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This past weekend (25-26 February, 2012), four members of The Value Web supported the Harvard Social Enterprise Conference (#SECON12), one of the world’s leading forums to engage in dialogue, debate, and expression around social enterprise. Over time, the Conference has become an arena to explore innovative ideas that challenge the status quo and inspire a call to action. The Conference is entirely student-run, jointly hosted by students from the Harvard Business School and the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. The objectives of the conference are:

  • To showcase innovative ideas, trends, and people within social enterprise to encourage better solutions to the world’s most pressing social problems;
  • To expand participants’ understanding of various disciplines and models within social enterprise, with an emphasis on sharing knowledge and increasing collaboration among conference participants; and
  • To provide a forum for practitioners to receive feedback so that they continually evolve their models to solving global social problems.
This is the third year that The Value Web has supported this event, and our contributions this year ranged from graphic facilitation to process design and coaching. We also led our first workshop at the event on process design and facilitation for more impactful meetings. The workshop was packed, with just under 70 people in attendance – highlighting the fact that this is an area that deserves much more attention in both organizational discourse, and in the classroom.
During the workshop, we asked participants to form small teams and share their worst meeting experiences ever. During our plenary dialogue on the topic, we were both appalled and amused at the anecdotes that emerged, and spent some time laughing and agonizing about the current state of affairs. Jodi shared some statistics with the group about the amount of time we waste in meetings each month, and the dollar amount attached to unproductive meetings (I’ll ask her to share those statistics here in a comment). There was clear agreement in the group that there is value in designing these interactions more carefully, and we gave as much context to our work, along with some practical models and useful tips, as we could in the short hour and fifteen minutes that we had.



Models we used during the Workshop

The first model that we shared with the group is MGTaylor’s Creating the Problem model. We used this to help frame our understanding of the problem, and shared how we generally go about identifying the creative tension that exists between the current conditions and our collective vision. We highlighted the fact that a problem cannot be addressed without first establishing an understanding of the current state and the desired state. Generally speaking, groups tend to move directly into their understanding of a problem, without having really taken the time to explore the cause and structure of the problem. We felt this model would benefit everyone in the room in that it requires us to examine and understand the problem as a result of the larger system in which it exists.

Another one of the foundational models we shared with the group was MG Taylor’s Scan Focus and Act model. We used this model to help the participants understand both how they can understand and frame their meetings (i.e. to simplify – is your meeting about broadening perspectives, focusing efforts, or moving to action), and how they can use it within the design of a session to help ensure that the groups’ thinking/reasoning processes move in a pattern of expansion towards a crystallizing focus and finally into decisive action.
Had we had more time we would have linked this model with the MG Taylor model of the 7 Stages of the Creative Process, which is an incredibly useful model to refer to both for understanding where you are in a creative process (and therefore what you need to be paying attention to), as well as understanding where and how problems may have emerged if you jumped right into engineering and building (for example), bypassing other critical stages. The model is inextricably linked to the prior two models, which is why it was such a shame that we didn’t have the time to explore it with the group. I would highly recommend following the links above to learn more about each of these models – there is a wealth of thinking on the MG Taylor pages – not to be missed if you are curious to learn more.
The other central point we shared with the group was that when framing a meeting, one frame to use in dividing up the design (in it’s most simple state) is to spend time uncovering and exploring the right inputs, the right environment, the right people and the right process. We briefly walked through each of these areas, and highlighted key questions to consider when pulling all the pieces together. We discussed the importance of environment, the psychology of space, the use of music, the value of visualization, the significance of getting the right people/voices in the room, the importance of uncovering assumptions, of setting the right design principles from the start, and of course, of choosing a design process that best supports the objectives of the session/meeting. As we were planning for and delivering the session, we were well aware of the fact that an hour and 15 minutes is not enough time to meaningfully convey all of this – but it did serve to whet the appetite of our team to deliver more workshops, and I hope it compelled some of the participants to further explore these ideas. The feedback we had emerging from the session was that there were very practical learnings that they could apply right away. As participants left we were able to give them beautiful handouts (designed by Alicia Bramlett) that captured the three key models that we discussed. We ran out of printed copies, but if you would like to, you can download the a pdf of the takeaway by clicking this link. 

Closing Thoughts

While our session was a wonderful opportunity to connect with the participants at the conference, we also were able to connect with individuals through the visuals we produced. Kelvy captured the keynotes with grace and insight, and Alicia spent the two days preparing an incredible 15 foot knowledge wall, using material harvested from twitter feeds (with the support of the Harvard students responsible for social media), and from panel managers (also students) who emailed salient points from their sessions. The graphics were, as always, a powerful way to engage people in the content in a different manner and to spark further conversation. These visuals provide a powerful record of an incredibly full two days. For larger images, click on the images below to see them on our Flickr site.

Opening Plenary with Kavita Shukla (Fenugreen), Taylor Conroy (Destroy Normal Consulting) and Lauren Bush Lauren (FEED Projects). Moderated by Daniel Epstein (Unreasonable Institute)

Panel Discussion with Bill Drayton (Ashoka) and Vanessa Kirsch (New Profit, Inc), moderated by Matthew Bishop (The Economist)

Keynote: Dr. Judith Rodin (Rockefeller Foundation)

Keynote: David Blood (Generation Investment Management)

Knowledge Wall (Click for larger image)

After having had a few days to digest all that took place during the conference, I am once again energized and enthused at the amount of activity taking place in the social enterprise space. The strength of this movement, if it can be called a movement, is clearly in the passion and energy those involved have for redesigning the way we do business, the way we affect change/achieve impact and the way we bridge the gap between the once-highly-siloed-and-now-increasingly-overlapping sectors. There is certainly no lack of innovative ideas and business models, and while the concept of social enterprise is continuing to spread like wildfire, there remain many challenges on the road ahead. The biggest challenge I can see lies in effectively connecting the individuals and organizations who are driving change to help them share and scale best practices, and to help affect public policy so as to create an environment that nurtures and fosters social enterprise. The Harvard Social Enterprise Conference is one of many events around the world that are trying to make headway here, and we’re very proud to be helping move the needle forward as best we can.


For images from the conference you can search for #secon12 on twitter, facebook and Flickr. There has been no shortage of coverage for this event!

View our full Flickr Album of the event:

Harvard Social Enterprise Conference 2012

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