The magic of good process design

Patrick Frick
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Many participants at the Young Global Leader events comment on the seamless nature of their experience, but I have rarely had a conversation about what it took to create it. The fact is that conversations about the nuts and bolts of process design and facilitation are still rare – too rare, in my opinion.

As a member of The Value Web, I have had the privilege to work with the Forum for the past nine years. During that time, we have co-designed over 300 stand-alone events or sessions with over 15,000 participants using proven methods of process design and facilitation.

Though it is rarely visible, named or understood, there is actually method to the magic.

Put in simple terms, process design reflects the simplest ambition of facilitation: “to make easy”. By managing the physical environment, processes and technical systems surrounding the participants, process designers remove barriers within the boundaries of the event to allow the participants the neutral space to explore ideas, focus on potential solutions and reach a plan of action.

The greater ambition of the process design team is to encourage every organization, community, city, country or multistakeholder initiative to make sense of the complexity of the challenge, and then to design higher-order solutions to better the state of the world.

In that role, we often act as an impartial transition manager from one state of being to another: keeping one foot in the existing world and the other in the emerging. Ultimately, being a process designer and facilitator means becoming an enabler of positive change.

What makes this craft difficult to talk about is the fact that the nuts and bolts of a well-designed process are invisible; the team of facilitators go largely unnoticed, allowing the participants to focus without distraction. This is the reason why, from the vantage point of a participant, the experience might look seamless and even effortless.

The methodology behind the magic stems from a rich body of knowledge that has its origins with Matt and Gail Taylor, who were experimenting with these new ways of working in the 1970s. In 2006, they wrote together with Todd Johnston a visionary shift paper that put words to the transition we are living, from a knowledge economy to a creative economy.

I believe that one of the key shifts mentioned is the move away from standards, rules and regulations that are imposed at the start of a process, often becoming static. Rather, it is patterns, principles and relationships that create standards evolving and shifting with new context.

Navigating the complexity of the creative economy makes process design and facilitation an essential craft, and collaboration an essential way of working.

However, until the craft of process design is more widely practiced and understood, El Nacho* can best represent the magic of a design challenge solved with collaboration. And his example is a good reminder that if you can´t have fun with a problem, you´ll never solve it!

*A note on El Nacho:

Summer 2012, The Value Web joined the Forum of Young Global Leaders for their Annual Meeting in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.

The problem – compete with a stunning, sprawling beach resort for the attention of 300 Young Global Leaders (YGLs).

The design challenge – design a signal to gather and focus the creative power of the YGLs on the next task, and the next and the next; introduce a signal that is unmistakable without being annoying.

The solution – a team member dressed up as El Nacho (a famous Mexican wrestler)! Leaping into action across the resort’s beautiful grounds, El Nacho became a playful and funny invitation to return to the conference centre. And guess what? It worked!

Author: Patrick Frick is a member of The Value Web and is a partner of Social Investors. Special thanks go to Alicia Bramlett, who helped with the writing of this blog post.

Photo Credit: YGLs at the YGL Annual Summit 2012 in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.

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