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{Liberating Structure in Development} Feedback on this LS


Practice requesting and giving help with a supportive subgroup and tap the wisdom of the crowd (60 min.)

What Is Made Possible? You can quickly and effectively get and give help in a diverse group, organization, or community. Caravan gets rid of long large-group presentations and replaces them with several concise consultations made simultaneously to group members that have asked for help with a challenge. A few individuals set up stations where they share a challenge and a consultation question. Often the challenge is directly or obliquely shared by others in the group. As small groups of consultants move from one station to another, their size makes it easy for people to connect with the client and visa versa. Clients learn how to ask productive questions and consultants learn how to be more effective coaches. With Caravan everyone can quickly learn how challenges are being addressed and how new approaches might be adapted to their own situations.

Five Structural Elements – Min SpecsDrawing to support the first field test of Caravan

1. Structuring Invitation

  • Invite several participants to ask for help on a challenge they face (they are clients) and everyone else is invited to offer help as a consultant

2. How Space Is Arranged and Materials Needed

  • A large space where 5 to 8 stations can be set up far enough from each other to minimize interference with one another
  • A suitable number of chairs to accommodate the small groups at each station (one lively option is to conduct Caravan standing up without chairs)

3. How Participation Is Distributed

  • A few members of the group, the clients, share their work
  • Everyone else in the small groups has an equal opportunity to participate and contribute as consultants

4. How Groups Are Configured

  • Clients set up their individual stations
  • The whole group is split into the same number of small groups as there are clients, for instance, 7 small consultant groups if there are 7 clients
  • Groups stay together while they rotate through all the stations

5. Sequence of Steps and Time Allocation

  • Describe the process: explain that consultant groups will move from station to station for a 8-minute exchange. If it wasn’t done in advance, identify the 3 to 7 clients for the stations (it can be people who volunteer in the moment). Form the same number of small groups as there are presenters. 5 min.
  • Each small group goes to a different station, where clients conduct their sessions (repeated up to 7 times). 8 min. per station/session
  • Participants share their challenge, ask for help and answer any clarifying questions 2 min. for each station  
  • Ding the bells: small consultant groups move to the next station. 1 min. per move
  • Repeat until groups have visited all stations
  • Total time for visiting 7 stations is approximately 65 minutes.

Why? Purposes

  • Find solutions to a challenge by succinctly stating the challenge to multiple groups and to your self multiple times
  • Practice framing your challenge, learning to clarify meaning from feedback of multiple interpretations of your statement
  • Make informal connections without regard to function or position in the hierarchy
  • Develop coaching, consulting and listening skills
  • Build trust and a community of practice among members
  • Reveal how the formal technological hierarchy can obscure the hidden contributions and diverse perspectives
  • Quickly give participants a sense of the landscape of challenges and solutions
  • Spark friendly competition, mash-ups, and collaboration

Tips and Traps

  • Pick clients by digging deep into the informal social networks (presentation skills and charisma are less important than content for this approach)
  • Keep tightly to the schedule: use a loud sound or tingsha bells to signal the shift from one station to the next
  • Invite the clients to tell stories that help the consultants make the leap from understanding a small challenge to seeing a broad opportunity for change
  • Invite clients to supplement their challenge with examples and objects that participants can see and touch
  • Trust that people will follow up to get more depth if they are interested

Riffs and Variations

  • Invite the roving consultant groups to use What, So What, Now What? to debrief what they experienced
  • Do the same for the group of clients
  • Shorten the time to 6 minutes
  • If you do a second round, leave a few stations open for impromptu clients
  • Use with virtual groups by creating a series of chat rooms. The groups then select a handful of sessions they want to attend
  • String together with Improv Prototyping to generate variations on solutions offered


  • For orienting new members of a research consortium to the depth and breadth of innovation challenges and interesting problems within the whole community
  • For highlighting the challenges and people from two “sides” of a newly merged organization

Attribution: Liberating Structure developed by Keith McCandless, Shawn Henning, and Fisher Qua.

Collateral Material

Below: presentation materials we use to introduce Caravan