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Whole System Events and Large Group Interventions

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Whole Systesm Event

A Whole System Event is part of the ongoing life of an adaptive human system. It is not a one-off event. It needs the people involved to recognise that their futures are linked, that they are part of an on-going interdependent system with shared purpose.

If your aim is to change the system's behaviour then the attraction of working simultaneously with large numbers of local people is that their time and attention is focused on a shared concern in a very public and energising

way. But holding a large event is really no more than a broadening out of a way of working to include a greater number of people in the building of networks, sharing of purpose and exploration of possibilities. It's not unusual after an event to find members of the local intervention team, who have planned and organised it, saying 'as far as I am concerned the planning process was more important than the event itself'. And so it should be for them.

Large Group Interventions

Large Group Interventions are meetings designed specifically to allow large numbers of people to work together at the same time in the same room. They may last several hours or several days. They can be entirely successful one-off conferences, and do not necessarily need the participants to recognise themselves as belonging to an ongoing system. Participants may number hundreds or a few dozen and they are responsible for contributing what they know and for doing the work. There are usually no outside speakers.

Sometimes meetings involving large numbers are planned as though they were scaled-up versions of small groups though they are known to exhibit different dynamics. Most people have experience of working in small groups. There is an extensive literature about the design, dynamics and facilitation of small groups. Good experiences of taking part in large group meetings are less common.

Over the last fifty years a range of designs for Large Group Interventions has emerged through the interplay of social psychology, psychoanalysis and systems theory. These designs enable all to have a voice; provide time to nurture relationships and establish genuine communication; and benefit from the potentially mood-enhancing capacity of working together with the same aims. These designs are now sufficiently familiar that they are no longer 'special', and are being increasingly taken into mainstream business meetings.

If you think of commissioning a Large Group Intervention (LGI) you will want to find a practitioner who will plan and design the intervention with you, and then facilitate it. Each LGI has its own purpose and detailed design that tackles the issues of voice, dialogue, mood and energy. To suit your particular circumstances the practitioner may suggest a unique design, or modifications to one of the well-tried designs described in the literature.

By far the best way to get a sense of what Large Group Interventions feel like is to attend one either as a participant or as a steward. The next best way is to watch a video.

Large Group Interventions have limitations. They involve large numbers of people for significant lengths of time. They require careful planning, attention to detail of the logistics and experienced facilitators. They should not be used when you can achieve your purpose in easier or more familiar ways. They are not an effective way of, for example, consulting the public or implementing a planned re-organisation.

For more information about Large Group Interventions see bibliography & links.

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