Tag: InnovationGames

Citizens of San José play Innovation Game® to prioritize the city budget

Build your budget
from eric731 on Flickr

The start of a new year means budget time once again. Councillors have dozens, maybe hundreds of choices to make, and the tradeoffs aren’t often clear. It’s a daunting task to make those decisions, especially for new councillors. They want to better understand the priorities of citizens regarding key budget initiatives, but how in a time and cost-effective manner, in a way that people want to participate?

Engagement with a twist: the city of San José brought in community leaders last Saturday to try their hand at making budget decisions (Mercury News article). They played budget prioritization games, a variation of an Innovation Game® called Buy a Feature. Diverse groups of citizens sat at tables, each possessing play money to purchase items. The key is that no one has enough money to buy the items they care most about – they have to persuade others to pool their money together, and that’s the magic of the game. Each table group also had a list of reductions to choose from to free up money to spend, provided they reached unanimous consent to cut something, like the building of a new police station.

Photos of game materials (best viewed in full screen):

I was there, at the invitation of Luke Hohmann, CEO of Innovation Games, to work as a volunteer observer and learn from the experience, in the hopes of holding a similar event in the Sault. For corporations, this type of event isn’t so unique, but for government, it’s pioneering stuff. My role was to capture both quantitative data, like who spent money on what, and qualitative data, like why an item was purchased, how the discussions went, what items were easy for the group not to purchase. After 90 minutes I had 30 index cards worth of data from our table.

Photos of my work and the team (best viewed in full screen):

As an observer, the passion people have about their city was evident, the options they had to choose from mattered. They struggled between choices, like funding a children’s health initiative vs a fund for community-based organizations. To help citizens, subject matter experts from the city were available to answer questions. People are passionate about their community, and when given a chance for meaningful engagement, they jump to the challenge.

So what was the result?

The Innovation Games team will report back on the results within a couple of weeks, which I will then share.

I interviewed two participants to get their impressions. In a nutshell, what I heard was the event went well beyond their expectations, based on their experience from previous years. This one was highly collaborative, informative, and even (gasp) FUN! Watch the short 1 minute videos to see for yourself.

A true measure of an event like this is that besides better understanding citizen priorities, a community grows closer together. This event delivered on that. They heard each other’s stories and dreams. They shared their diverse knowledge to make better decisions, collectively, and they had a fun time getting to know each other.

I believe this is just the start, an appetizer for what is possible in how citizens and government can engage each other. My intention is to learn from the San José experience and try a similar event in my home town of Sault Ste. Marie. I’m already getting enthusiastic feedback from members of council and Mayor Amaroso, who are also passionate about citizen engagement. Thanks to Luke and his hard-working Innovation Games® team, who poured in over two months of effort to make this one day happen. Citizen engagement, stronger community and better budgets – that’s worth investing in.

More photos:

Can Agile transform faith communities?

Last Sunday, I had one of my most rewarding experiences as an agile coach. This wasn’t with a software team, as I normally work with, but with a small group of adult friends longing to belong to a vibrant faith community.

For a long time I have been disappointed and discouraged at the lost potential within church congregations, at the hunger for real community left unsatisfied. Most people attending church are not active nor engaged. A few people are doing a lot of work, much of which is not resonating and thrilling. It’s time to re-imagine how we in a faith community want to be in relation to one another, what we want to strive for together. We must take responsibility to create a healthy, vibrant community. For those who gathered on Sunday, this was the first tiny step on that journey.

Agile thinking and the Scrum framework have shown me that the processes and control structures we use greatly influence the values embraced and outcomes achieved. For our session I wanted to avoid it turning into a long rant of everything that is perceived wrong with the current situation. For me the goals of the session were:

  1. to find common ground across our individual experiences
  2. to establish a vision for the faith community experience we long for
  3. and to identify some steps needed to work towards that vision

After a hearty potluck meal, we began by sharing in a few words why we came and what we hoped to get out of our session. I then introduced the Remember the Future game, one of EnthiosysInnovation Games. The game helps people to define an end ‘product’ by looking at the steps in reverse. As humans we find it easier to understand and describe a future event from the past tense over a possible future event, even if neither even has occurred.

I asked everyone to pretend it’s a year from now, October 2010. were part of a vibrant faith community. Describe what it looks like. Jot down steps that were needed to get there. Each item was written on a separate sticky note. After 10 min of brainstorming we posted our stickies on flip chart paper and looked for emerging themes. From that process, four groups emerged. Taking the time to label each group brought deeper awareness of what matters to us in a vibrant faith community.

People became more comfortable sharing and participating as the evening progressed. I had hoped to continue the evening with the Sailboat game, a variation of the Speed Boat Innovation Game. This exercise would help us identify obstacles and opportunities towards reaching our goal of a vibrant community. Since time was running out and our kids were no longer interested in the movie they were watching, we skipped that and finished with an exercise to determine what to do next.

Circle of Questions is a retrospective activity from the book Agile Retrospectives by Diana Larsen and Esther Derby. In this activity, the group sits in a circle, and going around the circle, each person takes a turn asking a question to the person on their immediate left. The question can be about anything they like (barring anything offensive or attacking). The person to the left answers the question to the best of their ability, and then they ask the person to their left any other question (or the same question if they feel they’d like a better answer). This continues until the allotted time is up, or until you have gone around the entire circle twice, whichever comes last. (Thanks to John Wilger for the writeup)

The goal for our activity was to decide what to do next. What transpired was a deep sharing of desires, needs, struggles and hopes. Four guys being vulnerable to one another, listening attentively as each person took their turn. No fluffy stuff, no lighthearted chit-chat. This was a taste of that vibrant community we seek.

So what’s next? I plan to invite another group of people to go through the same exercises, and slowly build a group motivated and empowered to reach our goal. We’ll gather everyone together in about a month, again around a shared meal, and start to discuss community models already out there. Hopefully each gathering will contain the elements of lives connected, spiritual partnership, bonding mission and positive power.

This small experiment was a moving, powerful experience and we were only a group of 4. Imagine if this was done on a big scale with a congregation. We might find the shared vision and motivation to make a vibrant community a reality. I remain hopeful and determined, feeling called to use the gifts from Agile coaching to transform both places of work and worship.