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Archive: 2015 (Community OR Network)

Tuesday, 24 Nov 2015
Huw Evans

Case Study - Reviewing Business Plans

I have posted a link - below - to a case study of an intervention with a community development charity.  The work drew upon the principles, approaches and processes associated with community operational research.



Thursday, 22 Oct 2015
Huw Evans

My thanks to Ruth Kaufman for making me aware of this report by Rob Abercrombie, Ellen Harries and Rachel Wharton for LankellyChase Foundation and New Philanthropy Capital - you can access it via this link -

The authors talk about 'Operational Researchers' and the distinction between 'hard' and 'soft' OR, even describing the potential approaches of each advocate/practitioner.  I'm not so sure the distinctions are that easy to define in real life and that hybrids are the reality for many ...  For me change will involve both hard and soft OR - each informing the other.

For me community OR has a big part to play in understanding the need for change and designing systrems, processes .... and maybe it's too simplistic to talk in terms of just 'soft' approaches when there are a range of ways of addressing change.  what do you think?

Wednesday, 21 Oct 2015
Huw Evans

This report by Simon Burall of Involve focusing on a more deliberative approach to democracy in the UK should have implications for community OR in the impact of COR approaches to, and processes for, public engagement in deliberative democratic frameworks.

"Democratic reform comes in waves, propelled by technological, economic, political and social developments. There are periods of rapid change, followed by relative quiet.

We are currently in a period of significant political pressure for change to our institutions of democracy and government. With so many changes under discussion it is critically important that those proposing and carrying out reforms understand the impact that different reforms might have.

Most discussions of democratic reform focus on electoral democracy. However, for all their importance in the democratic system, elections rarely reveal what voters think clearly enough for elected representatives to act on them. Changing the electoral system will not alone significantly increase the level of democratic control held by citizens.

Room for a View, by Involve’s director Simon Burall, looks at democratic reform from a broader perspective than that of elections. Drawing on the work of democratic theorists, it uses a deliberative systems approach to examine the state of UK democracy. Rather than focusing exclusively on the extent to which individuals and communities are represented within institutions, it is equally concerned with the range of views present and how they interact.

Adapting the work of the democratic theorist John Dryzek, the report identifies seven components of the UK’s democratic system, describing and analysing the condition of each in turn. Assessing the UK’s democracy though this lens reveals it to be in fragile health. The representation of alternative views and narratives in all of the UK system’s seven components is poor, the components are weakly connected and, despite some positive signs, deliberative capacity is decreasing.

Room for a View suggests that a focus on the key institutions isn’t enough. If the health of UK democracy is to be improved, we need to move away from thinking about the representation of individual voters to thinking about the representation of views, perspectives and narratives. Doing this will fundamentally change the way we approach democratic reform"

See the report and a summary via the link -

Monday, 12 Oct 2015
Huw Evans

This blog from the Nurture Development website describes a scenario and an opportunity for Community OR to engage with people to support them in developing their communities and getting involved in decision-making about what affects them.

'Soft' OR approaches can draw upon 'hard' OR to inform engaging people in decision-making, to develop people's understanding and create better dialogue with a view to better outcomes and address the risk of 'hard' OR analysis being done in isolation followed by top down imposed solutions.  It's a more strategic way of making public policy decisions - not always evident in some of the responses to budget cuts in the public and 3rd sectors.

Food for thought .....

Monday, 21 Sep 2015
Huw Evans

See the link - - and below:

On Thursday, September 24th from 9:30am – 11:30am EDT, The GovLab will host its third online gathering of CrowdLaw practitioners from around the world. This third installment in an ongoing series on the evolution of CrowdLaw — crowdsourced legislative and regulatory lawmaking — aims to enable participants to share their experiences and learn from one another.

With several #CrowdLaw experiments already well underway and celebrating their first or even second anniversaries, the goal of this session is to deepen our collective understanding of what works, what doesn’t, how to assess impact, and accelerate the implementation of more effective and legitimate participatory lawmaking practices. 

Confirmed participants include:

How to Participate? The session will be held online, September 24, 9:30 – 11:30 am EDT.

How Do I Log In? Clic on this link or join by phone: +1 415 762 9988 (US Toll) using the meeting ID: 943 543 497. International numbers available here.

Conference Format? The discussion will begin with a series of lightning talks by practitioners from eight countries about their experiences. Presentations will be 5 minutes and will focus on key learnings about what works and what doesn’t. Following the presentations, we will have a moderated conversation about: 

  • Design: What makes for successful Crowdlaw projects: what works, what doesn’t
  • Incentives: How to encourage people to participate?
  • Impediments: What are the legal, cultural, technological and other obstacles?
  • Metrics: How to measure what works and demonstrate both legitimacy and effectiveness?

We invite you to tune into the event on Thursday and submit any and all questions you have to the event chat or to @TheGovLab on Twitter or using the hashtag #crowdlaw. 

If you’d like more resources on CrowdLaw, please see:

  • The GovLab’s summaries and videos of the two prior meetings held on June 2 and June 16, 2014, with representatives from 11 countries. 
  • The GovLab’s publicly accessible crowdlaw Zotero folder, featuring research resources and material on the subject.
  • @TheGovLab’s #Crowdlaw Twitter List to follow and learn about CrowdLaw developments from practitioners and leaders online.

Tuesday, 7 Apr 2015
Huw Evans

Call for papers: 

Community Operational Research: Innovations, Internationalization and Agenda-Setting Applications

A special issue of the European Journal of Operational Research (EJOR)


OR practitioners have had an interest in supporting community development for almost half a century – well before the term ‘community operational research’ was first coined in the mid-1980s. While the initial focus in the 80s was OR serving community groups (grass-roots citizen movements), it quickly became evident that communities often wanted to address highly complex social and environmental issues that required the involvement of public, private and voluntary sector organizations too. Indeed, projects were often initiated and funded by these organizations. Nevertheless, the defining feature of Community OR remained the meaningful engagement of communities and concerned citizens.

Community OR is now at an exciting point in its development, with the potential for major innovations. This is because of a renewed interest in both Europe and the USA, which coincides with growing activity in pro-bono (volunteer) OR and a diversification of applications in developing countries. In addition, the increasing importance of environmental issues to local and global communities offers new opportunities to support those communities in making a difference. Finally, new approaches to data analytics offer the potential for innovation but also bring with them a significant challenge: how to ‘democratize’ their use so communities, and not just large public and private sector organizations, can directly benefit. These are the contexts in which we call for papers for a special issue of EJOR on Community OR, focused on innovations, internationalization and agenda-setting applications.

The Editors of this special issue of EJOR are Michael Johnson (University of Massachusetts Boston, USA) and Gerald Midgley (University of Hull, UK). They have each edited books on Community OR that have consolidated and promoted the field on their own sides of the Atlantic (Midgley and Ochoa-Arias, 2004; Johnson, 2012). Their collaboration on editing this special issue marks a desire, not only to share learning across the USA and Europe, but also to form a truly global research community, showcasing a wide range of international innovations and applications.

Submissions to this special issue may be on any area of the theory, methodology and application of Community OR, using any relevant methods, and working with any kinds of organization – as long as the needs and involvement of communities and citizens remain central. The editors welcome papers that reflect on how to address the concerns of disadvantaged or marginalized communities, and we are especially interested in papers that are able to ground their analyses in examples of Community OR practice. The projects reported may represent the localized concerns of communities, but the theories, methodologies, methods and solutions developed to understand and address those concerns should have the potential to inform scholarship and practice around the world.

The special issue editors welcome proposals of 1-2 pages by 30 October 2015, and those writing the most compelling proposals will be invited to work them up into full papers. Manuscripts will be expected by 31 July 2016. All submissions will need to conform to the usual requirements of EJOR and will be peer reviewed as normal. We plan for the special issue to be finalized by early 2017. Please direct inquiries to Michael Johnson ( or Gerald Midgley (



Johnson M (ed.) (2012). Community-Based Operations Research: Decision Modeling for Local Impact and Diverse Populations. Springer, Boston MA.

Midgley G and Ochoa-Arias AE (eds.) (2004). Community Operational Research: OR and Systems Thinking for Community Development. Kluwer, New York.



Thursday, 19 Mar 2015
Huw Evans

I am an independent consultant who often works pro bono, sometimes via the OR in the Third Sector (ORiTS) initiative, occasionally via The Cranfield Institute, sometimes in my role as a Trustee of a couple of local charities and occasionally through referral.  Rarely is a fee involved and only where it is approapriate.

I operate independent of any organisational support, e.g. university or government department, with no access to academic libraries and networks.  Neither do I have the resources to fully fund some activities I'd like to engage in.

I've added this post describing a recent workshop I was asked to deliver.  What isn't included is the description of the preparation, planning, angst about whether it will work, whether the venue will be suitable enough, the exhaustion I feel at the end of an event - I sometimes feel drained - and the feelings of responsibility about what I'm doing.  The event needs to add value for people and make an impact.  I may not have any further contact with the organisation(s) and evaluating impact is not possible.  This in turn can reduce the potential of community OR approaches as interventions are often isolated and thus marginalised thus reinforcing a rationale for approaches to decision-making that are less than accessible to those who are affected by them.

See what you think .....


Huw Evans


Case Study - Workshop

This case study is an example of community operational research (COR) where the consultant has been engaged by the client to deliver a process to enable a group of people to explore the issues for them within given parameters and other constraints.  The consultant has listened to the client’s needs and advised them about approaches to take that are likely to ultimately add value individually and collectively.  A framework of theory has been used to guide the choice of approach and to evaluate its use.  This use of ‘soft’ OR, or Community OR, supports the development of strategy and draws upon the methodology of Open Space (Owen 1997) and informs the interplay between ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ OR approaches to supporting decision-making.

The clients were chief officers (CEOs), managers and other paid staff from six Third Sector organisations based across a region of the United Kingdom with a common purpose and agenda.  Between them they covered the geographic area of the region with no overlaps of boundaries and little competition between them for membership or funds.  A seventh organisation had an umbrella role on behalf of the six charities and was a single-point-of-contact link with government.

The six organisations are funded through membership subscriptions, grants, commissioned projects, Heritage Lottery Foundation funds, legacies and other local fundraising.  In turn the six charities contribute to the funding of the seventh umbrella body.

The wider context for the organisations is that of declining public sector funding by way of grant schemes, with austerity generally inhibiting raising membership fees and other regional re-structuring that has skewed government focus away from their agenda.  Additionally there are other organisations with similar aims, either local, UK wide and/or international agendas, competing for public and government support.

The organisations regularly meet at chair and chief officer levels and there is other ad hoc liaison between various officers.  The chief officers, in their own forum, had decided that they needed to work together in a more coordinated manner and wished to meet to develop that process.  Another aspect in the background was the regional umbrella body having earlier commissioned a consultant to produce recommendations to the six charities about how they should be structured in the future.

The separate organisations are populated by people who are experts in their fields and passionate and committed to their agenda, sometimes leading to narrow focus and parochial outlooks about the future.  The relationships between the organisations and their Boards of Trustees are variable.  Some of the organisations are less financially sustainable than their peers.

The purpose of the two-day workshop was to explore how the organisations would develop their shared agenda for the future.

Decision-making to date had tended to be influenced by strong personalities and with limited air space for all to contribute to discussions in traditional meeting formats.  Relationships between the chief officers and their staff were good.  The organisations posed little threat to each other.  However, there were reservations about the role of the umbrella body and that of other regional agencies that had been restructured with their focus skewed away from that of their predecessors and that of the six charities, creating difficulties and tensions.

The organisations wanted to meet together without the presence of stakeholders as they began to formulate their thoughts about the future.  Agreeing to meet for two days at a residential venue was a relatively high expense, had not been done before, and was thought difficult to justify repeating.

One of the six charities was given the responsibility for arranging the workshop and approached the consultant who they knew having had previous experience of his work.  The consultant agreed to work for no fee.

The consultant met with the CEO and another manager of the organisation commissioning his services to discuss the design of the workshop.  They provided an overview of the issues they faced and also considerations for the workshop design, for example, enabling everyone present to be heard, have open dialogue, transparent decision-making, inhibiting the dominance of air time by strong personalities, exposing ideas and views to challenge, developing greater common understanding, and be action focused.  Previous work across the six organisations had developed a list of issues that had been grouped by an individual and initially discussion had revolved around using that list as a base for the event agenda.  In further discussion the consultant identified other issues to take account of in designing the workshop, for example, allowing new issues and ideas to emerge, dealing with uncertainty and ensuring that if people had issues left unsaid to date that they were enabled to air them.

The consultant proposed an approach using the Open Space process (Owen 1997).  Open Space is an open approach that can cope with variety and diversity as well as the ‘people’ issues.  The ‘Law of Two Feet, for example, empowers people to walk away from situations where they feel they are not learning or contributing.  The emphasis is on individual responsibility to act, or not.  Whilst it is not possible to guarantee ideal conditions to enable people to speak out, it is a good framework to support participants.  The agenda setting process is also open and self-organising.  There is no compunction on people to do anything they are uncomfortable with (Evans 2009).

Arrangements for the venue were passed on to the commissioning organisation who had to liaise with the overarching agency with disappointing loss of detail as information was relayed, for example, choosing a venue with small rooms and no break out space with restrictions on sticking material on walls etc.  Assumptions about the layout were imposed ignoring the consultant’s specifications e.g. no tables needed and light refreshment to be available throughout the event with no breaks imposed by the venue, for example coffee breaks, lunch etc.

The Workshop

The accommodation was limited in room size and design with limitations about sticking anything on to the walls.  The room was cleared of tables and the chairs were arranged in a horseshoe configuration.  Wooden wall panels, large windows and large display boards were used to post material during the event.  Break out space was available in several common areas, e.g. bar, lounge etc.  The venue had not opened to the public and the participants of this event were the only residents, thus there was little risk of impinging on others by using common areas.  There were visits by television companies planning productions and setting up for a broadcast but they made no impact upon the event.

The consultant had prepared material for the event e.g. hand-outs about the theme, guidance about Open Space (Law of Two Feet, principles, requirements for a report-back, layout of the venue and location of breakout spaces.  A matrix of time slots and ‘rooms’ was displayed to enable the ‘market place’ part of the process.  Light refreshments were provided on arrival and throughout the event by negotiation, although the venue insisted on a fixed lunch and dinner break.

There were eighteen invitees who were due to meet at the venue for a 10:30 am start on Day One.  Everyone was able bodied and relevant and appropriate signage was provided.  Due to the distance some had to travel not all those who were expected had arrived by the stated start time and the event was delayed by forty-five minutes to accommodate people arriving late.

Not all participants had met before so quick introductions were made by the consultant passing a sponge ball to a randomly selected participant who was asked to introduce themselves and then pass the ball to someone else in the group and so on.  This approach was chosen to avoid the ‘creeping death’ of following the person seated next to you and so on.  It also introduced some light heartedness as people dropped the ball and because it was sponge there was no issue of harming anyone.

The Open Space process was explained and a couple of clarifying questions taken.  Emphasis was placed on individual responsibility to act, or not, along with the application of the Law of Two Feet, i.e. that if anyone found themselves at anytime not contributing or learning, then they ought to move and do something else – thus reinforcing the emphasis on individual responsibility to make best use of their time during the workshop.

Questions were invited and body language observed to try to sense people’s feelings.  The consultant has facilitated many groups, including Open Space events, and whilst it was a new approach for them there was no indication of resistance to using the process.

The participants were then invited to start assembling their agenda by posting discussion topics and selecting a time/room where they would hold their discussion.  This process went well and thirty-eight topics were displayed.  The participants were then invited to sign up to the discussions they wanted to attend and resolve any clashes and duplications through collaborations/amalgamations as they saw fit.

The group quickly decided which discussions they wanted to be involved in and just as they were about to start a participant intervened to try and stop the process and revert to a traditional meeting arrangement.  The consultant invited him to post that point as an issue for discussion at which point he reverted to the Open Space arrangement.  The rest of the group were milling about organising themselves mostly unaware of the intervention.

The discussion groups were nominally allocated hour-long time slots and by the end of the first day ten discussions had been held and the outputs displayed around the main room.

The arrangements for meals were such that the group were obliged to break.  However, one participant posted two discussion points they wished to pursue after the evening meal and was joined by others in doing so.  Thus at the end of the second day twelve discussions had been held.  The discussion groups varied in size from one person to six.

Before breaking for the evening meal the consultant reconvened the group.  People who had convened discussion groups were invited to give a quick explanation of their group’s output and once that had been completed without discussion the participants were invited to make comment or ask questions, again using the sponge ball.  People could only speak if they held the ball.

The following day opened with reflection on the work done in Day 1.  There were several comments in support of the process – a new experience for most of the participants.  However, three of the group made representations about forming the traditional meeting arrangement with no explicit rationale stated other than that was what they were used to doing.  The consultant ran through the requirements placed upon him that led to using Open Space, namely, that an approach was sought that enabled all present to be heard in some way.  The three objectors were silenced when others in the room spoke out in support of the approach.  One participant, less inclined to force opinions on others, spoke passionately about being more comfortable and enabled in Open Space because they found traditional arrangements more intimidating and were less able to be heard, let alone listened to.  This person was courageous in speaking out with passion about using Open Space and became upset as a result having to leave the room to find space to recover their composure.  They were sought out by others and the consultant to ensure their wellbeing and after a break resumed involvement in discussions.  Two other participants made similar comments.  The consultant explained that the brief was to ensure all present were enabled in raising issues and creating dialogue reminding people of the Law of Two Feet and that the purpose was not about satisfying the opinion of a couple of participants.  Most of the group remained silent throughout these short exchanges – not objecting to the process.  Some who had been silent voiced their support for the process to the consultant later in the morning.

A further round of raising topics, agenda setting and discussions was entered into resulting in eight more issues being posted and five more discussion groups being held.  The time allowed for discussion groups on Day 2 was reduced to half an hour due to the time constraints on the day.  The size of the discussion groups ranged from three to twelve.

A total of seventeen outputs from discussions over both days had been posted around the room by mid morning.

The group was reconvened and the proposers of the new discussions were invited to explain the issues they had discussed and then the group was again invited to ask questions and make comment as they had done the previous evening.

Once this was exhausted the group moved on to prioritising the issues they had discussed.  One participant tried to exclude one discussion from being prioritised as it was suggested that it affected only one of the seven organisations present and was an irrelevance to everyone else.  This was met with objection from two other participants who declared that the issue had implications for their organisations.  All seventeen issues were scored.

The scoring methodology is simple.  Take the total number of issues displayed – halve that number and round up or down to the nearest whole number to arrive at the number of votes each participant has.  Therefore the number of votes in this event was calculated thus, 17 divided by 2 = 8.5.  Rounded down gave eight votes for each participant.  The rules about how to use their eight votes were explained – each participant could use two votes on the issue they regarded as the most important, but they could only do this for one issue, thus leaving six votes to distribute singly on six other issues – or not.  They could simply use the eight votes singly.  Participants were trusted not to vote fraudulently.  Once the consultant was sure each had made up their mind about how they were casting their votes only then were they invited to mark up their preferences.  This was done to minimise the effect of peer pressure, or other influence, on where votes were cast.

The votes were marked as ticks on white card circles placed on each discussion output – so it was plain for all present to see the priorities.  The ticks were added up and thus a sense of the priorities for the group emerged.

There then followed a short plenary about what people thought and felt about the way the votes had been placed.  It seemed there were few surprises, except for the issue that a chief officer had suggested was of no interest to others.  It turned out to be the fifth highest priority for the group.  The reasons underpinning this were that it involved the potential amalgamation of three of the organisations represented thus it was of importance to those organisations and their neighbours.

At this point the consultant moved further away from Open Space and guided the group through a short process that would lead to them developing their next steps and the framework for an action plan.

A plenary discussion identified four areas they wished to develop, i.e. a strategic framework, a list of actions against the issues, identifying networking groups of relevant staff coalescing around issues to support knowledge sharing and responses to government and funders about common themes and a set of principles to underpin how they would work more closely together.  The consultant then selected individuals to lead the work on developing these areas in smaller groups.  The individuals selected included those who were vociferous about moving away from Open Space.  This was done to tie them more closely into the output and decisions flowing from the work the group had done thus inhibiting them from disassociating themselves from the output.  The rest of the group were split according to the consultant’s judgement about people’s vulnerability given the events earlier that morning and with a mix across organisations in each group.

After the lunch break – cut short by mutual agreement to enable an earlier finish – the four groups reconvened together and a spokesperson for each explained what they had designed followed by a plenary session.

Finally the consultant facilitated making a list of ‘next steps’ with people named to take areas of work forward building on what they had worked through over the two days.  The event closed at 15:30.


A web-based survey was designed to enable anonymous comment on the event once people had returned to work following the event.

The survey asks for no identifying information whatsoever and simply asks people to rate ‘How satisfied they were with the outputs / outcomes of the event?’ and then to comment on ‘What worked well?’, ‘What didn’t work so well?’ and ‘Any other comment?’  Thus reasons for satisfaction and dissatisfaction ought to be revealed.

The link to the survey was posted out to attendees of the event the day following its closure.  The survey was open for three weeks.  Three responses have been received mostly positive about the usefulness of the event and the use of the Open Space process.  One expressed a wish to have discussed all the points with everyone present and about using the sponge ball to inhibit people speaking over others.  The anonymised responses are shown at Appendix ‘A’.

As the event closed several participants expressed their satisfaction with the event and its style and the consultant received emails expressing overall satisfaction with the event and the progress made towards working better together – the content of which it is difficult to share without revealing identities.

Comment / Observation

The group contained some confident and domineering characters who were focused on making the points they wished to make and less interested in listening to others.

Those who felt less able to contribute in traditional meeting formats appear to have been provided with opportunities to explore the issues they felt important.

The previously prepared list showed twenty-four issues listed in four groupings.

The potential time for discussion (Table 1) was inhibited by the strictures of the venue, e.g. meal times.  However, by enabling people to choose discussions they felt were more important to be involved in effectively expanded the time available allowing participants to make better use of their time and still see the work others had produced.

An analysis of the twenty-four topics prepared in advance of the workshop, albeit from a lay perspective given the specialist nature of the sector the organisations are working within, shows that the discussion groups appear to reflect a lot of the issues on the list.  However, they are often articulated differently and some new areas appear to have been introduced, perhaps up to seven.  It is not clear if the entirety of the subject areas covered in the twenty-four topics has been covered by the seventeen discussions.  This would tend to show that the issues people felt important to address had not been covered by the list of twenty-four issues or perhaps that their thinking had moved on since it had been put together.  Either way, the workshop ought to be a better indication of current concerns.  The emergence of apparent new issues also suggests that by being confined to dealing with the original pre-prepared list may have missed points people felt were priorities but may have been prevented from discussing.

Table 1 below attempts to summarise the two-day Open Space event and Table 2 attempts to provide some comparison had the workshop been focussed on the original list of twenty-four issues.

Table 1: Summary of the workshop activity:

Open Space

Day 1

Day 2

Total over 2 days

Total air time available

7 hours

4 hours

11 hours

Number of issues raised




Discussion groups held or proposed




Time per discussion

1 hour

0.5 hour


Equivalent air time used in discussions

10 hours

8 hours

18 hours

Table 2:  Summary of the pre-prepared discussion topics


Pre-prepared list

Total air time available

8.5 hours

Number of issues raised


Discussion groups held or proposed

24 (proposed)

Time per discussion

21 minutes

To have attempted to manage the group of eighteen as a single entity and cover the range of twenty-four issues originally developed over the two days would have been very challenging and would have involved developing an approach that was more ‘facipulation’ (Participation Power and Social Change Team) than facilitation or enabling everyone’s contribution.  It is likely that some issues would have received little attention and that they would not have interested all those present all of the time.

The Open Space process enabled forty-six issues to emerge that were subsequently distilled into seventeen discussions of up to an hour (Day 1) or half an hour (Day 2).  The original list of twenty-four topics would have been a challenge to adequately address in the time available by traditional means.

The workshop succeeded in its purpose.  Participants were able to:

  • Raise issues important to them
  • Articulate them in the way that made sense to them
  • Introduce issues other than those a smaller group had pre-determined as important
  • Engage in discussion about what they wanted to talk about as priorities
  • Be heard

The interventions on both days by people trying to revert to traditional meeting formats appears to be an indication of a few strong characters, some in chief officer position, to skew the agenda in a particular direction.  It failed because others present wanted to continue with the Open Space approach and thus it undermined any individual’s agenda.  All proceedings were transparent.

The workshop would have been the better if a wider range of participants attended, for example, public, service users, funders and other stakeholders, and thus increase the diversity of opinion etc.

However, the actions that have emerged are rooted in open and transparent dialogue and set a framework for the seven organisations to work to common goals and potentially increase their impact upon a shared agenda.

As an adjunct Appendix ‘B’ is an evaluation of the perceived outcome of the workshop using a framework developed by the consultant (Evans 2009).  The framework can be used to develop the design of approaches to engagement and choice of processes.  It can be used to assess the effectiveness poste event as shown below.  The framework seeks to apply simple Red, Amber, Green traffic light assessment of criteria.  Red indicating a weakness and Green a strength.

Using the framework can aid reflection on the effectiveness of the application of a process or approach to engagement potentially leading to learning for the consultant, clients et al.

From the commissioning organisation’s and consultant’s perspective the event was successful in fulfilling the brief.


Evans, H. D. (2009). "'Can we all join in?':  Developing an Evaluative Framework for group processes to aid decisions about their use in approaches to participative engagement." The Police Journal 82(1): 50-78.

Owen, H. (1997). Open Space Technology (A User's Guide). San Francisco, Berrett-Koehler.

Participation Power and Social Change Team. (8 March 2015). "Participatory Methods." from





Appendix ‘A’ – Feedback Survey responses

Three responses received from eighteen potential respondents – a 17% response rate.

Question 1 - “How satisfied were you with the output(s) / outcome(s) of the event?”

‘Very satisfied’                1 response

‘Satisfied’                       2 responses

Question 2 - “Considering the whole event - what worked well?”

Three responses were received:

“Having time together away from the office. Some aspects of the small working groups worked well, some didn't. Clearly some people felt that the smaller groups worked better for those who felt less able to speak in front of a large group.”

“Open space format”

“The opportunity to raise issues (or not) as appropriate. Great to have time to get to know people you don't usually work with or see. Venue was great - a little basic in some respects”

Question 3 - “Considering the whole event - what didn't work so well?”

Three responses received:

“Time wasted at the beginning with picking subjects when we had already spent considerable time doing that at previous meetings and via email. Not having a chance to all discuss all subjects - felt I missed out on the conversations I couldn't be part of. Having to catch a ball in order to be able to speak.”

“Establishing next steps”

“Maybe a bigger room for the times when everyone was together but difficult to know this if the first time a venue has been used”

Question 4

“Any other comment?”

Three responses received:

“The event highlighted the benefit of getting together and the need to do so more often, to keep the impetus going”

“Venue was great”

“Great job facilitating - I don't think we would have made such progress without it”

Appendix ‘B’ – Evaluative framework

Framework Element

Open Space

Group dynamics / Groups

Green to Amber

Built into the process are ways of self-management that seek to address the negative aspects of people working in groups, e.g. Law of Two Feet, emphasis on individual responsibility to act or not.

For this event it seemed to work well.  The interventions that did occur were legitimate to make and needed airing and were the catalyst for others to speak out in support of the approach.  One participant was upset but other group members showed support and care for their well-being enabling them to re-join the group and contribute further.

The group worked hard and covered more topics than originally foreseen.

Democratic theory

Green to Amber

The participants set their own agenda.

The process was open and transparent.

Emphasis on individual responsibility for action/non-action.

The diversity of the group was limited by clients’ choice.

People spoke up for the approach because it enabled their input and engagement.

The group agreed priorities to pursue to help the organisations they represented work better together.

It is unclear how the seven organisations will engage with each other in the future.

Systems theory

Amber to Red

The attendees were limited to chief officers and selected managers.

The expense of having more people attend from across the region was an impediment.

The group could have included more staff and volunteers as well as stakeholders and the public and the outputs / outcomes would have been the richer had that been possible.

The full potential of the approach / process was not exploited by the client(s) by limiting attendance.

A wider range of participants, e.g. trustees, staff, volunteers, would have provided more diverse range of views and ideas and better still if stakeholders could have been involved, especially given the strategic positioning of the theme about how they will work better together.

Human Inquiry


Participants had control of the process.

The facilitator was mostly a guide to assist the group when the group wants support.

The group were largely self-organising, deciding what to do and when they wanted to do it.

Despite the limitations imposed by the venue about use of rooms, size of rooms and timing of refreshments people were able to adapt to make the process work reasonably well.

The consultant took a more directive stance after the issues had been prioritised in order to more quickly move towards a basic action plan and ‘next steps’ about the group’s output.

Critical systems Thinking


There were no issues around communicative competence and idealised speech design in terms of disability or impairment or apparent under other equalities themes.

There was evidence of some individuals seeking to impose their will on the rest of the group and appeared to be associated with strong characters and roles e.g. managers.  The process coped with them and undermined attempts to control the agenda.

Some people spoke up in support of using the approach because they felt more able to take part and speak out.

The original pre-determined list of topics to consider turned out not to be as exhaustive or supported as initially suggested.  Other issues were introduced and priorities determined that contradicted some espoused positions as the group set their own agenda.

Difficult to assess how ‘safe’ people felt to speak out or whether there were consequences as a result of their action.

Ideally further research with the group members could be carried out – before and after the event – to try and assess the impact of being involved in the process on people and the organisations.

Issues about individual status, ego and power in insisting on a particular agenda were undermined or eroded thus enabling other issues to emerge.

Learning Organisations

Green to Amber

The process provided opportunities for double-loop learning to occur – if the participants engaged in dialogue.  However, there is unlikely to be much appetite to research activity following the workshop and the way thinking developed.

The group ended up airing nearly twice as many topics as they originally intended, covering a wider agenda and subsequently developing thinking about their priorities – thus and indication that some mindsets were challenged and maybe changed.

A lot of work was accomplished in relatively short timescales.  The opportunity was provided to explore a wider range of topics than a traditional meeting arrangement.

Ideally a more sophisticated assessment of impact upon participants and their organisations could be undertaken beyond the feedback survey, comments and emails.

Friday, 6 Mar 2015
Huw Evans

On 2 March 2015 I was at the presentation of the 'The Wales We Want Report - A Report on Behalf of Future Generations' (  Along with Welsh Government ministers the report was supported by Michael Sheen in his role as UNICEF UK Ambassador ( who spoke passionately about the need to develop a better future for children and young people in Wales.

The report outlines seven 'foundations' identified through engagement with a variety of groups over the last year involving around 7,000 people.  One of the foundations being, "Greater engagement in the democratic process, a stronger citizen voice and active participation in decision-making is fundamental for the well-being of future generations".  The report recognised people's concerns about the paucity and quality of engagement with citizens about decisions that affect them.

I'm posting this as I feel that community OR has something to offer about how people are engaged in future 'conversations'.  Whether it's deliberative processes, developing a dialogue, small group work and more discrete approaches to decision-making, community OR could inform and influence the way government and local authorities develop this agenda.

It isn't clear to me how open and informed the thinking about how to approach developing engagement is.  I fear that there may not be much engagement about how to 'engage'.  For example, the Co-Production initiative has failed to gain explicit support from government and is re-thinking and re-configuring its approach hoping to work with Wales wide organisations such as Wales Council for Voluntary Action ( and Participation Cymru (  We'll see how that pans out.

The positive is that the Welsh Government is seeking to develop the foundations in the Future Generations Bill - a world's first initiative it seems.  How it gets translated into action and outcomes will be interesting, especially the approach to developing citizen engagement.


Huw Evans