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Emergent Design. What Does It Mean?

Exemplary performers use the continuous flow of information as inputs to engage in productive iterations of product development: the exemplar, given the time constraints,  will repeat the process as many times as necessary in order to produce a “perfect product” …  Each of these iterations emphasizes further shaping of the product because of new information feedback.  Each iteration becomes a more and more efficient resource investment – perhaps half of the previous phase.  In turn, each iteration doubles the quality of the product or services. The exemplar becomes increasingly more efficient in resource investments and effective in results outputs.

– Robert Carkhuff, The Exemplar, 1984

On April 20 & 21, The Value Web, together with Tomorrow Makers and J.Fairchild, put on Waves and Memes, a two-day design workshop for Circle of Blue—an “international network of leading journalists, scientists and communications designers that reports and presents the information necessary to respond to the global freshwater crisis”—and its ecosystem to prepare for upcoming presentations to some highly regarded and seriously interested investor communities.

Waves and Memes marked the first time that people from each of these organizational components have come together to focus on CoB as an organization and, from this, design an engagement—content and process—to attract funding from specific, mutually selected  investors. What could the time with such an audience look, sound, and feel like? What does it produce in its audience?  How far up the development path could we take this in 36 hours?

Including The Value Web team, we had just over 20 people participating, with backgrounds widely dispersed from the fields of journalism, data, science, communications design and collaborative convening & ideation. We worked through a half dozen or so iterations of design – 3 in the first several hours and then progressively longer cycles with more breadth and depth as the process progressed.

After a 30-minute storming of a 50-year scenario time line, we played our version of the Glass Bead Game to draw out the individual talents, skills, passions, experiences, and concerns held by the participants.

Inspired by Alicia Bramlett’s telling of the Story of the Red Thread, participants took stewardship for  red threads that run through CoB as it is and aspires to be. These threads were identified as being integral to the organization and included meshworking, ecosystem, silo-busting, partnership, open, platform, template, accelerate, apithology, disruptive, story, trust and synergy, among others.

From here, we began getting heads and hands around the content and sequencing of the presentation, identifying organizational phase transitions and detailing a five-year period in which to shift the vector of how we humans think about, utilize, consume and preserve Earth’s fresh water away from its current trajectory of crisis, and towards long term health and resilience.

By mid-morning on the 21st, design teams had self-organized around 3 buckets of work: scripting the presentation narrative; articulating a five-year time line of progress and measures; and designing the organizational structures and processes. These were taken through 2+ further cycles of development and refining before wrapping up late in the afternoon.

Aside from accomplishing the specific outcomes sought by CoB, the event was also very  successful in bringing different experiences and perspectives together for a shared experience, and creating a new experience that, I think, will prove to be very valuable to the organization and community.

The Value Web gained connection with many wonderful and sharp minds. Personally, I got to spend several hours on Wednesday with Matt Taylor and Matt Garcia working through the description and visualization of organizational model, then got to know Russell Kennedy, Keith Schneider and several others of the Circle of Blue team over the course of dinner at Cha Cha Cha  in the Mission.

While I took on the front of the room facilitation and writing the various challenges and assignments, Kelvy helped the participants visually navigate a number of complex and interwoven conversations with her scribing and created a wonderful knowledge wall. The Value Web relied upon several of our friends to round out the support team including Jeff Shults (our host @ 1360 Mission and environmental magician), Ryan Romsey (videography, photography), Ellen Cohn (documentation) and Tania Fichtner (for all things production). I look forward to working with each of them as often as we can create the opportunities.

Oh yeah, and there was Eyjafjallajökull which lay to ashes Alfredo’s highly anticipated participation, along with that of several other would-be participants. Alfredo would not be deterred, however, linking in on video via Skype from Bologna, Italy, and producing a series of storyboards depicting the organizational history of Circle of  Blue.

On the design I worked closely with Gail Taylor, who brought in many of the module and sequencing ideas that played out. This event was a landmark for us in a relationship with Circle of Blue that began in March of 2009 at This Moment in Time. Over the course of the past year, we  have been invited into design with Carl, Eileen and others … listening, perturbing, reframing …  Wayfinding, as CoB has put it. It’s a tag we’re both quite happy to have.

~todd johnston

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