User Groups offer a safe space for experimenting with Liberating Structures

Why a User Group is an awesome place to learn and experiment with Liberating Structures

While facilitation is easy on the one hand, it is mightily challenging on the other. Thorough preparation is required while constant flexibility during the workshop remains necessary. With the Liberating Structures User Group Netherlands, we have multiple workshops in which we experiment (and fail) on a regular basis in order to find this balance.

In this post I’ll show you why this is an awesome opportunity to learn about, and experiment with, Liberating Structures by sharing experiences and insights from the ninth User Group workshop.

The purpose of Liberating Structures User Group Netherlands: “We exist to grow a community of people that use Liberating Structures by providing them with a place for joyful experimentation, personal connection and giving and getting help.”

Liberating Structures

Liberating Structures (LS) are facilitation techniques that allow you to unleash and involve everyone in a group — from extroverted to introverted and from leaders to followers. In the Dutch User Group, we practice the use of LS with experienced users and novices together. With over 700 members, we can state that there is quite some interest in these novel facilitation techniques.

Liberating Structures User Group Meetups

With the Dutch User Group, we organize monthly 2- to 3-hour workshops to practice and explore how to use Liberating Structures in a wide variety of situations. Most of these workshops are free, and announced using the Meetup platform. If you are interested in participating in one of our meetups, you can register on meetup.com and select which workshop (or meetup) you would like to attend.

Participants of Meetup #9, Dutch Liberating Structures User Group

Adjustments on the String of Liberating Structures

Some of the User Group Meetups are an ‘open space’ in which the attendees decide which topics are to be discussed. Other Meetups have a specific theme, prepared by a design team. During our ninth Meetup, we elaborated on the theme: “making an impact without being part of a team”. Together with the hosts from Bol.com, we formed a design team and crafted a string of structures that could be helpful exploring this theme:

Before we started we already knew that this string was challenging for a four-hour workshop: we selected too many structures. We also knew that Liquid Courage and Wicked Questions might need a bit more time since no one in the room had experience with facilitating these structures. This, in combination with ever emerging new insights during a workshop, was a guarantee for changing the string multiple times throughout the meetup. A few examples:

  • After listening very carefully to each other's experiences with making an impact without being part of a team, an energetic curiosity emerged about the way these impacts were made possible. So, we decided to switch Heard / Seen / Respected for Appreciative interviews;
  • We decided to provide more time for reflection on Improv Prototyping. At that moment, there was a lot of curiosity on how to use this structure in practice;
  • We chose to skip the UX fishbowl structure;
  • We experimented with the Wicked Questions structure on the spot, by adding 15% solutions as a last step. I’ll come back to this experiment below
  • We didn’t even think about using the optional 25/10 Crowdsourcing;

This clearly shows that we were adjusting on-the-go. And with ‘we’ I mean the User Group as a whole: everybody is free to share his or her ideas. Ultimately, it’s up to the design team to decide whether or not to change the string.

Participants from the Dutch Liberating Structures User Group Meetup at Groningen

A safe place for everyone to try and facilitate

During Meetups, the User Group creates a safe space for participants to contribute, experiment and facilitate. This is the thing I appreciate most in these sessions. Everyone is involved in one way or another: developing insights, giving practical examples or facilitating (new) structures. A couple of observations that made me think LS User Group Meetups provide a safe space for everyone:

  • During the Meetups, facilitating is done in pairs. This enables participants to discuss the structures they are facilitating on beforehand and provides everyone with a ‘backup’ when needed
  • The facilitators of Liquid Courage, Improv Prototyping and Wicked Questions had no experience with facilitating these structures
  • A first time participant facilitated Appreciative Interviews while she never heard about the structure before. With only 10 minutes of preparation time, she felt comfortable enough to step in as a facilitator
  • Everyone was asking questions, sharing thoughts and having fun
Meetup #9, Dutch Liberating Structures User Group

Practicing by ‘failing’ forward, an example

During the Meetups, we always encourage participants to learn by doing. This workshop, one of the participants facilitated ‘Wicked Questions’ for the first time, and improvised by adding ‘15% solutions’ to the mix. Looking back on the exercises, we found out that these structures are not necessarily a good match, because:

  • Wicked Questions is about exposing strategies that seem to pursue opposing results, not about generating solutions.
  • Wicked Questions is about gaining insights on a macro level while 15% solutions are about solving problems on a micro level, which made it feel like we skipped a step in between
  • Wicked questions are about exploring while 15% solutions is about concluding

These are valuable lessons learned, and that’s all the User Group is about. During the debrief, we found that Troika Consulting or Critical Uncertainties could complement Wicked Questions in a more fluent way. This is because Troika Consulting and Critical Uncertainties have an exploring character (just like Wicked Questions) before they guide participants to solutions.

Come to one of the LS User Group Meetups!

I really like to experiment and learn by experience. My intention is to share some of my insights and to encourage people to join the Liberating Structures User Group. The Meetups are free, the atmosphere is friendly and the learning is invaluable. Hope to see you at one of this year's Meetups!