Consultation responses: putting some backbone into it

One of the joys I find in blogging is that just when I'm strugging to find a way to express an idea, I stumble across an idea with similar roots elsewhere that can, hopefully, help make sense of what I was thinking about.

Just such a thing occured with this post from Annecdote about 'Story Spines'. As Shawn explains:

I asked the groups to grab an issue and tell a story explaining what happened. People busily jumped into the activity but I noticed they were just writing dot points detailing their opinions about what had happened. No one wrote a story.

It seems that they didn't know what to do to write a story. I had just assumed that everyone else thinks about stories like I do and has a sense what one looks like. Big mistake!

My next opportunity was at another knowledge strategy workshop but this time with a government department in Canberra. I had remembered Andrew introducing us to story spines so I dug out the blog post. Here is the simple story spine (Viv's example is more elaborate).

Once upon a time…
But one day…
Because of that… (repeat three times or as often as necessary) Until finally…
Ever since then…
And the moral of the story is…(optional)

The Story Spine helps groups to structure their responses to a question or request into the format that is needed to move things forward.

What has this got to do with consultation you might ask? Well, as I was working with colleagues to analyse the notes from flipcharts created at the 3D Dialogues we came to realise that a lot of responses lacked verbs.

'What is good about this?' 'Youth Workers'.

But youth workers what? 'Youth workers helping us'? 'Youth workers being there but staying out the way unless we need them'? 'The particular youth workers we know'? 'Any youth workers'?.

The form of answer illicited by the standard flip-chart recording isn't really what we need to make sense of the dialogue and discussion that has taken place. And that is where some sort of 'spine' for consultation responses might come in handy. A mechanism for encouraging statments with enough specificity to be able to feed meaningfully into future decision making.

So what should the spine for a consultation response look like?

When we were looking at the 3D response we discussed preparing a series of cards with a range of verbs on, and then asking those recording on flip-charts to make sure everything written up includes at least one of these cards – but I fear that a manageable set of verb-cards might be too limiting.

Perhaps instead simply providing some sentence starters like:

“We would like it if…”

“We need…”

“Things are better when…”

Would encourage the more complete sorts of responses we need.

I'll certianly be looking to try something along these lines for the next consultation I'm involved in… and I'll be sure to report back with how it works…