PWS Agenda Design, Part II: ORID by Accident

During our late night planning session, we set out our meeting objectives first like any professional facilitator, but we didn’t intentionally apply any particular overarching strategy aside from  to come forward (outside of a combination of circle and non-circle work), yet to both our surprises we ended up doing a process that mapped quite well to the ORID process. ORID is an acronym for a facilitation framework that comes from The Art of Focused Conversations by R. Brian Stanfield; it stands for: Objective, Reflective, Interpretative, and Decisional. It also happens to be one of the topics that Lysbeth teaches, but that I had never learned before as Nellie does not teach it, at least not in her introductory course.








Objective is all about facts and what is observable data, some authors reference this as the “WHAT” part of a facilitation. This is valuable because we all observe, interpret, and remember data differently (thank you ladder of inference!), and thus we can’t assume that we are all working from the same page of facts. For the Pasadena facilitation, based on our case development interviews, we knew that we needed to spend the most time constructively looking at the facts since different understandings and interpretations was at the heart of their disagreements.

Without it intentionally being the objective section, we created two activities to bring out “the facts” in a constructive, safe space. First, we asked “What one question do you most need answered in order to move forward?” Clumping these into theme gave specific direction for our time, highlighted what people were stuck on despite leader’s efforts, and gave us something to evaluate our time at the end and create next steps (by asking which questions still need more information or discussion to be satisfactorily answered). (By the way, this activity comes straight from Sam Kaner, so thank you San Francisco!). The second way we brought in an objective lens was to have the participants create nearly 60’ long timeline on the walls in the room. With the use of sticky notes, people were able to add key events, which provided perspective and a launching pad to have conversations around what happened when and why. Using the timeline also provided us with the ability to split up the day in past, present, and future: looking at where they’ve been, where they are, and how they want to move forward.


The Reflective section of ORID then provides space for the reactions, hurt, heart, feelings, and overall emotional responses associated with “the facts,” and is considered the “GUT” or “HEART” part for some facilitators. We moved into this space with a two-part “powerful moment” or “blank paper photograph” activity. For the first part of the activity participants were asked to get into pairs with someone of a different perspective than themselves (teachers with board members, etc). Each pair was given a blank sheet of paper and asked to remember a powerful moment that crystallized the impacts on you or others about how the events at the school have unfolded; if someone had snapped a photo right then, describe to your partner what that photo would look like and what that moment means to you. This was done as an active listening exercise, listeners were asked to not interrupt or ask questions until after the storyteller was done, and were told they might be invited to reflect or paraphrase what they heard in the larger group. This second part, which brought everyone together, did invite people to share how they themselves or another was affected in the situation. Intended to build empathy and give space for tough emotions, there certainly were a fair number of tears shed during this section.

We then moved into the Interpretive, “SO WHAT,” section which invites participants to make sense of both the facts and their emotional reactions. Our interpretative section was a back-and-forth between pairs and the full circle, asking simple questions around “what are the lessons we can learn from today?” To say the least, there were a lot of lessons learned as evidenced by the nearly 10 charts I wrote on lessons learned. Finally, we spent the last little bit of the day in the Decisional, or “NOW WHAT” space helping the group to brainstorm and decide on next steps after this meeting. We did a fine job of helping them to articulate areas of action, but there is no doubt that everyone was tired at this point and that we probably could have developed more fleshed out action plans if we all had the luxury of coming back together a few days or a week later, but alas we had a plane to catch just a couple hours later.


Who is the protagonist? (week of June 15)

Met with Steve and Lauren to kick off this next leg of the Lower Columbia Solutions Group “documentary” project. As we started to talk about the story line, we quickly realized just how tangled and complex this project is–a true “wicked problem.” In an effort to make our thinking easier we decided to focus on the question: who is the protagonist? Turns out that is not an easy question and did not make anything much easier!

Before I address the who question we asked, first I’ll remind us of the answer to the what question. For those of you like myself who hasn’t thought about a protagonist or an antagonist since high school English class, asking what is a protagonist is a good place to start. The protagonist is literally and etymologically the “player of the first part.” In classic Greek theater from whence the term derives, the protagonist was the character who goes through a conflict with the antagonist. In theory, the audience should always be pro-protagonist, meaning it is with she whom they should identify with and root for. Modern understanding also frequently notes that it is the protagonist who moves the story forward, allowing for the growth of other characters, and the resolution of the conflict.

The potential characters we shortlisted for the protagonist role are far-ranging: the Army Corps of Engineers, various individual people from the Corps, crab fishery representative Dale, the crabs themselves, the Portland economy, international trade, beach erosion, tourism, climate change, adaptive management, administrative law surrounding disposal issues as enforced by the EPA, and the National Policy Consensus Center. After diving down each of those rabbit holes, we came back to where we should have started: the protagonist of this story is the collaborative process itself.

Indeed, it is the process itself that has moved this story forward, that has encouraged human transformation, and has helped the characters of this story weather the storms of this conflict. It is this process that has set these stakeholders up for success. It is this process that will nourish the beaches, human communities, economies, and ecosystems of the mouth of the Columbia River. Now to tell that story. My marching orders, however vague they may be, have been given.