International Corner at Germany’s National IT Summit

The whole Cabinet of Angela Merkel’s government was there – it was definitely the place to show Germany’s effort in becoming a player for Industry 4.0 and other digital trends. And it was really national – almost everything in German and full of German players. Which is ok. But digitalisation is obviously an international topic and there are very few national borders in the internet world.

New markets. New partners. New solutions

New markets. New partners. New solutions – international cooperation and the digital transformation. 18.11.2015, Copyright: Thomas Koehler/

Which is why I was proud and excited to moderate the only international corner at the IT Summit: “New partners, new markets, new solutions”, sponsored by the German Federal Ministry for Development Cooperation BMZ. We had a fantastic discussion and great fun too! BMZ’s just produced a summary of the event (attached). OK, so it’s in German, but hey… Zusammenfassung BMZ Panel auf Nationalem IT Gipfel 2015


SIMEI 2015 -sustainable wine must be good

2 years after the first International Congress at the world’s most important wine exhibition (SIMEI) in Milan, the 2015 International Congress brought experts and stakeholders from all over the globe to discuss sustainable wine and how sensory analysis can also be used to determine whether a sustainable wine is also good. As a wine hobbyist (yes, that also means I really enjoy drinking it!) I’m keen to support the socio-cultural, aesthetic and gustatory aspects of retaining a sustainable world for future generations.


Facilitation is about organising content.


It’s a bit like putting together this Scottish Highland picture: it’s not just about building a wall that should be robust enough to stand the elements, but also about ensuring that the big picture – in this case the mountain – isn’t lost in the process. It’s about changing perspectives – on the one hand to deal with the details where they’re needed, and also to become more abstract. It’s about empowering a group to work out the best way to put their expertise, ideas and interests together: building a wall that will not fall down at the first stress-test. And it’s about creating a result that is pleasing – that the group can take pride in.

How does it work? What are the essentials of structuring content as a facilitator? This list is not exhaustive!

  1. Invest time and effort in establishing a joint understanding of and buy in for the goals, deliverables and agenda (structure) of the meeting. A group of people will only feel motivated and dedicated to building a wall if they’ve agreed that’s what they’ve set out to do!
  2. Ensure joint understanding – this sounds obvious, but most of my speaking in the facilitated meeting is spent on making sure what people want to say is said and heard by the others (i.e. “translating” and summarising complex or unclear messages in the most efficient way possible – active listening). People need to share an understanding of
    1. where they’re coming from (history, problem or potential),
    2. whether they have a similar or diverse position on the issue and what that position is/those positions are (consensus/disagreement),
    3. what people feel is important and relevant or irrelevant (priorities),
    4. why people feel and think the way they do (rationale),
    5. how people suggest a problem should be solved or potential achieved (propositions),
    6. where opportunities for collaboration lie (partnership),
    7. the way forward (plan) and
    8. how success will be measurable.
  3. Recording (visually) the main points of the discussion (see 2.) and how they relate to each other (this is wall-building),
  4. Interrupting or even disrupting the wall-building to make sure people are still aware of why they’re building the wall, how high it has to be (i.e. in order to frame the mountain) and which stress-tests it will need to withstand. This can involve inviting external expertise – independent – into the group to allow it to question itself,
  5. Making sure the right people are involved – the evolving and final structure depends on the input received!
  6. Separating brainstorming (opening out) and prioritising/rating/ranking (funnelling and closing). If you mix these processes, you will not only lose the structure of the content, but also most of the people involved in giving it.
  7. Ensuring 100 % participation. The results are useless if half the group lets you know at the end of the process that “it’ll never work”.This means structuring the room and time of a meeting to cope with dealing with multiple voices and, interestingly, creating an atmosphere not of power or importance, but of trust and curiosity. Only then will people listen to each other and stop merely thinking about how to say what they’ve probably said at many meetings before…


Facilitation is about creating bridges between people.

Natasha Walker


Those bridges can be semantic and factual; they can be inventive and suggestive; they can involve “translation” of one participant’s meaning to another’s understanding; they can mean putting up stop signs to protect participants’ feelings and allow them to hold their heads high and they can be bridges of energy and stimulation to get participants thinking and working together.


One of the most effective bridges is a smile, which is infectious and can even lead to laughter, one of the best ways to cement humans together.

I don’t always smile when moderating. My mimicry obviously tends to reflect my feelings – concentration (e.g. on complex material) or concern (e.g. for the process) will often produce a frown. But there are many opportunities to smile and we should use them: welcoming participants individually and as a group, thanking them for input, encouraging participation, etc. I’m not talking about forced smiles or smiling when there’s clearly no cause (e.g. when recognising a crisis or standing up for process fairness). I’m talking about liking (I would like to actually say “loving”, but it’s been so romanticised by today’s usage) one’s participants and accepting them for who they are. Because they are the resources and the capacity of the process. They are its problem-solvers and driving force of change and implementation.

We should show them we appreciate them being there and trust in their competence and ability. And what better way do we human animals have to do that than with a smile?

A smile is a self-fulfilling prophecy: all will be well!

Getting a Group on Board

Again, I’m not a fan of a “warm up” or those getting-to-know-each-other “games” favoured by smiling trainers to manipulate a group into obedient acquiescence. Participants at workshops or conferences are not there to be part of my group dynamic process: they want to benefit from the content. However, as facilitators we know that creating a constructive group dynamic will contribute to that generation of good content and thus benefit each participant. So let’s make sure the on-boarding or “transfer-in” benefits both group and content. It’s an enabler, not a game. The fun is a byproduct – it’s not the aim.

This is something I tried out for the first time at a workshop where a diverse set of entrepreneurs came together in an open space to build an enabling community for their businesses. What followed was a classical open space agenda setting.

And this is what we did to get people focussed on the content, the group and their process:

1) Names and faces – a blitz round of introductions (this can be tedious and meaningless if dragged out. Get people to stand and they’re quicker)

2) Participants are encouraged to move around the room (making it theirs). They are invited to continue moving between the following stages.

3) Introduce the 1st of 5 stages: “Beam! Think about what makes you proud right now. What you’ve achieved. [after a while] Look around at all the self-esteem in the room.”

4) Introduce the 2nd of 5 stages: “Shout! Shout out all the things that are troubling and angering you and making you crazy. [after a while – it’s noisy!] Let’s use this energy today for something positive!”

5) Introduce the 3rd of 5 stages: “Whisper! Share a secret, a confession, an unripe thought with someone you meet in this room – keep it quiet – whisper into your partner’s ear. [after a while] Hear the seeds grow.”

6) Introduce the 4th of 5 stages: “Question! Ask someone else your question – the question you carry around with you. Don’t get or expect an answer, but listen to your partner’s question in return and neither give not think about the answer. [after a while] Feel the burden shared.

7) Introduce the 5th of 5 stages: “Thank! Silently formulate your concrete gratitude towards someone for something that has helped your business to grow. [after a while] Offer the floor to individual participants who would like to voice their thanks.

This process takes about 30 minutes in all and provided our group with an ideal framework and foundation for the ensuing thematic discussion – a mixture of trust and relationships, quiet reflection and openness, as well as individual and group confidence and humility.

European Corner at the Deutscher Stiftungstag 2014 in Hamburg

DSC_0908This was the second year I’ve had the opportunity to moderate the international part of the Deutscher Stiftungstag – the European Corner. It’s a great space for all those foundations interested in thinking outside the national box to explore future ideas they can duplicate, scale up and collaborate to develop together. The renowned sociologist, Professor Ulrich Beck kicked off this year’s discussion with a talk on Cosmopolitisation, which my panelists used to come to the conclusion that not only is the European project a process of Europeanisation, but of Europeanisations. Because the process is so different in different parts of Europe (beyond EU), for different societal groups (elite vs. non-elite, youth, political decision-makers, migrants, etc.). The conclusions and the text by Ulrich Beck will be made available on the Allianz Foundation’s website and/or @

Working for the wine industry

A zenith of my career? The opportunity to work with the wine industry and moderate a large international congress in Milan with experts on sustainability and viniculture and viticulture was certainly a highlight of my year (and made many people envious, I can tell you!). The SIMEI fair attracts more than 70 thousand visitors each year and is hosted by the Italian Union of Viticulture (UIV).


Italian wine has never been as much in my focus as French, but in the few hours I spent in Milan, I had managed to clock up a good bit of experience – it wasn’t just the Barolos and Amarones that turned my head, but particularly a complex and head-swingingly fresh and yet heavenly subdued white from Sicily: Planeta “Cometa” – 2012. And I was so pleased to find that I’m not the only one who loathes pro secco: the Italians I spoke to don’t even consider it drinkable – the Cantine Ferrari we tried with the antipasti (omg) was wonderful: the right harsh bubbles and squeaky clean dry taste.

Anyhow – good to focus on one specific part of agriculture in considering the potential to increase sustainability. And I also learned a bit about the EU CAP post 2011, which is completely different to the unsustainable production-focus of the pre 2011 days. It was a great experience and a good conference with candid and forward-looking discussions.