Thursday, December 17, 2015

What if I gave a PNI course?

Now that NarraFirma is out there and usable, there's an idea for a next step that I've been playing with in my mind. I don't know whether it would work. I don't know if I should put any more time into it. So I'm asking you.

What if I gave a course in doing PNI?

Let me explain what the course would be like. Most importantly to me, every student would end the course having done a real PNI project. I'm not interested in lecturing. I want people to get out there and start making their first mistakes with lots of help. That means the course has to take place over time. I'm thinking about a month. That means it has to be online.

Also, I think it's important that people work together in groups, because PNI is almost always a collaborative experience. Collaboration would happen at two levels. Study groups would consist of 4-6 people who discuss concepts and provide peer support. Optional project groups would consist of 2-3 people who would share a project. Project groups might be co-located (and maybe facilitate sessions together), or they might simply merge their stories on the same topic collected in two different places, so nobody has to collect all of their project's stories alone. Real PNI projects need at least 80 stories to work well, so sharing projects is a good way to spread the work around.

Each week of the four-week course would feature one or two phases of PNI: planning; collection; catalysis and sensemaking; intervention and return.

The agenda for each week would look like this:
  • Monday: assigned readings (from WWS and other sources), plus a video-call study-group discussion about the readings. (Probably a lecture or video as well, for those who learn better by hearing/watching.)
  • Tuesday: a "preparation for action" activity, such as writing draft questions or preparing catalytic material.
  • Wednesday: a video-call feedback session, with me, where we go over plans and preparations for action.
  • Thursday: an action, like collecting stories or holding a sensemaking session.
  • Friday: another study-group discussion about what happened during the actions, then a review session, with me, about the actions.
All of the discussion sessions, with or without me, would be held per study group, so people would never be on a call with more than five other students. If the sessions are 90 minutes long, that will make sure each person gets 15 minutes to focus on only their project (longer if people are sharing projects). This puts a limit on how many people can take the course at once: 18, because I think I can be useful in three feedback or review sessions in a day, and no more. Time zones might be an issue, so we will set up the study groups primarily by geography.

Another rule will be that everyone will use NarraFirma, because some of the activities will involve using it to plan and carry out projects. Included in the course fee will be an account on a server I set up (okay, my husband sets up).

People who take the course will be responsible for: reading the assigned readings; participating in the discussions; doing the course activities; and most crucially, getting people to tell stories and attend sensemaking sessions. Nobody is allowed to take the course in theory. They must have a real project they want to do. It has to be a small project, given the time frames involved, but it must be real.

How much time would this take? It would really depend on how much time people want to put into it. I can imagine it taking 8 hours per week, as a minimum, but I could also imagine it taking 20 or even 30 hours a week, if people want to do more ambitious projects during the month.

There would also be an online-discussion component to the course, with a forum where everyone on the course (up to 18 people at a time) could talk with each other (and me) in text format. I wouldn't promise to spend huge amounts of time on the course forum, because, as you know if you've been reading this blog, I tend to write too much and get in over my head. But I would promise to keep an eye on the forums and respond as much as is reasonable.

So what do you think? Is this something you think people might want to do? Is it something you might want to do? And what do you think would be a fair price to participate in such a course? I'm thinking US$800 per student would be reasonable. What do you think?

If you think I should do this, please tell me via comment or email (cfkurtz at cfkurtz dot com) so I know what people think. And if you have any suggestions that might improve the course, I'm all ears. I'm considering having the first course in March of 2016. Probably six people (one study group) is a reasonable minimum. Let's see what happens.

Edit: The next day I thought: maybe people would like to see more. So here's more. This is what I have (so far) for a detailed schedule. I expect this would improve over time. The readings in particular would probably change as I spend more time choosing the best things to read.

Week 1: PNI and Project planning
  • Lecture/video: what is PNI, where did it come from, what are its strengths and limitations
  • Reading: WWS, Intro to PNI Chapter and Planning Chapter; also NarraFirma web site (to start getting familiar with the software)
  • Optional reading: "what is participatory action research" and something similar on narrative inquiry, maybe this
  • Discussion: talk about project they want to do, start playing around with NarraFirma
  • Preparation: do the planning steps in NarraFirma, including telling some project stories and creating story elements from them
  • Consultation: talk about projects they want to do, ask questions about PNI and NarraFirma
  • Action: collect a small number (say 10) pilot stories, without questions, to start getting practice gathering stories
  • Discussion: talk about what happened during pilot collection
  • Review: talk about problems so far, ask questions
Week 2: Story collection
  • Lecture/video: About conversational storytelling; how to elicit stories; how to facilitate people telling stories together
  • Reading: WWS, some parts of Story collection chapter
  • Optional reading: oral history guidelines - something like this
  • Discussion: talk about method of story collection, talk about what questions to ask
  • Preparation: write elicitation and interpretation questions in NarraFirma (can use some of the "template" questions in NarraFirma)
  • Consultation: talk about which is the best method of story collection for each project; go over question sets; talk about entering stories into NarraFirma; ask questions
  • Action: Collect 60-80 stories (this week's action part may take much more time than any other), using interviews, group sessions, internet, whatever works for each project group
  • Discussion: Talk about what went right and wrong during story collection
  • Review: talk about story collections, problems, offer help to people who didn't get enough stories (they can gather more over the weekend)
Week 3: Catalysis + Sensemaking
  • Lecture/video: what catalysis is for, where it came from, why do it; where sensemaking comes from, stages of sensemaking, outcomes
  • Reading: WWS, some portion of Catalysis chapter, some portion of Sensemaking chapter
  • Optional reading: something on mixed-methods analysis, like this; something on sensemaking, like this; something on group facilitation methods, like open space, future search, dynamic facilitation, art of hosting - just to be aware of the similarities
  • Discussion: talk about stories collected, problems during collection, catalysis process, sensemaking process
  • Preparation: prepare brief catalysis report to be used in sensemaking session (with interpretations and ideas) [because projects will only be using something like 4 or 5 questions, the report will be short and relatively easy to create]; fill out "sensemaking session plan" part of NarraFirma (using templates)
  • Consultation: talk about catalysis reports; talk about sensemaking session plans
  • Action: Carry out sensemaking session with people from community (usually 2 hrs max, but motivated people can do more); fill out sensemaking session record in NarraFirma
  • Discussion: talk about what happened during sensemaking
  • Review: ask questions about what happened during sensemaking
Week 4: Intervention + Return
  • Lecture/video: what I mean by intervention and return, where they came from, why they matter
  • Reading: WWS, parts of intervention and return chapters
  • Optional reading: something on narrative therapy, like this; something on participatory theatre, like this; quick overview of digital storytelling, other options
  • Preparation: fill out parts of NarraFirma related to intervention (project outcomes, intervention plans); fill out intervention plan part
  • Consultation: talk about intervention plans
  • Action: carry out small (1-2 hr) intervention in community; talk to a few to several participants about the project (to gather feedback); fill out "reflect on project" part of NarraFirma return section
  • Discussion: trade experiences on what happened in this part
  • Review: talk about what happened in this phase; talk about whole projects; end course
Sound good? Suggestions to make it better? Let me know.

Second edit: Somebody suggested that this schedule might be too much for people who are already working full-time. What do you think of spreading the schedule out over six weeks, so that each week was dedicated to only one PNI phase? More doable? What about eight weeks? Too long? What works?

Third and more important edit: I've written more about this in an update here. Read that next!


Unknown said...

I'm definitely interested in this Cynthia - let me know lab43 at kent dot ac dot uk

Cynthia Kurtz said...

It may seem as though I never responded to Liam's comment, but I did - in email. If anybody else has any questions or suggestions, let me know.

Unknown said...

Your book WWS is awesome and a great resource for me when running group conversations to support well-being. I am definitely interested in your course.

Cynthia Kurtz said...

Yay, a non-spam comment! Thanks Christine. It's very helpful to find out whether people want the course or not, because it's a lot of up-front work and I'm not sure if it will be worth doing. If you haven't seen the follow-up post, "Course developments," I suggest you look at that (I added a link at the bottom of this post). Feel free to send feedback on both posts via email (cfkurtz at cfkurtz dot com). I'm still thinking about and working on the course, slowly.

Thanks again,