by Jack Martin Leith
In this article I suggest how the formats of Type 1 co-creation meetings (Real Time Strategic Change, Whole-Scale™ Change, Future Search, and Search Conferences) and Type 2 co-creation meetings (Open Space) might be modified in order to honour the max4 principle.
View the article: The maximum group size for a proper conversation is four people
There are three main types of co-creation meeting (a.k.a. large group intervention, large-scale event, ‘whole system in the room’ event) that I have named Type 1, Type 2 and Type 3. The labels are neutral by design. I have summarised the distinctions in the graphic below.
The three main types of co-creation meeting

Type 1 co-creation meetings

Real Time Strategic Change, Whole-Scale™ Change, Future Search, Search Conferences

The format I am about to describe achieves two important aims:

A discussion group never has more than four members, in accordance with the max4 principle.

The format enables introverts to contribute fully.

The 1–2–4–8 format

Participants are seated eight to a table, divided into two groups of four, as shown in the graphic.

Applying the max4 principle to type 1 co-creation meetings
First, people work on their own.

Next, they share and develop their ideas and perspectives in pairs – not in fours, as introverts will feel more comfortable sharing their thoughts with an individual rather than a group.

The conversation then continues in the group of four.

Finally, the two groups of four consolidate their ideas and perspectives in readiness for a whole room report-out.

Pooling and sharing at the whole-table, rather than half-table, level provides an additional layer of anonymity and halves the number of report-outs.

Type 2 co-creation meetings

Open Space

If the session is interactive — by which I mean it’s not a presentation followed by Q&A — and it has more than four participants, then I recommend that you follow this format. An 11:40 to 12:40 timeslot is used as an example.

If session is interactive and has more than five participants, follow this format. An 11:40 to 12:40 timeslot is used as an example.

11:40 Session host introduces the topic, gives a short talk and poses a thought-provoking question. If the host is unable to formulate such a question, he or she can fall back on the default question: “So — what did you make of it?”

12:00 People form groups of 4 (If not 4 then 3, or 5 at a push) and discuss the question.

12:20 Groups merge; people continue to discuss the question.

12:40 Session ends.

If deemed necessary by the Type 2 meeting design team, any significant insights can be captured for later sharing, either during or after the co-creation meeting.

You may have noticed that this is a repurposing of David Gurteen’s excellent Knowledge Café format, which you can explore further at knowledge.cafe.

Type 3 co-creation meetings

Composite

A Type 3 meeting is a composite of Types 1 and 2. The strengths of each compensate for the shortcomings of the other. This graphic shows the default sequencing of the two formats:

The generic structure of a Type 3 co-creation meeting
Read more about co-creation meetings