Andy Thornton
Andy Thornton
29th January 2016

When leaders around the world met in Paris last month to solve the world's urgent climate challenges, as part of the UN Climate Change Conference (COP21), what was perhaps even more surprising than the fact they agreed anything at all, was that they reached consensus with an approach known as an ‘indaba’.

As a UX professional looking to adopt and adapt the most productive techniques available to help inform a strategic vision, it was interesting to hear of an approach used by this gathering of world leaders that wasn’t in the suite of familiar methods used by the design community. So where has this formula to solve the most pressing of the worlds ills been hiding, and can we add it to our UX toolkit?

Firstly, it’s worth noting that the indaba doesn’t appear to be as ruthlessly documented, discussed, dissected, and monetised-to-death as your average Design Thinking facilitation technique. It’s surprisingly invisible, and I struggled to find any meaningful depth of information on it anywhere.

Apparently, according to the UN themselves, its a South African tradition aimed at establishing a ‘common mind’ or story that all participants can take with them. So sounds a little like storytelling to achieve consensus? A good start. It continues:

In successful indabas, participants come with open minds motivated by the spirit of the common good and listen to each other to find compromises that will benefit the community as a whole.

Certainly anything that could help troublesome but well-meaning stakeholders leave a workshop with open minds and a shared vision of success would be the holy grail for large corporate enterprises struggling to align teams and departments. At COP21 the technique was successfully deployed to narrow down a broad range of differences from across almost 200 countries, reducing over 900 points of contention to around 300 within a few days, so it certainly appears to tick that box.

But how does it work? The specifics of facilitating an indaba aren’t entirely clear, but its principles are outlined as:

Instead of repeating stated positions, each party is encouraged to speak personally and state their “red lines,” which are thresholds that they don’t want to cross. While telling others their hard limits, they are also asked to provide solutions to find a common ground.

Akshat Rathi

So a lightweight and adaptable technique that provides the opportunity for everyone to be heard, by declaring a series of sincere ‘must-have’ requirements, reducing any time wasted on uncontentious issues, whilst remaining flexible on reaching a solution all can agree upon?

I can hear the sound of a thousand keyboards creating a thousand new introductory slides for their next requirements gathering workshop.