Project Update ~ Manageability: Making a Mountain of Material “Accessible”

I had the opportunity this week to get out of my home office for a day and a half. This is a rarity, because it always takes a terrible toll on my stamina, and I’m feeling it this weekend. But, sometimes yuh just gotta git outta Dodge anywayz!

I got to see some old friends, meet some new people who have similar interests, and spend time in a peaceful, scenic place where I could just relax and reflect. I really needed that. Keep your nose to the grindstone for too long, and your eyes get filled with grit and block your vision. Mine had. I’d stayed too close in to my work. Getting away gave me perspective, and a chance then to iron out the last long-term, big-picture problems I’ve had: How to divide up this mountain of material into sometime manageable for readers … how to make all this complex, interconnected material accessible for them?

I’d been using a three-part framework for what “accessible” means to me:

  1. The language is understandable, meaning use shorter words that are more common, and put them together in shorter sentences more often than not.
  2. The content accommodates different learning styles, which is why I include words, pictures, movies and historical case studies, charts, discussion questions, group activities, etc.
  3. There is a consistency in format and structure that creates a type of predictability that makes things easier to digest, and easier to refer back to later.

I’ve done pretty well on the first two points, despite it taking a lot of time. But, the third part has been the bugaboo. There is so much material, and so many different kinds of it, that it’s felt impossible to figure out how to fit pieces together in a way that is both accessible and an “elegant,” creative, best-fit solution. I’ve tried multiple ways of dividing things up, but it kept being too complicated.

But, this week, it finally just clicked. I feel like I’ve got the structure accessibility strategy I needed to finish sorting out what goes where! Here’s what I came up with.

There are three clusters of topics and three different layers in this project.

THE THREE CLUSTERS OF TOPICS – with six chapters in each cluster. These make for the three cubbyholes within each of three layers, to sort the stuff into.

  1. The main influences on our abilities to discern, decide, and set a course toward individual and group determination – namely, paradigms, cultures, learning styles, and expectations about trajectories and the future.
  2. Indicators of what healthy versus malignant leaders and trustworthy versus toxic systems look like, and processes for personal recovery from abuse and organizational restitution when it’s harmed people.
  3. The integration of human, cultural, and organizational systems for putting together intercultural teams, transformational projects, specific partnerships, and broader collaborations.

LAYER #1 – Field Guide – concise information, liberally illustrated. This gives the big picture of what it means to “do good plus do no harm.” It includes some of my personal anecdotes on various topics, SHORT articles with frameworks that help readers organize the most important concepts, art illustrations that capture the essence of the action, one main movie or case study per topic, workbook exercises, and group activities.

How do I know what the key concepts are? They’re the ones that have kept coming up for YEARS in my discussions with abuse survivors and with organizational developers, in case studies, and in processing my own experiences. But, to get the big picture, readers only need the main concepts … and these frameworks can be expanded out to ever greater levels of detail when the time comes. The trick is packing that into the right kind of expandable box in the first place.

LAYER #2 – HazMat Manual – the how-to’s of dealing with harmful substances. “HazMat squads” are the people who handle infection outbreaks, radioactive and toxic substances, flammables, etc. The list I posted last week of 15 Indicators on Robust versus Hazardous Systems serves as the main content for the HazMat Manual. For each indicator, it gives an extended description, illustrations, art images, practical questions to explore what’s there and what’s missing, and qualitative measurement scales. I’m also doing a series of interviews with experts for their insights on how their systems weave these indicator elements together in the real world – organizational developers, public health researchers, spiritual directors, abuse survivors, social entrepreneurs, etc.

LAYER #3 – Resource Handbook and Media Notes – detailed articles, reference materials, and add-on self-study suggestions. If the Field Guide represents the top part of a mountain, the Resource Handbook gives the long-version support material underneath that tip. For instance, I developed my seven-part paradigm model over 40 years of thinking about it and working with it. The process of how it came about shares important insights and is over 60 pages long. But really, only 10 of those pages are essential for Field Guide readers to get the key concepts and start applying them. However, some on their teams will benefit from seeing the process that got to those 10 pages. The additional notes on media examples will supplement the Field Guide with more in-depth illustrations of the key concepts found there.

So – there it is, hopefully, the LAST major hurdle: grasping the structure that provides the strategy for finishing this project! I don’t know quite how these three layers will be end up in print. At this point, I suspect there will be one book that combines Field Guide plus HazMat Manual, and that will be published first with one large Resource Handbook published later. Or it may turn out to be three Resource Handbooks, one for each of the topic clusters. That can sort itself out later. The key thing is that this week yielded an important chunk of work and so, for now, it’s time to launch into the categorizing process on piles of material already done!


5 thoughts on “Project Update ~ Manageability: Making a Mountain of Material “Accessible”

    • Yup — seems so! Hard to get on a roll when you have the equivalent of a room full of mail to sort, and not enough space to sort them in, nor the best combination of slots to put them in. Having worked in a university mail center for a few years, that is all too poignant a problem! Seems this strategy will resolve that situation … huzzah, hoorah, hooray!

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