Search Conference

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The Search Conference technique (Williams, 1979) is useful for both problem solving or planning. Aimed towards the stakeholders of a system to help develop mutual perceptions of their existing circumstances, their desired future, and how to get there by drawing on their experiences and values and assembling their knowledge of the system and its environment. Each search conference involves the following steps, which can be adapted locally where required:

  1. Participants are requested to give their views of trends in society as a whole.
  2. Responses are combined to provide a picture of ongoing changes in their environment over which they have little direct control.
  3. Participants look at the development of their own organisation or community, and make worthwhile judgements with respect to any aspirations.
  4. Constraints of restricted resources and existing structure and culture are then reviewed.
  5. The group formulate strategies for planned adaptation.
  6. The group deliberate the steps necessary to initiate the agreed-upon changes.
  7. 3 characteristics of this process appear to enhance creativity:
    • The encouragement of a new and broader perspective by looking initially at the environment rather than the system involved.
    • Focussing on desired futures rather than on current constraints.
    • The requirement for stakeholders to confront and synthesize conflicting views into a mutually satisfying design of and plan for the future
  8. Observe the distinction between this approach of visualising where your world is going and then considering how best to fit into, as distinct from the standard creative problem-solving process where you choose a particular future you want, and then try to see how to achieve it. This method ‘goes with the flow’ rather than trying to direct the way the flow happens.