"The means is dialogue, the end is learning, the purpose is peace." ~ Founder Dr. Jane Vella

Turning Lemons into Lemonade

Comments

I could have titled this blog post “The Travelling Consultant’s Nightmare” but I’ve opted for “Turning Lemons into Lemonade.” This is a story of turning a bad story into a good one!

When you were a child, did you ever hear the riddle: What’s the most important thing to have at a party? Common answers included:  food, party games, balloons… but, the right answer was fun! The moral of this riddle has stayed with me all these years:  when planning something you care about, don’t get so lost in the details that you forget what’s most important.

Global Learning Partners, Inc. (GLP) was invited by the International Budget Partnership (IBP) to develop a learning program for INESC – a renowned organization in Brazil devoted to human rights and social transformation. The planning started about six months in advance and dates were protected in everyone’s calendars for a three-day intensive course which I would facilitate in Brazil.

We conducted a learning assessment, adapted a course on dialogue-based learning to fit their unique context, and had all the course materials and visuals translated into Portuguese. I had time to do all the little things that one does when traveling for work:  finalize my daughter’s camp schedule, make sure my husband had everything he needed to solo parent, pack a week’s worth of supplements and travel snacks, get a good novel for the plane, and gather some small gifts for the group. You know the drill. 

As an adult learning specialist who has consulted with organizations and communities around the United States and in 19 different countries for over three decades, I thought I knew what was most important when planning a trip. I retrieved my passport and GOES traveler card from the safe deposit, and carefully reviewed the itinerary I’d been sent. But, the day the uber dropped me at the airport (nearly an hour from my house in Rhode Island) and I went to check in, I was stopped dead in my tracks:  “What? A visa?” “Yes, you need a visa.” I was not going anywhere.

How had I missed that? I seethed all the way back home.

  • Was it globalization or American conceit that made me feel I could go anywhere, easily?
  • Was it too many years of travel that made me lazy?
  • Was it an over-reliance on others, including the agent who bought the ticket?

Interesting questions, but none of them would get me to Brazil. 

So, we built an alternative plan.

Two IBP staff had graduated from a series of courses with GLP and showed a deep commitment to the principles and practices of dialogue-based learning. We all agreed they were ready to facilitate the learning “on the ground” in Brazil. I was in awe of Alex Ciconello’s last-minute flexibility and skill as a facilitator, as well as Aideen Gilmore’s attention to both details and people. I joined the group each day and all day via a large screen. The interpreters were super effective at their simultaneous translation to and from me, via headsets. We were a mutually-supportive team and, because of the commitment to a common set of principles, it worked!

But, that wasn’t what made it good.  The good part was how my not being physically there shifted the dynamic and created space that I’m not sure would have been there otherwise. I listened even more deeply than I would have had I been in the room. I was forgotten at times, as the group passionately exchanged doubts and ideas. I watched and asked to speak when I had something to contribute. The participants talked far more than the facilitators did and seemed very comfortable voicing their disagreements with what was being taught. For example, at the close of Day One we invited their thoughts on the course so far and in all my years I’d never heard such critical feedback! They critiqued the examples we’d chosen, the models we shared, and the priorities we’d set. They underscored their commitment to the tenets of Popular Education – which grew from their soil through Brazilian educator, Paulo Freire – and questioned the connections between what we were teaching and that philosophy which they know so well. 

That night, our facilitation team made adjustments to the course in direct response to the feedback we received. First thing the next morning, we invited the group to express the essence of Popular Education in words and in sculpture (see images above). From then on, we connected what we had to share back to that philosophy. And, we did so in true dialogue.

Everything shifted – they engaged in the course content, and made it their own. I don’t know if any of this would have happened had I been in the room, leading the course and creating personal connections in the way I usually do. My distance – and the skills of those in the room – created a safe space for true dialogue.

Let’s toast to bad stories that turn good!

******

What training or facilitation story can you tell where a bad story turned to good?

Valerie Uccellani is a GLP co-owner and Managing Partner of its consulting network, as well as a Senior Consultant and Trainer with GLP.

Leave Comments

Intentionality in Communications

Comments

Sometimes writing flows like a river findings its natural path. We are clear about who we’re communicating with and the effect we hope it will have on the reader. This feels good to us as communicators, and feels right to the reader.

Unfortunately, the river doesn’t always flow so easily. We draft and delete, write and rewrite, sketch and erase. Why? Because we haven’t thought through our intentions well enough. If we take time to outline our intentions, we can create more fluidly and more effectively.

Recently, I’ve been working with a team of national experts to craft resources for managers and frontline workers. The team will divvy up responsibility to create the different written resources and then compile them into a package to be tested and adapted by staff. Before we started the work, we outlined our intentions for each resource.

Here are the questions we considered:

  • What’s our working title? A short synthesized statement is a great way of clarifying for ourselves what this piece is (and is not).
  • Who will use this and how? A look at the intended audience helps us to keep their interests in mind.
  • What actions we are encouraged through this resource? What would be a sign that we were successful in our communication?
  • What format will this communication take and what’s the key content?
  • What style/ tone will we use?
  • How will people access this communication and what’s the best timing for them to access it? What preparation will they need, if any, to use this resource well?

You might be tempted to jump over these kinds of questions, or to think them through on the fly. If you are collaborating, others may have very different assumptions about any one of these questions and the creative process will stagnate.

Writing down your intentions need not take a lot of time. Create a template for yourself using some version of the questions above and fill in the blanks before you start to create. If you are working with others to create a set of materials, consider using a matrix, like the one below. Once it is complete, use it as a guide and the creative process will flow smoothly!

Which of the questions above have you found to be especially important to clarify?

Which is often overlooked or not clarified enough?

​*****

Valerie Uccellani (valerie@globallearningpartners.com) is a GLP co-owner and Managing Partner of its consulting network, as well a Senior Consultant and Trainer with GLP.

Leave Comments

Five Tips for Strategic Communication

Comments

Strategic communication can encompass so much. In this brief tip sheet we focus specifically on e-newsletters. However, they can be helpful for any strategic communication.​

 

 

 

1.  Start with a creative brief

A creative brief clarifies what you’re going to develop and why. Even if you think everyone’s already clear about what you’re creating and why, write it down – and refer back to make sure you are staying true to your intent. Decide the sequence of topics in a series so they build on future ones.

Example:  If your organization is writing a monthly e-newsletter, ask everyone involved to comment on a creative brief, plan out the year, and keep that creative brief handy as the letters are crafted and edited. If the intent doesn’t stay crystal clear to you, it won’t to your readers.

______________________________________________________________________________

Key Items in a Creative Brief

  • overall aim of the communication
  • intended users
  • desired action(s) for users
  • tone/ look/ feel of the communication.

The brief may also include other items such as key promise to users and obstacles they might face. 

________________________________________________________________________________

2.  Anticipate your readers’ time constraints 

People are overloaded with information so keep your communication short and the size of the average computer screen. The subject line should be the most important information you want to convey; something that makes the reader want to open your email. Write main points first, so readers do not have to scroll down to get what you want them to learn. Add links to additional information at the end of your content.

Example:  If you have a longer topic to write about, create a blog post and link to it in your e-newsletter. Videos should also be a link and not included in an e-newsletter.

3.  Give them something

It’s tempting to try to persuade people and sell things to them – especially when we feel passionate about what we are selling! But, people tire of that and may unsubscribe permanently. They are most drawn to communications that give them something they want. What would entice your clients to keep receiving your communications over time? What would be truly useful and/or inspiring for them? Balance that with messages you want to send or things you want to sell.

Example:  If your organization has helpful resources, make them available to people virtually – even if just a snippet of something they’d enjoy, use, or pass on. End your email with a thought-provoking question, quote or action item.

4.  Make it easy

We get so much to read each and every day, no one will complain if you make your communications easy to digest. Follow a few basic Plain Language guidelines, and check for readability. 

Example:  As you draft e-news, follow the guidelines in the box. Ask two people to review it and mark out anything they feel can be simplified further.​

______________________________________________________________________________

Five Plain Language Guidelines

  • Write content the way you would say it.
  • Keep sentences short; divide longer sentences.
  • Be concise; go back and remove unnecessary words and phrases.
  • Speak in active voice versus passive voice (ex: the Board will present the strategic plan vs. the strategic plan will be presented by the Board).
  • Share with one other person to read for understanding before sending out

_______________________________________________________________________

5.  Time it right

There’s a lot to consider on the topic of timing! On one level, think about when the focus of each communication could best lead the user to take an action. For example, if there is a deadline for an application, send the communication so that it is received in plenty time for them to decide and complete the application – but not so far in advance that they might set it aside. Finally, think about when you can send a communication ahead of other, similar communications.

Example:  If your organization is writing a newsletter to solicit end-of-year funds, best to get it out well before the deluge of solicitations hits them late December. You can send a very short reminder email closer to the date that refers to the previous email.

6.  Test it out

Usability tests can sound quite complicated and costly, but they need not be. Even if you have one person use it, you can gain valuable feedback on its usability. Make little tweaks based on what you discover.

Example:  If you are sending e-news with hotlinks send it to a few people and (if possible) watch what they do with it. Do they click? If so, where do they go? What do they do next? Is that what you intended?

Once you get going with your e-newsletters, you can keep an eye on what percentage of people are opening it, when they open it, and what they click on. You always have opportunities to continually improve the effectiveness of your emails.

Which tip is especially helpful in your work? What new tip can you add?

*****

Valerie Uccellani (valerie@globallearningpartners.com) is a GLP co-owner and Managing Partner of our Consulting network, as well a Senior Consultant and Trainer with GLP; Rachel Nicolosi (rachel@globallearningpartners.com) is a Partner and Core Consultant with GLP. Feel free to contact either of them to learn more about strategic communication.

Leave Comments

Staying Connected When Designing

Comments

What I love about designing is how it makes us connect with our universal humanity. Those that don’t design may not understand what I mean so I’ll say a bit more.

This week I’ve been asked to co-design a program to help build stability among low income families of Colorado. Yesterday I got a call to co-design a high-level meeting about executive function. Next week I’ll co- pilot a program for busy managers of community credit/ health centers in Latin America. Earlier this year I co-designed an assessment of newborn health issues among the poorest of the poor in northern India. 

The range of “learners” is enormous. So different, in many ways from each other – and from me.

What do I—an Italian-American, middle-aged woman from New York city who has travelled the world and enjoyed a surprise pregnancy at the age of 44—have in common with these learners?  So much – and so little.

Here’s the deal: we are all human. And, the more I let myself feel what each group of learners might feel in the situations they are in, the better I design. This may sound obvious (of course we do that!). But, I find that it is not the tendency in our stratified society.

Sometimes I step out of our design process conversations and listen to us. We talk about the learners in descriptive “us and them” terms – as though we need to do complex research to know how a mom of a newborn would feel in Northern India, or how an unemployed man would feel in Colorado. A lot of what they’d feel is purely human. The mom would opt for the quickest, best service for their baby (even if it meant paying more) because that’s what most moms would do. The man would be motivated by small successes, and would resist anything that felt like a waste of his time because that’s what most of us would do.

I hope I don’t sound preachy here when I say: It is our job to stay connected to ourselves when we design. It is our job to ask our clients to pause and put themselves in the place of the learner, connecting with the endless similarities we have as humans.

Question:

How do you stay connected to yourself when you’re designing?

Leave Comments

An Interview with Valerie Uccellani, GLP Senior Partner

Comments

Global Learning Partners (GLP):  What’s your favorite axiom, and why?

Valerie Uccellani (Val):  Pray for Doubt. Funny. I didn’t used to like this one. In fact, when we taught axioms in the introductory course, I sometimes deleted it from the binder; I didn’t want the language to make some people feel excluded. Not everyone “prays”. But now I love this axiom and I like saying it to myself when I’m not sure how to make sense of what’s going on around me – or what to do next.

Doubt opens us up. When we have doubt, we become curious.

And, with that curiosity, we grow.

GLP:  Name 3-5 of your favorite facilitation skills. Describe what you use them for and why they’re favorites.

Val:  My all-time favorite has been to trust my gut. It’s in none of the “facilitation skill” materials I’ve created over the years. But it ought to be. I’ve found that if I pause, and listen to my gut, I get good direction about how to proceed. And as I’ve listened to my gut over the years, I feel like it’s grown stronger – like a muscle.

GLP:  Of all the DE principles, which 2-3 do you like the best? Why?

Val:  I think immediately of the principles and practices which Jane Vella has called “the signs of Dialogue Education.” I use them a lot when working with clients on creating new programs and learning designs.  I check:

  • Are the learners being productive?
  • Is there substantive content injected into this learning experience for them?

Yes, I like substantive content and productivity for the learners!

GLP:  When you attend learning events that are not learning centered, what’s your biggest pet peeve?

Val:  That’s easy! I abhor fake listening. It happens in so many ways in so many places, even by really well-intentioned leaders and facilitators. We want people to think X, to know X, to believe X. Instead of just saying what we think, know or believe, we craft a series of questions that “guides” people to arrive at our conclusions. This drives me crazy. And, when I've inadvertently done it myself I regret it terribly.

GLP:  Why do you love DE?

Val:  It creates a space for people to be true to themselves and different from others. It creates a space for us to learn together and move in a direction that feels right for us.

GLP:  When you think about all of your work as a facilitator/teacher/consultant, what learning transfer makes you the most proud? Share the story.

Val:  Thank you for asking that question. I hadn’t thought about this moment in a long time. I was in Mozambique, working as the leader of a group of teachers/ trainers for the Peace Corp. I had worked for a month or more with a team of young teachers. I had tried to model, and explain, the principles behind a learning-centered, dialogue approach. I hoped they would bring it with them into their own classroom teaching with Mozambican students.

One day, I sat in the back, observing a class. There were unmovable benches, 3 children in each one (crammed together). The students had learned that they only speak when spoken to, and when they answer a question they stand up. I watched them all, noticing in particular a young woman who sat hunched at her seat. Clearly she didn’t want to look up for fear she’d get called on. As I continued my observations I watched her – like a plant whose growth would indicate to me the healthiness of the garden.

One day she pulled up her head, another day she sat up straight. One day, she volunteered to answer a question (a beautifully designed open question) and she offered her response proudly. When the teacher affirmed her reply I saw a peek of a smile. I felt so good. This is a moment she would remember—it was a teeny start to a transformation. That’s what it’s all about, for me.

GLP:  What would you say to someone who’s new to DE to explain the essence of DE?

Val:  DE is like a braid. It intentionally weaves together:

  • Our personal experiences and truths;
  • The latest of outside perspectives; and,
  • The world of learning.

GLP:  What tips do you have for someone who’s been practicing DE for a while?

Val:  Look for ways in which our instincts can make a positive contribution to any work we are involved in. If DE resonates for you, it’s because you care about honesty and clarity and sincerity. You want affirmation to prevail over negativity and destructive competition. Listen to that and find ways to apply it to everything.

GLP:  If you use other teaching methods that you feel complement DE, what are they and how are they complementary?

Val:  There is a premise behind this question that doesn’t quite work for me. I don’t see DE as a teaching method. It is an overarching way of connecting people to each other and to learning. So, any teaching method could be done in a way that is compatible with the principles. The key is to always ask myself: does this feel respectful? Does it feel relevant? Are we being transparent here?

In that case, bring it on!

 

Leave Comments

Page 1 of 3 pages  1 2 3 >