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I have been using the same strategic planning process for organizations for the past 15 years. You would think that I would get creative. Well yesterday I got wild and crazy and changed my process. I added a cafe. And it was a very small non-profit, only 9 people but the cafe was wonderful and powerful Here is what I used to do and what I did yesterday. The results were fantastic.

Old process over about 6 hours:

Introduce process
1) Affinity process to capture everyone's thoughts about what needed to be focused on
2) Group process to flush out any other ideas or suggestions that may have been missed in the affinity process
3) Group process for prioritization and assessing performance on each focus
4) Opportunity map outcomes
5) Group process to explore opportunities to work on and time frames
6) Assign teams to develop tactical plans to address opportunities
7) Tactical team develop action plans and set time lines
8) Group reflection process and adjourn.

So here is how I changed the process and I loved it. First I asked that the whole system be in the retreat. We had board members, a customer, grant writer, community member, and contractors.

1) Introduction in group setting
2) Introduce the process
3) Pose the question
4) Three cafe tables with three people each, start the cafe
5) Three rounds of conversation each 20 minutes
6) Returned people to original table and asked them to capture the main themes at each table. 20 minutes
7) Harvested main themes in group
8) Group process for prioritization and assessing performance on each focus
9) Opportunity map outcomes
10) Group process to explore opportunities to work on and time frames
11) Assign teams to develop tactical plans to address opportunities
12) Used affinity process to capture everyone’s values, and group into value titles
13) Developed the values for the non-profit from this harvest
14) From conversation developed mission for the non-profit
15) Created list of what the non-profit is and is not for them to develop a story about their organization and it role in the community
16) Provided a foundation for a vision statement to be drafted.
17) Reflection session and adjourn

And all of this in 5 hours. It was the most productive planning session I have ever had and I believe that is in no small part due to driving them into conversation early and the power of conversation transformed the session.


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Hi John,

Very interesting! I've been facilitating strategic planning for clients for several years and have tended to use Open Space for groups of this size. Your experience inspires me to try a cafe format in the future. I had thought about using cafe as I facilitated the strategic planning retreat for the small non-profit of which I am board President, but the board is equally small and I wimped out... maybe I should have persisted!

Thanks for great food for thought, and the comparison!

Thanks John...I blogged your process here and added one of my own, based on a similar challenge but using Open Space instead.

Noticing that the common themes are: engaged conversation, co-creation, no pre-determined outcomes and a focused harvesting plan.

Thanks for sharing this story.
Always important for me to have a clear focussed harvest that we are working towards AND to have people who are watching and noticing and mapping the emerging harvest. There is an outcome that we are working towards and there is all sorts of stuff we are learning as we go.

My mantra is: I'm not planning a meeting, I'm planning a harvest. the meeting is simply a way to get there. So my first question always is, what is the harvest we are creating together?
Hala I have added a doc that describes the affinity process. I was a quality consultant years ago and this was a cornerstone of my practice. As well used at the same time was the opportunity map. The output of the affinity process or the cafe will be a list of discrete ideas. You will prioritize these ideas in order of importance. Think of Pareto where we are trying to identify the 20% that produces 80% of the problem for instance. An easy process. List and then do a comparison prioritization. Which is more important the first or the second. Mark. The first and the third. Mark and so down the list. Then second or third. Mark They second or fourth. Mark. and so on down the list. Keep going in this manor until you have all accounted for. Add up the marks on each idea. The one with the most is the number one priority and so on. The grade on a scale of 1 to 10 how well you are doing on that idea against what you could be doing. After this process each idea will have a priority and a quality of performance rank of 1 to 10. Now you can opportunity map. Create a four square grid. Bottom scale is 1 to 10 and labeled performance or a similar label. The vertical grid is labeled priority without a scale. The number of items is the scale. 10 a scale of 10, 15 a scale of 15. The upper left quadrant is labeled opportunity. The upper right performing. The lower right doing well but not important, and lower left who cares (at this time). Then plot the results of your above exercises on the graph. Those that fall into the opportunity quadrant are the only ones that plans are put into place to act on. They are high priority where you are not performing. There you go. If you have questions give me a call and I will walk you through it. 541-497-3774

Yes skype is best. my call name is wetherhaven. Please send me an invitation to connect. Then we can arrange to talk. I just bought a new laptop and you should be able to converse with video now. How fun is that? Take care.

Dear John-

Thanks for sharing this outline! I have heard from some of my students that they think World Cafe is great for sharing ideas and brainstorming, but what about action planning and goal setting? This is a wonderful format of weaving world cafe style conversations as the foundation and at other key points when you need to really harness the power of the thinking and sharing in the room.


Gayle, I find that my expertise and experience create blind spots for me. I have to deliberately look at what I am doing and re-frame into a cafe framework then the world opens up. Amazing.

Interesting strategic planning process. I did learn something in this.
Thank you. Let me know if you ever try the process and how it works for you. I wish you the best.

Amazing John. Very inspirational to see such substantial results occur in only a few hours. Thank you for sharing.
John, Thank you for posting this. I am about to begin strategic planning for a non-profit that I work with and this process looks great. You have lightened my burden.

Thomas, look on the earlier post on this thread and see a document that describes in detail the processes that I use.


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