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

Highlights from True North 2019

Collaboration, a Declaration & a Problem

True North is an annual tech conference held in Kitchener – Waterloo. This is a Canadian technology corridor that is among the top 20 in the world. Communitech curated the June 2019 conference.

I attended the conference with ET Group (ETG) to explore the state of tech and expand on the following three highlights of interest below.

  1. Barriers to Organizational Collaboration
  2. The Tech for Good Declaration
  3. The Technology Business Model Problem

Barriers to Collaboration – Legacy Systems & Culture 

The conference kicked off with Manulife’s CEO, Roy Gori. He stated that transformation is possible when purpose, capability and passion exist. Unfortunately, barriers to change exist as well.

True North ConferenceWe agree with Roy that major barriers to change are due to legacy systems and culture. Legacy systems are often not customer centric.  Further, they are rarely designed to keep pace with the digital revolution. Culture can be a larger barrier because it is human nature to resist change.  People believe that “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, thus losing out on successful collaboration.

At ETG, we have an up close look of legacy technological systems and culture in the organizations we serve.  Both systems and culture limit organizational collaboration. Often, organizations invest in technology, thinking that new tech will solve all problems.  Then comes the surprise. Tech adoption is minimal, rendering a low return on the tech investment.

User adoption of technology is dependent on culture, human mindsets and behaviours.   Organizations lose opportunities when they fail to focus on these human aspects. Investing in people and culture  yields better collaboration, higher productivity, innovation and engagement. Thus, purpose, capability and passion are key on any technology project intended to improve organizational collaboration as well.

The Tech for Good Declaration

I participated in the working session on Canada’s Tech for Good Declaration when it launched at True North in May 2018. As of today, 58 Canadian companies & 56 individuals signed it. It includes six major commitments about:

  • trust & respect,
  • transparency & choice,
  • re-skilling,
  • leaving no one behind,
  • inclusion and
  • collaborative governance.

Tech For Good DeclarationThis popular phrase, Tech for Good, means different things to different stakeholders.  The Declaration has its own version as articulated in the six commitments above. Others say that it is “a community of people, making tech that addresses social, economic and environmental challenges. Further,  building that tech in a collaborative, user-led way with an end result that’s ethically right-on.” (Joe Roberson, Tech for Good, Medium, May 17, 2018)

ETG is a signatory to the Tech for Good Declaration. Further, we have contributed perspectives on Tech for Good for the University of Waterloo study, “Cultivating Ethos in the Tech Sector”.  The results will foster dialogue between business, government and users. The goal of this study is to overcome ethical challenges posed by technological innovation. The study will also inform knowledge exchange on ethics, inclusion and equity in the tech sector.

Tarot Cards of Tech at True North 2019

Tarot Cards of TechAt True North 2019, conference participants shared feedback on the latest Declaration. We utilized the  Tarot Cards of Tech.   The cards are a set of provocations designed to help reflect on important questions:

  • Are we considering the full impact of technology?
  • Do we see the unintended consequences of the tech we recommend, design or implement?
  • What opportunities for positive change does this technology create?
  • Are we applying human centred design to build technology solutions?

At ETG, cross-functional, inclusive, human centred design is front and centre.  It is exciting to introduce the Tarot Cards of Tech on the next project. The cards will enable holistic dialogue about collaboration technology in the workplace.

A Problematic Technology Business Model

Signatories to the Declaration make six commitments (noted above).  This is all well and good. Yet, there is a glaring omission in this Declaration around company business models.  I agree with the findings of the Center for Humane Technology. Many technology companies make money on the extraction of our attention.  Our attention provides data to fuel their profits.

Shoshana Zuboff also exposes the problematic tech business model in her book, The Age of Surveillance Capital also reveals this problem. Companies want to automate humans for profit.

Surveillance capitalism,” she writes, “unilaterally claims human experience as free raw material for translation into behavioural data. Although some of these data are applied to service improvement, the rest are declared as a proprietary behavioural surplus, fed into advanced manufacturing processes known as ‘machine intelligence’, and fabricated into prediction products that anticipate what you will do now, soon, and later. Finally, these prediction products are traded in a new kind of marketplace that I call behavioural futures markets. Surveillance capitalists have grown immensely wealthy from these trading operations, for many companies are willing to lay bets on our future behaviour.”

Thus, the Canadian Declaration must include a seventh commitment on the business model.  Signatories should promise value creation for consumers and society as a whole. Attention extraction, which serves only investors, must be left behind.

True North ConferenceThe problematic technology business model was also mentioned by Kara Swisher, renowned journalist and editor of Recode. She stated that all problems link to the race to capture human attention by tech giants.  Kara detailed these problems during her summary the state of technology in the context of the following topics:

  • AI: Anything that can be digitized will be digitized
  • The robots are not killers (they don’t have to kill us to win)
  • There is still no privacy
  • The never-ending revolution (populism, lack of unity, social issues, etc.)
  • No one is responsible (for breaking rules)

The day ended at the Shopify happy hour in the original barrel storage area for Seagram’s Whiskey.