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We all know Landal GreenParks, with its holiday parks and recreational homes. There are now over 100 holiday parks in 9 European countries. Many of these more than 15,000 homes are owned by third parties. Some 8,000 homes are owned by private individuals. For Landal GreenParks, good communication with all its target groups is essential. That is why they took a good look at their communication with the homeowners and how to develop the owner’s web portal in an agile way.

Landal says: “We already had a magazine, a newsletter and a website to reach the owners, but we wanted to improve the entire communication. So, the magazine received a design make-over. We also increased the frequency of the digital newsletter and started building a new website. We really wanted to involve the homeowners in this agile development, hence to stay in dialogue.”

 

What do they think of us?

“We consider our homeowners to be involved partners for whom we take care of the rental, administration and management of a holiday park. We really want to know what this positive critical target group thinks of our communication. We want to involve them in this feedback process. There are many (individual) contact moments with the owners, but we are really looking for a way to reach them all, and to let them have a say in this process. We had already organized owner surveys, market surveys and panels, but we were also looking for a way to reach out to all our owners for more agile development of the owner’s web portal. We need to find out what’s going on inside the homeowner group. Based on their input and suggestions we improved our service. We have since updated the website, enabling owners to arrange as much as possible themselves within the same online environment. We used the results of the CircleLytics dialogues to realize the owner’s key needs.”

 

Deliberate open-ended questions provide sought-after answers

“The collaboration with CircleLytics is enjoyable, and they advised us on how to formulate the questions as pointedly as possible. Being able to link quantitative data to qualitative data is extremely valuable. For instance, if we start by asking ‘How do you rate our services on a scale of 1-10?’ and then ask about the respondents’ motivation or best suggestions immediately following that question, we can truly understand what the figures mean. An important element is asking yourself, beforehand, what you can do with the answers. Can we link concrete actions to it? This is important for our relationship with the owners and their motivation for subsequent dialogues. It greatly optimizes our services, the owner platform, and our communication with the owners.”

 

The start of the dialogues

“One of the questions from the first dialogue session was: ‘We want to improve our service and communication. What actions do you think we should take?’ We then went to work with these answers. We developed concrete actions from the most widely supported answers, which we then carried out as much as possible, after some internal consultation.

 

Next, we held the second dialogue session, where we specifically asked: ‘What information do you think should be on the first page of the website once you have logged in? We got many responses and used those to develop the new website homepage. After the website went live, we started a new dialogue a while later. We wanted to use this session to gather suggestions for improving the website’s user-friendliness and tips for further, agile development. For further development of the website, we considered many of the recommendations. For example, one of the owners’ most significant needs was a better insight into the occupation rates and turnover of the recreation homes. Based on this need, we developed a financial dashboard, and the owners are enthusiastic about it.

 

Proven support

The dialogues provide support, and the second round plays an essential role: it is where participants rate each other’s answers. Their involvement is very valuable and gives us a weighting that lets us understand their most and least important factors. The data we collect during the two question rounds enables us to extract Top 5 and Bottom 5 lists. The most supported feedback (feedforward, actually) becomes apparent and shows us what most owners agree on. The owners will also discuss the answers others gave in the first round. It is true co-creation.

 

Informed decisions and actions

Landal continues: “Their commitment shows through in the data: they like to participate very actively, and you can see that in the second round, where they read and appreciate or even supplement many of the opinions of others. It is not a gut feeling or an opinion based on what some of the owners or a (small) focus group say. Instead, you get feedback based on numbers and clear recommendations about how to proceed. It gives you a solid document about what your target group thinks. This feedback has also been presented internally. It will show there is support, and we will continue discussing this internally and externally. Each time, we determine which actions we can take. We like to continue these dialogues and the co-creation. The owners tell us that they really appreciate this level of involvement. It enables us to make informed decisions and apply our people, budget and development capacity where the highest value is.”

If you want to learn more about using the online CircleLytics Dialogue and talk about your challenges and ambitions, please get in touch with us.

 

Philips Dialogue Leadership

In 2021, René Schoenmakers was Director of Supply Chain at Philips Health for South America. He was dealing with a lack of engagement and involvement within his team. He wanted to gather feedback from the entire team on specific topics and better, engaged decision-making, and called in CircleLytics to start a dialogue.

Insufficient input from generic survey for decisions

René says: “At Philips, we conduct bi-annual employee engagement surveys. These are standard questions we ask Philips employees worldwide. This survey is intended to gauge the ‘temperature’, asking ourselves, ‘are we still on the right track? It does not yield any qualitative answers that drive my decision making today, because these are closed-ended questions that never vary. The textual answers remain unweighted: I don’t know what importance or sentiment others attribute to them, so I can’t derive reliable, decision-making value from it. We wouldn’t be able to make good comparisons with previous surveys if the questions were varying, so these global engagement surveys with generic questions make sense. But this also means that you cannot put forward specific topics to ask questions about for superior, faster decision-making. You will have to come up with another solution. The survey platform and surveys do not answer the ‘why’ and ‘how can we improve’ questions, to summarize it. 

In a word, the survey is good for its purpose but not for decision making purposes. At Philips, we have high standards and strong ambitions, also when it comes to taking action where necessary. I wanted to gather more qualitative feedback that I could use within my team. So, I took the initiative to use the CircleLytics Dialogue. The Employee Engagement global team supported my choice because the engagement survey is not used for qualitative deepening, let alone co-creation, to tackle and solve (local) challenges together.

I used CircleLytics to ask concrete questions from two perspectives:

  1. I wanted to dive deeper into some (of the many) topics from the global engagement survey where my region achieved insufficient or very high scores. I wanted to understand the why of it all and learn what decisions are crucial.
  2. I wanted to tackle some issues in my own management agenda. I used CircleLytics for co-creation sessions with my people to make them aware, involve them in these issues, understand the root causes, and create solutions.

 

“People in South America are not as outspoken as the Dutch. They are rather reticent about what is bothering them or what could be improved. That is why Schoenmakers is so enthusiastic about the asynchronous design of the CircleLytics Dialogue. I can reach any team member; they can answer questions anonymously, at their own pace, at their own location, and then rank and comment on the responses of their colleagues in a separate second round. The answers from those who are quick to participate in the first round will not carry more weight in the second round: all input must wait until round 2 starts, and all input is treated equally. Another essential CircleLytics feature is that employees can not only positively but also choose to negatively rate the responses and solutions of others: they can score them with -3, -2, or -1. So, there is room for nuance, but they can also safely choose to reject certain options because an option is risky, unsubstantiated or otherwise not the best option for Philips. Groups can reduce a specific risk by 20-30% by asking questions about it, which is a significant extra benefit of this technology. The response was much higher than I ever would have thought and they showed impressive activity.”

 

Team interactions, diversity if thinking

“My team consisted of 70 employees from four districts. I wanted them to collaborate better, collect ideas from them, and inventory their priorities. I selected the topics for the first dialogue session from the global engagement survey results for South America. We repeated four critical questions (the traditional closed-end question with a score scale) but then extended the question to ask for an open answer, namely “can you give us your concrete explanation”. In round 2, the participants scored each other’s answers and explained their recommendations. This meant a profound dive into the matter after the closed-end questions in the original global engagement survey. For the second dialogue session, I selected a different set of critical questions from the survey. Some of these had scored really high, and some had scored low. I also wanted to learn why the high scores were achieved and how they could be maintained.

I personally came up with the questions for the third dialogue session. For the design of these questions, I held a brainstorming session with my team, and I requested the support of CircleLytics. During the second round of this new dialogue, the employees were once again given their colleagues’ answers from the first round to assess and explain their assessment. I had immediate access to the (qualitative) results directly from the dashboard and took these with me to the management team consultation in the afternoon.”

“During that third dialogue session, I asked them about their greatest concerns for the coming months regarding a certain topic. I wanted to know what their first order of business would be if they had my job; what they thought would make people listen to their needs better; and how we could strengthen the collaboration between teams within Philips.”

 

Implement concrete actions: faster and better informed

“The dialogues’ results were not shocking; the most supported answers were already known (or at least to me). This dialogue enabled me to gather the evidence to prove that the answers were also most supported by my team. The CircleLytics results also show the answers with the least support. That is also helpful information: when making decisions and weighing options, you want to know the risks.

However, actively asking for people’s opinions and having those people contribute to the solutions has been a very positive experience. Their feedback on the CircleLytics Dialogue clearly showed that they appreciate the time we take to engage in a dialogue with our people. I now have a new role within Philips, and the challenge for my successor lies in linking these outcomes to concrete actions. From there, he can also engage in more dialogues with the entire team to ask for more in-depth information, monitor and adjust issues, and present new challenges to the group.”

 

Balanced team vision

Truly listening to your team is invaluable. I discussed the dialogue sessions and the results with my supervisor. If you use the dialogue more frequently, raise concrete topics, or ask questions relevant to the team, you will also get more balanced solutions. You actively gather the expert knowledge of the team members, creating a substantial collective mental capacity. The dialogue will lead to a broader team vision; it enables people to think quietly, reflect on their previous answers given, and then share their feedback again. And that feedback often differs greatly from their previous opinion: they have gained more knowledge, and the tool cleverly captures that and applies it in the real-time dashboard.

When using certain techniques, such as live conversations, introverted people will often be reticent about expressing their opinions; others will dominate those conversations and not listen to others. In the dialogue sessions, we allow each employee to participate actively and appreciate the responses of others. In a continent like South America, with its more reserved opinions, the dialogue technique is an effective way to gather feedback. I highly recommend the dialogue technique; it has enabled me to make my decisions more quickly and better, with proven support and commitment from my people. It also actively asks for everyone’s opinion, which is a very positive development.”

Intrigued and curious to see how CircleLytics Dialogue works, creates value and can be launched within days? Plan your meeting instantly here.

 

 

Dialogue

Dialogue is indeed something else than a meeting, a good conversation or a pleasant gathering. Also, online is something else than sitting together in a room. Limited to a few people or a large group? Finish in an hour or time for slowing-down and reflection? What working methods do you choose? Do you combine working methods? In this blog we will tell you how we see it, bringing in our knowledge and our experience. Nobody wants a meeting culture anymore, and people are already looking for other ways of working than video conferencing as an alternative. Video is still a meeting, with the usual suspects, and that doesn’t feel good. On to a dialogue culture?

 

Dialogue or conversation? Is there a difference?

Yes, absolutely. A conversation is an exchange of all kinds of information. How are you doing? How is your project going? What have you learned? Shall we go through our presentation again? How shall we handle our conversation with the prospect tomorrow? You probably have these kinds of conversations and (video) meetings all day long with colleagues or a whole team. In our opinion, a good conversation or a good meeting is an effective exchange of information (preferably also an empathic one), where try to listen well and, for example, make agreements. A dialogue is something else, a very different, new way of working (even though the word dialogue is used all the time). You are in dialogue when you actively seek out how others see things, other than how you see them. You want to learn from this, and for others to do the same among themselves. Afterwards, you – or together with others – will arrive at new insights. Different insights and therefore choices than anyone could have imagined. Advancing insights and points of view; dialogue, that’s hard work! Limiting the group size is an easy trap to fall into: you might think that the more people, the more possibilities of each person interacting with others. Of course, and you’re right. That’s the beauty of diversity of thoughts and increasing the group size. Don’t back off you, dialogue requires this high intensity of interaction. And yes, you need technology for scaling up dialogue instead of falling back on old habits of “keeping the group size low to have an effective meeting”. The power of effectiveness lies in the dynamics of true dialogue and including a wide diversity of thoughts. Not a limited set-up.

So far about the dialogue.

Now something about ‘sitting in a room and seeing each other for an hour’.

Seeing is often very pleasant. It is personal. You can also talk about your holiday, work-related gossip about your boss, something fun that you experienced with a client the other day, etc. That personal touch is important for mutual relationships. You get to know each other better and can come to appreciate each other more. This is difficult online. In other words, you would like to keep that personal, that relationship side. But then those other sides, which are a bit less fun …. And they have such a strong impact on the content, on the involvement of people who are not there, on the quality and support of decision-making…

The other side …

A room is limiting

Every meeting room, including the virtual meeting room of Teams or Zoom, is limiting. You can’t just have a discussion with dozens of people, let alone a real dialogue, because then you ‘have’ to listen to each other, and above all learn from everyone, and together come to (completely) new insights and choices. The space of physical or virtual walls limits your possibilities. A group of 5-15 people is often the maximum for such a way of working. And you’re missing a lot of people; their ideas, their experience, their knowledge. This could be a choice; maybe you just don’t want everyone to be able to contribute, or you are afraid that too many people will make listening (and learning) more difficult. Or you are afraid that too large a group will lead to chaos. Valid points if you’re not familiar with new technology, but those types of working methods dó lead to limitations. The question is whether you want that and whether it can be done differently. The latter is a resounding yes. The Future of Work has long since begun, and digital transformation is already having an impact on how we work (together) and how we can better connect with each other. Whether you want it to be different, however …. is up to you. Did you know that larger groups are up to 60% more intelligent than the sum of individual intelligence? And 20% more creative if the group is more diverse?

 

That clock

It ticks by…. An hour passes quickly, as does a workshop. And yet you would like to be in true dialogue with the whole group. Time to listen, time to reflect, time to learn, and time to come to a supported new choice or idea: all this is quickly lost, what remains is a so-called ‘good’ conversation, a meeting. Another one. Especially the organizer is happy afterwards: we stayed within the time limit because “we don’t want a meeting culture”. The participants themselves leave frustrated but also relieved. Afterwards, they go into dialogue together, or the next day, without that clock ticking. But also without you. So you just don’t know what you’re missing. Literally. And that’s what you’re going to have to deal with along the way. Or they go into sabotage mode: all kinds of light and heavier forms of resistance manifest themselves: from responding late to e-mails, not doing exactly what is asked, whipping up sentiment etc.

 

Night’s sleep

Remember that everyone’s brain needs a night’s sleep and will think about the issue differently the next day(s). You cannot achieve this with a (virtual) meeting. You would prefer to phase your meeting, to keep it in steps so that everyone can come to their senses. Iterating, in other words. By slowing down you can then speed up more intelligently. Our brain has a fast and a slow thinking phase. We will come back to how the CircleLytics online solution approaches this.

 

Social influence

Whether you like it or not. People are sensitive to other people with positions, status, power, unpleasant manners, not listening, or who dominate a work format such as meetings. And even if you say: “now please let someone else speak” or “I would like it if we let each other finish”, the tone is set. The tone and social factors influence the result. You run the risk of thinking you have support after the meeting and making weak decisions that cause discontent now or later. Don’t forget that as a manager, you pay their mortgage and they don’t just protest, not directly, if they are not involved, or not taken seriously. When these things accumulate, they become less satisfied, they start to resist. Then they tick it off somewhere on a study by HR. Or vote with their feet when an opportunity arises. Did you know that 30-50% of employees actively seek a new job? Did you know that many ‘departure statistics’ are already well over the top? We learn another perspective on social influence from the following quote, which is about the emergence of consensus in a meeting and the decrease of diversity in the dialogue, with a vulnerable result as a consequence:

“Group discussions, thinking that if you bring a group of people together, those people will tell you their point of view in an honest way. But there’s substantial research showing that that isn’t what happens when a group comes together to discuss anything. Anyone who’s been in a meeting has seen this. Once consensus starts to form, it generates its own momentum. It’s like a snowball that turns into an avalanche of consensus. And at that point, people no longer offer up their true perspective. (Annie Duke in Strategy+Business).”

It can be done differently….

First, a calculation

How many changes and choices are there in your organization that you want to put your heads together for? Do you want to understand together, list the options, make decisions and get on with it? 10 times something big per month?

Let’s say you have 3,000 employees. To gain reliable insights and make decisions, you prefer to hear all their diverse opinions. Statistically speaking, you’re only doing a valid and representative job if you have involved at least 300 employees. With group sizes of 15 people, that’s at least 20 meetings. With 10 major changes/choices a month…. that is more than 200 meetings a month ….

From the perspective of employee engagement and diversity & inclusion, you would really want to involve everyone in issues that affect them. All 3,000 of them! After all, the more diverse and complete the group, the smarter the result and the more involved and inclusive it becomes. It is also enormously motivating to be able to dive into an issue. Did you know that? Is it the same for you?

This means about 3,000 employees, in groups of 15, 200 groups …. 10x a month…. a total of 2,000 meetings. So to get everyone involved in the really big things of the organization…. you would be holding meetings day and night. And how do you record, observe, combine, reflect? And how do you then learn from this? Our answer is: you don’t.

 

Can we agree that it doesn’t work? Agree that nobody will do this..

That is why organizations fall back on the familiar: a few groups, some workshops, unclear composition, limited time, no reflection, and often the same people talking … But manageable and recognizable … employees are not happy and inspired by that. They prefer to co-create and to get their teeth into something. Being useful, being wanted, being recognized, being seen. That’s good, because if they want to and you want multiple perspectives and insights to make better decisions…. 1 +1 = 3, you’d think?

 

Now for the dialogue as a working method

Dialogue requires you to look for other perspectives and rethink the issue. Together. Preferably with as large a group as possible. Inclusive. Diverse. CircleLytics Dialogue can be used as a working method for groups of 10 to 100,000 people. For the participants it is mutually anonymous, so they can speak freely in the absence of hierarchy, and in the absence of social influence. These are preconditions. The book “Over Dialoog” (about dialogue ed.) by physicist and philosopher David Bohm is worth reading. By the way, did you know that in this book, he describes that the minimum number of people needed for a dialogue is 20? This increases the chance that you are with people who fall outside your immediate team/project group and have different opinions from you, which is necessary: only other opinions are different. Sounds logical.

 

The dialogue is held in two rounds and lasts a few days, so they are free to think, reflect, sleep on it. That means that today you can approach your 3,000 employees from the example with (open-ended) questions that truly matter, challenge them and involve them transparently in difficult topics. They get to work online, anonymously. The first 100s of answers and ideas roll in and the days after that it continues. A few days later, via a unique 2nd round, they reflect on each other’s anonymous answers: they rate them and enrich them with their own words. This arrives in real time bundled within days, and ready to use in order of ‘most favourite and why’ in your dashboard. Ready to walk the talk!

 

What are the benefits such a dialogue?

Firstly, speed. A (video) meeting, workshop or digital pressure-cooking session delivers fake speed. By slowing down via 2 rounds, as we do, and giving participants a few days’ time, people think better. Those few days of delay deliver unprecedented benefits later in your decision-making, in the knowledge that you have built a strong support base. Because that’s what you do: build support. You gain support by questioning all the people who are relevant to the issue, or vice versa: who is affected by the issue? People feel involved, they actively participate, and say what they really think. This will truly speed up the implementation of decisions, changes and plans.

Secondly, reliability. The technology helps to process all the data quickly and without error, cluster them. This is to register a change of thinking, how they reacted to each other’s opinions. Everything is in real-time. No manual work. No human errors. No subjective processing of data. You can build on the results of the online dialogue and follow up with decisions. Instantly.

Thirdly, diversity. By collecting so many perspectives from people and letting them learn from each other’s perspectives, you will maximize diversity. This demonstrably benefits your result and reduces risk by up to 30%. It is the different ways of thinking that make decisions so good. Thanks to the structured CircleLytics Dialogue in 2 rounds, there is no longer any risk of your or someone else’s prejudices creeping in and causing you to make mistakes.

diversity of thinking

Towards a culture of dialogue

By setting up these kinds of interventions with the relevant, largest possible group for different subjects, you – as an organization –  will become intelligent, self-learning and quick. You will become more successful as a network organization. Employees are not an organizational chart but a living network. Compare it to your brain to which you are constantly asking questions: from “can I cross here” to “how to react to a new situation”. Together, employees are one big brain. Don’t switch off a part, because you don’t know what you are missing. Your brain, your network of employees know whether they can contribute. They work in your organization on a voluntary basis and can find other work today: give them some credit: they know and see so much!

 

CircleLytics Dialogue can be used for 100s of situations and topics, such as:

– Co-creation: organizing brainstorm sessions and co-create with any group size and get the most creative results together within days to a maximum of 2 weeks.

– Conducting meetings: ask the relevant, largest group questions and then immediately ask for recommendations and the how/why.

– Continuously adjusting the execution of work/decisions: asking for feedback and feedforward on changes, projects, product launches, etc.

– Management or CEO (lunch) meetings or the Works Council: first make sure you know the concerns of the relevant group of employees, opportunities, obstacles and the questions you want to ask them.

– Taking decisions: present dilemmas, bottlenecks and choices and quickly come to well-founded decisions together

If you want to know more about designing solid, open-ended questions, download our White Paper here, containing 18 principles for designing your own questions. It will help you in dialogues, interviews, workshops and maybe even at home…

 

Do you combine the online dialogue with offline?

Yes, certainly. Many organizations combine online co-creation with offline meetings for decision-making, project design, budget allocation, and many other things. The enrichment is huge. After the offline meeting, the large group can be re-engaged to organize participatory decision-making and later to monitor and adjust change processes, i.e. continuous improvement. We call such a dialogue culture an expression of distributed leadership and benefitting from hybrid intelligence. Co-creation and dialogue makes everyone – individually and collectively – co-leader of a problem, of the solution, of decision making and of successful implementation. Ready for the Future of Work!

Intrigued and curious to see how CircleLytics Dialogue works, creates value and can be launched within days? Plan your meeting instantly here.

 

gemeente burgerparticipatie

According to Harry te Riele of TransitieFocus, if there is one party that will gain ground in complex decision-making in the coming years, it is the citizen. For the Energy Vision for the municipality of Tilburg, he and a team of professionals relied on wisdom of the crowd, or collective intelligence, also known as co-creation. The knowledge and vision of one and a half thousand residents provided food for thought for a select reflective group. In this blog, He explains why the Tilburg municipality decided not to use the citizens’ informal council (focus group of up to 1,000 people, based on a drawing) as originally requested. Some advantages and disadvantages of the hybrid construction, of online and offline dialogue, are discussed. Finally, he advises the public administration to experiment with this new participation-construction.

 

Involving citizens – betting all chips on focus groups and townhalls?

In the Netherlands, climate debates and environmental discussions have increased the call for the involvement of ordinary citizens in complex decision-making processes. The term citizen consultation is often used in this context. In some cities, this has unlocked the creativity and ownership that decision-makers have been looking for. Certainly, when board members assured the participants that their input weighed heavily in the decision-making, groups started to work seriously. So, should we be betting all chips on the informal citizens’ council or other versions of focus groups and town halls?

No, that’s not a wise thing to do. As we have seen in other transitions, a long period of variation and selection is now beginning for ‘decision-making’, which will probably eventually lead to a transition of public administration. He himself thinks that the next step is the use of the crowd, of a group size without limit, where everyone can share their thoughts, participate, and listen to and learn from each other.

 

The system is stable as long as it is supported – what about representative democracy?

Let’s go back to the basis. Every social system has disadvantages. If you build a house, someone else cannot walk their dog there. If everyone puts a lock on their bicycle, people lose their keys every day. If a country uses natural gas, it will experience burns, explosions and earthquakes. If you give cars free reign in the city, it will immediately become inaccessible for playing children and the elderly who are suffering from dementia.

Regardless of its scale, a system remains dynamically stable as long as people feel its advantages outweigh its disadvantages. It is reaffirmed every day – repeatedly deployed, repaired and brought up to date with limited modifications. Once, every now-familiar system was an innovation. It fought its way in and became a factor of significance when it scaled up. Society adjusted to it and gradually people became so familiar with it that they no longer realized the disadvantages, nor the doubts and sometimes fierce discussions when it was introduced. They only surface again when the system is changed – sometimes generations later.

For example, as the electric car scales up, many are noticing that it requires 70% less maintenance, can be powered by solar energy, accelerates faster than petrol, is quiet, clean and can be updated remotely. It communicates with other cars and infrastructure, bringing relaxed travel and far fewer deaths within reach. The time-honoured dealer network proves unnecessary. The new construction for remote mobility is no longer a collection of rods, pistons, diesel and V-belts. It is a computer with wheels that, for the first time in a century and a half, does not smell and that you can park in your hallway if necessary. And yes, even the electric variant has its drawbacks, but the advantages outweigh them – at least in the perception of a rapidly growing group of people.

Reading all of this, how is our democracy doing? Which of its drawbacks did we forget long ago? Te Riele has a go at it.

Dialogue with citizens

Emancipation of citizens was also foreseeable in decision-making transitions

It is well known that citizens and residents played a role in the Dutch urban renewal in the 1970s and 1980s and in exposing environmental scandals. However, involving citizens in transitions – major social system changes – was virgin territory when the Ministry of Housing, Spatial Planning and the Environment (in Dutch: Ministry of VROM) published a research / position paper: Een Wereld en een Wil/NMP4 in 2001. After that publication, the ministry asked Te Riele to link substantive transitions to decision-making itself. The answer was a vision in which they criticize how triple helix networks bring together scientists, entrepreneurs, politicians and civil servants for decision-making on transitions, but not those who are actually at the heart of the matter: ordinary people and their ability to stand up for a nice life. To make the foreseeable systemic changes towards sustainability run smoothly, they proposed 21 years ago to give ordinary people (‘citizens/consumers’) a full place in decision-making on transitions. For them, the question is not if but how.

The ministry of VROM, however, was eliminated. The strategists behind the NEPP4 dispersed to other ministries and the EU and their plea for commitment to system innovations came to a halt. Along other lines, however, visions, experiments and publications on linking ordinary people to governance grew worldwide. Smart Cities were combined with IT. Countries such as Singapore, Spain, Canada, Taiwan and Norway formed the leading group. In the Netherlands, however, IT did not play a special role in the recent deployment of citizens – think of local energy debates and area visions.

Back to the municipality of Tilburg.

 

Tilburg’s Energy Vision: “We are thinking of a citizens’ council”.

When, in the spring of 2021, the Tilburg city council asks the Municipal Executive for more involvement of homeowners in their Energy Vision, organizing a citizens’ council is in the cards. The municipality is thinking of about twenty selected residents who will give their opinion on the Energy Vision and stay on until it is adopted in December.

With the (recent) “Malieveld protest”, the tractors on the highways, the occupied national institute RIVM and the threats on the internet still fresh in their minds, Te Riele and his colleague Esther van der Valk propose a different construction. They support a select reflection group with wisdom of the crowd, i.e. collective intelligence. Below are their arguments and how it worked out in practice.

  1. When things get grim, it is ethically irresponsible to have ordinary citizens deal with it. In the vision phase of the heat transition, our first argument against a citizens’ council alone is that there is hardly any social friction. This can change as soon as homeowners are obliged to invest. In the awkward situation that then arises, it is ethically irresponsible to have a small group of citizens deal with it, not to mention the political risk for the Municipal executive. They suggested that the municipality set up a – what was soon called – TilburgerTafel (Tilburg Table ed.) of twenty people to back them up with online dialogues based on open-ended questions and many citizens.

Per dialogue, many Tilburg citizens (they write: “preferably thousands”) anonymously answered questions about the Energy Vision. Their anonymized answers are passed on by CircleLytics Dialogue in small portions to other homeowners, with the request to rank them and provide comments.

No sooner said than done. After six weeks, the team was able to feed the TilburgerTafel with anonymized, ranked and supported responses from the first 700 Udenhouters, Berkel-Enschotters, Biezemortelers and Tilburg citizens, with top and bottom lists of most embraced and most rejected responses, as well as arguments for and against. This gives the TilburgerTafel a flying start and a fundamentally different one. In four months’ time, the group will meet six times to reflect on intermediate results, follow-up questions and fragments for the citizens’ advice. During the seventh, they will address specific dilemmas together with councillors. Members of the Tafel handed over their citizens’ advice on the spot in 56 large-format slides (see photo). A journalist from the Brabants Dagblad observes the strong group cohesion with amazement.

Meanwhile, fed by thousands of ranked answers and comments, the TilburgerTafel is much stronger in its advice. A high level of satisfaction among the participants in the online dialogue (8.5 on a scale of 10) further strengthens this position. When council members frequently quote statements and recommendations from the citizens’ advice in their debates, explicitly compliment the TilburgerTafel and unanimously adopt the Heat Vision, the participants will feel that they have participated in something worthwhile!

  1. Twenty people do not cover 70,000 households. Besides the ethical consideration, there is a second reason to use digital tools and collective and artificial intelligence. A citizens’ council cannot cover the diversity of 70,000 households, let alone in combination with the investment space per family, the basic attitude of the homeowner towards the entire heat transition and other peculiarities. With collective intelligence and CircleLytics Dialogue, this becomes easier. Diversity, majorities, minorities, clusters, deviating opinions, aversion to change in general; when using deliberately, open-ended questions you can get them to surface relatively easily. By larding the citizens’ advice with hundreds of literal answers, every subgroup feels seen, even if it is a minority and the council chooses a different route than it advocates. Decision-makers on their side get authentic material on their tablet or computer, with quality regarding process and content including a lot of spelling and stylistic errors. From now on, the policy can differentiate more precisely: by neighbourhood, income situation, house type, year of construction, psychological attitude, claimed autonomy and other key issues.

In order to get a feel for the deviation of the TilburgerTafel from the average homeowner, both responded to a few questions about the weighting of values. The TilburgerTafel turned out to be slightly greener than the average online participant and incorporated this awareness into its advice. From the very first Tafel meeting, a coordinator derived fragments for the citizens’ advice from the discussions. In the four months that followed, these became more complete, broader and deeper. The process progressed along three tracks: knowledge and trust between the members of the TilburgerTafel, regarding depth, breadth and design of the citizen advice and a growing relation between the municipality and eventually more than one and a half thousand participating Tilburg citizens, spread over the neighbourhoods of the city. Upon completion, the officials also have a list of residents who say they will become active in their neighbourhood for the Neighbourhood Implementation Plan.

  1. Draw does not automatically produce a group that solves complex problems. Those interested in the TilburgerTafel registered after calls in old and new media. From the sixty candidates, they chose twenty. Why did they refuse a draw? To reduce the risk that this group of 20 members is ill-equipped for complex problem solving. Whereas transition thinking at the turn of the century focused on frontrunners, it gradually became clear to Esther van der Valk and Te Riele that the dynamics of growth are strongly influenced by those who naturally feel at home in the upper half of the S-curve (growth curve). In other words: a transition goes as fast as those who do not want to grow. Smooth transitions require cooperation between people who are divided along the growth curve. This will result in better quality decisions. A decision that is supported by more people.

A second reason for not drawing lots is that people and matter are both important in a transition. A TilburgerTafel consisting of both people-attached and matter-attached characters covers the content of the problem as a group, as well as the social processes required to find a new direction. Here too, a small group runs the risk of missing this balance. In online dialogues in which 1500 Tilburg residents participate, these balances are not a problem and, looking back, we see this confirmed in the distribution of types of answers and comments.

Finally, Te Riele indicates that it makes a difference whether a group member is a specialist on a part of the growth curve or naturally has an overview of the whole, i.e. from creation through growth, exploitation and decline to dismantling. In a transition, all these processes occur simultaneously. As far as TransitieFocus is concerned, the TilburgerTafel should therefore have a variety of characters: 1) explorers and perpetuators, 2) people- and content-oriented characters and 3) specialists on the growth curve and generalists. Literature on complex problem-solving suggests that such a cognitively diverse group will produce faster and better results. From sixty applications, we formed a citywide group of twenty. Using playful introductory questions, we checked them at the outset for cognitive diversity. Years of experience with transition assessments are an advantage at such times, says TransitieFocus.

  1. The importance of open dialogues. So, a cognitively diverse group, strengthened by thousands of answers from three online dialogues with the city. Why did they ask open-ended questions in those dialogues instead of the more common polls and surveys? The answer lies first of all in the concept of dialogue. Dialogue is about learning from other people’s points of view and then rethinking your own. Dialogue is therefore about change. The Tilburg answers indeed show how large groups sometimes shift their opinions after reading 20, 40 or even more answers from others. By asking open-ended questions and allowing others to assess their answers, the city increases cohesion among thousands of people. In this way, decision-making progresses at this early stage. Polls and surveys do not do this. The literature on participation also points out that asking questions conveys an open attitude and trust – an essential feature of transitions in which various parties have to face the future together.
  2. Polarization is lurking. Back to the summer of 2021. As the TilburgerTafel progresses, it turns out that extreme answers – positive and negative – are judged by other homeowners as being of little use. As a result, the process did not become bogged down in deadlocks caused by flanking positions. The discussion runs through a nuanced midfield. Because of the absence of one moment and one place where ‘IT’ should happen (a meeting / workshop), the explosion of contagious enthusiasm that may characterize a citizens’ council may be lacking. Tilburg is more characterized by anonymity, tranquillity and time for reflection. Notifying the police, for instance, is not necessary. Officials, the council committee and boards are gradually warmed up with intermediate results.

Extreme answers do of course come in. The coordinator includes them in the advice as an illustration, but these extreme views do not hijack the discussion. Moreover, by making the thousands of answers and comments on them available to all Tilburg residents in one Excel file, everyone can check the choices of the coordinator afterwards. For dyslexics, a Word version is online.

Successful? Drawbacks? Ready? Future?

Was the test of Model Tilburg successful? Many think so. Is the construction without disadvantages? Of course not. It was a hell of a job. Everything had to be invented, the team made mistakes. Some of them could not go on holiday and because of the Corona pandemic almost everything had to be put online. Some members never met each other live.

Is this scalable? Yes, it is. However, in Tilburg, politicians and officials gave the team exceptional freedom and trust. I’m extremely curious to see whether Model T will work with other teams, in other cities and on other transition issues.

Is Tilburg ready now? No. The team saw the trust between parties grow. With a heat transition that will take decades, it is unwise to abandon the dialogue structure now that the global vision has been established. A long-term relationship of trust between the municipality and entering and remaining in dialogue with thousands of residents and the parties around them could prove crucial as soon as the transition lands on doorsteps. The future? If this innovation scales up, sooner or later it will rub off on the usual routines. If Model T succeeds in solving forgotten and new problems that our traditional representative democracy can barely cope with, the latter will be painfully curtailed. The outcome of that struggle depends on the wisdom of those who decide. Te Riele would personally recommend Model Tilburg to them.

Contact Harry te Riele or Esther van der Valk from TransitieFocus here or contact the CircleLytics team here.

(This is an adaptation of an article that appeared in the Dutch magazine Ruimte + Wonen, nr 1, 2022, published by Aeneas).

 

Agility

Stimulating curiosity and being open to other points of view

Cutting, pasting and making decisions. In a nutshell, this is what Mark Nijssen and his company De organisatieontwerpers do for organizations in the public and semi-public sector. Especially organizations such as municipalities, health and safety institutions, health and safety service providers, participation companies, etc. When the organizational structure changes, a lot changes in other areas such as teams, decision trees and processes within organizations. During this process, he uses CircleLytics Dialogue to collect the opinions of various stakeholders and to make people aware of the need to ‘look outside’, literally outside the organization, as well as outside their team, their department. In other words, different perspectives. It also shows whether a plan devised by the management team is in line with what the employees want or need: interaction between and balancing of top-down and bottom-up. With this information, he continues the process of organizational change. The accumulated involvement of employees and especially their valuable input is a wonderful starting point and increases agility.

Focus on participation and agility

Mark: “I like a participative approach. That is why I invite people within organizations to be curious about the outside world. This includes the principle of deliberately asking open-ended questions and inviting them to share experiences with colleagues. What do you see, what do you think, what moves you? I try to get organizations to take a conscious, broad look. That takes guts, because it asks for information inside and outside the organization and calls for action. The dialogue will give you the most appreciated answers (top 5) and the least appreciated (bottom 5). I share both, because you can also get valuable information from the bottom 5. This way, you can immediately see whether a well-thought-out idea is indeed well received within the organization. You can test and sharpen top-down ideas, but I also use open-ended questions to collect bottom-up ideas or images. CircleLytics Dialogue measures the sentiment on ideas and opinions of others. Everyone learns from this, and everything is ranked in order of importance, support.

 

I regularly receive requests from organizations that have implemented a change in strategy, or that have issues regarding cooperation. Of course, a management team already has a certain idea, but it is important to test whether this also fits with the needs of the organization and its employees. As management team, having tunnel vision is a pitfall, so it’s important to stimulate curiosity and gain knowledge from your own employees.

 

Dialogue is not just about gaining support for a decision. In the context of remaining curious, it makes sense to ask the employees based on their expertise: How do you see this situation? They have built up a lot of know-how. People who have been working for the organization for a long time can tell you a lot, but the fresh view of new people is also important. Talk to people who seem to be in resistance. Because often they are not – and sometimes they are – but they have valuable experiences and insights anyway. Ask them how they view the issue and listen carefully to their solutions. Through the online dialogue, you see a positive influence from groups that are willing to participate, to groups that are resisting. This is how you increase the agility of their thinking: by letting them learn from the opinions of others. It really is a waste not to use built-up knowledge and experience within an organization. And it’s better to do it now than later when it’s too late, for example during the implementation, and they turn out to be right after all, or want to be…

Agile organization

Wendbaarheid Organisatieontwerp

Another aspect you need as an organization is agility. I recently published a book about this: ‘Organiseren op je Voorvoeten’ (organizing on your toes, ed.), in which I used the metaphor of a tennis player. You’re on your toes with an inquisitive gaze, curious about what is coming.  This is how you prepare for unexpected situations, which is what an agile organization does. I also mentioned dialogue in this book, precisely because it fits in with my vision of allowing everyone to participate. You don’t have to rely on assumptions; it’s even risky to ‘fill in the blanks’. With the dialogue, you can ask people directly. You can do so in a way that arouses curiosity and allows you to reach everyone at the same time.

By asking one or a few appropriate, open-ended questions, you will receive the right answers, with which you can continue the process. To get to that one question, I always use a design team. What do we really want to know? It’s important that we stay away from management language and that the question can only be explained in one way. In the context of agility, we often use the question ‘what do you see happening in the outside world that all your colleagues should also know? ‘. We then come to an open-ended and also concrete question in which they get a maximum of 220 characters to answer this question in the 1st round. This is how you can ‘force’ employees to answer only the most important things. In the second round, they can ‘go wild’ and score and appreciate the many answers from others.

Results as substantiated advice

The outcomes of dialogues are always input for physical meetings with the design team and management team. I use several dialogues within an organizational design process and the further along we are in the process, the more concrete we can ask about certain situations. The results do not stand alone, they are valuable within a larger and broader process that often leads to a plan for the organization. In addition, the results of the dialogue give us a well-founded advice, because we have given everyone the opportunity to provide input. This results in better-quality conversations, which in turn lead to a better-fitting end result. And more agility. That is why I have been using dialogue in my services for years and why I can recommend it wholeheartedly.”

Contact Mark Nijssen of the Organisatieontwerpers (The Netherlands).

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