Combine structured and informal collaboration in one

Current digital tools propose either informal or structured communication. ALCs proposes hybrids amalgamating both in view of unlocking the potential of complex collective problem solving.

The disconnect between informal and structured exchange

Complex problem solving requires combinations of structured exchanges structuring the process to collective intelligence, and informal exchange enabling a loose socially rich communication. Most tools either take care of one or the other or allow for very limited connections between the two.

However, when they are disconnected, both informal and structured collaboration become less effective.

Structured exchange without informal communication can be too rigid and miss important complementary information which is fuzzy… and therefore can cover issues such as emotions, impressions, lateral associations etc.

Informal exchange without structured exchange, can be deeply biased for cognitive and / or social reasons and is often frustratingly ineffective.

But it is not sufficient to just provide the possibility to connect the two. The “art” is in how they are connected (or not). Not any combination will be effective. Some may be even counterproductive as for instance A structured exchange, such as for instance an anonymous vote, can be upset if people start talking to each other, compromising the anonymity of the group members. Inversely, an informal discussion, which has difficulties to produce conclusive results, can become much more effective if at the right moment a short survey is run to collect and prioritise items. But if this intervenes at the wrong moment, it can kill a fruitful discussion. In certain cases, it will be important to define strict rules, e.g., to leave time for 10 minutes of discussion before calling a vote. In others it will be better to leave the decision to the facilitator to move to the next stage.

To get this right takes experience and time. Configurable models make it possible to reuse successful practices, such as for instance the “Liberating Structures” proposed by Henri Lipmanowicz and Keith McCandless.

Hybrids amalgamating structured & informal exchange

For SymPlace effective complex collaborative undertakings require well-structured and well-timed combinations of formal and informal exchanges in form of adequately configured modules / subSymFlos which are combined and organised in symFlos.

Informal and structured exchange complement each other, when they effectively refer and connect with each other. This can take different forms:

  • Informal exchanges can refer to items in structured exchanges, e.g., a discussion referring to an idea collected through a process.
  • A list of items collected as part of a structured process can be completed through items identified as part of an informal discussion
  • A structured exchange can be prepared by an informal discussion ensuring that all participants understand its purpose, scope, and rules.
  • The results of a structured process can be discussed either during or after the process, depending on the logic of the symFlo.
  • A structured process can organise a larger group into smaller groups that than have discussions.
  • Also structured processes may be connected and combined with each other.

Informal and formal interaction can be combined in different forms such as for example: simple quotes and comments; iterative brainstorms combining structured idea collections and evaluations, followed by informal discussions; structured discussions with questions & answers fed from a chat or vice versa.

To work efficiently with easily exploitable results, such complex symFlos need to be supported by automating the process of collecting and consolidating information.

Use case: Revisited brainstorm

Many of us have attended brainstorming sessions to bring together different ideas from participants with multiple complementary perspectives. Typically, we start collecting post-its (physically or electronically) which are either then explained, voted upon and then discussed to group them or prioritise them. The “Liberating Structures” (developed by Henri Lipmanowicz and Keith McCandless) are a good example: they organise space, time and flow of interactions, combining individual thinking and exchanges in groups of varying sizes; they propose an assortment of very useful templates to develop shared new understandings, find solutions to complex problems and /or collect commitments to action.

With ALC supported symFlos participants to a physical meeting / videoconference / webinar, could

  • be invited to a symFlo with explanations about the process, its logic and rules
  • contribute their inputs independently
  • evaluate, categorise & prioritise topics for discussion
  • organise automatically small groups (random, per preference, matching profile with expertise etc.) where they discuss already submitted contributions
  • update their evaluation independently
  • continue the exchanges during and after
  • receive a summary of outputs which can then trigger follow-up exchanges, deepening hot topics