How do we strengthen our community?

Replace community with client, portfolio or outreach and I am confident that you have asked yourself exactly this question already several times in your life. On an event with 160 participants, co-creating for 10 intense hours, spread over three days, diverging and converging, we were closer to the answer than we believed.

Trinity of a co-creation

Preparation, execution and summation. All three steps are equally important and like the three wooden puzzles, every step has its own challenges. Good preparation ensures you that the energy and collective brainpower on the event are converging towards the right direction. The execution reveals the quality of the facilitator and in the summation, you make sure that the results are being implemented.

The Preparation

In a successful co-creation session, you can feel that there are no limits, only pure ingenuity and curiosity to engage in a dialogue. A powerful question usually serves as the trigger.

In his book, Eric E. Vogt defines a powerful question among other criteria as a question which generates curiosity, surfaces underlying assumptions and generates energy and forward movement. This energy can be felt.

In the case of the CommUnity by InnoEnergy, we were at the starting point of designing how the community will be. A lot of questions burned in our heads, such as:

  • How do we create engagement inside the community?
  • How do we build and use an online platform?
  • How do we expand the community?
  • How do we support the initial step from an idea to a business?

We put all these questions under a common roof to connect all participants, while they were free to choose on which subquestion they were motivated and knowledgeable to work on.

How do we strengthen our InnoEnergy Community
to massively progress innovative sustainable energy solutions?

Every single word in this question has been chosen with care. Still, people will have different interpretations of this question, which results in the necessity, that a question always needs to be explained on spot. Having the question, we started to design a flow of activities and methodologies, created a plan to follow on the event.

The Execution

David Bohm pointed out that in a dialogue no decision should be taken. I agree and would extend his statement to a co-creation session as well. The foresight of a decision is already poisoning the actual conversation, because people tend to argue to influence the decision, rather weighing all perspectives equally. It is the responsibility of the facilitator to support the participants in eliminating their assumptions (if possible) and break free their curiosity to ensure high-quality dialogues. 

Having had 160 participants on the event, one facilitator was not enough to engage everybody for 10 hours of intense collaboration. Therefore, we had for every 8 participants one supporting person, who steered the group dialogue, saying further 20 co-facilitators on spot! Here, a big thanks to everybody who contributed to such an amazing event. The participant/facilitator ratio being 8 is ideal to maintain a fruitful balance between different perspectives and individual engagement.

The underlying question here is, how do you practically support participants, eliminate assumptions and break free curiosity? Well, this could be a whole article in itself, but in a nutshell:

  • Remind the participants of their purpose
  • Build easy achievable trust among participants with games or riddles
  • Set a framework of rules everybody can rely on

If one follows these basic guidelines, these are the 20% of the causes to achieve 80% of the effects, following the Pareto principle. Nonetheless, if you want to achieve a 100%, much more detailed thought and customization needs to go into such execution.

The Summation

The summation can be divided into two parts. First part happens already at the event with all participants, whereas the second part is the homework for the question holder. 

Regarding the first part, we asked all groups to pin their results on one wall in the form of a calendar, stretched over the coming months and years, with objectives, milestones and resources required. With a group dialogue at the end of the event, we developed the strategic plan even further and sanded the corners. It all added up in one very complete strategy plan. With group checkout, the event was over. 

Hence, the second part of the summation falls into the responsibility of the question holder. In this particular case, the CommUnity by InnoEnergy had many ideas, projects to act on in a timely manner with respect to the calendar. Most important though, they had the commitment of 160 participants to support these projects as volunteers. 

I am always amazed of how much it is possible to achieve in such a short amount of time, when people are brought together for a purpose. I have made countless new friends, heard so many amazing stories by as many amazing people and yes, I have to be honest, I have managed to feel part of something.

Cristian Boscheri

Conclusion – How do we strengthen our community?

These three days were filled with passion, laughter and work. With more than 160 participants,  a calendar was designed to have tangible action items to strengthen the community. I would like to highlight one item of that To-Do list: Repeat this event! The energy I felt on this event, and the meaningful connections built between the participants, fueled me for several weeks still after the event. It was a great opportunity and I would like to thank the CommUnity by InnoEnergy for this gig! 

Update in 2020: This event happened in 2015, by now the CommUnity by InnoEnergy is an integral part of the education pillar from EIT InnoEnergy. There are more than 3000 members, and more than 60 events a year happening. There are more than 100 volunteers actively engaged to build this professional network of energy enthusiasts even further. 

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