Public speaking training with Gail Larsen in Santa Fe and the Pacific Northwest

Gail Larsen, author of Transformational Public Speaking, is one of the most heartfelt and experienced public speaking trainers in the US and Canada. Gail is offering another series of trainings this Spring, starting with her sold-out “Transformational Speaking Intensive” in Santa Fe April 8-11.  She’s got two more with a few slots free still on Whidbey Island May 6 and May 13-16th and another June 17-20th at New York’s Omega Institute.  I’ve done two trainings with Gail to brush up my own skills as both a speaker and trainer, and absolutely love her supportive ‘inside-out’ approach to coaching authentic, powerful speaking.

Structured Decision-Making: Roadmap to Wise Choices?

As a facilitator, I’m always searching for new approaches to help groups plan strategically and make smart decisions.  One approach I’m currently exploring is “structured decision-making”, or SDM (though somehow that sounds faintly obscene when I say it out loud).

Structured decision-making is a systematic process developed for making wise, transparent decisions in the face of complex issues with diverse stakeholders, high stakes and divergent perspectives.

Example: The Holiday Dilemma
Here’s a super-simple example of how SDM might work, from my friend and colleague Trent Berry. He’s the co-founder of Compass Resource Management,  based out of Vancouver. Compass boasts one of the world’s most masterful teams at designing and facilitating structured decision-making processes for resource and environmental issues.

He explains:  “Imagine you and your spouse want to plan a holiday.  You want to go to Mexico.  They want to go to Hawaii.  How do you resolve the difference?  Well, you start by trying to understand why each other prefers one location or the other.  What are you really trying to achieve.  So, you might point out cost, things to do, safety, etc.  Those are your objectives or interests.  Now rather than just arguing about a location, you can discuss the relative merits of each from the perspective of what you each want to achieve.  doing that you may discover that some of your facts are wrong – e.g., cost.  But you’ll also understand how much importance each of you is placing on different things – e.g., cost vs. safety.  And through the process you may understand each other better and you may actually come up with a third option that meets both of your objectives.  Not always –  but sometimes.  Really, structured decision making is similar to what used to be called ‘interest-based negotiation’.  The only way it may differ is there is the discussion goes beyond two private parties and the focus is on not only understanding interests but also doing a better job of really understanding how different options perform across interests. Its a marriage of science and values.”

The Steps to SDM
In practice, SDM processes can often be described in decision trees or other concept maps.  The basic steps follow, in many ways, a really great government policy briefing note. Here are the steps for a “PrOACT (Problem, Objectives and Measures, Alternatives, Consequences, and Trade-offs” SDM framework (originally outlined in the book “Smart Choices”):

  1. Define the problem
  2. Specify the objectives and measures – including getting agreement on “what matters”, and prioritizing information and assessing uncertainty or risk with different kinds of information
  3. Create imaginative alternatives
  4. Identify the consequences for each
  5. Clarify the trade-offs.

Growing interest in SDM
From Alberta to Australia, the wave of interest in this approach is growing. One major application is for complex resource management issues. Imagine a group of environmental activists, First Nations, oil industry proponents and government staff trying to come to some sort of sound, values-based decision-making around large-scale oil exploration over a relatively intact natural ecosystem. How do you design a dialogue process that isn’t about greenwashing or tokenism and doesn’t suck the life force – not to mention the coffers — of all involved for the next decade?  Past experience has shown that lengthy land-use planning approaches and environmental assessments don’t always yield wise results, and especially not in a timely or cost-effective way.

As Berry explains, “environmental assessments all too often look like a long, expensive shopping list of environmental impacts, with no way to prioritize or sort through them. Structured decision-making starts from a place of shared values – because science can tell us about all the options, but it can’t do a thing about setting priorities or assessing the relative risks among them. Only a clear set of values can do that.”

Beyond Resource issues
SDM is also being used with child welfare workers in California, adult protective services in Michigan  and a host of other agencies.  Check out several other case studies on-line, including several at http://www.structureddecisionmaking.org/applications.htm.

Training the next generation of progressive political leaders

Training the next generation of progressive political leaders is the focus of the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Progressive Leadership. Their particular focus is on under-represented candidates and leaders, including women, people of colour, and GBLTQ folks, in 5 key US states. I’m thrilled to be on the team of trainers for CPL’s upcoming training in Philadelphia this weekend (April 10-11, 2010), focusing on message development, story-telling, public speaking and mainstream media tools.

Training the next generation of progressive political leaders is the focus of the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Progressive Leadership. Their particular focus is on under-represented candidates and leaders, including women, people of colour, and GBLTQ folks, in 5 key US states.  I’m thrilled to be on the team of trainers for CPL’s upcoming training in Philadelphia this weekend (April 10-11, 2010), focusing on message development, story-telling, public speaking and mainstream media tools.  This will be my first training with CPL, and the second of five intensive weekend retreats for their 54 participants, as part of a year-long fellowship for leaders in Pennsylvania. Philadelphia, friends tell me, is “the quintessential American city” – diverse, blue-collar, crammed with classic diners and home to the Liberty Bell.  I haven’t seen much yet – the training starts tomorrow – but I CAN say Philly has fantastic restaurants, tons of snappy energy and the CPL team is really, really smart. It’s intoxicating to be hanging out with people who regularly refer to “message boxes” and “progressive narratives” in the same breath!

POP everything! Strategic planning in 30 seconds or less

P.O.P. – Purpose, Outcome and Process – is one of the snappiest, most useful planning tools I know. And it’s completely scalable – from planning a 10 minute phone call to organizing a campaign.

One of the simplest, snappiest and most useful planning tools I know is one we teach at Rockwood Leadership Institute.  It’s a sweet little acronym called “P.O.P.” – standing for Purpose, Outcome and Process. Given the state of my memory, I  lunge at anything this easy to remember.  And this fast. Sure, it may take a bit more 30 seconds sometimes, but it’s still pretty snappy and massively effective.

Here’s a snapshot of P.O.P. And really, it’s so straightforward, this is all you need:

  • “Purpose” answers the question “why
  • “Outcome speaks to “what” – the vision of what success will look and feel like when you ‘arrive’
  • “Process” speaks to “how” – the specific steps involved in getting there.

Straight from the Source
The “P.O.P.” model was devised by brilliant leadership consultant (and fellow Rockwood trainer) Leslie Sholl Jaffe and her partner Randall Alford.  As they describe it, “POP is a useful tool for a multitude of the daily activities leaders find themselves faced with: meeting agendas, campaigns, difficult conversations, unplanned calls and conversations… As you can gather from the list, POP is scalable, it can be used for large, long term projects, regular weekly staff meetings, a meeting you attend or a call that comes in that has no agenda, coaching/mentoring sessions…”

Case in point: Workshop Design
Last week I met with a small team of folks designing a workshop within a larger conference for immigrants and refugees.  We started by stepping back and asking: what is the overall purpose of this workshop? Why now? Why here? How can it advance our particular focus on supporting skilled immigrants and refugees in the job market? Then we asked: if this workshop were wildly successful, what would the outcome be? In other words, what does success look like, in concrete terms? Only then did we address the process – the specific format, agenda design, room set-up, breakout size etc.

Cart before the horse…
All too often, action-oriented social justice and not-for-profit leaders jump straight into planning the process of calls, meetings and entire projects – without first nailing down a clear sense of the purpose and outcomes. In practice, it’s vastly more effective to “go slow to go fast”.  Even doing a quick “POP” for simple tasks, I’ve found, can save hours of time, and help ensure that your  creative energies are aligned and vastly more effective from the start.

Leveraging white privilege for racial justice

The 11th Annual White Privilege conference is this week in Wisconsin April 7-10th: http://www.uccs.edu/~wpc/.

And I just came across this beautiful little article on white ally-ship, trauma and somatics (embodied, ‘whole-person’ approaches to change) from the Oakland-based Seminary of the Street: http://www.seminaryofthestreet.org/id28.html. She talks about the way racism causes trauma for each of us – people of colour and whites alike – and points to a path of integrated healing.

The Engineer-Cabbie: messaging workshop for skilled immigrants

I can’t wait to co-facilitate a workshop on communications and social media with Marco Campana at the Allies Learning Exchange conference supporting skilled immigrant workers in Halifax May 6-7th.

Met any brilliant engineers masquerading as cab drivers these days? I’ve met far too many, and that’s why I’m so excited about the 2010 Allies Learning Exchange conference in gorgeous Halifax. May 6 and 7th. I and my co-trainer Marco Campana will lead a 2 hour workshop on message development and social media for New Canadians, particularly focused on issues affecting internationally trained professionals. Allies draws hundreds of people from across Canada to learn about issues and strategies to promote the employment of skilled immigrants. If you live in BC, Canada, and want to get involved locally, contact one of my past clients, the BC-Internationally Trained Professionals Network.

The future for print media?

Check out the webcast panel discussion on “News Innovation” on April 15th, hosted by Canadian News Wire.  The panelists  are leading print & on-line journalists Saleem Khan (chair, Canadian Association of Journalists), Mathew Ingram (senior writer with the technology blog network GigOm), and Scott Anderson (Editor-in-Chief, CanWest News).

It’s good to be back!

I’ll continue to focus on themes of collaborative power and leadership, progressive politics, and social justice. I’ll also talk about tools related to facilitation, campaign planning, strategic planning, communications and media.

After a 3-year hiatus where I allowed myself to get sucked into the happy vortex of a busy consulting practice, I’m resurrecting this blog. No matter how hectic things feel, there’s nothing like the self-imposed pressure of reflecting and writing on a regular basis to help a person ‘sharpen the saw”.  I’ll continue to focus on themes of collaborative power and leadership, progressive politics, and social justice. I’ll also talk about tools related to facilitation, campaign planning, strategic planning, communications and media. Since my last posting, I’ve continued to expand my consulting practice, working for a wide range of coalitions, individual leaders and some fantastic not-for-profit clients across Canada and the US. I’m eager to share ideas, learn from peers and to connect to others in this weird little niche Stay tuned, and please share your own ideas and tools!

Mapping it out: Social change approaches

In earlier posts, I mulled over social change overall, the need and opportunity for describing shared visions for the change, and two overarching paths (social marketing/education and policy/advocacy) to pushing change along the ‘social diffusion bell curve”. The lens for all these ideas is focused on social change organizations, or actors, in terms of their approaches to ‘pushing’ change along the bell-curve of a community.

Within the broader policy/advocacy vs. social marketing/education frames, most organizations concentrate on one or two specific strategies. Here’s a menu of some of the most basic strategies. Within each of these, there are further subsets of strategies and approaches. As I see it, they’re all important, and they all have a role. But some approaches leverage change more quickly, systematically and broadly (across communities) than others, depending on the degree to which they focus on systems vs. individuals.

1. Direct service: This is ground zero for perhaps most charities in North America and Europe, and it is the zone where most people are pretty comfortable. Say the word “charity” and most folks tend to think of traditional direct service non-profits focused on health, education, and poverty reduction. Directly provided goods and services are vitally important to the ‘clients’ in need, and can change individual lives. Examples: food distributed through food banks; support services for the disabled; settlement services for new Canadians; or methadone treatment programs for addicts. They could also include “personal development” kinds of service. The tag-line for the Bikram’s Yoga Studio down the street is: “building strong communities by building strong individuals.” This kind of direct, one-on-one support is vitally important – AND, it seldom leverages change for larger groups of people in any sustainable way. Direct services fall in the “give a man a fish” category.

2. Social marketing/Education: Social marketing focuses on trying to reach larger numbers of people to change individual attitudes or behaviours. Here, I’m conflating social marketing and education. Education is almost always a part of social marketing campaigns. It makes sense: people won’t adapt new behaviours or attitudes unless they encounter plenty of facts and ‘validators’ to back up the new idea, facts that tend to fit within their pre-existing ‘frames’ or terms of reference. Examples of social marketing campaigns: public health campaigns focused on anti-smoking, fitness, condom use; anti-bullying education; drinking-and-driving education; or reducing energy consumption. But like direct services, social marketing campaigns focus on individuals, rather than systems. They may focus on relatively large numbers of people, but don’t really address the landscape in which people make decisions in the first place.

3. Business/consumerism: In the past 20 years across Europe and North America, the CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) world has exploded. The underlying assumption for CSR advocates is that as market economies are here to stay, and allow educated consumers to “vote” for some kinds of change with their dollars : so let’s develop pockets and swirls of positive, equity-focused, environmentally responsible market forces that can eventually shift the voluntary behaviour of at least some corporations and market sectors. Examples of CSR initiatives range from the development of “climate-friendly mortgages” (eg. to encourage energy efficient building and renovations), organic foods and fair trade consumer products, to cross-branding with progressive social causes (eg. The Red Campaign). On the consulting side, there’s a host of “sustainability practitioners” to go along with the trend (I confess to still not understanding what that means, exactly!). This so-called “pocket-book activism” has power in numbers – huge numbers – of consumers. Presumably, if alternative markets develop and become sufficiently large to truly compete with resource-depleting, inequitable, conventional businesses, they can yield change in the broader system over time. Or, one could argue, pocketbook activism can lull consumers into thinking they’ve done their bit, without substantially changing anything.

4. Policy Advocacy: Advocacy – that is, advocacy centred around clear calls for policy change – addresses power. It is a central strategy for many environmental and anti-poverty groups in their roles as “third party” influencers of the actual decision-makers. Activists often use the term “advocacy” to mean a wide range of activities, from government relations (seeking to influence policy, and decision-makers, through relationship-building and persuasion) to rabble-rousing (negative media attention, petitions, public rallies, organizing and voter education). These efforts come with an implicit (but not always clear) call to action in terms of corporate or governmental policy change. The role of third parties is tricky, because no matter how intense or ‘loud’ advocacy efforts may be, they won’t necessarily lead to change. Advocacy has to be linked to a clear understanding of actual levers of power in the decision-making process. Is there a city council vote coming up? A Treasury Board or finance committee debate about the next budget? A desperate need for supporters by one potential candidate in an upcoming internal party nomination campaign?

Before moving along the continuum, it’s worth pausing to map out this territory a bit further – because it is the primary approach used by most social change organizations. Again, by ‘social change’ (vs. social wellbeing) organizations, I mean those organizations seeking to change the system, or triggers within the system, in order to leverage greater equity or environmental responsibility. Within this policy advocacy realm, there are many strategies groups use to shift power and effect systemic change:

‘Public will’: Public will campaigns are about mobilizing ‘key publics’ to communicate with their elected officials in sufficiently strong numbers and effective formats (eg. real letters vs. postcards) to encourage shifts in decision-making. This can be even more effective when those constituents wield power themselves in relatively direct ways that matter to elected officials – party donors, business allies, or voters in key ridings, for example. Within public will campaigns, there are a host of approaches or sub-strategies:

Organizing – eg. ‘concentric circle organizing’, old-fashioned face-to-face ‘shoe-leather’ outreach (canvassing, streeters, house parties, etc); ‘netcentric’ campaigns using on-line and off-line approaches; ‘viral’ on-line approaches, and likely dozens of others; the idea is to target current and potential supporters, build relationships, listen and where values align, help them move them up the ‘leadership ladder’ to greater and greater levels of engagement – ideally, to create a whole new cadre of organizers

‘Gatekeeper’ campaigns – campaigns aimed at targeting a few individuals who have access to broader groups of people, access that the social change actor or organization does not easily have on its own

Celebrity or ‘opinion leader’ endorsement for positioning and profile (‘surprising bedfellow’ strategies could fall under here)

‘Inside champions’ to provide access to internal podiums, provide endorsements & positioning

Government relations: For me, one big learning over the past year has been how few organizations do any government relations at all – when policy change is at the heart of their entire strategy. Government – both at the staff and political level – is where policies are made. A solid government relations (GR) program provides intelligence about what laws and policies have the potential to move through the internal ‘food chain’ of government decision-making. It can inform what stage policies are at, whether the time is right for moving specific initiatives forward (and when such efforts will realistically be futile), and what the specific levers of change are for moving them more quickly and in a stronger direction. GR is about research, listening, and learning. It is about relationship-building that leads to a deeper understanding of how, where and when to shift power. It is as essential to any effective policy effort as opinion research is to any broad public communications effort.

Litigation: This form of advocacy involves using existing policy levers and legal tools (statutory tools and precedents through the courts). Litigation has been used with incredible, tangible impact by groups such as the Sierra Legal Defence Fund and Pivot Legal. During more progressive government administrations, where ‘third party’ civil society groups tend to have more access and influence on policy development, litigation strategies are less needed, and tend to wane. But during relatively regressive, inaccessible administrations, litigation can be a vitally powerful advocacy tool for advancing social change.

Market Campaigns are about going to a different kind of power source: corporations. So much can be written about this approach, and in this globalized economy, usually only organizations with global reach themselves can use them. But the basic model (which groups like ForestEthics use masterfully) looks something like this:

1. identify a corporate target, ideally an iconic or influential member of a broader sector. Research it thoroughly in terms of chain of supply, investors, distribution networks etc
2. ask for change in policy (eg. procurement policies like selling paper products derived from pristine old-growth forests, or marketing policies like targeting children in tobacco marketing campaigns)
3. when the change doesn’t come, organize creative, public communications initiatives, generating plenty of earned media, that position the company negatively and potentially harm market share and/or investment potential, in order to drive the target to the negotiating table
4. negotiate for the change; agree to publicly praise the company for its leadership when the change comes
5. and here’s a twist that applies to some campaigns: as part of the negotiations, ask the newly-converted company champion(s) to meet with government to encourage a broader policy change that levels the playing field for all companies in the industry – thereby leveraging a more lasting, systematic shift in the decision-making landscape

5. Politics: Politics are about going to the heart of the matter – the matter being power. It is the stage where the complicated dance between vision and compromise plays out most starkly. Politics are not about being ‘pure’, or necessarily right – because in a democracy there may be many variations of ‘right’. As my partner says, “do we want to be a club – or a movement?” Initially, it is about battling it out in the arena of votes, at both the nomination and election stage. But when those battles are over, politics is about the opportunity to roll up your sleeves and dive into the messy work of sorting through diverse and sometimes conflicting values and solutions by tapping into collective intelligence and into leadership, all to develop policy. In the elections process, third party of civil society groups can play indirectly in this arena in several ways: building relationships with prospective candidates (one they’re in power it becomes a government relations exercise); organizing and list-building in specific electoral districts to build power through ‘get out the vote’ (GOTV) work on e-day; endorsing specific candidates; volunteering or otherwise building the capacity of specific candidate campaigns; and various forms of voter education.

Final word:
Power lies at the heart of each of these approaches, as I believe it lies at the heart of all social change. Each approach has value. But I believe that the closer each is to addressing power, the harder the work becomes – and the more likely it is to have lasting, systemic impact. In developing strategies for social change, and for building movements that lead to social change, we are continually faced with the cost-benefit analysis of which approach will best serve, or be more fruitful, given our own assets, resources and ability – and willingness – to wield power.

Power: What Lies Beneath

“There is nothing wrong with power if used correctly… What we need to realize is that power without love is reckless and abusive and love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.”

– Martin Luther King, Jr.

wave-clipart.pngAs a campaign facilitator, I see groups constantly faced with nuances in strategy – those fuzzy lines around the “ends vs. the means” dance that seems to need constant re-assessment, if power is truly the aim of the group. By “power”, I mean actual impact on policy decisions. But for many social change activists, after years of battling against the status quo, “power” is synonymous with “abuse”. It doesn’t have to be that way. But what is the ethical, right, smart way to deal with power? What lies at the core? How do we find that sweet spot where power comes from a place of integrity and generosity?

For me, ultimately, underneath all the strategy, tactics and analysis, love is what drives positive power.  Martin Luther King Jr.’s quote continues to inspire me.  And despite the reputation activists often have of being perennially angry,  I believe love is actually what drives many – maybe most – social change folks. Yes, some are driven by anger, and woundedness, and a desire to lash out at authority of any kind. In those cases, our job, as facilitators and coaches, is to help them connect with that deeper positive force within them – the force that will help them sustain their energies over time and build connection with others; that will enroll, rather than repel, the ‘persuadables’ that are so key to any  movement if it to grow beyond the converted.

Thanks to my American colleague Kevin for reminding me of MLK’s beautiful quote.