Seeds and blueprints

How event capture feeds long-term strategy

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There’s always the risk of cynicism when you reach out to gather people together for a day, a weekend, or any intensive stretch into ‘something different’. Yeah, we’ve done this before. It never amounted to much. 

Competing mandates collide. Familiar blocks crop up again, the same Yeah, but… filling the space between suggestion and an unknown set of next steps. It’s never what we mean to happen. We have excellent intentions and high hopes. We imagine a fresh space in which we recognize and dodge familiar blocks, drawing exciting new ideas and voices to the surface.

But somehow—even if we have an invigorating session or refreshed spell—we struggle to make the connections necessary to put down the roots of a renewed phase. Here’s what’s missing: a map.

By capturing what happens during brainstorming events, we turn engagement into a to-do list that’s digestible. Not overwhelming. As facilitators, we record and share the conversation as senior leaders and stakeholders pull apart and reimagine much of what they know as reality—looking at problems and possibility through a new lens.

Let’s take the example of a recent project: Nova Scotia’s rallying cry of Let’s reimagine a sport system in our province to champion best-ever athletes and a healthiest-ever population.

As straightforward as it sounds, this ambition crosses many organizational and jurisdictional boundaries. To turn into action, our rally needs to summon people from Sport Nova Scotia; the provincial department of Community, Culture & Heritage; Recreation Nova Scotia; The Nova Scotia School Athletic Federation; and Canadian Sport Centre Atlantic. It should encompass sports from every angle—organized teams and schools, community recreation, elite athletics—and reconcile mandates that often overlap and even compete. 

Competition can amp up the heat and drive of an organization, but it creates non-cooperating silos within movements. Like-minded, talented people are unwittingly incentivized to hunker down, protecting territory and locking up useful insight. 

This extended circle of people—all of whom passionately want to support athletes and positive change in Nova Scotia sport, for example—needed a long-term strategy to examine the system as a whole:

  • How might we draw more people into healthy lifestyles that stick?

  • How can we encourage and cheer on those who make a commitment, no matter how young or how old they are?

  • How can we draw more diverse talent and more energy into our sport system?

  • How can we be more inclusive? 

Long-term change is a big, slightly daunting pill to swallow. It requires time, patience, executive sign-off, talent, and money—and a one-step-at-a-time approach. Our current mode of incentive and reward doesn’t favour patience. So where do we begin—and how do we get the green light we need? 

 A screenshot of the microsite for the first Core Team Retreat (2018)

A screenshot of the microsite for the first Core Team Retreat (2018)

1.    Begin by bringing together key decision-makers. Get them fit and ready to think differently about how things ‘always go’. Ask—and capture—big questions.

In the extended universe of sometimes-clashing, sometimes-aligned collaborators, there is always a nucleus of administrators, executives, and representatives who primarily deliver the system. Sometimes well, and sometimes not-so-well.

To get beyond incremental tweaks to large-scale change, this inner core of organizers are the first on the front lines of thinking big. Before engaging a broader circle for a go-forward strategy, leaders need to prep differently than they have before, asking: 

  • What might big change look like?

  • How can we imagine big change, balancing what’s practical with a completely new mindset around what’s possible?

  • Who should we be engaging to get beyond incremental change to big fundamental(?) change?

For first engagements like this, it’s important to state your intention up-front so everyone feels invested in shared momentum and design. Take the Nova Scotia sport system. Here’s where we began: with the Sport Forum 1, with the goal of setting the intention of the movement.

This session/event/gathering included leaders from across the current sport system with one goal: to build ownership by asking them to help us design and deliver the steps going forward. This incredibly proactive event was focused on getting the right people in the room for mandate, planning and design.

 A screenshot of the microsite for the all-welcome Nova Scotia Sport Forum (2018)

A screenshot of the microsite for the all-welcome Nova Scotia Sport Forum (2018)

THE LESSON: Take a pause to set the stage before calling up the biggest possible circle. Reach consensus about what should define the engagements to come. 

2.    Open up the biggest possible space for new contributions. Bring together unexpected collaborators and inside that room, keep things moving and flowing. Capture, capture, capture!

Above all else, this central day has to feel different. We want people to feel energized, like there’s fresh air in the room. We lay out and examine our current reality with unblinking, almost relentless clarity: current blind spots, problems, and repeated patterns and blocks as well as all the best hopes, potential bright spots, and new ideas.

On this day, we want people who don’t usually come forward to come forward. It’s a wide-scale invitation for individuals to show up differently—more open, less protective—and trust that the folks ‘in charge’ are no longer so attached to the status quo.

  • If we could start from scratch, how might we design a better system?

  • What assumptions always crop up and block progress—and how might those assumptions be way out of date?

  • What are we missing—and, more importantly, who are we missing? Does this system genuinely serve everyone as well as it should?

  • What would it look like and how would it feel to see our ideas come to life? 

THE LESSON: Take a pause to set the stage before calling up the biggest possible circle. Reach consensus about what should define the engagements to come. 

For the big event, we invited anyone who’s interested in sport, which amounted to over 250 people from across the province. This massive effort aimed to create access and influence on the future beyond just collecting awards.

To focus our brainstorm, we featured six highly driven, provocative speakers from across sport in Nova Scotia for a fast-paced blitz of 20-20 presentations (20 seconds per slide, 20 slides). The speakers lit the spark, and conversations that followed were all captured and made available the next day.

THE LESSON: Strike while the iron is hot. Capture and share new and exciting ideas when they’re still fresh. Build momentum, expand ownership and let the issues defined by the people lead the way. 

3.    Bring together a core team to pull insight from the big forum and go from large-scale reimagining to a ground-level plan.

As a kick-off to an extended period of shared work, this convening of the core team is two days of rolled-up sleeves. We upend the collection of suggestions, grievances, wishes, and off-the-cuff reimaginings of aspects of the system and sort through it all, rearranging and borrowing insight from all corners—really, from ALL corners—to begin shaping our shared to-do list. 

The core team’s Planning Retreat was a two-day, multi-stakeholder retreat moved outcomes forward from the forum.

Building on the energy of the big forum, the core team laid out all the insight and ideas mined from the larger group to make a go-forward plan. This fun, practical and emergent session launched 18 months of work lead by the multi-stakeholder core team with a paid centre, focusing on six prototypes for sport system transformation. 

THE LESSON: Demonstrate new ideas and voices integrated into the plan. With capture shared all along, the core team can draw a straight line between new revelations and a truly different way forward. Get to work quickly and learn as you go.

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As we prepare, host, and reconvene for change, the microsites are everyone’s sounding board and navigation lights. They keep us on track and energized. Here’s how.

WHY POST-EVENT MICROSITES: THE PRACTICAL 

Good strategy rarely comes from a closed group or room. Good strategy comes from transformative days—but only if that transformative feeling is shared and actionable.

Event capture is an incredibly energizing thing to deliver. As facilitators, we package up all the goodness of a well-guided exchange and make it actionable—a shared, referential experience that invigorates and galvanizes leaders as much as administrators, organizers, and staff. 

Microsites look great and are an easy-to-scan, massively useful takeaway that makes change feel credible. Instead of something written two months later—a report nobody looks at—a post-event microsite gives collaborators an almost-instant turnaround of concrete resources, clearly expressed encouragement, and communicable value.

WHY POST-EVENT MICROSITES: THE STRATEGIC

The success of any program or movement is measured by how much people see themselves in the results. So we make the platform for people to see themselves as compelling and as complete as we can.

When we capture and share events well, we bring more people on-side. Microsites are a storytelling tool—a way to keep energy high when any group session (large or small) disbands back into the regular organizational routine. By holding up and cheering on the story of a transformative session, we build momentum.

Participants can share the excitement of a day, sharing a microsite with colleagues, executives, community, networks to chart the way from brainstorm to result. Here’s that conversation I had! Look at what we created.

I was supposed to write a massive report on the sport forum—I just sent my boss the microsite.
— Ryan, Aboriginal Sport Centre


When participants look at the site, they see themselves in it. As facilitators, we don’t polish or condense the content. We share what was in the room—what was said into microphones and at tables, what was left on post-it notes and posters and drawings.

It doesn’t matter how good your results are—if people don’t see themselves in an end result, they don’t trust it. When people go back to the microsites, it makes the change real in a way it probably hasn’t felt before. Together, we have transparency and we celebrate the process.

In the early days of any major endeavour, these simple microsites lay the foundation for complex online platforms to follow. As the work grows, so must the communications strategy. What platforms could support the unfolding of the work over time, enablng a distributed core to engage with each other and the public at large? That’s a question big enough to warrant another blog post entirely. Watch this space…

 
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For more on how to facilitate actionable change from broad-scale input, subscribe to the new FIND THE OUTSIDE: THE PODCAST, or check out the following related posts from the blog. Happy leading and sharing, folks! And the online course, too!

 
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