Saturday, June 02, 2007

Experience in a Box?

This week we went to a meeting of a Swiss-based Knowledge Management Community of Practice called "Think Table". This one-day gathering was packed full of games, experiences, discussions on topics such as storytelling (Story Guide: Building Bridges Using Narrative Techniques" prepared by the Swiss Development Cooperation-their webpage has many other related free documents to download), facilitation (our contribution), monitoring and evaluation for knowledge management, and "rapid prototyping".

Rapid prototyping was a particularly interesting tool, and it fit in with our recent preoccupation with getting people at work to be thinking about their Learning Cycles. This tool presents an opportunity to go further with the experimenting/experience part of the cycle through actually building a process and then simulating and walking through the various steps, before documenting them more formally on paper after the experience.

Manfred Kunzel from the University of Fribourg presented the activity, asking four small teams to each construct the following scenario: "opening the door to sell black ThinkTables to schools in our community". He gave us each half a box of supplies, small blocks, game pieces, sticks, post-it notes, other representational objects, and instructed us to build and then simulate the various seps in the process. After our initial "what?" reaction, we got to the task, and the discussion which followed helped us move through the essential stages of both project planning and execution (simplify the task, organization and set up, exploration and modelling, develop the plan, and execution). Apparently you can build any process in about 40 minutes, although then it can take several hours afterwards to formalise the process (map it, write down the steps, assign roles, etc.)

I have one of the boxes on my desk now, and already have plans to use it (you could probably create your own box). I thought it was a brilliant way to get people to think about something they want to do together, agree on it, build it, and then practice how the various stocks (money, people, ideas) flow around their system. It doesn't replace real life, but sometimes you can't practice building a bridge, or running a Congress of 10,000 people. At least this way you can create that environment on a much smaller scale and then run around in your simulated environment, saying what you would say, going where you would go, and seeing what kinds of things you might run into on the way.