Escaping to a Higher Order...
This website is intended to inform people who currently convene gatherings and wish to orient them to be more impactful, and for those working for impact, who would like to better understand how to engage people towards a common purpose.
The thinking on this site emerges from a tight-knit community of practitioners with decades of experience shepherding groups through complex change, based on the original research and invention of Matt and Gail Taylor, and drawing influence from the fields of psychology, cybernetics, biology, architecture, design, education and complexity (among others).
The Value Web was formed with the express intent of continuing the exploration and application of these methods, which we do through our work of helping multi-stakeholder communities engage, collaborate and co-create solutions to the myriad complex issues facing the world today.
This website offers a framing for change - a structure to allow the unknown to unfold towards positive outcomes as we try to create a future by design, not default. This website and our google community is the online space where we plan to dive deeper into each dimension of the proposed structure ("the cube") to learn, discuss and research its application.
The only price of using the tools we present is feedback - to improve the structure, to fill in the gaps, to strengthen the whole. We realize there are many other ways of approaching systemic change, and we hope to connect with others following similar lines of inquiry and exploration.
Come play with us!
What we are sharing here is both a gift and an invitation to play. We hope to use these ideas to impact positive change, but we realize there are myriad ways to do this. We want to do this with you. Please join us in our online community to contribute to the conversation, the research, and the organizing of our collective body of knowledge.
Influencing Systems for Change
This set of tools is useful for those who are trying to design a better gathering, and those who are trying to create change in a larger system. Our intent in creating and sharing these tools is to demonstrate that these two uses are, in fact, one and the same.
Meetings, classes, rallies; most gatherings of people are conceived of for some reason. Being disciplined about defining that reason, or purpose, and connecting it with design allows you to create a path to impact.
Creating change in systems reflects the view that governments, organizations or companies are not the right frame of reference when trying to solve an issue or address a larger problem; it is systems that matter. Those systems are made up of people, distributed, connected and full of the ideas and beliefs that make us human. True change, then, comes from the realignment of enough people toward a new possibility that it becomes a reality.
Every gathering of people affects the people who gather in simple or profound ways. Those people move back into other circles, interacting, sharing and spreading what they know. If one interaction can be shaped to influence a person’s sense of possibility, why not two interactions? Why not more people? By changing the way a small group thinks through the interactions they have with each other, we begin to recode the larger systems of which they are a part, reprogramming that larger system by changing the rules by which it operates.
One interaction at a time, one group at a time, but building these together until the change, once tiny, becomes a great structure, crafted in small steps, all inter-related.
The building block for this larger change is a simple cube. Six sides, all connected, all critical for its structure. When we pay attention to all six sides, ensuring none are neglected, we have a solid block upon which greater change can be built, like a single brick, well laid.
It begins with purpose - a direction and intent for the change we wish to make. For every purpose, there are the players needed to achieve it; this makes the second side of the cube. Players brought together within a proper structure of timing and place have the preconditions to achieve something together. Within that structure they must follow a process, some path towards their purpose. That process is easiest with a guide, with facilitation to make the path easier to travel - removing barriers and sharing the burden. When the purpose is achieved, there must be sharing for its impact to spread, or for others to learn of the possibility, so that it can spread. These six sides - purpose, players, structure, process, facilitation, sharing - form a single building block for change towards a guiding purpose, and a greater design. It is incredibly simple, but allows us to build towards the greatest of complexity.
We know as true that the interplay between these 6 sides of the cube is where groups can begin to have deep impact, both within their group, but also in the larger systems they are a part of. There are a few dimensions that The Value Web community has deep knowledge and experience to share, and others that represent, for us, an avenue of inquiry. We want to offer this as both a tool and an invitation for taking the practice deeper across all of these dimensions.
View the large, downloadable model here.
Imagine the change you would like to see in the world. Now imagine all the people who would be necessary to make it actually happen, and all the things they would need to do along the way. Now imagine designing that entire path in one try.
Not that easy. That is why this model is meant to be iterative, building in chunks, which are redone as successive pieces are built and new learning can be incorporated. That is how to use this cube; you can start on any side, making decisions in light of all the other sides, and revisiting your work as you move onto the others. Moving forward in this way, you can start to unpack the complexity of the path you are trying to chart.
Why a Cube?
We use this structure for our design because we have found that when helping steward change, we can never directly design the properties or outcomes we want, we can only design for them. Whether it’s innovation, creativity, education, justice or the solution to a problem half-understood, you can never directly create the change the system requires.
Where human interaction is required to create a change, attention to the six dimensions of the cube creates the conditions in which the solution can emerge. While change can happen without attention to all six, it is much less likely.
A well designed intervention that accounts for these dimensions creates a space for emergence - the quality of a system that has achieved something “more than the sum of its parts."
One cube. Many cubes. It’s a structure. It’s a building block. It’s a container. There are three primary ways of working with the cube:
The cube as a structure
On its own, paying attention as best you can to the 6 faces of the cube, and staying mindful of their connections, the structure of the cube itself can help you convene better. If you choose to dig deeper on some of these dimensions, or add your knowledge, it should be done without neglecting the others. We provide guiding questions for each side that can help keep you on track in your planning.
The cube as a container
Each face of the cube represents a surface level to a great deal of research, thinking and experience that can be applied in guiding people towards impact. Whether it is inquiry methods for unearthing purpose, data-driven approaches to identifying players or applying architecture to create structures which support collaboration, the cube can be looked at as a container for how to deepen your practice across these dimensions.
The cube as a building block
Thinking of the cube, of a single intervention as a stand-alone “event” or gathering is to miss the larger context in which it operates. Designing the larger structures of which a single cube would become an element is the true ambition of this approach - creating a structure of structures robust enough to make even the most ambitious systems change possible. The question becomes not “how do I apply the cube?”, but, “how many do I need, and how should they relate?” And, “what happens in the space between?”
With that, we present you with this first level of explaining the cube’s faces. Check it out. Try it out. Then tell us what you learned.
- What is the context?
- What is the purpose?
- What are the objectives & givens?
- Who will this serve?
- What value will it provide?
- What impact do we hope to achieve?
If we wish to assemble a system with hopes of achieving desired impact, we must articulate its purpose. Absent of purpose, we do things by default not design. Purpose orients us as designers and ultimately creates an orienting field for the system itself.
Context provides the landscape from which purpose emerges. Your first design conversation needs to establish and explore that landscape. Even if the purpose appears to stand out like a beacon with great clarity, context helps unveil motivations, issues, obstacles—all of the complexity surrounding the simple intent articulated by purpose.
Articulating the purpose enables your co-design team to confront it, live with it, and evolve it as their understanding deepens. Because purpose is represented in words, it must be revisited and refined as the design conversation unfolds over time. You may understand words one way early in this conversation and another way later as your co-designers develop a common language.
Objectives & Givens
Do not confuse objectives with purpose. Purpose defines intent, whereas objectives often identify key expected outcomes. Givens are the system’s operating assumptions and guardrails. They can include scope statements as well as premises to be accepted.
Defining up front the impact you hope to achieve enables you to measure and track the extent of your success.
Who We Serve
A "recode" is by definition one hundred percent human. It is not enough to know what is at stake; you must also know who holds a stake in the recode’s success.
- Do our co-design and facilitation teams have the necessary mix of talent, experience, expertise and resources?
- What contributors (facilitators, moderators, speakers, panelists, discussion leaders another) should be invited?
- What representatives from the system we wish to recode should participate in the recode effort?
- How and when should they be invited? What expectations should that invitation set?
When it comes to recoding a system, less is not more. You alone cannot understand the system in all its complexity or achieve the leverage necessary to effect change. Neither can a small group. The players you assemble must represent the variety of the broader system if it is to become an emergent model of the broader system’s recode. The collective memory, energy, and influence participants carry forth from the recode effort will be critical to achieving your desired impact.
Your co-design team is a sample of the recode system. It comprises a handful of key players from the participant and facilitation teams, thereby bringing together two critical bodies of knowledge—of the system in need of recode and the recode methodology. The co-design conversation begins weeks if not months before and continues up through the recode and sometimes beyond.
Principal stakeholder points of view should be represented on this team, especially when they are in conflict. Whether through authority, fame, connectedness or brand, your co-design team must be able to identify and gather the participants and facilitators required for an effective recode.
What Is Co-Design?
Co-design is a dance of sharing, trust, and passion, while also holding true to what we know and believe. The facilitation domain cannot succeed without the design help of the system domain and vice versa. It is not always easy, but it is crucial.
Representatives from across the breadth and depth of the system should participate in the recode. Assembling decision makers, influencers and implementers from key constituencies avoids blind spots, ensures the right conversations can happen, and maximizes the potential for the recode to transform the larger system. New players, players from adjacent or connected systems, and those not usually consulted can provide sufficient variety to transcend usual patterns.
Design this team in light of the facilitation approach you will take. A recode system is social by nature. Your facilitation team will profoundly influence and be influenced by the participant group. It is a dance. Their behaviors, capabilities, coordination and flexibility must be requisite with the variety of the larger participant group in order to regulate it until the system recodes and escapes to a higher order.
The Law of Requisite Variety
The Law of Requisite Variety provides two pieces of advice when it comes to designing a recode: 1) the amount of appropriate selection that can be performed is limited by the amount of information available, and 2) a model system or controller can only model or control something to the extent that it has sufficient internal variety to represent it. This advice can be applied to all aspects of the recode system but is particularly relevant to the players.
- When will the recode take place?
- What is its appropriate duration?
- What would be an optimal venue? Why?
- How will the venue be configured and dressed?
- What inputs must be prepared? By whom and when?
- How will content be displayed and interacted with?
- What facilities and logistics must be secured? By whom and when?
In order to make the recode work, you must anticipate. This means designing all of the structure that goes into forming the recode environment. It involves planning, securing, and scheduling. As you give meaning to every single detail (because everything speaks), you will need to let go of certain things yet avoid accumulating too many compromises. It is a balancing act.
- You don’t want surprises...well, only good ones...
- Securing in advance only what must be secured in advance limits the constraints you must deal with and allows space for creativity...
- You can’t anticipate everything...something will malfunction, break, disappear, go wrong...build your structure as an agile learning system...
- Prototype structure in short loops...share actively, get feedback...keep it simple, easy, visible…
- Foster structural resilience by growing confident and generous relationships with everyone in the system...let them challenge you...ask for feedback and help...smile, keep cool…
The Human Factor
People need meaning to engage. Share energy. Secure support, participation and contribution of relevant people. Define the rules of engagement. Address basic needs. Transfer knowledge. Feedback. Build a team.
You will need dates, hours and minutes. You will need inputs. Build and share your planning. Choose the right tool. Adapt constantly. Don’t stick to plan for the sake of it. Schedule tasks, involvements, preparation streams, deadlines.
Understand the constraints and opportunities of a space and its many functionalities—physical, virtual or both. Play with givens or change them if you can afford to.
Provide the equipment, furniture, tools and supplies needed for people to accomplish what is expected. Remove hurdles, except if overcoming hurdles is part of the game.
Give autonomy. Help people in and out. Facilitate navigation throughout the system, the journey, end to end, individually and collectively.
Make everything fit with everything. Ease communication between people and components.
Secure cost and revenue structure. Make it as sustainable and responsible as possible. Diversify sources. Make sure there is payback for everyone.
- What combination of learning modalities (listening, seeing, touching, moving, reflecting) will be most engaging?
- What modules/activities can enable the experience we want to create? How should they be sequenced?
- Who are the contributors we need for each module/activity (facilitator, moderator, panelists, discussion leaders)?
- What are the key activities and tasks before the recode commences?
We believe that if we properly assemble the players into a system...
...and orient them toward a purpose
...and launch them on a design journey with sufficient variety
...and ask them the right questions
...and allow them to self-organize
...that the system will recode—escape to a higher order—and the collective wisdom and genius of the reordered system will complete the journey to its own compass and thereby arrive at the necessary answers.
We like to believe in our own mastery as process designers. What we are is experienced at the patterns and outcomes with which we are familiar. We have seen them work. We think we understand their value. Our confidence inspires the participant to go along and discover in them their own value.
The shorter your journey, the more rigorously you must design its entire course. You have less room for error. In longer journeys, co-design the early stages with great care. The system will begin to reveal itself as the journey advances, and you can consult with your co-designers to re-chart subsequent stages until that point when the recode charts its own course.
The journey you design should reflect design principles you select based on your understanding of the system and its purpose. The following design principles are recode archetypes you can sample and supplement:
The journey is critical, but what really makes a difference is everything. Every detail. Every word. Every motion and emotion. The complexity is beyond our control. What we can do is follow our design principles...help the journey unfold with flow...energized focus, full involvement, immersion.
The Journey Itself
The recode journey is non-linear. It allows time and space for behaviors to adjust, understanding to deepen, pattern language to develop, relationships and a new working culture to form. Design with this in mind, and you will be happier.
As you design the journey consider the mode and sequence of activities. Is there individual work, full group work, small group work? Are they considering the whole problem, a portion of it, or engaging it metaphorically? Are they working with their hands, their hearts, their heads? Are they being playful, serious, wearing a mask? And does all this create a rhythm?
We have used many models to attempt to understand the journeys we design. Here are a few you may find interesting. (thumbnails of 7 Stages of the Creative Process, Seven Domains Model, Scan-Focus-Act, Design-Build-Use, Vantage Points, Creating the Problem, that link to pages on MG Taylor website)
We divide long-form journeys into stages called modules. Some of us believe we are so good that we invent new modules. That daring can inspire the players to take risks as well. Not because they know how we dare. Because they feel it. Daring is good, but here are a few of our tried-and-true modules and how we have fooled ourselves into believing they work:
History of the Future
In the Shoes of…
Why It Won’t Work
- Buckets of Work/Vote With Your Feet
- What facilitation approach do we need before, during and after the recode?
- What type of field will the facilitation team create within the system?
- What are the different roles and rules of engagement for the facilitation team members?
- How will our facilitation team work together as a high-performing team to deliver this recode?
- How will the facilitation team make visible what needs to be seen?
- How will the team manage the event’s energy, venue, environment, technology, inputs, documentation and sharing of outputs?
Co-creation needs stewardship. When a group of people are gathered to make a difference, good facilitation makes it easy for them to work and play and together say what they must say, confront what they must confront, create what they must create, become who they must become in order to make that difference.
Your role is to regulate the system until a recode emerges. With the help of the co-designers, you define expectations, boundaries, mechanisms, time frames and teams for rounds of work. You allow the participants to self-organize within these constraints and discover the appropriate response to the work they have been assigned. You determine the mechanisms for socializing these responses so they can be carried forward, integrated and innovated by the system. You foster self-organization because it is how an emergent recode will be unleashed and the system becomes self-regulating.
Cadence and Flow
Your facilitation approach should provide cues and establish an intuitive pattern language for when to move, what to do next, how to behave, where best to discover order amid chaos.
Music can be an invaluable tool. Consistency pays dividends. Transitions from one activity to the next seem effortless when the facilitation team operating model is performing at a high level. All of this induces a state of flow in the participants.
Cadence and flow cannot be optimized unless the facilitation team has a rigorous capture and documentation process. This enables the participants to focus on knowledge creation then transition to what comes next with the confidence that their work will be documented, curated, and available when needed.
The way you dress the environment, the way you address the participants, the way you handle ambiguity, the way you frame activities, the way you set expectations, the way you dare to venture outside your comfort zone—all that you and the facilitation team do should invite and inspire the participants to go beyond the edges of their map, to explore, fill in and inhabit the white space.
The characteristics and needs of the recode system will make themselves manifest. This will inevitably mean revisiting and re-charting the journey. This may happen on a grand or minor scale, but it will happen. As the main story line unfolds, you, your team, and the co-designers must also remain perceptive to subplots and subtexts and weak signals. What are they trying to tell you? How should they be accommodated? Surfaced? Served? Dealt with? Ignored?
Your facilitation team should model target behaviors for participants. The way each member of the team focuses, collaborates, listens, moves, responds, engages, speaks will be apparent to the participants, especially because the team operates and moves and carries itself confidently and expertly in the same space they inhabit. It is an unfamiliar model, and one that will—more covertly than overtly—create a field that influences them.
Those who have facilitated where other languages are spoken know that you do not need to understand what people are saying to recognize their level of engagement. The energy is apparent. Over the course of a recode, energy levels will wax, wane, and vary according to the nature of activities. This can be a diagnostic as well as something to design for and manage.
Your facilitation approach should be grounded in service. That service is aimed at drawing forth the best from the individual and group. The level of service and care provided should be on par with the finest restaurant. This does not mean saying yes to every request. Because your service bias is aimed at enabling the highest possible recode performance and outcome, requests that are aligned with this bias are served to the utmost possible, while those that diverge from it are politely steered back on course.
Facilitation Team Operating Model
The way the facilitation team organizes itself to bring all of this to life has a profound influence on the recode. Likewise, each recode will exert a unique influence on the team. Certain patterns in the operating model may be consistent from recode to recode, but each journey is different. The team’s operating model must have flexibility and robust capacity for improvisation to meet the needs of the now.
Organizations to Explore
Thought Leaders in this Space
- How will the team organize to document and share the output after the recode?
- How will we synthesize the output to identify and share what is relevant?
- What deliverables will we produce?
- With whom will we share the recode deliverables?
- How will sharing enable us to reflect on what we accomplished and determine what comes next?
- How will we use sharing to advance the purpose of the event?
Social systems are extremely dynamic and challenging environments. The recode can be considered a highly designed and architected series of conversations that become increasingly effective as the journey unfolds. Their true power is in the outputs they produce and the way these are socialized, fed back into the system, and integrated in subsequent conversations. The extent to which this sharing process extends after the recode into the broader system will help determine its impact.
The sharing that happens after a recode is just as important as the sharing that happens within it. The recode must not be thought of as an end. It is both a culmination and a beginning. It is a virus. To have any hope of becoming an epidemic, it must be shared. The most powerful and perhaps only true way to share it is through stories.
The stories that share the recode will spring from the participants’ collective experience. That is why it is so important to keep a complete and accurate record as the precipitate of that experience. The record is the knowledge base that shows the track, the attempts and the achievements of the journey.
The facilitation team’s practices ensure that sharing within and after your recode can be as effective as possible. No iteration is complete without shipping a product. These must be captured and curated and made available. They can be used in subsequent work rounds. They can be used after the recode. The facilitation team relieves participants of the documentation role so they can immerse themselves more completely in the activities they are asked to perform.
The co-design team will specify the deliverables to be created as an output of the recode. Making these available to the recode players enables their memory to be rekindled and grounded as they tell the stories that attempt to make sense of their experience. The deliverables are petri dishes for the recode virus—vehicles to enable the post-recode sharing process and advance the purpose of the event.