Tapping into the Wisdom of a State

In his 2004 book, The Wisdom of Crowds, James Surowiecki made the case that “under the right circumstances, groups are remarkably intelligent, and are often smarter than the smartest people in them.” His point being that the collective wisdom of a large group of people provides better solutions than a few experts. I recently had the privilege of helping to facilitate an effort to tap into the wisdom of an entire state.

Thanks to a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Florida is exploring ways to empower effective teachers — from how to better recruit top talent, to how to use mentors more effectively — and plenty of ideas in between.

After holding public input meetings and hosting lunches in some of the larger metropolitan areas, the leaders of this effort were looking for an effective and efficient way to reach out to all stakeholders, including those from smaller and more out-lying districts. And thus was born a virtual summit.

Using an online meeting solution, we were able to bring together teachers, parents, principles, and consultants to explore specific topics and questions generated from the earlier face-to-face meetings. Using virtual meeting technology allowed for not only a diverse group of stakeholders, but for a geographically diverse group as well, to collaborate. Individuals from the Florida panhandle to the Keys were able to come together, share best practices, voice concerns, and generate ideas for empowering effective teachers.

Our process would have been familiar to anyone who has facilitated large group sessions before – short, informative presentations of critical content to frame the questions, then small group break-outs for discussing and brainstorming ideas, and finally, sharing of best ideas from the small groups with everyone. What surprised and amazed me was how engaged and energized everyone was throughout the process.

While we are now using virtual meeting technology quite regularly for client meetings and project reviews, I was not convinced that this same approach would work for many of the longer and larger facilitated sessions we conduct. I thought, how do you keep the energy up and engagement high over a three-hour session, without face-to-face interactions (and movement)? Facilitating one of the small breakout teams, as well as some of the large group processes, showed me that a well-designed virtual summit can be very effective.

A couple of the attendees commented that, even though they had attended one of the regional lunch dialogues, they actually preferred the virtual summit process. They felt it allowed them to participate more and have their voices more fully heard. And if we are to tap into the wisdom of the crowd, that’s exactly the kind of experience we want to create.

Using virtual summits is helping us more fully tap into the wisdom across our state. How are you using virtual technologies to tap into the wisdom of your organization?

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