Blog: What are ‘Liberating Structures’?

Blog by Lara Minnaard

In our daily lives, we are constantly confronted with complex problems. How we deal with these problems is different for every person and every situation. But for all complex problems, different people have different pieces of the puzzle to address them. You can bring these people together by designing processes that stimulate an inspired dialogue. And that does not always have to be very extensive. Liberating Structures is one of the tools that you can use when dealing with a complex problem.

Liberating Structures are so-called microstructures. Micro refers to two different elements of the structures. We mainly see microstructures in the interactions that we have with each other. In a certain sense, they therefore regulate and control how groups work together, how we communicate with each other and how meetings proceed. These structures already exist but are often so stuck that it can be said that we use them on autopilot. Consider the structure in meetings or performance appraisals. When we change these structures, or at least break with the structures that are stuck, new insights can arise. After all, in this way we are forced to think differently about what we do and why.

Small and large
Micro on the other hand has to do with small changes. The tools are set up in such a way that you can choose which tool to use where. You can change depending on which setting you are in, with which participants you are and what you want to achieve. This alone makes you more aware of the process and you have to decide what you want to achieve and how you want to get there. Liberating Structures define five so-called design elements that determine which tool you can use:

  1. A structuring invitation: what do you invite people to? How are they asked to contribute to the meeting?;
  2. How the space is arranged and what materials are needed: how to put the chairs and what media or other materials will you use during the session (powerpoint or flip-over e.g.);
  3. How participation is distributed: does everyone have equal time and opportunity to participate or do some have more than others?;
  4. How groups are configured: in what ways do the participants work together? Is all done with the entire group, or are there also individual assignments or working in smaller groups?; and,
  5. A sequence of steps and time allocation: what is done when during the meeting.

In short, you don’t always have to move oceans to cause a hurricane; a butterfly can cause a storm with its wings. With the freely accessible theory and information about Liberating Structures, anyone can get started easily. From five minutes of introduction exercises to a full-day programme. Challenge yourself and those around you to make a difference.

More info?