The consultants used scenario planning as the method for guiding our work.
The first night
Night one was spent getting up to speed on global and regional trends that might impact our future. It was interesting stuff. The participants would listen to the research and then take a few minutes to discuss and react at their tables.
The first night ended by developing and ranking a collective list of change drivers. I left feeling like I didn’t get to participate much, but could see the need to be grounded in the background information.
The second night
For the second night, the consultants had boiled down the results from the change drivers list. They were able to consolidate and group them into two continuums that represented directions in which the city could go. By overlaying them, we ended up with a four-box matrix.
At this point, the 100 people in the room were divided into four random groups, each assigned to one quadrant in the matrix. Our tasks included:
- Identify what we think will happen in the future based on the two dimensions that defined our quadrant.
- Boil down our predictions into economic, social, and environmental impacts.
- Write some descriptive “news headlines” for the near-term, mid-term and long-term.
- Give the quadrant a descriptive name.
Before breaking up I asked, “Do you have a suggested process for helping these large groups reach some sort of consensus?” The leader’s answer was something close to, “You’re smart people. You’ll figure it out.” His one bit of advice was to make sure we choose a moderator.
I agreed we were smart people. I wasn’t convinced it would be as easy as it seemed.
After using about half our time and making limited progress, the leaders stopped by to make some suggestions about how we should do our work.
In the end, all the groups delivered something within the time frame. Was the work as high-quality as it could have been? The leaders wanted us to do some “deep thinking.” In our group, we jotted down and later reported answers from whoever offered something that on the surface seemed acceptable to most people.
How to make better use of the time
Overall, I liked the process. The small group work could have been strengthened by doing the following:
- Have a process for how the groups would do their work, including how to make decisions.
- Assign a facilitator to each group who was prepared for the task.
I have done my fair share of suggesting small groups develop their own processes. In this case, based on the group size, the complexity of the work, and time limitations; more direction could have made the task easier.
It’s a lesson I’ll be sure to remember when leading groups myself.