Proposal forming: Coming up with creative actions to address important drivers

I feel that sometimes there’s no meaningful result produced for certain agenda points in meetings. This means the only thing that happens in the meeting is communicating the fact that there is some sort of problem, and listening to a few opinions – nothing really happens (i.e. this wouldn’t need to be synchronous at all).

The effect is probably that people stop (or will stop) putting important stuff on the agenda or even attending the meeting, because they don’t trust that any important problems will actually be solved.

In order to come up with creative solutions to problems that are at least good-enough-for-now so something starts to happen (this activity then makes the meetings more interesting for team members, strengthens everyone’s motivation, …), a good brainstorming method needs to be mastered. I propose to take a deeper look at “proposal forming”, which is an S3 pattern that helps brainstorm together in order to provide ideas that a few selected people can then build into a proposal.

The consequence of this would be a) more creative activity relating to important goals (I think this would create a lot of interest for spectators, potential volunteers, …), b) more confidence that your voice is heard with a productive outcome (i.e. people will put things on the agenda, confident that sth will happen), c) more focus on important goals, because proposal forming starts with a driver (i.e. this enables you to intentionally generate activity relating to sth that is important to you, instead of doing the things that you happen to have ideas for, which might not be the important things).

Here’s the basic idea of how proposal forming works (more at https://patterns.sociocracy30.org/proposal-forming.html):

  • Before you can even start, you need a driver statement. This should be prepared before the meeting. (It would be best to have a driver statement for every agenda item. I guess it should be provided by the person who puts it on the agenda. Carry-overs probably already have a driver statement then.)

  • Do a consent decision about the driver, i.e. change it based on any objections you may have. In this step (actually, every time you consent to some driver or decision), make sure to commit to the driver as strong as you can – this will align your creativity with the driver.

  • Do a question round about the driver itself, i.e. only about the driver statement, in particular not about potential solutions.

  • Do one or more question rounds about the entire problem and possible solutions. (Very important: Avoid questions that contain ideas on how to solve the problem. Hide your ideas from the others as long as you possibly can.) Collect the questions in the meeting etherpad. Notice that some questions have a definite answer (information gathering question) and some don’t (generative question).

  • Answer all information gathering questions that you can answer right now. Separate them from the generative questions, so you end up with a question-and-answer list for information gathering questions and a list of generative questions.

  • Order the generative questions from most important to least important. Everyone is allowed to edit the etherpad at the same time to change the order in any way he thinks is good. If you don’t agree on the order somewhere, note it in the etherpad, but don’t discuss it.

  • Now do the actual brainstorming. Most important rule: Write your ideas down on paper or similar (or remember them, just make sure the others don’t know them) and only gather the ideas after a period of time. (If someone says an idea right away, everyone is influenced to come up with similar ideas, i.e. creativity is much reduced.)

  • Don’t forget to choose a few (e.g. two) people who will create an actual proposal from the ideas (if possible until the next meeting, and they are responsible for putting a consent decision about it on the agenda). You don’t want all the precious creative work to be lost :slight_smile:

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Interesting to keep in mind for the “actual brainstorming” step (taken from https://s3-for-one.com/#collectingideas):

If your creativity runs dry, here’s three simple ways to rekindle it

  1. Start at the top of your list of ideas and look for ideas you can build on, expand on, or even take its opposite
  2. Look at your driver and see if there’s a fact, observation or need your ideas don’t cover yet
  3. Go through your [generative questions] and identify those in need of more ideas
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There’s a bunch of good information here, thanks so much for spending the time to think about and write down what you’ve seen as someone with a solid cultural foundation approaching the project with fresh eyes!

There is an idea that’s occurred in the past and might be worth re-approaching, different meetings have different purposes. For instance, 3/4 meetings per month are going through the agenda and refining that process, but the first meeting of the month could be all about proposal forming.

I look forward to getting our weekly stand-up meeting slimmed down so we can have a regular longer form meeting that can focus on this sort of activity.

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I really like the run-down here (in the top post). It clarifies the proposal-forming process (whereas I had in Sociocracy: proposal phase only emphasized the concept of proposals).

I think we should capture the key bits in our own docs:

  • Agenda items should have prepared driver-statements (drafts)
  • Consent/feedback/question round on each driver statement
  • Proposal-prep questions
  • Time for everyone to prepare proposals, refine before bringing back up to the group
  • Cowork on finalizing a proposal for agreement based on suggested proposals

Most of this could really be asynchronous work on the forum. The consenting roles should be defined by circle etc., rather than by whoever makes a meeting.

As @Salt emphasized, we need to get to where each circle is having their own workflow, both meetings and asynchronous. We don’t need all layers of work to be discussed by everyone in the all-hands-on-deck team meeting.

For now, I like the idea of practicing making pithy, concise driver statements by adding them to agenda items, to issue tickets, etc.