Pattern #53

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Multi-Media Engagement

Audio, video, text, graphics … virtual, real … broadcasting, watching, reading, interacting, sharing … imagery, music, story, poetry, dance, games, drama, performance, conversation … Different strokes for different folks and different gifts from each. So understand appropriate uses of each engagement medium and their complementary powers to reach and engage more and more diverse people more and more fully.

  • What kinds of media do I most enjoy, value, relate to, and use?
  • What about other people – what works best for them? What forms of media are unavailable or unfamiliar to certain people?
  • What special gifts and limitations should we keep in mind about each of the various kinds of media that are available to us? How can they be synergized?
  • In light of our natural preferences and skills and the people we are trying to reach, what does that mean for the project we are trying to do?
  • Who do we know who are good at working with the various kinds of media we need to use?
  • What forms of communication and engagement would best communicate what’s important about this challenge to the people who are involved in it and/or should be involved in addressing it?

Going Deeper …

This is an edited version of the video on this page.

This pattern’s picture has this woman looking at all these different modes of being and interaction – many of them in the virtual or online realm. She is thinking about what would be appropriate for her project. What is she thinking about them.? She may just say: „No, I don’t even want to consider that one.“ She has problems with it.

There are so many ways to engage people around an issue or question. The more we understand those, the more we can reach people for whom one mode is really comfortable and other modes aren’t. There are also ways to synergize those modes.

One approach is using games and interactivity. There are games that actually teach people and give them an experience of dealing with an issue. Farmville was a big game which challenged a lot of people to think a lot about what’s involved in farming. There is a game that trains you in city development. There are deliberative games, including a number of government budget games. They say: “Here’s are all the different departments of the government and its funds. You get to allocate funds to each of these and see what happens. Do you want to raise taxes? Do you want to cut out programs and lower the amount of money spent for foreign aid, for military, or whatever. And in order to get the money you want on this other thing, see how it comes out…” You get to play with that and learn that government budgets are not as easy to put together as you might think.

Then there are ways to illustrate and animate things that are ordinarily linear verbal words. Some of these approaches are online like RSA Animate which illustrates in real time various speeches of well-known thinkers and experts. Similarly, we have the real-time in-person practice called “graphic facilitation” or “graphic recording” done by a person who is a good graphic artist. As they watch a conversation or listen to a lecture, they draw on a chart pad images, lines, arrows, and little symbols which mean specific things. You end up with a pictorial representation of what’s been talked about. For some people that’s really, really meaningful. It is not so meaningful for me, but for some people it is better than the original lecture or conversation.

And then there is a debate in the United States over arts and play. Do we focus instead on children being able to read and write? Many people say that math and science is where the action is, that’s where professions are, that’s what businesses want. And thus the arts and play are wastes of time. But more and more research is showing that these are fundamental to people’s ability to be creative and to do work together. So we want to engage kids in many different ways according to what they’re interested in – but that’s covered in some other patterns.

What would it be like to combine different programs and thought experiments – what would be gained by that? One of the classic experiments I talk about was done in 1991 by Maclean’s magazine, which is the glossy newsweekly for Canada. Their country was coming apart at the seams. They convened a dozen people chosen scientifically for their differences from across Canada and put them together with an expert in principled negotiation to facilitate a two and half day weekend conversation at a resort. It almost fell apart halfway through due to participants’ passions about seemingly irreconcilable positions. I feature all this in several of my books – and I have done a major research about it which linked to this and other patterns on this website.

Maclean’s was trying to see if these people who were so different could come to an agreement about a vision for Canada. So this was a face-to-face facilitated engagement with people who were considered a cross-section of Canada. This was a particular kind of face-to-face conversation and they had reporters present taking notes about it, and they had a Canadian TV filming everything that was going on. When it was done, Maclean’s published 40 pages of coverage about what happened. They included bios of the people that were involved. They described step-by-step what happened on Friday night and each of the other days – amounting to many pages of reporting on what happened hour by hour and who said what.

By reading the magazine you get into what it was like for the people involved. It wasn’t just “here’s a description of what happened” but “here’s specific people and they’re saying these things, they agree with this person, they disagree with that person,…” It places you vicariously and vividly right in the middle of the drama. We watch this group make several breakthroughs and end up creating an amazing document – which is also included in the magazine. Many of them who fought during the process became fast, long-term friends across unbelievable differences.

The descriptions of the process, how it was done, the background story, the issues,… all this was covered in the 40 pages, all with photographs added. The same week that the magazine came out, Canadian TV broadcast its hour-long public affairs video documentary about the initiative. So you get an audiovisual version of what you’ve got written down and pictured in the magazine. One thing they didn’t have was a participatory dimension for the public people who were reading and watching all this. Nevertheless, this project had a tremendous impact, which I discovered when I hired an investigative reporter to find out about it. I have all that linked to this pattern, in the resources section.

Another thing happened recently in a suburb of London. One of my colleagues facilitated a series of conversations with people from his large multi-ethnic borough. Small groups convened and then shared in large groups what they came up with. They also used an online program called Polis where people can share what they think about an issue, share information and offer solutions. Other people participating can respond to each of these ideas and say “I agree” or “I disagree” or they can “pass”. There’s an artificial intelligence in the background which organizes all this input into groups and visualizes similarities and differences between the groups. It’s highly participative and he got more than 1000 people involved. Polis can go up to 10,000 people and more.

This guy created a flow between the modes. People who were part of the conversations would add information and their perspectives into this Polis discussion, and online results from Polis would become part of the face-to-face conversation. The dynamics between face-to-face and online participation got really interesting. I could also imagine including issue briefing videos. People would make little documentaries, they would go into the community, talk to people – to stakeholders and experts – about a given situation. In their 5-15 minute video about this particular issue, they would share what’s going on: Here are some of the choices we need to decide, here are possible consequences,… These briefing videos would be posted on the web, out in the world. Anybody could check them out. So having video informational input would be another media mode to engage people.

As mentioned before, we have games. I have an idea for an online game where people join teams to come up with recommendations on a particular public issue. Depending on how diverse their team is and how high a level of agreement they get on their final recommendations, the more points they get. So people who come to a 50-50 agreement among a group where everybody was a member of one political party would get few points. But if you have eight people in your team and they’re all really different like the people in the Canadian Maclean’s experiment and you get them to agree one hundred percent, then that’s like “Wow, you have done a fabulous job! Here’s a thousand points!”

I designed that game to move towards agreements by soliciting and addressing people’s concerns. That’s another one of patterns – “All Concerns Addressed”. The game software would help people find or form a team with the right kind and level of diversity they’re comfortable with, and then the results would get published online. There could be a competition between teams to get points and to generate fabulous ideas. Then those ideas could be fed into the kinds of public conversations I was just talking about – or into activist advocacy networks to actually get the government or population to act on them.

There can be lots of different dimensions feeding into each other, lots of different ways of looking at how we engage people. So if you are visual learner, you can get lots of information from the world. If you are a verbal or word person, you can get lots of information. If you just want to sit and listen and learn, that’s one way, but you may want to engage and put your two cents in, which involves other kinds of engagement… All these things involve interactivity, as well as having aesthetics and beauty to help engage people.

The word “attractive” means that something attracts, it draws people into the aesthetics and beauty of things. Words like entertainment or infotainment suggest that a game will tend to pull you in. Having accessible meaningful information is important, but that depends on how you think or how you respond to things. So all these are dimensions to consider.

Then there’s movement – movement on a screen or physical movement, having people move while they’re learning. There are various ways to position yourselves in a group in regard to different issues, so that its visible for everyone to consider. There are different practices were people are actually up and moving. In a prioritization process called “35”, participants are milling around exchanging cards, and the energetics of that is very different from sitting and voting. Even though the results may be similar, the energy is totally different. So that is a different form of engagement – things that involve movement, activity and energy.

And we need to consider the trade-offs between face-to-face and online engagement. When you’re face-to-face there is a level of communication you pick up, the pheromones of people, their body language and nuances that you don’t necessarily get online. Even if it’s video like Zoom calls or FaceTime or whatever. There’s a lot you get on video – and it’s much more than you get from email or chat. But email and chat can be done kind of outside of time, and that is an advantage of them as an engagement mode. Sometimes people can’t always get together at the same time. So then it’s important to be able to relate “asynchronously”, as they say.

So I’m offering those examples as things to know about, things to think about. Obviously this topic is way more complex and there are many more possibilities and things to know about than I am giving you here – or than you could possibly get from experts. But this pattern is about having an inquiry and attitude: “We want to engage these kinds of people in this activity, how do we pull them in, how do we make it accessible and interesting?”

We go back to the Prime Directive: “We want to evoke and engage the wisdom and resourcefulness of the whole on behalf of the whole.” Multimedia Engagement is fundamental to that, because we are talking about pulling people in and having them interact with each other in ways that will be generative for the larger whole. So that’s the way we are thinking and the various media provide resources for doing that well.