• Home
  • What partners say

The advisors of The Growth Lab (TGL) have years of experience in improving team and organizational performance. With data-driven and people-oriented insights, they transform employee experiences in a way that also positively influences customer experiences. Particularly with strategic change tasks, it is important to involve employees as much as possible in the change. They use various methods for this. Increasing the well-being and involvement of employees is leading in their projects, says Bas van ‘t Eind, partner of The Growth Lab. Van ’t Eind: “Happier people deliver better services and successful changes. How do you keep employees happy? We investigate under what circumstances people work, how they work and we actively involve employees in change processes as much as possible. We focus on employee satisfaction. If they are happy in their job and do not become overburdened, it will have a direct effect on the primary goal of the change project. And that works out well for everyone.”

Measurable, collective opinion formation with 600 teachers

The Faculty of Digital Media and Creative Industry of the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences has asked The Growth Lab to (re)assess the workload for teachers. To this end, calculation models are set up about, among other things, the workload. However, it is difficult to measure the extent to which these correspond with practice. The board and participation council of the university of applied sciences (sub-council) wanted to investigate this together with the more than 600 lecturers in permanent employment. They then enlisted the help of The Growth Lab. Van ’t Eind: “In the past, the board and the district council consulted together to arrive at the new calculation model that indicates the task load. Then it was implemented in the organization. But because so much has changed at the same time in the forms of education, the roles of teachers, the organization and teamwork, a new approach is needed.

Schedule your appointment or demonstration here to find out how the platform and dialogue advance your goals and people together.

Actively involve supporters

We have advised to exclude the bias of each person, and to avoid decision-making being determined by a small group, of which you do not know whether they represent the entire group. We advised that the entire constituency be involved in thinking about the issue together. In other words, active involvement of the collective, which is what The Growth Lab stands for. Teachers – just like any employee – certainly need to express their opinions.  The challenge is, you don’t get that many lecturers together in a room, if that is even feasible from an organizational point of view. And a video meeting with more than 10 people is already quite a challenge. Often in plenary, inhouse meetings, the most vocal attendees predominate and there is little time and space to collect good ideas and to really have time to listen and to reflect. An average survey form is also too limited: you don’t get the deeper, qualitative layering from the open answers and the validation of the results is missing. After all, something that is mentioned the most does not mean that it has the most value according to the group. Participants have not listened to each other’s answers, so you don’t yet know what they think of the answers of others: better or less good than their own? In addition, we also notice a survey fatigue among employees in general and a need for dialogue. At The Growth Lab we use different working methods and we have now used CircleLytics’ online, asynchronous dialogue twice at this faculty. The most supported contributions, those that receive the most support from others, determine the result. But also the contributions that are most rejected by the rest provide indispensable data for smart analysis and decision-making.”

Frank Kresin, dean of the faculty: “Turner and The Growth Lab have broken through an impasse that had arisen in recent years. We are pleased that with their help we have found a supported solution for the complex problem of task load.”

Successful online dialogues

The CircleLytics Dialogue consists of two rounds. In the first round, a number of questions are asked. Participants answer these (mostly open) questions. In the second round, participants are invited to rate the answers of their colleagues. They each get to see different answers from others, which are also as different as possible. This really increases the diversity of the dialogue and everyone’s thinking. After this, it is immediately clear which proposals or ideas are warm to the heart of the majority of employees and which are not. This anonymous dialogue can be completed at any time during a number of set days. Van ’t Eind: “The board and district council initiated this dialogue. We used the dialogue to identify the requirements that the new system for determining the workload had to meet. In this working method, employees are really given the space to share what they think of something, they learn how others think about it and they are therefore allowed to think about it again and make choices. The outcome of the dialogues was a success: 200 teachers contributed to answering these questions and collectively gave thousands of appreciations to the answers of others. That is a response of 33%, which is unprecedented for an online tool at this organization.”


Ask the right questions

Van ‘t Eind continues: “Most of the work is in preparing for the dialogue. Asking the right questions will provide answers that you can move forward with. In order to arrive at the right questions, we held various design discussions with stakeholders. This is how we came up with four open questions for the first dialogue.

It immediately became clear that some terms used are not known to everyone and we were able to respond to this. Participation in the second round shows that teachers like to join the discussion and build on the ideas and opinions of others. Ultimately, this makes the answers more complete and specific. Exactly the intention of the dialogue on this issue.

In the second dialogue we presented proposals for improvement to the teachers. The reactions help us enormously to fine-tune the design to what is important to the teachers. ”

Also read what other organizations in education achieve with CircleLytics Dialogue, such as Salta Group: “Participants have a few days, so you do not have the rush of a focus group, but you do have the proverbial night’s sleep, which is necessary for reflection. That reflection on our questions and reflection on each other’s (other) answers (and scoring up/down) guarantee in-depth and validation. They are also allowed to change their closed scale if they wish and a high percentage do so. Unlike surveys, you therefore get high reliability .” Read more here.

Learn from each other’s differing answers

As expected, the answers were mixed by AI. However, because the participants in the second round could judge the answers given, The Growth Lab got insights into which answers received the most support or least support, and why. Van ’t Eind: “Only because of that validation process, can I interpret the answers properly, not because a word is mentioned a lot. The second round makes this dialogue a guideline for coming up with supported advice and you also learn from people what they reject and why. The open questions also gave us answers that we would never have wanted or dared to ask for in closed questions. We also got some very good ideas from these dialogues.


Structured, people-centered working method

My biggest concern with the project was not so much the content, but much more how we could achieve a supported result. No one likes fake democracy. It will work against you later on and will lead to resistance and loss of involvement. This has been prevented with the use of dialogue. The evidence is on the table. These are reliable, data-driven results that you can back up. Our client sees the added value of solving complex problems together in a fast, structured way. However, it is always important to determine the timing of the dialogue in the process, and how you design the questions. The dialogue is easily scalable and can also be used for very large populations or in smaller parallel sessions to run multiple asynchronous workshops for example. This working method is an enrichment of our toolset. We have now used the dialogue fairly early in the decision-making process, but you can also use this working method to monitor and make adjustments during the implementation phase.”

Creating reliable support

The client is very pleased with the use of the online dialogue. Gerald Stap, chairman of the faculty’s sub-council: “Thanks to the contribution of The Growth Lab and Turner, we as a sub-council gained a better insight into what our lecturers think of this complicated issue. Questioning the teachers was important to the project in order to identify the question behind the question and thus address the actual problem rather than just the symptoms. This made it possible to convince management and steering group of possible and feasible scenarios. (You can listen to a podcast about the project here.)

Because the lecturers are involved in this process (both during the questioning and the elaboration in working groups), this helps to create support for approval from the participational body.”

To learn more about The Growth Lab, one of CircleLytics Dialogue’s partners, click here. If you would like to speak with CircleLytics further and see a demo, click here and schedule your appointment.

Jan Vrencken focuses on integrated organizational development with MoJa Potential Activation. They detect and activate the true potential in the organization. Employees that experience a higher job satisfaction and work smarter achieve better results. This also results in more satisfied customers. Part of its approach is the CircleLytics dialogue that they have been using with their customers for about four years to collect input from employees and engage them at the same moment.

Vrencken: “With this approach you offer and get involvement from your employees and at the same time you create ownership of your company’s challenges and opportunities. You literally give the entire organization a voice within a few days to two weeks via the online dialogue, within the context provided by management and the current challenges. Ideas are delivered bottom-up and validated, so it is truly a joint effort. As an employer, asking the right question provides you with an amazing pile of validated, ranked insights, that you otherwise would not have been able to obtain. You can reach anyone you want in just a few days to weeks. One of the responses of a management team member to the results of a dialogue always sticks with me: ‘This is just a goldmine’. And he couldn’t have said it better.”

Inclusive approach

The dialogue consists of two rounds. In the first round, one or more questions are asked and in the second round, the participants evaluate the answers given in the first round from each other. Algorithms ensure that they learn from colleagues who think differently, and that makes them think a lot deeper and deal more consciously with the challenge you presented them. The management team of our clients is well aware that employees can make or break decisions. In other words: if employees do not understand, support and are not involved in the decisions and changes, you will hurt their commitment. Alternatively, now, you can involve them via employee dialogues, activate them, let them think along with you and thereby win their support and loyalty. Employees participate at their own time, from their own location, so simply during and between work. You can reach anyone you want in just a few weeks and listen seriously to what they experience, know, think and feel. This is a truly inclusive and collective intelligence approach.

Best wishes card

Recently MoJa Potential Activation deployed the CircleLytics dialogue with an mid sized company at the beginning of the year and they asked only one question: What do you wish your company for in 2023? Management wanted a better insight into what was going on within the organization, among the employees themselves. What topics do they find important? Why?

Vrencken: “In January, best wishes are flying back and forth, but what does that mean for every employee, those best wishes? What exactly do you wish and why? And does the management team also know what people need or do they make assumptions? And what decisions do they base on non-validated assumptions? An employee satisfaction survey is often mainly based on scores and individuals’ input, without you knowing whether the other employees see it that way as well or change their minds because of someone’s input. The single (only one) round of such old survey technology simply does not provide a basis for making decisions. And it is impracticable for members of the management team to speak to everyone face-to-face, let alone on a regular basis. You want the involvement that brings about personal attention, proximity. With an online (anonymous) dialogue you do get those insights and at the same time you feed a more positive spirit and culture.

Answers to that one question provide great insights into what people think, see and experience and where they want or find change necessary. This allows the management team to get to work immediately, for example for the new annual plan, a project or a bottleneck. After all, she knows where the accents should be and why. Within five weeks instead of five months you will have a strategy that you know employees want. After all, they contributed to it themselves. That is five times faster and a lot more effective.”

Voice from the organization

The online dialogue is a modern, meaningful working method for management teams, change managers and HR. In the first round, one or more questions are asked and in the second round, the participants assess the answers given in the first round. This makes it immediately clear which answers are preferred and which are not. In this way, the management does not have to think for the employees, because they retrieve answers directly. An example is that employees answer that one question: ‘What do you wish for your company in 2023?’. Other examples of questions are:

“What do you think is an important idea to ensure that [….] becomes successful?”

“How do you think ABC can best be accelerated?”

“What is your experience/tip that others could learn from to deal with the high workload?”

“What do you find most difficult to do in a good way at home instead of at the office?”

“What can managers in our organization do smarter or differently to increase job satisfaction?”

The CircleLytics Dialogue unique QuestionDesignLab helps to translate your challenge into solid open-ended questions.  You can also ask as an open + closed question in one or just stick to a closed scale question: the platform is this way a one-stop-shop and you don’t need a separate survey provider anymore. Vrencken: “We design a lot of custom work and tailor questions and the frequency of dialogues to the specific situation of the organization. For example, every quarter, you can present a smartest set of 3-5 questions to employees and cover this way a number of topics.”

Representative answers

Vrencken: “We always coordinate the questions in co-creation with the customer, but we ourselves have extensive experience with questions that challenge, inspire and encourage thinking along. Only with the right questions will you receive targeted answers that you are looking for and employees will learn from each other’s inspiring words. Because the results are reliable and representative, you can arrive at a higher quality of your decisions after those two rounds. The participants themselves are asked about their experience with the dialogue, and, as in the example above, the dialogue scored a 4.5 on a scale of 5. Important, because you want to do things that positively influence the experience of employees. Giving them a say and taking them seriously are two things, but make sure it’s done in a way they appreciate and find interesting. That creates high engagement ánd commitment.

Important to know: ask only a few questions, but very relevant ones. This creates focus and avoids employees being distracted by questions and topics that are beside the point.

A lasting gift

The dialogue gives a go-ahead for concrete improvement in the field of organizational development and the great thing is that these topics come from within the organization itself. Vrencken: “We will share the results in a presentation with the management team and we will elaborate on some of the most supported answers in the integrated way that MoJaPa works. It is of course great that there is such a high level of commitment from the staff. In the dialogue, they immediately indicated other topics on which they would like to explore and think along. A good time and a great springboard to continue and to use the joint knowledge and experience on these new subjects as well. With the results from the dialogue you have a data file from which you can define improvement processes in all areas that are supported by the organization. That is also what working smarter is about. Create time, increase efficiency and do the right things that contribute to the goal. The dialogue is rightly a gift that you benefit from immediately.”

If you would like to know more, please contact Jan or his colleagues. You can also schedule an introduction or demonstration with the CircleLytics Dialogue team.


Transform4C is an expert agency in sustainable development, transition tasks, circular economy and climate goals. The Sustainable Development Goals are their guiding compass. They believe that government, education and business play a major role in achieving those climate goals and building a climate-proof future. They advise and guide projects by widely sharing the lessons of pioneers and putting participants in action mode during an experience and afterwards through online dialogue.

Charlotte Extercatte, innovator and founder of Transform4C: “Achieving climate goals concerns us all. We shouldn’t just deliberate; we should above all look at what actions we can take. We aim to help accelerate those transformation tasks as a partner in the global platform of climate professionals ‘100 Months to Change’ (100MTC) which was launched in September 2021. Our goal is to inspire and empower 1 million professionals in their climate work to achieve the 2030 climate goals. This is going tremendously fast with major organizations committing and embracing our approach. These are the big employers of the Netherlands, who can make a difference.”

Experiences as an incentive

To this end, they devised experiences that are held in-company with open registration. The combination of the film screening of Beyond Zero during a 100MTC Experience and the concrete tools from the pioneers’ approach gives partners a feeling of ‘it can be done’. They experience an inspirational and motivational boost to accelerate in climate work.

Charlotte: “During premiere, we had around 700 people watching the film Beyond Zero. From CEOs and scientists to programme managers and students. We gave them a moment to organize their thoughts after seeing this film. We asked them the question: what concrete action can you think of that you can start today? By doing this, you can already generate 30% more action from participants, simply because you focus on what they plan to do. Asking questions stimulates curiosity.

Important role for climate dialogue

After such an event, people want a follow-up. The online dialogue plays an important role in this. A few days after the screening of the film, the participants were given a moment of reflection in a 2nd round of the dialogue. We confronted them and tempted them with the answers of others, to further stimulate their minds and make them think again. This works tremendously well! Ideas from others prompt you to revise your own thoughts, giving a much broader, richer experience. We call this dialogue a call-to-action tool. We want to draw attention again to that one good idea they named, and others also favour, or to encourage a decisive decision. Showing leadership in this area again leads to operational actions. We want to turn awareness into concrete actions. Climate work needs to be on the agenda all the time, so that every employee within the organization starts looking at how they can contribute to a climate-proof future.

We find that people are curious about what other people think. That is the first step of change! They also want to know relevant issues among the other larger organizations in the room. When using the dialogue, you get all kinds of ideas from the participants. Innovative ideas from the minority of participants in the first round also have a good chance of receiving the highest rating by the other participants in the second round. We desperately need this collective intelligence and learning from both ideas from the minority as well as the majority to get things going. When considered across multiple organizations, it yields special insights: who is more ambitious and why? What are the stakes, what are the actions of one organization and the other?

Climate accelerators

Before we send out the dialogue, we underline its importance to our client and the participants. We focus on what effect they want to achieve and, above all, how. The standard questions in our dialogue are: What is going well? What do you think could be done more? What concrete action will you take? How do you rate this on a scale of 1-10 and what affects you most? By the way, we came up with these questions in consultation with CircleLytics. We harness people’s brainpower best with open-ended questions.

From the dialogue, a top five priorities for our management team emerged – these are the ‘Climate Accelerators’. That top 5 is based on the most valued ideas and priorities within the participant group. We also give that feedback on the top 5 back to the participants. This close out is important. This is how they reflect on each other’s ideas and the data-driven results; it helps them stay in action mode.

With this programme, we challenge on the frontend while putting climate work structurally on the agenda on the backend.

Read what the Ministry of Health says about dialogue, validation and the difference with surveys

In company

With in-company programmes, we realize awareness across the entire organization. This means that different departments look differently at climate goals and the actions required to achieve them, and other departments learn from this, react to it, etc. It is important to first understand how everyone looks at the same priorities and which processes need to be adapted to implement those actions. So make sure you seek support and don’t just run after an individual idea without substantiation. Sometimes departments are diametrically opposed on an action because of different interests. Then it is important to see how they can still come to concrete action together, and how they can understand, strengthen and learn from each other’s actions and ambitions. Keep moving forward together!

Learning from each other

I used to work with dialogues on paper, which is time-consuming and labour-intensive. I also brought small groups of people together physically or sent survey questions for research. Now I can say that the impact is less in that case, because you only collect the answers. It is precisely that second round in the climate dialogue that is so interesting and determines what’s important and what’s not. It also gives participants insight into what others are answering, so they learn a lot from each other. Everyone becomes smarter, more aware and motivated! That only increases the impact.”

Pioneers in the Netherlands

We’ve now had 8500+ participants in our programme. Partners and experts who have committed to the 100 MTC include Deloitte, Ernst & Young, ABN AMRO, KLM, Regio Foodvalley, Renewi, Skyteam, Museon Omniversum, PME Pensioenfonds, SWP, Savills, Boot, hieroo., Mourik, AmCham EU, Impact City. With 30+ partners worldwide, they have started preparations to deploy the dialogue internationally as well.

Charlotte: “We want to connect the forerunners, as this brings a positive acceleration in the transformation process. In doing so, we increase our impact thanks to strong partners, such as Nyenrode Business University, MVO Netherlands, RVO Duurzaam Door, PhiAccelerator and SmartWorkPlace. We also collaborate with 10 Places to be.

We share results from dialogues and our partners as much as possible, because that is how we learn to transform together. Change is not something you do alone. Turn on everyone’s (open) minds and make sure you engage in dialogue, stay in dialogue and keep making progress together.”

Curious to know what CircleLytics could mean for you? Schedule your demo or introduction here.



Deep Democracy Let's Connect Dialoog

Sandra Bouckaert of Bouckaert Deep Democracy Mediation & Coaching is an executive coach; she helps organizational teams & leadership teams in the profit and non-profit sector with collaboration issues often related to conflict, decision-making and communication. Sandra uses the Deep Democracy method and also teaches this method in training courses. She is an expert in dialogue and democratic and conflict skills with any group size, offline and online.

Sandra: “In 2018, I developed the Let’s Connect online dialogue. I used the dialogue mainly for teams within my client base, but then, during the height of the pandemic in 2020, I further developed the dialogue and services to make it available to more people within more (and also larger) organizations. In this scaled-up form, Deep Democracy becomes accessible to more employees than just the management team. Companies with 250 to 20,000 employees can purchase annual Let’s Connect subscriptions to apply the online dialogue method multiple times for specific issues that play within their organization. That works very well. We design the dialogues with them, in co-creation, work out topics and questions, and link the results back, with any follow-up actions that we will supervise.”

Deep Democracy: the minority’s voice is heard

Sandra continues: “When I start working with a client, I conduct an intake interview and then give my recommendations to tackle the issue. My advice is always custom-made. For example, a large entrepreneurial organization with more than 2000 members, and an employee base of more than 200,000 people, requested me to improve the quality of the decision-making process, and specifically to improve the negotiations for the collective bargaining agreements. This branche organization – FME – had previously used live panels and surveys, but found that to be insufficient. That’s why the online dialogue is so important. We worked on this together with the Academy for Organizational Culture.”

Curious? Plan your demo or just an exchange of thoughts with the CircleLytics team here.

Fast lead time and short lines of communication

“The entire process, from intake to reporting of the second dialogue, went very smoothly. Within three weeks, we had conducted two dialogues (with two rounds each).

CircleLytics provides the underlying platform for the Let’s Connect proposition. The platform is fast to deploy and delivers real-time results. These are delivered right after the second round and include the sentiments and support of the participants. As a team, we were able to deliver a lot of commitment and flexibility. It soon became clear that we were going to use two separate dialogues, one after the other. The content of the issue is very complex, and I had little experience with this topic. It is great to see that the consultant and chief negotiator quickly understood how the Let’s Connect dialogue worked.

In this respect, the dialogue reflects the people’s desires: they prefer to give their opinions in their own time, without being distracted. After that, they are extremely curious about what others have had to say. The two rounds provide time for reflection without social pressure; they allow your insight to develop by getting to know other perspectives. Minority opinions will have an equal opportunity to be seen and make the difference. It is a scalable form of Deep Democracy. Of course, it is important to find out which question you should be asking and how, to arrive at the right answers that you can use. That is something we are good at; in co-creation with the client, we provide quick solutions.”

Deep Democracy

Sandra continues: “This enables us to quickly start the dialogues. Each round in both dialogues consisted of three questions – the essence of the issues – that asked about job positions. The questions also included some scale questions. The combination of a closed and open answer in one question yields great results. For example: “To what extent do you agree with this statement […….] and above all: can you explain why?” Being able to learn from each other’s motivations in the second round and to distill the leading themes supports and accelerates the decision-making. The process works best when you first slow down and ensure that each (minority) point of view is given an opportunity. After that, the process really speeds up.”

A good preparation

“I recorded a short video message, to warm up the stakeholders and explain clearly what we were going to do. In this video, I told the participating organizations what the Let’s Connect dialogue means and how it differs from a regular survey (because they used those, alongside the dialogue, in the past). I also explained how participants proceed through the dialogue step by step. The scoring in the second round is self-evident but because it is new, it is best to explain the process. The innovative thing here is that in the second round of the dialogue, people can respond to the answers given in the first round. We also touched on that moment of reflection. We have compiled information texts, an article has been published internally, and the introduction mail for the dialogue was also carefully worded: it should be recruiting, to-the-point, with a tone-of-voice that suits the target group and conveys the message that their opinions are valuable.”

Read here also what Philips says re faster manager action, problem solving and dialogue vs survey.

Valuable and impactful results

The next step was to send the first dialogue out to 1300 people. The response was 29%. The client was enthusiastic about this response and about the substantive yield. The response was statistically very valid and representative. There were some new insights, and the client would not have wanted to miss out on these results for their negotiations about the collective bargaining agreements.

“In our reports, we show the most valued (top 5) and least valued (bottom 5) opinions. We used the analysis to examine the platform’s full potential, such as other themes or abnormal or special insights.

There was uniformity about specific points within the different profiles. If there is discord among the participants, the online dialogue will clearly show this. In most cases, the gap between the different opinions will become smaller in the second round. We also see that participants let go of their opinions and become convinced by the new views of others. The reports of these dialogues also show how the different subgroups (business sizes) have reacted, responded to each other’s opinions and inspired each other. The most and least valued opinions are immediately visible in an online dialogue.

The chief negotiator included all proceeds from the dialogues in determining and substantiating proposals that would be introduced by FME in
the collective bargaining negotiations on behalf of the members. This time with built-up support that was brought about by this new form of 
co-creation with its own members.

The participants found that the online tool was fast and very pleasant to use. They liked being able to express their opinions and said that seeing the comments of others encouraged them to reflect on themselves, which improved their involvement.”

The value of the online dialogue

Sandra: “Let’s Connect’s online dialogues can be used not only in business organizations but also in healthcare, knowledge organizations, government, education, the financial sector and in training. The experience with Let’s Connect within these organizations is that employers want committed employees who feel at home and can use their talents.

The Let’s Connect online dialogue increases employee engagement because people are not gathering frequently in physical meetings at the moment, especially in larger numbers. People are not just working from home; they had already been working remotely, from different departments and different locations, sometimes even different countries. This means that their contact with other-minded people was already limited. Working online, not limited by time or location, allows people to reflect on the opinions of others and reach decisions together.

As soon as you allow and appreciate minority thinking, by using the dialogue, you increase not only the cognitive and creative capacity of the entire organization or the support of decisions and the reflection on those decisions; the quality of the decision-making process also improves. Minority voices want to be heard, and if there is no reaction to their response, they will retreat or even demonstrate sabotaging behavior. Online, without time constraints or social pressure, people with minority opinions can be convinced to change. They will do so frequently because they learn from other perspectives, sometimes from the majority. It is remarkable to notice that the majority also does so and can even rally behind minority views. Through dialogue, they learn from each other. It deepens their understanding of the content and accelerates and strengthens the decision-making.”

Maurice Rojer, programmamanager Collective Labour Agreements at FME: “Before I decided to use Let’s Connect, I doubted whether it would be deployable in the short term. But I have found that the consultants and the online solution are extremely flexible and very customer-oriented. What we have achieved with the online dialogue is more involvement in the preparation of the input for the collective bargaining negotiations. The dialogue has provided early insight and support, which was of the essence in the negotiations. Let’s Connect was also helpful in getting a feel for what we already suspected was going on. What I liked the most was the deeper insight into members’ opinions and interests on the dialogue topics”.

And further, FME states: ” If we had not entered into this, we would have had much less sense of support for certain points of view and solutions. I would definitely recommend Let’s Connect to organizations dealing with complex collective labor agreement bargaining processes and decision-making processes. These collective agreements contain many different and often conflicting interests, while you still have to represent the collective as a whole. Let’s Connect enriches the insight with regard to support (and rejection) and feasibility of points of view and interests. We are very pleased that we consulted you (in good time) and entered into this partnership”.

If you want to learn more about Deep Democracy at-any-scale and what the Let’s Connect approach and dialogue can mean for your people and organization, please contact Sandra Bouckaert and her team.


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

Read here our blog over “Customer Case: Education: The Results of the Dialogue Truly Feel Like a Victory.”

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.

Curious? Plan your demo or just an exchange of thoughts with the CircleLytics team here.

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).



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.

Curious? Plan your demo or just an exchange of thoughts with the CircleLytics team here.

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…

Read here also our blog “The next step in employee listening is called dialogue!”

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).

Back to top
Close Offcanvas Sidebar