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Finding Clarity: Practical tools for engaging more effectively in a complex world

8eb0387f354fd8a09690f059acd4a58f?s=47 Jeff Mohr
September 21, 2016

Finding Clarity: Practical tools for engaging more effectively in a complex world

Whether you call them wicked, complex, intractable, or just plain broken, we’re facing a lot of tough issues as a society. We can’t sit back and hope for the best. It’s up to us to work through the complexity and create thoughtful, sustainable solutions.

During this workshop, Jeff Mohr, Cofounder & CEO of Kumu, will share a handful of tools and practices that will help you wrap your head around complex issues and work towards more effective action.

Some of these include:

- Listening to the system, using stakeholder analysis and ethnography to see the whole picture

- Using a systems brainstorm to identify enablers & inhibitors and sort by beliefs, behaviors, and policies

- Building intentional networks and creating the necessary infrastructure to implement systems change

We encourage you to come prepared to hack on a complex issue you care deeply about.


Jeff Mohr

September 21, 2016


  1. Finding clarity Practical tools for engaging effectively in a complex


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  7. Our journey this evening

  8. We need a radical shift •  The challenges we face

    are only getting bigger and more complex •  Need to move away from “expert” models and linear approaches to problem solving •  Use tools & processes that increase our peripheral vision and help us understand what is driving current outcomes •  Do a better job avoiding unintended negative consequences when we do act •  Find ways to coordinate and align the actions of others
  9. “ ” Every system is perfectly designed to get the

    results that it gets. Dr. Paul Batalden
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  13. VS.

  14. VS.

  15. Let’s warm up

  16. Image  via  Donella  Meadows  Ins1tute  

  17. Image  via  Donella  Meadows  Ins1tute   Headlines Graphs/ Trends Causal

  18. Source:  

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  22. To recap •  Headlines tell us what is happening now

    •  Trends tell us what has been changing over time •  Causal maps help us understand why
  23. Exercise (6 minutes) In your groups, brainstorm examples of each

    of the below for your chosen topic: •  Events •  Patterns •  Structures/mental models
  24. Listening to the system

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  26. Steps in an ethnography 1.  Decide who to interview 2. 

    Develop an interview guide 3.  Go out and interview people 4.  Create an interview capture process 5.  Synthesize your insights
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  28. •  Syrian children & parents •  UNHCR •  Host country

    governments (Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon) •  Host communities •  Other NGOs working in education •  Community volunteers •  International funders •  UNICEF •  Public school principals •  Bus drivers •  Psychosocial counselors
  29. Go broad. Quickly get a sense of what is happening

    and key dynamics. Go deep. Unpack motivations and beliefs of each stakeholder group. Go extreme. More easily spot needs and work-arounds. Iterate. Use each interview to improve your list of stakeholders.
  30. Interview capture & synthesis Persona •  How would you describe

    this person in 3 words? •  What were they motivated by? What are their goals? •  What values and mindsets were hinted at?
  31. Interview capture & synthesis Relationships •  What other stakeholders is

    this person connected to? •  What value do they provide or receive from other stakeholders? •  How do they perceive other stakeholders?
  32. Interview capture & synthesis System dynamics •  How does this

    stakeholder characterize “the problem”? •  What role do they play in the system? •  What resources do they control?
  33. Exercise (10 minutes) •  List all the stakeholder groups you

    can think of that are directly and indirectly involved. •  Identify potential bird’s eye, ground level, and extreme stakeholders to interview. •  Write three interview questions you think might bring out helpful insights.
  34. Example questions Bird’s eye stakeholders •  If you had a

    billion dollars, what two critical success components would you focus on to ensure effective responses in the future? (perceived problem framing, key phenomenon) •  What is preventing that ideal from being a reality? (rules, constraints, system paradigms) •  If you were in my position, looking into this challenge, what additional questions would you be asking? Who is most critical to talk to? (problem framing, power hierarchies)
  35. Example questions Ground level stakeholders •  What are the most

    rewarding parts of your job? The most frustrating? (Motivations, constraints) •  What does your typical day look like? Who did you interact with most frequently? What types of decisions do you need to make? (Habits, resources) •  Tell me about a time when you had to make a decision or take action but weren’t sure what to do? How did you go about making that decision? (action repertoire, social network) •  Can you give me an example of success when you felt proud of your work? (Rewards, motivations)
  36. Syrian children & parents Care more about going to school,

    catching up on lost years, and finding normalcy through education. Host Country Governments Care most about securing international support/ funding; meeting the needs of their citizens in addition to refugees; maintaining quality public services for both groups International funders Care most about finding initiatives that support refugees where their contributions can have maximum impact UNHCR & UNICEF Care most about meeting the needs of refugees; finding implementing partners like MECI to deliver quality programming; and securing enough funding to be able to do so
  37. Brainstorming key factors and causes

  38. ” “ We must take care not to oversimplify an

    exceedingly complex and dynamic reality. This is a common mistake…resulting in a great deal of bad conventional wisdom. Larry Kramer & Daniel Stid, Hewlett Foundation
  39. enablers inhibitors

  40. Refugees' commitment to helping/volunteering Skilled educators in host countries Positive

    coordination among NGOs NGO experience & capacity to carry out programs Growing media attention on the issue Huge and growing number of refugees Poverty Restrictions around refugee employment Not enough financial support from international community / donor fatigue Safety Overcrowded classrooms Trauma
  41. hurts behaviors policies beliefs

  42. s   hurts behaviors policies beliefs what people think and

    value (attitudes, norms, views of other groups)
  43. hurts behaviors policies beliefs the actions people take (processes and

    skills of key people)
  44. hurts behaviors policies beliefs rules and structures (systems, institutions, rule

    of law)
  45. behaviors policies beliefs refugees' commitment to helping/volunteering positive coordination among

    NGOs restrictions around refugee employment
  46. causes FACTOR effects

  47. huge influx of Syrian refugees overstretched systems OVERCROWDED CLASSROOMS poor

    education quality resentment by host communities
  48. Exercise (10 Minutes) •  Lists as many enablers and inhibitors

    you can think of and cluster into themes •  Categorize each as primarily a matter of beliefs, behaviors, or policies •  Pick 3 factors that feel especially important and identify two causes and two effects for each
  49. Building intentional networks

  50. ” “ An intentional network is a network of people

    and organizations that are working on the same issue or vision, together with structures that have been created to mobilize the energy of the organizations.. June Holley, Network Weaver Handbook
  51. 1.  Align around shared purpose and values 2.  Know the

    stage of your network 3.  Act intentionally to strengthen your network 4.  Hold each other accountable to working like a network 5.  Wait to add structure until you need it 6.  Don't underestimate the challenge Read the full article at
  52. Guiding star. Shared desired future. Navigational tool. “Hawaii produces a

    quality of life that is sufficient and sustainable for all its residents.” Near star. Distant but foreseeable outcome. Next few years. “Oahu eliminates chronic homelessness.”
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  54. Strengthen your network •  Close triangles •  Spark micro-collaborations • 

    Cultivate a large and diverse periphery •  Create a venue to share learning
  55. Tap into local wisdom •  Find or create opportunities to

    gather and coach each other •  Find mentors •  Experiment Aldo de Moor CommunitySense
  56. Exercise (5 Minutes) •  Close a triangle by connecting two

    people you know, who don’t know each other •  Initiate a micro-collaboration (however small!) around your chosen topic
  57. Where do we go from here?

  58. Questions?

  59. Dank je wel!