Delta Dialogues

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Delta Dialogues website

Building trust among stakeholders regarding the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, which plays a central role in California water issues. I co-led this project with Kristin Cobble and Jeff Conklin at my old company, Groupaya, in 2012. Groupaya did a second phase of the project after I left in 2013.

Design Approach

  • Really invested in enrollment, container-building. Trust was very low, so needed to invest in making sure we could maintain it
  • Almost 50% of our time was learning journeys
  • Rotated meeting locations as opposed to "neutral" locations to build empathy, trust
  • Dialogue Mapping — shared display to build shared understanding, trust
  • Capacity-building. Use website, Joe's monthly reports to build muscles around working transparently

Lessons Learned

  • We had a very strong client, who was widely respected, even across difference, and was a tremendous weaver. He could communicate what we were doing effectively and engage constructively in design without getting in the way
  • This wasn't our shining moment when it came to the mapping. But as awkwardly as we yielded it, it still was powerful (and we weren't that bad). People used it, especially between meetings. Doing the squirm test turned out to be a major turning point
  • Our storyteller (Joe) paid off in huge ways. It created transparency, which built trust, but Joe also established relationships and was constantly talking to folks outside of the process, which gave us a view that we wouldn't have otherwise have. It also served as a partial evaluation.
  • Again, smart, careful use of technology led to success.
  • We did not invest enough in team cohesion + alignment, especially among the partners. I was holding a lot of the vision and bridging Jeff and Kristin, and when I left the project, things fell apart. We needed to practice a lot more together as opposed to doing it in front of the client. Consistent with my general stubborn, brute-force, hero approach to doing the work which is not sustainable for anyone
  • As much as we emphasized establishing goals + success ahead of time, we were not disciplined in going back to these in our preparation. We had a particularly bad meeting in the middle of the process, and Rebecca made this observation, causing us to make an adjustment and helping us get back on track
  • I continue to believe that we overvalue the role that direct facilitation plays in success. Learning journeys, simply having a shared display (even if we didn't wield it that skillfully) had a big payoff.
  • At the same time, I think we vastly undervalued the container and the basics that we often take for granted. Campbell paid us the best compliment I've ever received from a client, pointing out that our stakeholders had a completely different energy in our space than they did in other meetings, where they were sometimes literally yelling and screaming at each other.