The best way to predict the future is to create it.
— Abraham Lincoln

After a pretty intensive few days last week, we’re now just under halfway through our discovery sessions for the first 10 ‘How Might We’ questions in our exploration pipeline. Last week we welcomed 23 colleagues from across the organisation into the lab to discuss 4 questions connected the programmeOne projects; Project 3 - Asset Management (Land Services, Housing Planning and Construction) and Project 4 - Customer Management.

We will be publishing a high level summary of each of the sessions later this week, but alongside those, as we’ve still got 6 sessions to run, I thought it might be useful to have a look at the sessions from a facilitator's perspective, reflecting back on the format of the sessions, seeing what worked and what might have worked better.

Through the sessions we wanted to bring together a range of colleagues to look at how we might solve problems in novel ways. By asking the question ‘what would Elon Musk do?’ we want to channel some first principles thinking to help colleagues in the sessions think beyond their current sphere of reference and ultimately help us to frame some tests that challenge everything we think we know. Whilst Elon Musk has popularised the idea of first principles thinking of late, the likes of Aristotle, Leonardo Da Vinci, and Thomas Edison have all used ‘first principles thinking’ to actively question every assumed known about a given problem or scenario and then create new knowledge and novel solutions from scratch:

  • STEP 1: Identify and define current knowns and assumptions
  • STEP 2: Breakdown the problem into its fundamental principles
  • STEP 3: Create new solutions to mitigate the effect of each principle
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The sessions saw activity grouped into three connected segments:

  • Visioning
  • Ideation
  • Planning
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VISIONING

Purpose: We wanted colleagues to be able to visualise the problem from a range of different angles. We also wanted to use this part of the session to warm people up to thinking creatively.

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Tools: We used a set of image cards to help colleagues articulate their vision of the future. We asked colleagues to describe both positive and negative aspects of the future as well as blockers, things to consider and things to look out for. Surprisingly, Donald Trump got used a lot, but luckily only in analogous context (not as a suggestion for a future leadership model).

Critique: The whole point of this tool is to provoke a conversation that might otherwise be difficult to start. On the whole it worked really well. Everyone engaged positively with the activity and the output set the tone for the idea generation that followed. We found that the image cards worked well when we used them as a facilitated group warm up, and less well when we asked colleagues to use them as inspiration during the ideation stage. During the first workshop we asked colleagues to spend some time agreeing on the problem. The idea was to obtain agreement over the problem to be solved and provide some context for ideation, which is where the images would feed in. However we found that this wasn't necessary as colleagues had already agreed the problem during previous design sessions. We therefore decided to dedicate more time to using the cards as part of the facilitated warm up activity.  

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IDEATION

Purpose: We wanted to help colleagues generate some ideas around how to address the questions that formed the basis of the sessions.

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Tools: We used two tools to help colleagues think both ‘wide’ and ‘wise’ about possible solutions.

  • Fast Idea Generator - We provided colleagues with a set of contextual provocations which were based on quantitative or qualitative insight. Colleagues were given a minute to generate an idea for each provocation.  
  • High-Level Idea Generator - We asked colleagues to consolidate their thinking into two or three high-level ideas. We provided colleagues with a template to help them utilise both the left and right-hand side of their brains, first writing about and then drawing the proposed solution.

Critique: Colleagues were more open to the fast idea generation than I was expecting. In the past, I’ve found that people usually struggle with either a lack of detail or the ability to move past the voice inside their head that provides a million reasons why they shouldn't do something; this usually leads to them failing to get anything written down during the minute. However, during these sessions colleagues were able to generate a range of wild ideas that they then consolidated into a small number of high-level ideas. We found that the high-level ideas were more expansive in their scope having done the wild and fast thinking first. We will be writing about these ideas in the posts we intend to publish later this week.

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PLANNING

Purpose: Whilst the tests, prototypes and pilots which result from this work will be designed following these sessions by Innovation and Insight in collaboration with relevant colleagues, we wanted colleagues to start thinking about how we might progress their ideas into something more tangible during the sessions themselves.

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Tools: We used two tools to help colleagues think about the next steps for their idea.

  • Prototype Blueprint - We asked colleagues to complete a template which required them to consider who their solution will help, what the expected outcomes should be, what the design principles should be, what they would want to measure and who could help make their vision a reality.
  • BeMail - We asked colleagues to take a look back at the implemented solution from two years into the future. We used an internal news update template and structured the narrative around questions such as what was the problem that was solved and what did people say about the solution.

Critique: We found that the prototype blueprint template worked best, but often, colleagues found it more difficult to think about the specifics of a test than generate ideas. This is to be expected based on the short amount of time afforded to colleagues to do this activity during the workshop sessions. However, as it was always our intention to fill in the detail outside of the workshops, the tools were successful in being able to set the scene for later work.

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FUTURE SESSIONS

As we move towards the final 6 sessions we are able to use what we learned from facilitating the first 4 sessions to help inform the delivery of the workshops moving forward:

  • As the aims and objectives of each workshop remain the same there is a temptation to develop a one-size fits all session plan to cover them all. Whilst this would make things easier from an administrative point of view, it isn't practical as some colleagues are required to attend two, three or even four workshops. In order to keep the sessions fresh, we need to use some different tools to achieve the same objectives. This is not only necessary to maintain the sanity of colleagues attending multiple sessions but also as a way of ensuring that the tools remain effective. During the process of this reflection we have spotted two obvious opportunities to do this, but we will continue to develop more as the workshops progress:

    • Refresh the fast idea generator tool so that colleagues are asked to pair an insight / contextual provocation with a random object from the lab and come up with an idea that includes them both. The idea is to tap into a wider source of inspiration by adding a random catalyst to the equation.

    • We want to test out the use of ‘design fictions’ as a way to help colleagues visualise the future. By providing colleagues with an artefact which makes the future seem tangible (an object or more likely printed media), we hope to be able to replace the image cards exercise and provide a new talking point and launchpad for ideation.

  • Using templates worked really well as a way of giving colleagues a method of providing focused feedback in a consistent format. When we ran parts of the sessions without templates the output was just as relevant, but it made it harder for us to consolidate our notes.
  • Our original plans were to distribute high-level notes representing the session output (to session attendees and project sponsors) and publish a Bromford Lab diary post within 48hrs of the session ending. However, we found that this proves difficult when hosting back to back workshops. When workshops are bunched together we may need to reevaluate these timescales.

We will be publishing a high-level summary of the four sessions later in the week, so keep an eye on the diary for updates. Our fifth session is scheduled to take place on the 26th February and the final session is scheduled to take place on the 19th March.  

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