This note is posted on behalf of a group of LS practitioners heading to the LS Global Gathering in Seattle:
Hi fellow LS-ers!
Reaching out as 3 of us from Vancouver are coming down for the Immersion and Global Gathering with room for an addition 1-2 people in our Air BnB in the Queen Anne neighbourhood. If you’re looking for a place March 10-15 (or portion thereof), we would love to share space (and costs) with you! You can reach me at Zsuzsi.firstname.lastname@example.org.
For newcomers: Learn about and experience Liberating Structures as a way of engaging your students, colleagues, employees and team members in productive, purposeful, inclusive ways.
For experienced Liberating Structures facilitators: Explore ways to enhance your repertoire by learning new LS techniques and consider joining the Vancouver LS user group that meets frequently.
What are Liberating Structures?
“Liberating Structures (LS) are a growing collection of group processes and methods that make it easy and quick for members of any group to radically change how they interact and work together. Their purpose is to liberate energy, tap into collective intelligence, stimulate creativity, and get surprisingly better results by engaging people and unleashing the power of self-organization.” – Quoted from: Kimball, Lisa. (2009). Liberating Structures: A New Pattern language for Engagement. Available at: https://thesystemsthinker.com/liberating-structures-a-new-pattern-language-for-engagement
This post is by Tracy Roberts and was originally published November 1, 2018 on BCcampus.ca.
For the past five years, BCcampus has supported the learning and spread of Liberating Structures in B.C. post-secondary education. We have found Liberating Structures to be useful tools for folks working in all corners of our sector, including those who teach (online and face to face) and those who lead and facilitate teams, projects, processes, and change within and across higher education institutions.
Liberating Structures are fun and easy to pick up and start using. Anyone can get them (free, online) and start practising without formal facilitator training or certification (as co-founder Keith McCandless says, “there are no coloured belts” in Liberating Structures!), but they are serious fun. Beyond the promise of more lively engagement and participation in group activities, there are deeper layers and a foundation of intentionally chosen, well-articulated principles, theories, and perspectives. One of these is Positive Deviance (PD), and the purpose of this article is to learn a bit about it and its connection to Liberating Structures.
Positive Deviance is based on the observation that in every community there are certain individuals or groups whose uncommon behaviors and strategies enable them to find better solutions to problems than their peers, while having access to the same resources and facing similar or worse challenges.
Simply put, a Positive Deviance (PD) approach asks what is working for those for whom it ‘shouldn’t be’ working? We are invited to seek out positive deviants – those experiencing better outcomes than peers without any advantages over them. This appreciative approach resonates with many working in higher education, who are often already familiar with Appreciative Inquiry approaches and perspectives.
Both Positive Deviance (PD) and Liberating Structures (LS) invite disruption to normal power structures, in large part because both place such high importance on community intelligence, activity, and ownership of solutions rather than top-down approaches. A look at the guiding principles of both PD and LS shows a few manifestations of this theme as well as a shared priority on doing and action:
Collective endeavor: Community or stakeholders’ ownership of the whole process
Social proof: their discovery of existing solutions (uncommon behaviors & strategies via a PD Inquiry) among their peers, by people or groups whose behaviours need to change
Network-driven: Use of existing and created new social capital (formal and informal networks)
Focus on practice: Development of activities and initiatives that encourage a practice of PD inquiry findings
Collective involvement in monitoring new activities to promote behaviour change, and evaluation of the overall initiative to have a sustainable impact on the problem
Include and Unleash Everyone
Practice Deep Respect for People and Local Solutions
Build Trust As You Go
Learn by Failing Forward
Practice Self-Discovery Within a Group
Amplify Freedom AND Responsibility
Emphasize Possibilities: Believe Before You See
Invite Creative Destruction To Enable Innovation
Engage In Seriously-Playful Curiosity
Never Start Without a Clear Purpose
PD is also a method of inquiry for projects and research, with five steps that invite researchers to 1) define a problem and a successful outcome, 2) find positive deviants, 3) discover their uncommon but successful behaviours, 4) develop activities to help spread the PD solutions, and 5) monitor and evaluate results.
So What? (Why is this important?)
Understanding how Liberating Structures are rooted in Positive Deviance can help us to understand how and why they work to “unleash and include everyone” (Lipmanowicz and McCandless, 2013). It also helps us do a better job of adapting and remixing these activities in our practice, while staying true to their purpose. For example, if you understand the importance of the underlying principles, say, of collective endeavour and involvement, you are less likely to edit out opportunities for your group to participate and share ownership of solutions and next steps when tweaking the design of a Liberating Structure activity.
Knowing about the underlying PD principles makes positive organizational and social change using Liberating Structures seem more possible because that’s what they are designed for. In addition to more fun and lively meetings and classes, using these simple methods can set the stage for overcoming barriers and making progress on our most pressing challenges in an increasingly complex, interdependent, and culturally diverse world. We can start by making small changes with local work teams and then progressing outward to other teams, departments, institutions, cities, provinces, and so forth.
Now What? (What actions make sense now?)
For facilitators of Liberating Structures immersion workshops, we can make connections to PD principles more transparent. In higher education, we find folks generally want to know the underlying theories of the practice anyway, and we have (briefly!) included this in our immersion workshops. This is reminiscent of other evidence-based practices in education, such as scholarly teaching and learning and SoTL.
For facilitators/practitioners using Liberating Structures, we can make sure our riffs and variations stay true to the underlying PD principles. We may also be more attuned to inventing new structures and be better prepared to help to test the Liberating Structures in development.
For everyone in higher education (and beyond), we can be inspired by PD as a method of inquiry. We can question and look for positive deviants in our field. Arvind Singhal, university professor, PD researcher, and long-time Liberating Structures practitioner, has stated that “… the positive deviance approach holds important implications for education and learning environments” that “can be applied in addressing some highly intractable and complex [social justice] problems” (2013, p. 156).
In higher education, we might take a PD approach to questions such as:
What enables some young and adult learners to take more responsibility for their own learning? (this is a question suggested by Dr. Singhal)
How are some instructors able to provide engaging, flexible, active learning experiences for students?
How are some instructors able to adopt and adapt open educational resources for their classes? (thereby drastically reducing the cost to students and increasing access to education)
How are some instructors able to continuously develop their knowledge and skill in teaching as well as their academic discipline/field of study?
How are some students in remote communities in Canada able to successfully access and complete post-secondary education?
What enables equity-seeking groups in Canada to complete post-secondary degrees?
As a way of making progress on important challenges related to access and quality in higher education, we can start by looking for positive deviants to find out what they are doing right!
Singhal, Arvind (2013). Transforming Education from the Inside Out: Positive Deviance to Enhance Learning and Student Retention. Heirnstra, R & Carre, P (Eds.) (2013) A Feast of Learning: International Perspective on Adult Education and Change. Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing (pp 141-159).
This post is by Leva Lee and was originally published October 23, 2018 on BCcampus.ca
Since learning about Liberating Structures (LS) in 2013, a team of us at BCcampus have become avid practitioners and facilitators of these powerful group engagement techniques. In the past four years, we have supported its spread in B.C. post-secondary through offering immersion workshops and supporting campus-based user groups and communities of practice.
Earlier this year, we conducted a survey on LS use in B.C. post-secondary, giving us a snapshot of how these techniques were being used and what practitioners’ perceptions were of their impact. Since then, we have been working to further deepen our understanding of Liberating Structures. To better understand Liberating Structures, we need to understand the basics of Complexity Science: What is it? How does it relate to Liberating Structures, and why should we care? How might this help us in our work?
What is Complexity Science?
There is a myriad of information about Complexity Science and differing views on its exact definition. Essentially, Complexity Science is the study of complex systems: systems that are non-linear, unpredictable, and multi-dimensional, consisting of interconnected parts and relationships. Examples of complex systems are ones found in nature such as climate or ecosystems. Other examples are human-made systems such as the internet, healthcare, or financial systems. Complexity Science posits a holistic view of the world where ‘the whole is greater than the sum of its parts’. It studies how parts, or individual agents, interact with one another—their relationships— and how parts behave and adapt, influencing the whole. It is the study of emergence, or how synergy leads to innovation. As an interdisciplinary field of study, Complexity Science draws its concepts, frameworks, and theories from mathematics, physics, chemistry, and the social sciences.
Understanding how Liberating Structures are rooted in Complexity Science enables us to better understand the design behind these microstructures for group interaction and innovation and how they work to “unleash and include everyone” (Lipmanowicz and McCandless, 2013).
As a useful set of tools for facilitating and leading learning, Liberating Structures disrupts what has become our regular habits or patterns of interacting, conversing, and problem-solving. They help to change things up, tap into our tacit knowledge, and create safe spaces for self-discovery, joyful learning, and seeing what is possible in making progress together. In a world that is increasingly more complex, challenging, and unpredictable, Liberating Structures have the potential to help us focus better on our purpose, to move forward and create more space for innovation.
So what does this all mean to us as individuals, educators, instructors, group facilitators, and leaders of learning? We invite you to take action now in the following way:
Be curious and explore. Take a look at some of the great resources and readings on Complexity Science as a paradigm and consider it as a lens through which we might view our challenges in teaching and learning. What makes sense in terms of your practice? Discover and try tools like Liberating Structures.
Reach out. Network with those who have similar interests, as well as with those with different experiences and expertise (e.g. in a different academic discipline). Create some synergy for things you want to do.
Stop and notice things. Observe and watch for patterns. What do you see working and not working in our classrooms, online courses, webinars, lectures, committee meetings, etc.?
Be clear on purpose. Are we asking the right questions? Are we doing the right things? Clarify the purpose when beginning to apply something like Liberating Structures and be open to feedback from others on questions and activities.
Believe and do, iteratively. When trying something new, venture forth with courage and confidence. Reflect on what is learned. Get feedback. Adjust. Repeat.
Try small changes. This may sound trite, but small changes can lead to big impact. Don’t feel you need to revamp an entire course, workshop, or meeting agenda to start. Try one small change and go from there.
References & Resources
Holladay, Royce J., & Eoyang, Glenda H. (2013). Adaptive Action: Leveraging Uncertainty in Your Organization. Stanford University Press.
Just a quick note to share a few gems we learned from the Liberating Structures Meetup held in Vancouver at the Festival of Learning, May 2018.
Using 1,2,4, All, we asked participants: “How can LS User groups help you with your practice?” Here’s a few of the responses. LS User groups can help us…
Practice together in a safe space; Encourage experimentation
Learn what can go wrong when using LS; Close the loop for how things went as a facilitator
Find opportunities to debrief use of LS with others
Distribute and share LS artefacts, tools, templates and lesson plans, case studies, blog posts, etc.
Explore LS strategies applied in an online context and encourage playing with technology e.g. use of breakout rooms for LS e.g., which web tools work well and which don’t work with LS microstructures or approaches.
Design more engagement strategies for participants in synchronous or asynchronous context.
In the coming year, the Vancouver and Victoria User groups will keep these things top of mind. Stay tuned for an LS Meetup coming to a campus near you!
The Liberating Structures User Groups of Vancouver and Victoria will be meeting at the 2018 Festival of Learning! Liberating Structures are facilitation technique designed to engage and include everyone and this meetup is free and open to all who are interested in learning and practicing them with us.
Please RSVP by Friday, May 25 by completing this brief form.
Learn and experience a few of the most popular Liberating Structures.
For newcomers: Introduce Liberating Structures as a way of engaging your students, colleagues, employees and team members in productive, purposeful, inclusive ways.
For experienced Liberating Structures facilitators: Explore ways to enhance your skills by continuing to practice and hone your skills through coaching others.
Hear about the activities of the Vancouver and Victoria User Groups; how you can participate with our groups and/or create your own local practice group.
What are Liberating Structures?
“Liberating Structures (LS) are a growing collection of group processes and methods that make it easy and quick for members of any group to radically change how they interact and work together. Their purpose is to liberate energy, tap into collective intelligence, stimulate creativity, and get surprisingly better results by engaging people and unleashing the power of self-organization.”