Building Sustainable Legacies


“Why School?” Collaboratory in Stockholm

We arrived in Thursday evening, August 21, 2014 for a 4-day Collaboratory event. The water looked dark, deep and much colder than turqouise water I have just returned from. Yet in great contrast, the people are super friendly and engaging. The four days ahead were structured as follows: Day 1 was our LiFT internal pre-collaboratory callibration day, Day 2 was the big public event of the “Why School?” Collaboratory. At the end of Day 2 we would leave to „the island“, Ekskäret is a private island transformed into a personal and societal development center by its visionary owner Thomas Bjorkman, where we would be staying for Day 3 and 4.

During the preparatory Day 1, we learned about the specific challenges around the school issue in Sweden. I was surprised to learn about how badly the voucher system works (each student is free to select his/her school of choice and brings the related government funding to the chosen school). This liberal practice seems to have brought down the educationsl level due to the fact that a number of venture capitalists have invested in new educational institutions and have focussed on maximizing their return rather than investing in facilities and quality teachers. And I had always thought that a Voucher system could help innovate the Swiss schooling system.

In addition, the facilitation team walked us step by step through their vision and resulting schedule for the next day. They had made interesting changes to the basic Collaboratory and I became very curious about how this amendment to the Collaboratory would work out.

Why School Collaboaratory in Stockholm

Picture 1: Pre-collaboratory day among LiFT team with Collaboratoy books in center

The 1-day Collaboratory session moderated by Jonathan Reams (Norway), Christiane Seuhs-Schoeller (Vienna) and Anne Caspari (Basel) started in a plenuary setting with a short film on being “awe-struck”. Jonathan set the stage for the day with his deep, reflective introduction hinting at the opportunity that schools could be places that kids leave “awe-struck”. Both his reflective tone and future orientation brought a light energy that somehow guided us through the entire day.

Overview of the large meeting space

Picture 2: Overview of the large meeting space

The room was large enough to have three different spaces set-up in advance. The 70+ participants shifted from the plenary to the Collaboratory circle setting (see picture 2), where selected experts highlighted important critical perspectives on the subject of school in Sweden (see picture 3). We had the founder of the School-Spring movement, an enlightened teacher, a school-drop out with an appetite to bring about change in the school system, a highly committed CEO who was concerned about graduates, an academic from Austria with a European perspective on school challenges and responsible leadership. What surprised me most was the significant degree of mutual respect, the appreciative inquiry among these experts. While there could have been much reason for debate and dispute, the tone was incredibly constructive.

The Collaboratory Circle

Picture 3: The Collaboratory Circle

In a next phase, these insights were discussed and reflected on in eight small group sessions of 6-8 participants, allowing again for each participant to be heard and to remain engaged. Leaders from each team shared back in the Collaboratory circle after lunch their key findings, setting the stage for the visioning phase that Christiane mastered beautifully, taking us on a journey of creative exploration.

Rather than debriefing the visioning in the circle, the facilitation team introduced a highly effective, one-to-one debriefing and sharing by having people get up and reflect on 3 key questions in every-changing pair settings (see picture 4). This brought not only movement and thus energy into the room, but also allowed every single participant to be personally concerned and involved, bringing individual and collective visions and ideas quickly to the surface.

Picture 4: Inter-active, dynamic debriefing after the visioning exercise

Picture 4: Inter-active, dynamic debriefing after the visioning exercise

In a dynamic open brainstorming session, the many ideas were first collected and subsequently grouped into major themes. Using open space and the law of two feet (you go where you feel you are adding most value), a variety of theme-teams formed to work on prototypes to translate these ideas into concrete projects that could be implemented. I was most touched to see how the CEO and the drop-out student had hit it off and how they collaborated naturally and easily together in a new exiting project. My secret guess is that beyond everything we had achieved for the school issue in Sweden, that we had witnessed a match made in heaven between these two individuals and I am willing to bet that we are going to hear great things from this young high potential who had shown courage beyond imagination when dropping out of school a few years back to figure out where and how he wanted to spend his energy and drive (I am leaving out names on purpose).

Picture 5: our transfer on a small taxi-boat to the far-away island Ekskäret

Picture 5: our transfer on a small taxi-boat to the far-away island Ekskäret

At the end of the long Collaboratory day, our international LiFT team took off in taxi-boats to Ekskäret (see picture 5), the amazing small island a good two hours away from Stockholm. Karin Finnson, our local LiFT host, had arranged the transfer and for the host Thomas Bjorkman to welcome us to this magic island.

We spent two more days at the island with day 1 focussed on evaluating the „why school“ Collaboratory event and learnings for next sessions and day 2 looking forward to our next Collaboratory session scheduled in November in Vienna, Austria where we were going to look in „the future of organizations“. The playful attitude we had all developed around the Collaboratory methods had worked well. Increasingly, our LiFT team has become comfortable with the philosophy and methodology (see chapter 22 in the „Collaboratory“ book[1] where I had used our Norway LiFT collaboratory to outline a narrative roadmap for designing and delivering a collaboratory).

Picture 6: Welcome with hot tea in the Collaboratory circle at Ekskäret island

Picture 6: Welcome with hot tea in the Collaboratory circle at Ekskäret island

[1]  Muff, K. (ed) (2014) : “The Collaboratory – a co-creative stakeholder engagement process for solving complex problems”, Greenleaf Publishing, Sheffield UK
Advertisements


Dreaming up the university of the future at the OIKOS Future Lab 2013

90 students from nearly all chapters from around the world met in St Gallen for a two-day session to inquire how to place OIKOS in the future of management education. I was invited as one of a number of thought leaders from around the world to trigger their creative process. What a delightful experience it was!

The other thought leaders were Max Oliva of the HUB Global and Teamlabs, Martin Cadée of The Journey Network and Knowmads, Traian Bruma who created CROS a student-led university in Romania and Rasmus Johnsen teaching philosophy at CBS in Copenhagen. What an amazing assembly of experience and creative vision in the emerging space of the future of management education.

After a first day spent getting together onto the Journey and applying the Impact Canvas, inspired by the Osterwalder Business Model Generation Canvas, to various concrete projects within the OIKOS framework, day two was dedicated to co-creation. OIKOS is the largest sustainability-focused student organization world-wide with chapters on all continents. We facilitated the initial part of the co-creative process of the students which involved painting a picture of the future of the business school in 2 phases.

Phase 1 consisted of a first group of students of drawing together a picture of what such a university could or should look like. Phase 2 consisted of a second team inheriting the drawing and determining what role OIKOS might want to play in such a scenario. The discussions which accompanied the creative painting exercise were both fascinating and revealing. While we typically think that we need to first know what to point, thus starting with a lengthy debate that ends with a few hasty scribbles on a nearly empty page, our first group immediately attempted to visualize each idea they had about the future university on paper without fully understanding what was emerging or what the final picture might be. About half-way through, one part of team 1 who had worked mostly on one side of the drawing explained what they had ended up painting and vice-versa. The team exchanged places and enhanced the designs of their friends. What emerged what a comprehensive picture which shows the future university as an open space embedded in both society and the environment thus showing the larger planetary context, while also showing the journey of an individual student working on his quest (what do I want to do in future) in his own time, working both in the collaborative open space with facilitative professors, business professionals and thought leaders as well as within reflective spaces, moving back and forth between practical experiences in society (hospitals, businesses, etc.), creating their own individual curriculum in the process (see image 1).

Phase 2 started with an immensely grateful new student team who was amazed by the creative piece of art the first team had drawn up for them. Their analysis of the picture opened the debate on what such a future university could be and what role OIKOS might want to play in there. The second team was nearly afraid to destroy the beautiful foundation work of the first team. Again, rather than trying to first finding the solution, they launched in daring to create a huge infinity loop all across the 3 posters indicating that OIKOS could be the connecting enablers supporting the student in her journey from society, the environment and the university and along her individual learning journey. The open space of the university ended up being the crossing over of the two lines which was drawn up into a green heart. The team furthermore highlighted the planetary context the first team had hinted at by filling in a blue background to the entire picture immensely strengthening the message and providing a common space which symbolized the potential of OIKOS as a universal platform of learning (see image 2).

What impressed me most is how effortlessly this creative process went along and how painting thoughts actually helped to develop thinking. We tend to think it works the other way around. We were accompanied by an amazing artist Klaus Elle who provided the visual track (as compared to the sound track) of what was going on. His ability to summarize sessions with one telling image must have seriously inspired us all!