Dreaming Spires, New Scenarios

I’m pleased to announce I’ll be joining the team at Oxford University’s Saïd Business School (SBS) as a facilitator on the upcoming Oxford Scenarios Programme.

'Dreaming Spires', by Flickr User JJBullock - Copyright JJ Bullock 2010
‘Dreaming Spires’, by Flickr User JJBullock – Copyright JJ Bullock 2010

The programme offers an intensive course in developing strategies which address multiple plausible futures. You can find out more about the programme at the SBS website.

A different way to plan your 2019

Are you thinking about the year to come? Do you make New Year’s resolutions, or use January 1st as a turning point for your life at work or home?

Here’s a quick & easy planning tool I sometimes use in workshops. It’s adapted from the Oxford Scenario Planning Approach, where it’s called “Arrows of Time”.

You just need a piece of paper – even a napkin will do! – and something to write on it with.

First, put the paper in landscape orientation, with the long sides at the top and bottom, and draw an arrow from the bottom left corner, pointing right. This represents the past.

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Now, around this arrow, answer these questions:

  • What will we still be dealing with in 2019?
  • What issues from the past can’t we get away from?
  • What isn’t finished yet from the year just gone?

When this is done, draw another arrow from the top right corner, pointing left. This represents the future.

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Now, around this arrow, answer these questions:

  • What do we know is coming in 2019?
  • What do we fear about the coming year? What do we hope for?
  • What do we expect to happen?
  • What have we failed to prepare for in 2019?
  • What can’t we avoid about the year to come?

Between these two arrows lies your room to manoeuvre. In the space between them, draw a box, representing your capacity to choose the future you wish for.

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In the box, answer these questions:

  • What do you want to happen? What can you plausibly achieve next year?
  • What actions should you take to meet these goals?
  • What can you do to prepare against unpleasant surprises, or outcomes you wish to avoid?
  • What can you do to be ready for happy accidents and unexpected opportunities next year?

This is just a quick, simple activity, but it helps you to plan in a way that allows for the turbulence and uncertainty of any future – looking not just towards your objectives but the context in which you will need to make them happen.

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As Oxford University’s Rafael Ramirez put it in our recent discussion on scenario planning, such “back-of-the-napkin” activities can be valuable as a starting point, or in constrained financial circumstances:

The metaphor I use is buying a television. If you don’t have a lot of time, or your organisation has been cut back, you may have to do only a good-enough piece of work: like buying a cheap black-and-white television to see who has won the World Series.

If you have enough time or funds, you can buy yourself a big colour television which shows more detail about what is happening. […] To get more detail, better arguments, better references: a better, more detailed colour picture on your television. But getting started costs very little indeed.

An organisation’s intent should be clear, compelling, and easy to articulate succinctly. So should your plans for 2019.

Why not grab a piece of paper today and sketch out where you’d like to head in the year to come?

Four (or more) reads from 2018

I got through a lot of books this year, so I just want to pick out a few that were especially important to my work in 2018.

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Wayne & Shirley Wiegand’s The Desegregation of Public Libraries in the Jim Crow South was recommended by librarians in Mississippi, when I visited the state to run Library Island in April.

The Wiegands’ book is a useful historical study in how public institutions comply with, mitigate, abet, or resist an abusive regime. To really get to grips with this issue, you should follow it with Margaret Stieg’s 1992 article on how public libraries transformed in the Germany of the 1930s.

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My Mississippi trip also allowed me to visit the state’s Civil Rights Museum in Jackson. It’s one of the best museums I’ve ever been to. You can read more about the place in this New York Times article.

the enemy

Collaborating with the Enemy, by Adam Kahane, looks at peacemaking and negotiation work, drawing on examples from Thailand, South Africa, and Colombia. Kahane is remarkably honest about his frustrations and failures, as well as his successes, in projects intended to promote collaboration under the most difficult conditions. It’s well worth a read, to challenge and inspire you.

kottler

I read Jeffrey Kottler and Jon Carlson’s Bad Therapy as part of a Kottler binge earlier this year, seeking insights to borrow from other relationship-focussed disciplines.

For Bad Therapy, the authors interviewed a number of leading practitioners on the topic of their greatest failures. The resulting discussions are brave, humbling, and food for thought in any profession.

What would it mean to focus on one’s failures in this way? What do bad librarianship, bad journalism, bad teaching or curation or medicine or design look like when the practitioner themselves admits to a job done poorly? This book is excellent for anyone interested in professional learning and growth, whatever field they work in.

Being_Mortal

Finally, I was four years late to an encounter with Atul Gawande’s Being Mortala 2014 reflection on the decisions and dilemmas associated with end-of-life care.

The challenges faced in caring for those who are close to death emphasise and highlight problems which we confront in any healthcare setting. These include the limits of the patient’s right to choose, the authority of the physician over those in their care, and quality of life versus the drive to preserve life at all costs.

Gawande’s typically sensitive and personal discussion of these topics reminded me of Sherwin Nuland’s 1992 National Book Award winner How We Die. The challenge that faces us in healthcare is that the same issues Nuland identified more than twenty-five years ago still plague our health systems today.

Gawande – who more recently wrote for the New Yorker about the frustrations of medical software – is a humane and articulate guide to this territory. I’ll return to this topic in the new year.

These were my best reads of 2018. They’ll stay with me, joined by new writers and new volumes, in the year to come.

What were your best reads from the year just gone?

Scandinavian Workshops

When should we fight an oncoming future? And when should we embrace it?

What does good citizenship mean today? And what will it mean to our children?

Does anyone have the right to “make a better citizen”?

How can libraries help people to live well together?

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This October, I’ll be working with information professionals in three Scandinavian countries to explore these questions, and more.

Join me in Sweden, Norway, or Denmark for practical workshops that explore possible futures for libraries and information science.

I’ll also be keynoting Norway’s national library conference on 24th October. Please join us if you can, or follow on social media.

The Question Box: Exploring Teamwork

A colleague working in a think tank faced a knotty challenge: how to lead a conversation about a team’s attitude to collaboration and teamwork, when she herself was a part of that team.

The activity formed part of an away day and the session was set to last ninety minutes. I worked with my colleague to devise activities that would prompt frank and constructive conversations, free her from the role of facilitator, and create space for imaginative new ideas to surface.

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The Question Box

The core activity we came up with was a series of questions or challenges written on cue cards, to be drawn from a box. Like the Presenterless Workshops activity, this encourages participants to take charge of the discussion and gives them freedom in how they approach the topic. Read more

Bex Twinley: The Dark Side of Occupation

Occupational therapists (OTs) are among my favourite professionals to work with. These allied health practitioners have a unique and often overlooked take on the world – the “occupational lens” – through which they understand human experience in terms of our occupations: the things we want, need, and have to do in our lives.

Today’s therapists and occupational scientists understand that human lives are comprised of occupations; that occupations can become dysfunctional and harmful; and that occupation itself can become a way of offering therapy and putting things right.

Bex (Rebecca) Twinley of Plymouth University is an occupational science researcher who coined the phrase “dark side of occupation”. Health professionals have traditionally and understandably focussed on occupations which they see as positive and productive for individuals, groups, and communities. Yet when we think of the total sum of human occupation, its many facets must include dark – meaning less explored – sides, too.

What happens when occupational science chooses not to look away from those facets, and instead pays attention to the darkness?

Bex:

Occupational therapy as a profession has always been focussed on links to health and wellbeing, identifying and supporting those occupations which are healthy to do.

The reality is that people don’t engage in positive occupations all of the time – yet these are not spoken about in our literature or explored in much of our practice. This limits the authenticity of the understanding between client and practitioner.

Matt:

I imagine that there is also some scope for debate about who gets to define health and wellbeing, and what institutional values are imposed by the health system. (It’s making me think of that Radiohead song, “Fitter Happier”).

What drew you to the notion of this “dark side” of occupation?

Read more

“Zombies, stay where you are!” – A @guardian visit to Library Island

They were sitting in rows in a room at the heart of the Guardian‘s Education Centre in London: teachers, librarians, educators, gathered for a day to explore reading for pleasure and attending to diverse voices in literature. They were happily caffeinated, ready to learn, excited for the day ahead of them.

About a third of them wore a name tag with the chilling legend: ZOMBIE.

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Read more

Tell us your story: Libraries’ global storytelling manual

The International Federation of Library Associations, IFLA, has released a new guide designed to help librarians and library advocates to tell compelling stories about library activities, projects and programmes, showing their impact on communities and people’s lives.

sdg-storytelling-manual

Libraries and the Sustainable Development Goals” is a practical document and storytelling tool, linked to the United Nations goals which IFLA uses to demonstrate libraries’ global relevance.

You can check out the manual at the IFLA website.

#NotEnoughScifi: Good things happen

Seven years ago now. Springtime in New York.

I had read Nnedi Okorafor’s Zahrah the Windseeker back in 2010 and it had blown my mind. One of the greatest kids’ books I’d ever seen, wondrous and witty and thrilling.

>Nnedi Okorafor, Akata Witch Review at Brooklyn Rail

Nnedi had a new YA novel coming out – Akata Witch, the beginning of a fresh series.

I wanted to sing the praises of an incredible writer who, at the time, was still not quite getting the attention she deserved.

I pitched a review to Brooklyn Rail, the New York arts paper.

Read more