Focused Conversations and Tiny Urban City Builders

I was at an interesting workshops yesterday about Focused Conversations using something called the FAIR Conversation Method Flow. Entrepreneuse School may be over but they offer these cool workshops free of charge to grads. Part learning, art networking, it was a great use of a morning.

FAIR stands for: Facts (getting the facts, sensory impressions, information – the objective level); Associations (personal reactions, associations, emotions, images – the reflective level); Interpretation (meaning and values, significance, purpose, implications – the interpretive level) and Resolve (resolution, action, future directions, next steps – the decisional level).

I thought when I first got there it was about general conversations, but really it’s a way to have extremely focused meetings – which to me is even better. I’m not a fan of meetings – to be precise I’m not a fan of bad meetings – where there is no clear objective, when they are hijacked by one person’s ideas or comments, when there are too many people or not the right people in the room the meeting that goes on and on, the “why am I even here??” meeting. Everyone has had their share of these. And everyone I am sure has tried to figure out a way of making meetings better.

The concept I really liked about this workshop was that the method focused on two outcomes at the end of the conversation:

Rational Aim: what the group will KNOW, learn or decide by the end of the conversation; the product of the conversation eg they will explore X, they will identify Y, they will make a decision about Z.

Experiential Aim: how the group will BE different at the end of the conversation; they will be excited by a new idea, they will have experienced helpful struggle; they will trust each other’s perspectives.

I’m not typing out all my handouts, but you get the idea.  And I’ll share the opening sequence example with you. I’d love to be in this meeting!

Set Context: “Today we are having a conversation about the best way to support a new program coordinator. Remember this is not about whether we need one or not – at this point it should be taken as a given. We should have a list of strategies by the end of the conversation.”

Set Parameters: “Let’s start with some working assumptions about our conversation.” (this is the creation of participation guidelines, whether that is that everyone in the room should be there, that all opinions will be heard, that there are no wrong answers, etc).

Clarify Roles: Who is leading the meeting? Who is facilitating? (important – do not let hierarchical systems hijack the facilitator.)

Establish Available Time: “We’ll take about half an hour for this conversation.”  (this is a biggie for me. An open-ended meeting is not an effective one. Once there is a length established, people tend to get to their point more quickly. Do not let this be hijacked. If it “requires further discussion”, move on and have that further discussion at a separate meeting.)

Ground the Conversation: “Let’s start our discussion by looking at the job description of the program coordinator.

An excellent workshop in my opinion – to me an excellent workshop is well run, has handouts (email or otherwise) and contains items and ideas that you are excited to take away with you and begin implementing immediately.


Studies have shown that children are the quickest to design, to answer, to do stuff. They figure things out quickly because they don’t over-complicate, they don’t attach a huge number of issues to an action, they don’t over-think things to the point of paralysis.

I feel like the above is the type of meeting they’d have. And I bet there will be proof of this on Sunday February 26th, 2:00 pm at Revival –  PSA#8 – Totsapalooze – Mouse City Calling.


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