Designing Exchanges for Fit

In October of 2014, HSD Institute will host Navigating Complexity: Human Systems Dynamics 2014. This is our first-ever conference for HSD Associates and our curious friends who want to find out more about HSD. We are excited about the conference and are working to ensure a great experience for your learning, networking, and fun. One of the biggest questions in planning has been, “What kinds of interactions will make the biggest difference in your experience in the context of the whole conference?” We continued to plan exchanges carefully to set conditions for patterns that will enhance your conference experience.

In HSD we define “exchanges” as the ways a system shares information among and between the agents. Conversations, feedback, data, rules, regulations, financial activities--each of these is an example of exchange. We have found that it is possible to design exchanges in your system to serve a particular purpose and to fit a particular context. Consider four dimensions of exchanges, each with its own design options.

Exchanges are characterized by the time, or the physical or social distance that separates individuals or groups who are engaged. Long exchanges may take days, weeks, or months to reach a receiver, and even then, any response may or may not get back to the sender. In the world of electronic media, “long” may not refer to time at all. It may just refer to the physical distance between the sender and the receiver. The distance may also be a “social” distance--you send information to a large number of people, but don’t expect direct engagement with them. Examples include newsletters, advertisements, editorial statements, where you broadcast information you want to share. Short exchanges, on the other hand, happen in an instant, as the sender and receiver are face to face, or engaged electronically. You send, receive, and respond to messages with the speed of light. Examples include meetings, greetings, focus groups, phone calls, and Skype.

This characteristic describes the density or breadth of the message. Narrow messages are unambiguous, clear, and explicit. Examples include invitations, announcements, and FAQ documents. Broad messages are more dense, may be ambiguous, complex, and may require conversation for full understanding. Examples include white papers, explanations of complex ideas, and shared development activities.

This refers to the basic purpose of the message. If you want to amplify an idea or behavior, then you should celebrate, explain, reward, or otherwise acknowledge the value of the idea or behavior or recognize the actor. You take actions like sending positive recognition letters, making public announcements, and defining financial reward. If your purpose is to damp a concept or behavior, your message should explain the challenges, point out the consequences, or otherwise detract from the value of the concept or behavior. Examples include behavioral consequences, warnings, and regulatory language that restricts behavior.

Sometimes you send messages into the world with no expectation of a response. These are called one-way exchanges. Two-way exchanges engage both the sender(s) and receiver(s) in single or multiple cycles of sharing information and other resources. Examples include dialogue, sales of goods or services, feedback, and inquiry.

Individually none of these characteristics is inherently good or bad, naughty or nice. One is not inherently better than the others. What we do know in HSD, however, is that exchanges are most effective when you design them to fit a specific context and purpose. For instance, as we plan for Navigating Complexity: Human Systems Dynamics 2014 , we have considered each of these dimensions in designing participant interactions during the conference.

  • Our website is designed as a long loop with lots of information to describe the events, inform you about the schedule, and invite you to attend. After you know enough about the conference and decide to sign up, we send you to a short-loop registration where you see all the information you need to register. At the conference, signage, schedules, and posters are long loops--broadcasts of information designed to help you find a way to engage in the energy and information of the conference. Most sessions are being designed as short loops to engage you--intellectually, physically, artistically, and socially--in the learning and sharing.
  • We sent “Save the Date” postcards. These narrow-band announcements included dates, times, location, and a link for more information and registration. As we engage with you beyond the earliest announcements, we respond to your questions, explain relationships of the parts to each other and to the whole, and engage in pre-conference conversations. These broad-band exchanges are designed to support your full engagement.
  • On the second day of the conference, you will hear Pecha Kuchas--brief, narrow-band presentations in which people introduce themselves and one powerful idea. These then serve as a threshold into possible broad-band networking between and among attendees.
  • We made a conscious decision in this conference to amplify the experiences of HSD Associates. The session topics all focus on applications of HSD, the questions that frame the pre-conferences emerge from the theory base of HSD, and all of the presenters are HSD Associates. While we don’t de-value other approaches or ignore their contributions to systems, organizations, and communities, this level of focus on HSD, does, by default, damp attention on alternative approaches.
  • Finally while much of our communication prior to the conference is one-way--marketing and sales--we do provide some two way engagement as we respond to your questions and get you registered. At the same time, we have defined most of the conference as two-way engagements to enhance your opportunities for real learning and full engagement—few talking heads and lots of dialogue.

The entire conference is designed to support the HSD Simple Rules. Our intention is to generate patterns of teaching and learning; joyful practice; and engagement of the whole, the part, and the greater whole. We will provide value for value as people share their HSD stories. And we will ensure that you will learn things that are true and useful to you as a learner, practitioner, and as a member of your own community. So we have designed our exchanges to shape those patterns. Join us in Chicago on October 22-26, 2014, for Navigating Complexity: HSD 2014. Participate in your own exchanges and let us know how we did. For more information and to register for the conference, follow this link.

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