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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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 where I had used our Norway LiFT collaboratory to outline a narrative roadmap for designing and delivering a collaboratory). Muff, K. (ed) (2014) : “The Collaboratory – a co-creative stakeholder engagement process for solving complex problems”, Greenleaf Publishing, Sheffield UK