In preparing for an educational event at a major client, we were
struggling to find a way to mirror the workers' own behavior to
them so they could see their own culture. At the same time, we were
introduced to Arthur Brown, president of Teaching & Training by
Design, a performance-based consulting. (Bio at end of article.) In
his practice, Brown uses a process of experiential learning he
calls "interactive design" to assist organizations in creating
inclusive work environments. Below is an excerpt from an interview
we conducted with him.
Q. How does interactive design fit into the education
process to help organization members understand the need for
A. Interactive design is a tool that helps
individuals absorb information in a different way. The process
helps individuals see their behavior through the performance of
others. We engage with individuals by acting out roles in
instructive, interactive vignettes that reflect their work
experience. People are able to view themselves in the performance.
The performance mirrors actual events and emotions from the
workplace, often with specific examples from the group that help
them see themselves in ways that open the door for change. Then,
the performance educators help the participants analyze their
experience, learn from it, and identify actions they want to take
individually and collectively to improve their work culture.
Q. How do you construct an interactive design experience
that is tailored to the needs of each organization?
A. The first thing we have to assess is where the
organization is, which we do through research, data collection, and
a lot of dialogue. Sometimes, when we are first approached by an
organization, they think their problem is "A" and then after a lot
of discussion and research, we find that their issue is actually
"B." You start to peel back the layers of the onion to see where
the root or core work is needed. Our success is based on the amount
of information we collect for a specific organization to tailor our
work. For example, at a recent presentation surrounding the fear
that gay and lesbian individuals have about coming out and being
out in an organization, participants were blown away by the content
of the vignette. It was important to have a dialogue that people
could relate to, and after the performance people told me how they
really identified with the performance by hearing conversations
they have had with each other. At times like these, you see how
powerful the work can be.
Q. How do you create a safe atmosphere for individuals to
express themselves as they watch vignettes about interactions in
A. We create an environment where people don't
feel on guard or worried about being put on the spot. When
researching and gathering information about organizations, we look
to mirror real situations and feelings so individuals can connect
on a personal level both emotionally and visually. This makes it
more comfortable to discuss issues they may have without calling
out specific people or specific events. Initially, individuals feel
like they are sitting down to a performance, and as the production
continues they start to identify with the content and characters.
It is in that process that they feel it is real, that someone
understands them, and that connection makes them feel safe.
Q. How has interactive design evolved over the
A. The responsibility of the performers has grown
substantially. The work is not just about acting. It is really
about working in an improvisational way, thinking about the big
picture, and working from an organizational development background.
The work commands performers to broaden their own skill base - to
stretch their own boundaries as they ask the individuals to do the
An often-used term that I don't think accurately depicts the work
we do is edu-tainment. It waters down the power of the work we do.
People think what they are witnessing is entertainment. But the
work is about real experiences. Our work is participatory - our
audience is involved, and they too have work to do. As this work
has evolved, its format has changed. Before, we used to complete
the vignettes and have discussion after. Now, we stop and start to
discuss each part as we go through it, which keeps it fluid and
fresh. The individuals get more out of it and that is our goal.
Arthur Brown is president of Teaching & Training by Design, a
performance-based consulting firm founded in 2001. He graduated
fromRochester Institute of Technology with a master's degree in
service management, which focuses on organizational systems and
Judith H. Katz is the executive vice president and Frederick A.
Miller is the president and CEO of The Kaleel Jamison Consulting
Group, which specializes in building inclusion and leveraging
diversity. They are co-authors of The Inclusion Breakthrough:
Unleashing the Real Power of Diversity (Berrett-Koehler, 2002)
and Be BIG: Step Up, Step Out, Be Bold (Berrett-Koehler,
2010 ASTD, Alexandria, VA. All rights reserved.