Tackling School Enrollment Growth with Strategy Engine

In April, we began working with the Los Altos School District (LASD) on a project to tackle the district’s growing enrollment population.  Part of our mandate is to help the LASD improve community engagement, enabling a wider segment of the population to explore options and reach consensus to solve these problems.  With $150 million in bond money on the table, the district felt it was critical to get broad input into the decision process from the community.

“We want to make sure we have a representative sample of our community,” Superintendent Jeff Baier told the Los Altos Town Crier. “We want to tease out new ideas and reactions to what is being presented. Then through conversations, new opinions can be formed and eventually consensus.”

On April 22, the Conteneo team, led by Laura Richardson, and the Los Altos School district kicked off LosAltosCommunityMeetingthe project with a community meeting to begin the necessary work to complete the “framing” of the problem for the next phase of the project where 100s of Los Altos residents will participate in structured online discussions using Conteneo’s Strategy Engine to find common ground regarding the district’s options for tackling the enrollment growth issue.

More than 100 Los Alto School District parents, teachers, administrators and interested residents attended he “open to all” public meeting where they were able to share their ideas, thoughts and concerns on how to handle the growing enrollment. The Conteneo facilitation team used the collaborative framework called Speed Boat to structure the conversations with the goal of uncovering where people were confused and where they needed facts.

“The Speed Boat collaboration framework may look a little simple at first,” said Laura Richardson, vice president of sales at Conteneo,”but it’s an effective way to solicit new ideas from people who might not normally give feedback at public meetings. Public meetings might feel like open mic night, and it can be incredibly difficult to get information from everyone. The few people who actually get a chance to talk are an incredibly small percentage of the community.”

Richardson continued,  “While this input is important, it is not sufficient.  LASD really wanted to find a way to include citizens who are unable to attend public meetings.  By going online, we can give people an opportunity to express their ideas even if the only time they can do so is at 6:30 am in the morning.”

When the online Strategy Engine forums begin, participants will be seeking to find common ground, exploring three options around the enrollment growth issue, including one created from the actions and drawbacks gleaned from the public meeting.  For more information regarding the engagement or Strategy Engine, contact us at info@conteneo.co.


San Jose Residents Play 4th Annual Budget Games

In January 2014, San José, CA residents had a chance to influence their city’s forthcoming budget by playing games. Representatives from San José Neighborhood Associations and the Neighborhoods Commission and Youth Commission joined 100s of their fellow residents  to share their perspectives and opinions regarding budgeting priorities for the City of San José. This year’s event was the fourth annual Budget Games, produced by Conteneo for the City of San José, and included, for the first time, online games to expand game play  to 100s more San José residents. (And was supported by Microsoft through  it’s donation of 100+ Surface Tablets for the event.)


Putting the Fun in Participatory Budgeting
The goal for the Budget Games is the same as other participatory budgeting initiatives — provide citizens with the ability to participate in their government’s budgeting process and provide city officials with actionable insight as they make the difficult decisions about city resources.

Since 2011, Conteneo has produced a specialized version of its “Buy a Feature” game for the City of San José. These Budget Games have been used to engage neighborhood leaders regarding priorities for spending, tradeoffs, and budget cuts for the City’s annual $2.9 billion budget. During the second year of Budget Games, 80% of the recommendations generated by participants were adopted and integrated into the City’s budget.

“Resident input is critical to San José’s community-based budget process,” said Mayor Chuck Reed. “When we’ve had shortfalls, our priority setting session provided early input to help rank difficult choices.

“More recently, we’ve added police officers, restored funding for gang prevention and intervention, and opened shuttered library branches based on feedback from our community.”

2014 Results: Budget Matters
This year residents who played both the in-person and online games were given 24 hypothetical funding proposals and the budget expected from a proposed ¼ cent or ½ cent sales tax ($34M and $68M) and were asked to purchase the items that were most important to them. Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) representing Police, Fire, Parks, Recreation and Neighborhood Services, Libraries, Budget and other disciplines, answered questions related to proposals during the game, as requested by the players. The games were facilitated by Conteneo’s global team of Certified Collaboration Architects, who donated their time for the event.

Road repair, fire and police department staffing, funding of community centers and public library hours are among the topics that residents prioritized during the 13 in-person games and 21 online games. Analysis of game results revealed that residents of San Jose continue to be concerned about public safety, gang and crime prevention, and that game “purchases” correlate with the available budget. Residents who played the game with potential revenue from the larger tax increase purchased more expensive items, made more solo purchases and invested more in pavement maintenance and a contingency reserve.  See the final Budget Games Results here.

“Like many cities, San José continues to face difficult budget situations that require tough prioritizations with direct effects on San José residents,” said Luke Hohmann, CEO and founder of Conteneo. “In the past, these effects have included reduced community services, employee layoffs and pay cuts, and deferred maintenance to balance the budget.

“Along with the city, we strongly believe that residents should have a voice in this process since budget decisions can make a big difference in the quality of life for all members of the community.”

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Check out Luke Hohmann’s presentation to the City of San Jose on the results here.

To bring Budget Games to your community, contact Conteneo.





Adobe: Serious Games for Strategic Planning and Customer Experience

Who hasn’t shuddered when you get the email about required attendance at an all-day strategy meeting? In common parlance that translates to 8 hours trapped in a conference room with PowerPoint, coffee and catered lunches—if you’re lucky. Strategy meetings don’t have to be death by PowerPoint, though. They can be engaging, profitable and energizing—especially, if the participants are actively involved. Our recent experience producing a two-day strategic planning meeting for Adobe Systems’ Globalization team is proof of that day-long meetings don’t have to be boring.

Three Adobe team members—Francis Tsang, Senior Director of Globalization; Jean-Francois Vanreusel, Director of Localization; and Janice Campbell, Sr. International Program Manager 2 – recently shared with us their perspectives on how and why using collaborative games (i.e. collaboration frameworks) was crucial to the event’s success.

Why did you decide to work with Conteneo for your strategy meeting?

Spider Web and Speed Boat games on the wall during Adobe's Globabalization Team's Strategy meeting.
Spider Web and Speed Boat games on the wall during Adobe’s Globabalization Team’s Strategy meeting.

Janice: We had read Luke’s book, Innovation Games: Creating Breakthrough Products through Collaborative Play, in our Globalization Book Club, and decided to find a way to “put into play” our learnings from it. Much to our delight, Luke was already working with some product teams at Adobe. What if Luke could help us drive the creation of our 2012 localization roadmap and three-year strategy?

Can you tell us a little bit about the strategy meeting and how you used collaborative games?

Francis: It was a two-day meeting, with 40 participants, focusing on Adobe’s Localization Strategy. We used the games [collaboration frameworks] to help us do short-term and long-range planning around localization and long-range infrastructure needs—not only which languages and problems we may face in our globalization efforts, but also what kind of new localization experiences we want for our end users.

Who attended?

Janice: Along with members of our Globalization team, we invited internal stakeholders closest to the international customer. They represented CSO, ecommerce, product marketing, field marketing, developer relations and CHL, and regions such as APAC, EMEA and LATAM. The event took place during two full days at the end of August.

Sometimes people are concerned about the concept of serious games / collaborative play and whether the techniques can really be used to do “real work”? Did you have any reservations?

Francis: To be honest, I was kind of skeptical in the beginning—how can we do this with 40 people over two days, but after the two days, I found the experience extremely useful. It was much more useful than a cut-and-dry strategy planning session with PowerPoint. The [collaboration frameworks] force you to come down from a conceptual level to an experiential level.

We were a little bit nervous before the event, because we had never experienced this approach. We had also invited senior managers from other teams, and they wouldn’t have shown much patience if things had gone wrong. We took a risk, but it definitely paid off. The energy level during the all event was high. We addressed very serious problems. Using the Innovation Games collaboration frameworks helped us change our perspective on these problems and generate more creative solutions

What made the event a success?

Francis: Putting 40 people together for two days is a huge commitment of time for a company. It’s hard to keep people engaged during 16 hours of strategy planning. Thanks to Conteneo, 90 percent were in the meeting the entire time. With traditional presentations, you would lose half the people, but the techniques kept the participants engaged.

Janice: We found that participants built better relationships with each other and communication channels opened up. We gained valuable insight into how an international customer interacts with our products — from the web to software purchase/download to documentation. Using the collaboration frameworks/games was a fun way of extracting serious ideas and it allowed people to be more creative and free in their thinking; they were less fearful of peer pressure in vocalizing their ideas.

Three games of Prune the Product during Adobe Systems' Globalization Strategy meeting.
Three games of Prune the Product during Adobe Systems’ Globalization Strategy meeting.

Which collaboration framework played during the event had the most impact? Why?

Francis: While we used many during the two days, three Innovation Games stand out in my mind: Prune the Product Tree, Speed Boat and Buy a Feature.

Prune the Product Tree, for example, forced us to think about the sequence of events. It helped us understand benefits and costs. Speed Boat is always good to help understand what is slowing you down. Planning is often a one-way street, but the frameworks counteract that. The “game” play forces you to visualize the possible anchors. The metaphor helps you understand the big picture/visualize the problem. The most revealing aspect of Buy a Feature was learning what assumptions play a part in ranking options. Specifically, it lets you see what a participant’s self-imposed limitations are.

What really stood out for me, though, is that the act of using these Innovation Games gave us insight into how different people look at problems, the different kinds of thought processes in play. We saw this thanks to the debrief process; the act of presenting the results to the larger group meant other participants got to see how others thought. With other methods, it’s hard to get to the true story.

The Show & Tell collaboration framework helped create a friendly, playful mood, while helping us highlight critical issues in the way we localize our products. After the event, many participants still referred to the framework to justify more investments in certain areas. The Prune the Product Tree framework is a close second for me as it generated some very innovative ideas.

Janice: Stories from the field, in the form of the Show & Tell. While often poignant or funny, the “game” play helped us experience first hand the hoops international customers sometimes have to jump through when using our products.

Were there any unexpected benefits?

Francis: The game mechanism helped us look at strategy from a different perspective. We gained unique insight. For example, in strategy, you need to look at what could happen, what would happen. The collaboration frameworks helped us visualize these scenarios; they helped us model the future.

Jean-Francois: The game-oriented approach really helped build stronger relationships between all our participants. People flew in from around the world to attend the event and didn’t always know each other. Games are an effective way for people to quickly “gel” together, collaborate and deliver great ideas.

To learn more about Adobe’s Globalization Strategy meeting, check out Janice’s blog post, “Strategy Through Games” and Luke Hohmann’s blog post, “The International Appeal of Visual Collaboration Games”.