and the process is essential;
  5. Having the right people at the right time in the meeting is one of the most critical conditions for success;
  6. A good preperation, where the key stakeholders take responsibility for making a contribution and showing ownership at the LSI,  is another essential component for success.   Face-to-face preperation meetings are essential in advance of the LSI;
  7. Sustainable change must be maintained. The strength of LSI is the aspect of collective learning and exchange. However, after service and follow-up is definitely needed to continue the process of learning and exchange. The key stakeholders have a responsibility in this process.

Lessons for my own work practise
These 7 key success factors were very helpful for me to reflect on a number of the Open Space sessions, I facilitated during the past five years. Some of them generated a process of change. However, I also facilitated an Open Space intervention in which I noticed a number of particular situations which hindered an successful outcome:
  • Only 2 groupleaders, in an event having 60 participants, took a leadership role in the discussions;
  • The atmosphere was rather passive;
  • A number of key participants (two important group leaders) cancelled their participation only a few days before the meeting. Their substitute representatives did not have much influence to make proposals or decide for their leaders;
  • Since the project, funded by a big donor agency, was ending some of the key leaders were already looking for another job.  However, participants did not feel the topic of job security was appropriate and safe for discussion during this meeting.   People felt the idealistic goal was more fitted for discussion at this meeting.

Approximately 1 year after this event, the number of new developed initiatives between the partners that were involved in the open space meeting are still limited and the spin off is relatively low. Of course the event also generated some positive results. Best practices were exchanged and new approaches on multi-stakeholder processes were promoted and duplicated in some regions.  However, when I had applied some of the 7 key factors for LSI,  I believe the Open Space event would have generated more results.

Looking back at this event, the publication of Tonnie van der Zouwen has helped me to consider to be more critical as facilitator during the preperation of an Open Space event. What I learned and will do differently the next time:
  • Challenge the leaders in advance of the meeting to be present and prepare burning issues they would like to discuss during the Open Space;
  • Involve the leaders in setting up, the design and preparing the open space.
  • Consider cancelling the open space meeting in consultation with my principal/ client, when key leaders do not show up and participate in the meeting;  
  • Address the behaviour and atmosphere I observed as facilitator during the meeting and give it back to the group on how they would like to deal with this.

If you are involved in organizing or facilitating LSI event,  I would recommend reading "Building an evidence based practical guide to Large Scale Interventions" - Tonnie van der Zouwen.

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