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Thank you, 2020. Welcome, 2021.

The Corona-pandemic hit us hard and offered a lot. Out of a sudden, there were no job requests at all. There was no single long term contract with a client or anything. And yet, the last year has been so rich in new experiences, skills, relations, etc. It has been a huge catalyst for learning for us. It feels like a ten-month boot camp. In the first part of this article, we want to recap our last year and come up with some intentions for 2021 and beyond in the second part.

… and action

With Corona coming around in early March, we went from hero to zero: ongoing jobs were canceled, planned projects postponed, and no new job requests coming in. We had to adapt and rethink our business model. We transformed some tools into shorter stand-alone remote sessions for clients (e.g. Pre-Mortem-Sessions or Retrospectives), and we concentrated on pushing forward our own projects and initiatives. In the first week of the German lock-down, we offered a sociodrama session at the Corporate Learning Community barcamp, which was a blast. Since then my colleague Valentin and I started to run virtual sociodrama sessions for people working in and with organisations. The topic was “Organisations in Emergency Mode” in the beginning. Later we switched to “Transformation and Crises”, and this autumn we did two sessions about “What now, Remote Work?!” as a retrospective based on action methods together with our colleague Dirk. We became part of iSCAN and ran an international sociodrama on “Climate Catastrophe” together with Valerie Monti Holland. We concluded the year with a Christmas party based on action methods – both as an open session as well as in-house events for some companies and teams. In 2020, over 300 people joined our open sessions. 

We ran these open sociodrama sessions on a bi-weekly basis and later switched to monthly sessions. Shortly before summer, we added additional processing sessions for those who were interested in learning more about directing sociodrama and applying action methods themselves. These sessions were meant to offer participants the opportunity to cope with the disruptions of the pandemic as well as creating a sandbox for ourselves. This sandbox was our playing field for exploring the vast opportunities of remote workshops using sociodrama and other action methods and keeping ourselves busy in times of no business. Part of this experiment was a new business model. We have offered all of these sessions on a pay-as-you-like basis.

Apart from the topics of these single sessions, many participants experienced completely new ways of working together online and encountering each other very differently in these “cold” digital tile galleries. We created highly interactive, entertaining, and emotionally engaging virtual sessions. We played around with the many opportunities of Zoom, translated warm-ups for remote workshops, and created new ones ourselves. Nearly every session had a different approach to warm people up for roles, introduced sociodrama techniques like doubling or tagging differently, different approaches to how to get into action, etc. In many sessions, Marie-Pascale Gafinen accompanied the groups with generative scribing. We used these sessions to flex our action methods and our remote facilitation muscles. We met amazing new people and deepened or revived existing connections. Very often we received outstanding feedback from many participants.

“THANK YOU! for this session. It showed me that remote workshops can be aesthetic, emotional, and in the best sense ‘dramatic’. I got a lot of inspiration and a lasting impression.”

“I was simply amazed at how much emotionality can also be created online and like the ‘tricks’ like leaving the stage via Post-it curtain. Thank you very much!”

“I was surprised that a form of depth can emerge that I didn’t expect in virtual space.”

“It was great fun and a really great experience! It didn’t feel like a Zoom session at all and that was a nice surprise! Thanks so much for that. One of the really few “experiences” in 2020 and associated memories probably for many of us! So: an all-around successful evening and dignified end to 2020!”

Being a student again

But we have also been in the role of students in the last ten months quite a lot. More than ever before have we been able to take part in sessions of other facilitators and facilitation approaches. And we are so grateful for that. We participated in a Liberating Structures based session by Anja Ebers and a Social Presencing Theater practice session by Manuela Bosch and Karolina Iwa. We were intrigued by the simplicity of Patrick D. Cowden’s beyond leadership approach. We played around with agile games with Podojo consultancy and other trainers. We dove into the Cynefin framework with Jensen+Komplizen. We participated in sessions on better decision-making in times of uncertainty led by Thomas Ramge. We took courses at Teledrama.org with Chantal Neve-Hanquet and Agate Crespel who wrote the fantastic book “Facilitating Collective Intelligence”. We took part in sociodrama sessions by Manuela Marciel, Ron Wiener, Nina Garcia, and Monica Zuretti during the International Sociodrama Conference. We tried out Playback Theater and thanks to Katharina Witte, Hannah Fox (New York School of Playback Theatre) and Noa Leibu (Story-lane Playback Theater) immediately fell in love with it. We took a four sessions course in “Combining Playback Theatre and Theatre of the Oppressed” with Hannah Fox and Marc Weinblatt, which was just amazing. Fabulous teachers, impressive international group of 25 people. We were happy to dive deep into physical theatre and clowning during Peta Lily’s “Clown & Dark Clown” course. Again an amazing teacher as well as a super sweet and creative group. We took part in a twelve week clown course with Jon Davison that run until Christmas, which brought forward a lot of smirks and laughter every Thursday. We participated in the “Clowns in Crisis Conference” and had an amazing workshop with Robyn Hambrook and other clown activists on political clowning. Afterward, we took part in the four-week “Zoom Clown I” course with Holly Stoppit and Robyn Hambrook (Online Clown Academy).

2021

These last ten months have inspired us so much that we want to further continue trying out new things and integrate them into our professional lives. These are some of the ideas that are spinning in our minds.

1. More work addressing the climate crisis

The climate crisis is the biggest challenge of our time. The coming nine years will decide if we as mankind can limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. This will need a massive transformation in politics, society, and the economy. In our professional endeavors, we want to help to accompany this transformation to a climate-positive world. Two ideas have emerged in recent months. We would like to bring activists of all kinds and corporate transformation agents together. Pushing societies, communities, and organisations towards transformation in general and towards climate-positive actions, in particular, is very demanding and challenging. The challenges are very similar as well as the emotional aspects connected with it. Far too often activists and transformational agents are left burned out, cynical, and/or emotionally detached from their aims and actions. We would like to bring these actors together and help them cope with the shared challenges and marginalized emotions around their work (for example frustration, loss, grief, hopelessness, powerlessness) in order to offer them possibilities to recharge, learn and grow together. 

The second idea is to apply our transformation knowledge for the shift towards climate-positive organisations. We would like to accompany grassroots initiatives within organisations that push for more climate-positive actions.

2. More work with communities, networks and in multi-stakeholder settings

We want to strengthen our focus on meaningful projects and spend more time with issues that have a bigger impact on the world. Therefore we would like to work more closely with movements, communities, networks, and multi-stakeholder-set-ups. Luckily, our first engagement in 2021 is exactly that: an exciting participatory democracy project. We will help a newly formed administration body to prepare a government structure together with its main stakeholders.

3. More work based on action methods and other creative facilitation techniques

Working with action methods like Sociodrama, Playback Theater, or Clowning inspires us very much and pleases us. It is so full of energy, emotions, shapes, freedom, surprises and chaos among many other things. We experience again and again that we can co-create so much deeper encounters, richer experiences, more empathy and in the end better results by applying creative action methods – especially in remote workshops. So instead of using action methods as a speciality in conventional workshops, we want to continue last year´s path and keep directing many workshops based completely on action methods. Also, we are excited to kick-off a four-week virtual sociodrama course together with our colleagues from iSCAN, starting in March.

Besides that, we want to broaden the aspect of creative facilitation by integrating more methods originally deriving from the context of arts: playing around with e.g. writing and painting, remixing different artistic directions in order to explore new, creative, playful, and non-rational ways of approaching challenges, gaining insights, broaden perspectives, create something new and improve – both as an individual and as an organization.

4. More facilitation of remote workshops

Zooming around Germany and the world instead of traveling has also been a relief. We enjoyed this a lot and still do. There is so much more time that is not being wasted in commute and travel. One can easily fetch the kids from school after running a remote workshop session in the morning. Also, working virtually offers so many more and new opportunities that we want to further explore and help to develop. We are fully aware of some shortcomings of a virtual session, but hey, there is so much to re-invent to make this experience whole again. And there are so few people who can run engaging virtual sessions yet. We are convinced that remote workshops will play an essential part in post-pandemic lives. We look forward to further conduct and improve digital sessions, even when physical face-to-face-workshops are possible again. 

5. More international engagements

Our jobs in the last ten years have been mainly in Germany in German-speaking organisations. This was very comfortable for us as a lot of our expertise is related to language and a well-known cultural understanding. But working with so many people from all over the world has widened our horizon. We would love to open ourselves up to the world more. We would love to further connect with the international action methods communities and others. Everyone working remotely has made it so easy. 

6. More work with large groups and one-on-one

We find it particularly interesting and important to work with larger groups. On the one hand, this is a niche because there are much fewer occasions for large group work than for facilitated workshops in team size. On the other hand, there are so many stiff and boring large group events with Mentimeter as the only tool of interaction and no useful co-creation at all. This was the case before the pandemic and is even worse now with everyone being at home and in tile-gallery again. And it is such a waste of potential and opportunity. We would love to bring action methods and other facilitation tools to (digital) conferences, fairs, or events and help to make encounters in the digital worlds more participatory, lively, interactive, and emotional. We would love to do more work around (digital) citizen participation as well.

Apart from working with larger groups we have started to do more mentoring or sparring work for other facilitators, helping them to prepare complex workshops as well as applying action methods in their work. These mentoring sessions are fantastic ways to collaborate with other people, share knowledge and learn from others. That is also something we would like to do more. 

7. More speculative work

Future imaginations are an essential part of any transformation. In order to bring new futures forward, we might be much more successful if we practice more to dream up how things could be different. As societies, states, communities, movements, organisations, citizens, employees we should imagine these new worlds together and experience them in action. Science-fiction stories, visions, and speculative work take an essential part in changing narratives and developing images of the future. So far too much of these speculations are done top-down, in a non-participatory way. We would like to make co-creative futurizing an important part of our work. Currently, we are inspired by the work of Adrienne Maree Brown (Emergent Strategy), Anab Jain (Experiments in Feral Futuring), and Stuart Candy (Experiential Futures) in particular. We would love to connect this speculative body of work with action methods. 

8. More work based on different business models

In the past, we have operated on charging daily rates. With these new modalities, we surely need other ways of earning a living. In addition to commissioned work we might need to apply for fundings (like a theater maker or an NGO), develop formats to cooperate with sponsoring partners, run open sessions based on fees and tickets, set up a membership business via patreon.com or substack. 

This is quite a lot and it feels like changing everything at once. But this pandemic feels like an invitation to do so. So if you have any ideas for these thoughts, if you have expertise in one of these fields and want to collaborate with us, … please get in touch or introduce us to people that we should meet. That is highly appreciated and your shortest way to us is sending a mail to hallo@komfortzonen.de

Jörg Jelden

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