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Exploring the LabStorm process


​In June 2019, the Centre for Youth Impact facilitated our first two ‘LabStorms’ as part of the #iwill Fund Learning Hub. This blog is dedicated to the LabStorm process itself, outlining why we are using this approach in the Learning Hub and reflecting on the Centre’s experience of hosting the sessions.

In June, the Centre for Youth Impact facilitated our first two LabStorms as part of the #iwill Fund Learning Hub. LabStorms are collaborative problem-solving sessions designed to help generate and explore actionable responses to challenges with which organisations are wrestling. They are an approach developed by Feedback Labs, a US based consortium focused on identifying the best ways of using feedback to make programmes and institutions responsive to the needs of their constituents.
We are using the LabStorm approach because we believe that if the funding system that supports youth social action is going to grow and strengthen during the remainder of the #iwill campaign, and continue to thrive beyond the length of the campaign, we need to foster ongoing, deep collaboration between youth social action funders. By hosting LabStorms, we intend to help funders develop a sense of shared challenges and identify potential common solutions.
The first two LabStorms explored challenges connected to understanding and communicating social action’s community benefit [link], and the issues that affect how a habit of social action may or may not be formed[link]. We learnt a lot about the specifics of each issue, but in this blog we want to reflect more on the process of hosting a LabStorm.
A LabStorm is a facilitated space that is designed to create the conditions for reflection, fresh thinking, openness, generosity and insight. The role of the facilitator is to prepare for and ‘hold’ the space, rather than to bring content. The content will be generated by the group, through discussion and the conversational flow of asking for ideas and offering them. This can be anxiety-inducing: it is not often that we ‘host’ a meeting where we do not prepare content to ensure that the time is well-used and beneficial. But LabStorms are about trusting the process and the group: when the conditions and the framing are right, the content flows.
From our experience, making sure you take the time to think about the needs and interests of participants in advance is critical if you’re going to create the conditions for a productive and though-provoking space. We were pleased to find that feedback from participants indicated that we’d been able to do this. There is a significant responsibility as a facilitator and it needs to be balanced with encouraging and enabling participants to bring forward their questions and perspectives. At the Centre we strive to create such spaces and dedicate time as a team to develop these skills and techniques. For example, we recently worked with Meeting Magic through a two day Learning Lab, and regularly have coaching and facilitation training from Relational Dynamics 1st. Nancy Kline’s Thinking Environment has also been highly influential for us.
One of the strengths of the LabStorm approach is that conversations take place under Chatham House rules, which gives participants the opportunity to voice their opinions, whether fully formed or still in development. This enabled conversations that both valued the different perspectives of different funders and captured shared insights. Interestingly, one participant reflected that the LabStorm represented a way in which funders could practice a low stakes accountability approach amongst themselves. This was seen as being particularly valuable because many of those taking part are currently exploring how to follow similar approaches with their grantees. The format of conversations also allowed a much deeper exploration of issues than might otherwise happen in a roundtable or ‘business’ meeting.
While this approach to facilitating discussions has clear strengths, it’s not without its challenges. The conversations are often still in a fluid state at the end of the session and so arriving at specific actions for the future can be difficult. Specifically, as the organisation that has to share what’s emerged from conversations, we’ve found it hard to balance a desire to present a collective overview whilst respecting and reflecting the continued differences of opinion in the room. As a consequence, it’s important that we remind ourselves that we’re there to facilitate openly and see where conversations naturally flow, rather than guiding them towards some pre-determined, “right”, answer or recommendation.
Finally, and we think that this emerged from the dynamics of the process, one participant asked, “How do we become more than the sum of our parts in influencing future practice?” We think that this is an excellent question, we look forward to seeing who will step forward to lead the discussion as part of the next LabStorm…
You can read a blog about what emerged from the LabStorm on community benefit here, and from the discussion on developing a habit here. Also, a report that includes more details about the LabStorm process, a more extensive write-up of the discussions held, and ideas of actions for funders, can be found here.