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Categorizing and scrutinizing the hindrances to the superordinate goal (Step 2 of 5)

The second step in the team.earth process with stakeholders is a facilitated process to answer the question, “What is keeping us from currently being at the goal that we envision?”, referring to the superordinate goal formulated in the first step. This second step uses technology-assisted visualization and a clear, large, graphical note-taking display for capturing participant input in a visually clear and coherent fashion, simultaneously visible to all stakeholders and individually navigable on all the stakeholders’ electronic devices. This step requires the facilitator to do preparatory work with the stakeholders individually and in small groups beforehand, so that the facilitator gains an understanding of the general outline that will likely emerge during facilitation.

The goal statement from Step 1 is graphically visualized in a circle at the center of a large display, visible to all stakeholders. A concentric circle drawn around the goal center represents the first, most general, broadest description of the hindrances, grouped into a handful of categories. These are broad categories of the impediments to achieving the goal the stakeholders envision. Subsequent concentric circles are used to break down the previous one.

Step 2: Hypothetical example of how three dozen representatives of industry, government, academia, education, philanthropy, and others identify and agree on a first layer of categories of issues keeping the system—their country—from achieving the superordinate goal they previously articulated.

This step can require patience and perseverance, as the goal is to continue to break down each issue category into sub categories in the next concentric circle, and break those down further in subsequent concentric circles, to the point where the sub-issue is small enough or simple enough that the stakeholders recognize that it might have one or more functional solutions. In this step, we won’t identify those solutions yet, but we’ll stop subdividing along a certain branch once the leaves at the end of that branch are simple enough to obviously lend themselves to one or more solutions.This step is about describing the problem, not about discussing solutions. Stakeholders may tend to start offering solutions, and this tendency must be kept in check by the facilitator. Instead, the focus must be kept on, “This is the goal that we all agreed on in the center, now what are the issues that are keeping us from getting there?”

A technological aid is used here to keep track, to maintain order, and to visualize what can become a massive problem description. A visual, graphical technology tool is needed to be able to visualize the branches and leaves, manipulate the tree, navigate the tree, and for the facilitator to add and edit nodes quickly without distracting the audience.

What results from this process will likely become a massive number of hierarchically structured problem components. Technology has no qualms with simple components arranged logically in massive numbers. The visualization technology makes it easy for the stakeholders to focus on just one piece at a time and its subdivided immediate parts.

We trade off time for scale. We use a small window of focus to keep the attention on one limited, manageable piece at a time. We permit the process to continue over a longer time period so that the details of each window can be completed to all the stakeholders’ satisfaction.

At the end of this process, we end up with a massive number of leaf nodes along the outer edge of the circle (or on the surface of the sphere since our technology lets us visualize the structure as concentric spherical surfaces in three dimensions).

This concludes Step 2, through which we’ve constructed a structured, graphical description of the challenge.

Step 2, continued: Hypothetical example of continued refinement through additional concentric circles where three dozen representatives of industry, government, academia, education, philanthropy, and others identify and agree on additional sub-categories of issues keeping the system—their country—from achieving the superordinate goal they previously articulated. This begins the construction of a hierarchical tree, with superordinate goal at the center, whose leaf nodes will eventually be simple enough issues that functional solutions can be proposed for them.

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