Facilitation Methodologies

I have designed two facilitation methodologies: Book Sprints, and the Cabbage Tree Method

Book Sprints

A Book Sprint brings together a group of experts to produce a finished book in 3 to 5 days. No advance preparation by participants is required—the group is guided by a skilled facilitator, from zero to published book. (This includes written content, illustration, and design.) The content of the finished book is high quality and is often made available immediately at the end of the sprint in all major digital formats and print-on-demand.

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Book Sprints Ltd is the company I established to facilitate Book Sprints. The company has worked with many clients to produce a wide variety of content, including corporate documentation, government policy, oil industry training materials, textbooks, handbooks, white papers, academic articles, and even fiction! Clients include Cisco, Dell, F5, Google, USAID, UNECA, The World Bank, IDEA, GIZ, Open Oil, Transparency International, Columbia Vale Center, Heinrich Böll Stiftung Nigeria, OpenStack, Free Software Foundation, Mozilla, PLOS, JISC CETIS, BCcampus, Times Up, and many others.

The facilitator governs the process, manages the group dynamics, mediates disagreement, and imposes the unalterable deadline for the finished book. Although the facilitator is a member of the group, the facilitator never takes part in actual writing, nor does he or she weigh in with opinions about the content. Instead, the facilitator enables an environment in which the group can collaborate creatively and purposefully. The aim is to make sure that all participants collaborate in sharing their ideas and shaping the development of the book. Using a light-touch approach and taking care to accommodate different personalities and styles, the facilitator leads the group through different stages of the book’s development, from conception to production, through to completion.

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Groups typically have 5 to 15 participants, chosen by the hosting organisation. Once the topic has been defined, the hosting organisation discusses strategies with the Book Sprints team for selecting participants, as well as other logistics, and how to set group expectations. Preparations are then made for confirming a venue, setting dates, arranging travel and accommodations, etc.

I set Book Sprints up as a company and it is now operational with a team of 8. Books Sprints Ltd are a team of facilitators, book-production professionals, and illustrators specialised in Book Sprint facilitation and rapid book production. While I developed the original methodology the company has refined it since 2008 through the facilitation of more than 100 Book Sprints.

Cabbage Tree Method

I developed a second methodology for the design and development of software. This facilitated, and collaborative, methodology is called the ‘Cabbage Tree Method’ (CTM) and it means facilitating your stakeholders to develop a product. It comprises of a series of facilitated Design Sessions. In these sessions, you first identify what the use case specialists (‘users’) need and then help them design a solution.

CTM posits the stakeholders at the centre of a facilitated Design Session where you they design the product together.

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A diversity of stakeholder input makes for better products. This is not a new idea in the world of product development since Ikujiro Nonaka wrote about the ‘new new product development game’ in the 1980s and the inclusion of a diverse set of stakeholders has been considered critical to product development. Interestingly this kind of diversity has been strangely absent from the open source sector.

Hence Coko advocates shifting away from technocratic meritocracy that ‘deliver you a solution’ and towards building solutions with diverse stakeholders from your organisation. This means including all stakeholders in the process – users, production staff, higher management, graphic designers, user experience designers, developers and others that are affected by the solution.

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Involving a wide range of people with differing perspectives improves the product but collaboration of this kind doesn’t ‘just happen’ hence the importance of the next ingredient – facilitation.

Creating successful collaboration is a result of a particular kind of leadership – what John Abele calls ‘collaborative leadership’ and what we call ‘design facilitation’. The facilitator leads your team through a process that builds trust, change, and the product you need.

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Finally, if you bring people together to improve a product it stands to reason the product should be easy to improve. Hence Coko is building very flexible products that can be ‘re-invented’ by those that need them. After all, if you can’t improve the product there is little use in bringing people together to do so.

It stands to reason that if the tool can change to do what you need, it will even more successful for you AND your stakeholders can have a direct role in designing the outcome. Hence Product Flexibility is not only good for the ongoing health of the product, allowing collaborative design processes that can easily improve it, but it also potentially lays the groundwork for a healthy and accelerated adoption cycle within your organisation.