Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Collision Spaces

Over the last week, I have begun reviewing the series of Strategic Workshops I have been co-facilitating at Cardiff University over the last academic year.

I always find that a useful process: it is invariably interesting and sometimes humbling (in different ways) to hear what people have taken away and implemented from events.

One thing that has struck me has been the importance of collision spaces.  This has come at me from three different angles, as it were.

In the first place, we have been using an Open Space approach. I have blogged about Open Space (albeit in a different context) before, here. But one way of thinking of it is that it provides precisely a collision space: we start with no fixed agenda (though there is a clear theme) and participants propose what they think it would be most fruitful to talk about, team up with others who think they too would like to talk about a particular issues, and ideas and experiences thus collide. As a result, new ideas can (and do) emerge.

The process is simple: we start with an empty agenda: merely some time slots and some available rooms (first picture). People then propose ideas for discussion, post them on another board or wall, and sign up to the topics they most want to talk about (second picture). They then pull together an agenda with different conversations taking place in different rooms at the same time, trying to create a sequence that allows all to participate in the conversations they have signed up for (third picture).

One of the gratifying things I have been told whilst conducting the review, is that many people found this approach particularly helpful, to the extent that they have been running Open Space events themselves since, to address a range of issues; and that these too have been very valuable.

Related, but different, is the drawing together of people from different places within an organisation, so that they collide, or at least come into contact, with those who they don't normally speak to. Again, the feedback has been consistent that this is very valuable; but people report that they are too busy to make this happen unless some structure, such as a workshop (or even a regular coffee break) is put in place that engineers it.

The third angle on this was a topic that came up frequently in the discussions. Many people suggested that the University needed more physical collision spaces - coffee rooms, water cooler corners, caf├ęs and so forth - where staff would bump into colleagues in an environment other than formal meetings, and where different types of conversations could happen, perhaps with different people. Many spoke of the value of such serendipitous conversations, which can build relationships, smooth processes, and even lead to new research collaborations.

So it is worth considering how we can create such collision spaces - whether the physical space, or the enabling events such as agreed coffee or lunch breaks with colleagues, or indeed the larger scale workshops and Open Space activities.

The temptation is always to get on with the work, of course; but again and again, people attest to the fact that taking a break and making time for others is not only humanising, but also truly productive.





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