Facilitator’s Guide to Participatory Decision-Making, by Sam Kaner

Another indicator of an assessment culture, right up there with planning backwards, understanding lifecycles, and thinking like designers, is making decisions in as participatory and transparent a way as possible.

Kaner reminds us that if you have made time for thinking that is actually divergent and encouraged that thinking (commonly referred to as “thinking outside the box”), you will have multiple perspectives and possibilities on the table that will make convergence a challenge.  Thus another understanding assessment cultures should embrace is to expect a “Groan Zone” before you can converge and come to closure.

What an important concept to understand – that reconciling different perspectives and points of view, and weighing the benefits of possible actions is groan-inducing.  It is not that there is an inadequate leader, or that the group doesn’t get along, or that the group has a bad habit of talking everything to death.  No, it is that you have done enough divergent thinking to get into the groan zone.

How do you get out of it?  Here is where it pays to be an assessment culture.  You will have scheduled sufficient mission time to work things through.  You will have identified your core values and described desirable outcomes – the tops of your rubrics – and they will serve as touchstones for decision-making.  You will be used to discussing the relative merits of ideas rather than choosing sides based on personal loyalties.  You will have a theory of change that will move you towards convergence.  And you will not resent being in the groan zone; you will expect it, even welcome it.  You will say to each other, “We must be getting somewhere because I am getting uncomfortable -- we are obviously in the groan zone.”  Sometimes divergent perspectives can be combined into a third and stronger alternative.  Sometimes, you just have to choose.  People in an assessment culture will always give the first a try, and they will know when it’s time for the second.