In this article I show how the formats of Type 1 co-creation meetings (notably Real Time Strategic Change and Whole-Scale® Change) and Type 2 co-creation meetings (using Open Space Technology) can be modified in order to honour the Max4 Principle (the maximum group size for a proper conversation is four).
What is a co-creation meeting?
A co-creation meeting is a collaborative gathering that takes place over half a day, an entire day or several days, generally forming part of a broader organisational change, problem solving or innovation programme.
Co-creation meetings are also known as large group interventions, large scale events and ‘whole system in the room’ events.
This kind of meeting brings together diverse beneficiaries, often in large numbers (the upper limit being constrained only by venue capacity) and with widely-differing agendas and perspectives, to discuss issues of heartfelt concern, share ideas, pool knowledge, explore possibilities and devise plans for sustained collaborative action.
The three main types of co-creation meeting
There are three main types of co-creation meeting, which I refer to as Type 1, Type 2 and Type 3. These labels are neutral by design. The distinctive features of each type are summarised in this graphic:
Read more about the three main types of co-creation meeting
Type 1 co-creation meetings
Participants in a Type 1 co-creation meeting spend their time together seated at round tables, typically eight to a table, and work there way through a series of activities that are custom-designed, often by a multi-stakeholder design team, to achieve a specific outcome. The meeting is led by a single facilitator or a pair of facilitators.
Real Time Strategic Change and Whole-Scale® Change are based on this format.
The particular format I am about to describe achieves three important aims:
A discussion group never has more than four members, in accordance with the Max4 Principle.
The format enables introverts and neurodivergent people to contribute fully.
The risk of groupthink is minimised.
The 1–2–4–8 way of working
Participants are seated eight to a table, divided into two groups of four, as shown here:
Groups where conformity suppresses the generation of ideas have a tendency to produce, at best, barely adequate solutions, and, at worst, poor and predictable solutions. The best method is for each member of the group to spend significant time alone working on ideas, and for the group to assemble to discuss ideas these individuals have developed.
Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, Occasional Paper No.6—An Officer and a Problem Solver (via Ed Brimmer)
First, people work on their own.
Next, they share and develop their ideas and perspectives in pairs — not in fours, as Introverts, autistic people and other neurodivergent members of society will probably feel more comfortable sharing their initial thoughts with an individual rather than a group.
The conversation then continues in the group of four.
Finally, the two groups of four consolidate their ideas and perspectives in readiness for a whole room report-out.
Pooling and sharing at the whole-table, rather than half-table, level provides an additional layer of anonymity and halves the number of report-outs.
Type 2 co-creation meetings
Open Space is a type of co-creation meeting in which participants create their own programme of self-facilitated sessions in response to an thought-provoking question or overarching theme of mutual concern.
A session might take the form of a knowledge exchange, sensemaking quest, planning meeting, design salon or problem solving intensive, or it could be something altogether different.
If the session is a group discussion or a presentation followed by Q&A and it has more than four participants, then I suggest you follow this format.
A 12:00 to 13:00 timeslot is used as an example.
12:00 Session host introduces the topic, gives a short talk and poses a thought-provoking question. If the host is unable to formulate such a question, he or she can fall back on the default question: “What did you make of what you just heard?”
12:20 People form groups of four and discuss the question.
12:40 Groups merge; people continue to discuss the question.
13:00 Session ends.
If deemed necessary by the meeting design team, any significant insights can be captured for later sharing, either during or after the co-creation meeting.
You may have noticed that this is a repurposing of David Gurteen’s excellent Knowledge Cafe format, which you can explore further elsewhere on this website or by visiting Gurteen’s dedicated Knowledge Cafe website.
Type 3 co-creation meetings
A Type 3 meeting is a composite of Types 1 and 2. The strengths of each compensate for the shortcomings of the other. This graphic shows the default sequencing of the two formats:
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