EGP is a community process that is facilitated by technology but focused on face-to-face human conversations. The function of EGP is to allow communities to engage in ongoing conversations that will enable them to solve chronic and important problems.
Digital technologies are used within EGP to enable a community to self-organize into small group conversations and these same technologies enable the community to have a dynamic open-source archive of the outcomes of all conversations. Each conversation is facilitated by an Inquiry Coach, who is a community member trained in specific techniques for EGP small group process. This allows a group or between 30 and 300 to engage an ongoing process of focused, coherent, and generative conversations, the cumulative effect being an emergent community-level insight into what are its most important, chronic, and seemingly intractable problems. This insight can then be used to begin a process of choice-making and design, which eventually puts the community in a position to solve its own chronic problems.
The focus of the EGP is asking the new and better questions. Community-level questions drive the process and serve as the focus of each small group. While within the small groups the Inquiry Coach is working to help community members create new and better questions together which are archived and factored in future process. EGP is first about catalyzing individual and collective inquiry, and thus digitally cataloging the total space of inquiry that constitutes the communities most important questions about its most pressing challenges. Doing this requires that each small group turns into a unique kind of conversation, a conversation about what the community needs to know and understand (i.e., about the questions it really needs to answer) rather than about what the community needs to do.
What does someone do who attends an EGP?
When you arrive you are given a digital ID card and a list of community-level questions that are the focus of the overall event. You organize the list according to your interests. This is entered into the system, and then with the use of your ID, you are directed to the first of several small group conversations that will focus questions you had in common with others in the community.
Within these small group conversations a great deal of what you will be doing is asking questions, not answering them. This can be a slightly uncomfortable feeling, where you feel like there are many open-ended inquiries going on. But it is in the process of creating new questions that the group generates greater degrees of clarity and insight.
Insight and clarity are generated because in order to ask good questions, you have to answer certain more basic question first. For example, in order to ask a question that you feel is interesting, you first have to know what is interesting to you. To know what’s interesting to you, you have to ask yourself ‘what is interesting to me?’ and answer that question.
Within the small groups the Inquiry Coaches engages you in questioning the question you are interested in:
- What do I know about this question?
- What experiences do I have with what this question is about?
- Do I really care about this question?
- Do I really think this is a good question?
You will be constantly asking and answering these questions for yourself throughout an EGP event. So, while the event is about creating new questions, and archiving these for later use in community process, at the participant level this requires individuals to answer basic questions about themselves and the group.
What does a small group EGP meeting actually look like?
Each small group meeting within an EGP event starts with a single question we call a base question. The base question was pre-selected by participants based on their interests. The EGP technology then sets up meetings focused on popular base questions, which allows participants to identify meetings that are about to begin and route themselves to those newly forming meetings.
Every meeting is guided by an inquiry coach. The inquiry coach begins the meeting by starting a recording device and then asking the participants to consider what is meaningful to them about the base question. Based on their responses, the inquiry coach then suggests directions for the conversation to go and asks the participants to start formulating new questions which we call branch questions.
Branch questions are derived from the base question and are questions that would need to be answered in order for the base question to be answered. After participants have exhausted all possible branch questions they can think of, the participants and the inquiry coach review the conversation and try to summarize the most essential points and questions made. When the review is complete, the recording of the meeting is saved and uploaded to the EGP server to be processed by the archivists.
You can think of every meeting as three phase process. It begins with exploring the experiences of participants. Then a brainstorming of questions. Then a summary of the most essential questions and insights. Combined this provides a meaningful and relevant inquiry for each participant and a useful artifact for use in future community process.
What is an Inquiry Coach? What do they do?
An inquiry coach is there to help the group in finding their deepest curiosities and unknowns. As coach you show the participants how to engage in deep and ernest inquiry, what it means to be curious, what it means to ask better questions, and what it means to truly collaborate. You would do all this with the goal of crystallizing some high-quality questions that can be uploaded into the EGP technology for use in future community process.
It’s important to realize that as an inquiry coach you are helping the participants build skills. It is your job to coach them into asking better questions and helping others do the same.
A facilitator helps groups by making sure they take turns, listen, and are respectful. An inquiry coach does this PLUS they help participants learn how find and explore their curiosity and questions. So, an inquiry coach does use a lot of the skills of a good facilitator, but they also need extra tools to help build the participant’s questioning skills.
The inquiry coach starts each meeting by getting the participants ready to be genuinely curious. You’d do this by reading the base question and asking the participants to take a few minutes to think about the question. You want to get the participants to think about memories and knowledge they associate with the question. This will make it easier for a participant to figure out both what’s important to them and what they don’t know.
From here there are a few ways to proceed, you could ask one participant to share what they were thinking or you can go around and ask all the participants to share. Either way you want to bring up what the participants were thinking about and begin to help them find what they are curious about. You would do this by asking them questions about what they are saying, or asking participants to help each other find what they are curious about. When you start to see people get curious, you would turn to getting participants to ask questions.
After a while (usually 45 minutes to an hour), participants may either start to stray away from the base question or will get tired and restless. At this point, you will want to ask participants if they feel they have explored the base question enough or if they feel too tired to continue. If the answer is yes. Then the meeting should close, after which participants are sent along to their next one.