Hosting a Big Meeting? Experiment with Device-Free

In July 2018, I had the privilege of facilitating a diverse stakeholder group in Dublin.  The Disability Federation of Ireland (DFI) hosted the workshop. DFI was exploring new possibilities to improve lives for people with a disability, living in poverty. This complex issue required engagement from various leaders. Thus, DFI invited representatives from non-profits, government, academia, and activists. All were approaching the challenge from a different angle. Some of the participants knew each other but they had not often worked closely together.

People Connect with Device Disconnect

It was not the usual meeting set-up. Participants agreed to a device-free environment, even during the breaks. Please see the post-workshop feedback in this video.  Some of the comments included:

  • “I was very nervous about having a device free day. I felt that it was great to be able to connect with other people.”
  • “We don’t have mobile phones in the room and that disconnect, bringing it back to being a person, I thought that was really refreshing.”
  • “I was very nervous about being asked to spend the breaks in silence.”
  • “I really enjoyed the silence. I think it provided space to be.”

Getting out of the Head and into the Body

Further, participants engaged in an action research approach that uses the physical body.  They practicing tapping into the collective intelligence of the social body. The social body refers to the physical presence of all participants in the room.

EQUAL by Oliver ColeThe approach, known as Social Presencing, models a current system challenge.  The model is created by sensing into the physical body.  The body is used as a 360-degree sensing tool to notice the social body as well.

An Atypical Meeting Design

The meeting incorporated the following design principles:

  • Device free
  • No tables
  • Chairs in a circle, easily moved to form smaller circles
  • Movement practices in silence
  • Dialogue to draw out intuitive insights (rather than analytic thought)
  • Equal participation, all voices and bodies are present

Movement Practices

During the one-day session, several Social Presencing practices were introduced.  Participants first warmed up by practicing awareness of being in the body. They connected to the felt sense of their own bodies, the social body and the Earth. Then they were invited to physically feel their own sense of “stuckness” related to  the challenge.

Modelling the Ecosystem Challenge

After lunch, participants created a 4-D map. Please see the video of the map.  This map is a social sculpture or model of the current and emerging future state of the ecosystem challenge. The ecosystem in this case is all stakeholders impacted by or trying to alleviate poverty and disability in Ireland.

For the 4D map, the stakeholders articulated the challenge via interviews. “There is strong societal acceptance in Ireland that poverty and disability often go together.” Participants physically sensed into to the current state. Then they exaggerated the physical sculpture that arose.  This enabled a future state sculpture to emerge.

After the mapping, the now more aligned and cohesive team came up with ideas for prototypes to work together.

Joan O’Donnell, Disability Federation of Ireland, wrote, “Participants found the process challenging and enlightening. They expressed greater ownership of the issue and a sense of the power of working together.”

See the video describing the STUCK exercise using Social Presencing 4D Mapping below:

Featured image by Federica Campanaro on Unsplash

EQUAL image by Oliver Cole on Unsplash