Since Loomio first launched, the team has been fielding requests from clients to help make the tool and collaborative processes work for them. In response, Loomio has offered consulting Services that discover needs, identify changes to work processes, and coach key team members to understand the magic and the practicality of Loomio’s mission: “Enabling everyone to have a say in decisions that affect them”.
Now Loomio is starting to work with independent consultants, like me, to offer these services to a wider range of clients.
My work over the last 5 years has been with youth climate change project, Generation Zero, supporting young leaders to recognise their own potential, and with Enspiral, designing experiences to increase participants' sense of purpose in their work.
I’m now developing my skills in coaching and consulting for teams to work in a more human way. I’ve been working with Loomio since 2015, as one of a handful of associates delivering services for clients as an independent contractor.
Over the last 6 months, I’ve been working with the core team of ActionStation, New Zealand’s progressive digital campaigning organisation and member of OPEN, the global network of online/offline campaigning orgs. At the head of ActionStation is director Marianne Elliott, with over 25 years of campaigning and facilitation experience. Nina Atkinson supports her work, and is a good friend of mine. They engaged my services to share my knowledge of the Loomio tool, and of teamwork, collaboration, and decision-making.
ActionStation develops campaigns aligned with their members interests and values. They wanted to co-develop a pathway for their members to truly engage with decisions on who and what campaigns to support. The Member Review Panel is an experiment in true participatory democracy: a select group of well-informed members will consider and approve campaigns proposed by the nationwide body of members.
Currently no organisation in the global OPEN network is engaging members in such an open and transparent way. ActionStation is pioneering a whole new level of what it means to be a member-driven organisation.
I have learned a lot from working with ActionStation and other Loomio consulting clients. I’d like to share some of the best practice I’ve developed.
Tip #1: Use Proposals
I’ve found the absolute essential element of Loomio is the proposal function. A proposal is a clear suggestion for a step forward, which group members can state their position on.
When a group uses the proposal function within 2 days of starting their first discussion, members get clearer on the purpose and value of the tool. By engaging in a real decision that affects them, users get it right away.
For example, last year the ActionStation Member Review Panel went about approving member profiles to go on the organisation website on Loomio. This proposal emerged from a short in-person discussion, but making the decision on Loomio let the group be clear, quick, and inclusive – without delays or ambiguity.
In this case, all voices were heard efficiently, and members had an opportunity to share their position. Nina could find out easily which member profiles to list on the website, without needing to email each person or host a meeting.
The proposal function creates a distinct and specific threshold that a group crosses together, and the more a team makes proposals, the clearer decisions become, and the faster the group moves together.
A great “How To” for Loomio proposals is 9 ways to use a Loomio proposal to turn a conversation into action.
Tip #2: Translate Facilitation Skills Online
Every member of the ActionStation team has advanced facilitation skills. However, even those who are experienced in face-to-face group process sometimes struggle with facilitating text-based Loomio discussions at first. In text-based discussion, we tend to lose the emotional information that facilitators get when we’re all in the room, particularly tone of voice and body language. It’s a new format and a new medium for many.
However, working with Marianne and Nina, I’ve come to understand that many familiar interventions in the physical space are fundamentally the same on Loomio.
Quieter voices need to be invited to contribute.
→ Use the Loomio tagging function: “I’d like to hear from @stephanie – what’s your take on this?”
Asking for clarification of what someone shares.
→ Intervene in the conversational flow: “Could you clarify what you meant by that last comment, @ryan?”
Checking for emerging convergence in the discussion.
→ Use a temperature check proposal: “I’m hearing the group feels this way, and I’d like to test for high-level agreement.”
Once facilitators understand how their existing skillset translates into the online space, Loomio can feel like a powerful toolbox indeed.
“Oh it’s not so hard” Nina said to me earlier this week, “it’s like I’ve got a toolbox now, and ways of noticing what’s going on”.
I’m encouraging Nina and her team to practice writing in ‘stream of consciousness’ to develop their skill at responding in a moment, and I’m seeing familiar face-to-face interventions used in ActionStation meetings now used in Loomio discussions.
Tip #3: Open Yourself to Learning
Through these experiences, I’m growing a lot as a consultant myself. True collaboration requires an element of vulnerability and ‘not knowing’, and I’m finding if I make it clear what I know and don’t, we can co-create solutions together.
Here are eight of the most valuable lessons that have helped my own growth as a collaboration consultant:
“Don’t be afraid to get breakfast with your clients”, a good friend recently said to me. “They want to get to know you, and it will make your work more effective”. As a consultant, getting to know your client lets you know how to best support the project.
At the opening of meetings, suggest an open check-in, to find out where everyone is at in the context beyond the work at hand. I find that we get to the nut of ‘business’ quicker after an initial check in: “How are you?”.
Dance between openness and directness. ActionStation needs me to be both open in facilitating learning, and direct in providing answers. Marianne works in a genuine scarcity of time and prefers direct bulleted feedback emails. While Nina’s curiosity and growing confidence with the tool means we spend more time asking questions that encourage self-reflection.
Don’t be afraid to get stuck in. When working with a small team like ActionStation, often the most valuable thing a Loomio consultant can do is to draft informative and deliberate Loomio thread contexts. This way the working team can focus on holding the conversational space for the Loomio group.
Focus on supporting the team’s internal capacity. “I’m here to support you to feel confident with the tool when I leave”. We’re not building dependency here.
Find the channels that work for you and your client. Do they prefer emails or phone calls? Does your client use a messaging service like Slack or other channel? Can you get on it? When it comes to comms, meet them where they already are.
Find clients that are passionate about genuine collaborative decision-making, innovation, and have clear sense of purpose. Marianne and her team have these qualities in bucket loads, and as I find my way in the consulting world, I feel privileged to work and learn with them. Work can be slow and cumbersome when the team is not willing to be helped!
Make sure to ask to join the Loomio group you are coaching the team in using. Often times the best training is through direct demonstration.
Good luck on your own collaboration journey!
I continue to consult about Loomio, and with the Enspiral facilitation and process design network. I’d love to talk to teams going through a collaboration evolution, or to people looking to consult using Loomio. I will be in Europe until September 2016, and then returning to New Zealand.
You can get me on firstname.lastname@example.org