CNCR colleague and associate, Associate Professor Mark Aakhus, Rutgers Department of Communication, recently facilitated a strategic planning meeting for the University of Alaska, Fairbanks and the College of Rural Alaska Health Programs. The process, involving 23 participants involved in the delivery of rural health in Alaska, produced a document that will be presented to the Denali Commission, which is a federal-state partnership designed to provide critical utilities, infrastructure, and economic support throughout Alaska. This document will also serve as a comprehensive planning document to identify current and future funding for the Community Health Aide Program (CHAP).
Community Health Aides and Community Health Practitioners are non-physician providers responsible for health care in the remote villages of rural Alaska (http://www.ykhc.org).
A key feature of the meeting, in terms of facilitation and collaboration, was the use of GroupSystems II (http://www.groupsystems.com/). Each meeting participant was given a laptop computer linked through a wireless network with GSII software. GSII software optimizes networked computers to support group collaboration, problem-solving, and decision-making. The software, for example, supports important group communication functions such as brainstorming, categorizing, voting, stakeholder analysis, and writing.
The software enables people in a face-to-face meeting to maximize their time together by combining writing and speaking. Within the first 20 minutes of the meeting, for example, the 23 participants produced over 100 ideas about solving training needs. The facilitator was also wirelessly linked and used a large projection screen to display results and text to the group. After brainstorming, the group, under the guidance of the facilitator, spent the next 1.5 hours using the system to synthesize and categorize those ideas into 7 plausible courses of action to address training needs. During the afternoon, the group prioritized the courses of action and broke into sub-groups to write detailed action plans using the writing support features. The action plans were then reviewed and edited by the entire group and specific budget parameters were determined. A final group report was created and given to each participant before the end of the day.
According to Professor Aakhus, “The meeting participants and meeting conveners were happy with the process and pleased with the meeting outcomes. They had accomplished some things they had never before accomplished and built new paths for further innovation and collaboration in delivering health care in rural Alaska.”
Aakhus offers the following observations on the collaboration: “In 8 hours the group produced a final comprehensive planning document. The diffuse ideas of 23 people were transformed into a coherent set of specific, fundable action items embraced by the group. This form of facilitation overcomes many problems that grow out of traditional forms of facilitation even when the traditional forms are successful. For example, there are many matters that require sub-committees or extra turnaround time once a traditional meeting is over, such as finalizing details of plans and document production. These can be accomplished during the computer supported facilitated meeting. When the group leaves the facilitated meeting they collectively move ahead on carrying out their agreements rather sub-dividing to handle the unfinished business of the meeting.”
For additional information, please contact:
Mark Aakhus, PhD