Echo Forum Approach: Using Reiterative Rounds to Enrich Sensemaking in a Board of Directors

1999 John E. Perkins, Ph.D.

This research describes a field test of a reiterative communication method called the Echo Forum Approach which supports sensemaking in a board of directors. The Echo Forum Approach was designed by the researcher based on the sensemaking concepts of Weick (1995) and the reiterative rounds common to the Delphi Method (Dalkey 1969), one-draft negotiations (Camp David Negotiations Homepage 1997), and the Natural Step (Robert 1991). The Echo Forum Approach consists of reiterative rounds of short interviews of each board member, conducted by phone or in person, followed by written feedback reports. It is designed to assist the members of a board in making sense-both personally and collectively-as they work to understand an emergent, vague, or complex issue about which the board must decide.

This research employed a quasi-experimental nonequivalent control group design (Campbell and Stanley 1963) to investigate the research hypothesis that the regular meetings of the board when combined with reiterative Echo Forum Approach rounds would interact synergistically to augment the personal and collective sensemaking of board members. A second board from the same umbrella organization served as a comparison board.

Triangulation of data (Patton 1990; Creswell 1994) uses data from a diversity of sources to strengthen study design. Quantitative and qualitative data gathered from the pretests and posttests were triangulated with qualitative data gathered from Echo Forum Approach participant observation (Whyte 1984), and board members' comments. Analysis of the data suggests that the Echo Forum Approach did contribute to meaningful sensemaking in the experimental board. Echo Forum Approach helped the board as a collective unit progress towards making sense of the strategic opportunity under discussion without adding any additional meeting time. The experimental board's members had a more thorough grasp of their board's proposed policy and arrived at its decision regarding what actions to take faster than the control board did. Individually, it helped members clarify their own thoughts and better understand the ideas and suggestions stated by other board members.

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