In August of 2013 there was a non-partisan, inter-disciplinary, cross sectoral, engagement event designed to generate conversation and input into the Blueprint 2020 vision for the federal public service. Such a completely volunteer and utterly unofficial initiative can be useful whenever uninhibited, inter-jurisdictional dialogue is desirable.
A Chatham House party is a gathering of self-selected individuals who care about an issue and agree to abide by the Chatham House Rule which states: “When a meeting, or part thereof, is held under the Chatham House Rule, participants are free to use the information received, but neither the identity nor the affiliation of the speaker(s), nor that of any other participant, may be revealed.”
This particular event was motivated by the phenomenon called “CLM” or Career Limiting Move. Departments and social media platforms within the government have been encouraging dialogue regarding Blueprint 2020. Our premise was that completely honest and frank conversations were unlikely to take place in a fully attributed environment like a town hall or focus group session. The assumption was that the output of uninhibited conversations would be high quality input.
The event was conceived and participants were recruited entirely via social media; the ideas were the work of a team that spontaneously came together.
There were a number of steps that led to the event. First, there was a short blog post that briefly explained the concept, which led to several meetings of interested individuals. These meetings were followed by the creation of a Google doc that explained the concept in detail and which anyone could edit. A second blog post outlined the proposal and interest was determined by asking people to sign up to a mailing list. It was decided that if at least 30 people signed up the event would proceed.
Once the “go” decision had been made, the team of volunteers conducted a series of web conferences to brainstorm ideas and define roles. A new detailed agenda document was created and shared with mailing list members so they could help design the event. The web service Doodle was used to poll participants on their preference regarding six possible times and dates.
The team secured a venue at the upstairs dining room of an Ottawa restaurant. The planning also included several Skype calls to work on the detailed agenda, a trip to the stationery store, a visit to the venue, some printing of signage, the preparation of supplies, and choosing the menu. A total of 15 emails were sent to members of the list over the course of several months, while about 100 tweets were sent using the hashtag #chp2020
Participants included functional specialists, several managers and directors from information technology, foresight, human resources, policy and program delivery backgrounds. Public, private and not-for-profit organizations were represented.
The evening began with dinner and conversation followed by an introduction to Lego Serious Play as a tool for discovering and articulating ideas. This was accomplished in a plenary session where participants revealed their motivations for attending by building a Lego model. Following the plenary, a World Cafe structure was used where participants spent 40 minutes engaging in dialogue around one of the four Blueprint 2020 principles before moving on.
Each table had a lead which brought the next group up to speed on what the previous group had discussed, the idea being that subsequent groups could build on the efforts of others. Questions at each table were designed with an appreciative inquiry philosophy, allowing conversation to focus on the positive.
The tables were covered in paper and ideas were captured using mind mapping techniques directly on the table. Each table had a Lego model that the groups built and evolved over the course of the evening. The table was photographed in order to capture the table notes and Lego structure in a digital format. One of the facilitators made graphic notes based on the discussions that were used to illustrate the final report. Table leads took personal notes and participants were asked to complete evaluation forms.
The evening concluded with each table lead presenting the cumulative results to the entire group and each participant voting to determine the most important ideas presented. In the days following the event, table leads contributed their reports to a Google document which was massaged into a 17-page report distributed to participants and submitted to the Blueprint 2020 process.
Keep the meal simple. Don’t try to do too much – our event probably did. Make sure that folks have fun. Write on the table tops and use physical items (Lego in our case, but pipe cleaners can work as well). Focus on specific problems if possible; there was interest in our group in spending time actually developing solutions, not just coming up with ideas. The use of web conferencing or a combination of Skype and Google doc works well for a small group collaborating on a document.
In the end, 43 people joined the list, 20 said they would come and 22 showed up. The group was diverse in age, profession and background; what was common among participants was the fact that they wanted to make a positive difference.
The session resulted in visual and text artefacts and the report attempted to distill the conversation into a few key points. For the Blueprint 2020 Chatham House Party we produced a 17-page report in which the top three suggestions recommended the federal public service should:
1. Push decision-making down to the lowest possible level;
2. Develop and release a Treasury Board policy that mandates openness and knowledge sharing; and
3. Create and maintain a pervasive Work Market, where public servants can gravitate to the projects that they are most suitable for.
The report is worthwhile, but the most significant value of the event was the dialogue and idea exchange that took place between a diverse group of individuals. Participants seemed to agree that the event reassured them that they were not alone in caring and gave them hope for the future of the public service in Canada.
SIDEBAR: Engagement Toolkit
The Chatham House Party was an experiment in engagement that was facilitated by free web-based tools and other readily available facilities:
Web Services Used:
• WordPress – for blog posts describing the concept;
• Mail Chimp – for the mailing list (15 emails ultimately sent;)
• Gmail: firstname.lastname@example.org – for creating and event identity;
• GoogleDocs – for the detailed reference document and agenda planning;
• Twitter: @CHGC2020 and hashtag #chp2020 – to promote the event and report on status;
• LinkedIn – several tweets were reposted as LinkedIn status updates by team members;
• Storify – for creating an archive of the tweets and pictures from the event;
• Doodle – to determine the optimal time for the event;
• Gotomeeting – web meeting with facilitation team;
• Skype – conference calling with facilitation team; and
• The Clerk of the Privy Council web site – for the official documents.
Non-Web Services Used:
• Restaurant – the venue for the event;
• Clear topics for engagement (the four Blueprint 2020 statements);
• Several local pubs – venue for facilitation team f2f meetings;
• Alcoholic beverages (in moderation) – for conversational lubrication; and
• Facilitation and graphic recording.
For more information, contact @thomkearney or join the PS Learner group at www.meetup.com/Public-Service-Leadership-Group/