Opening the Johari Window to Engagement

Reading Time: 3 minutes

The Johari Window (pronounced JoeHarry) was created by psychologists Joseph Luft and Harry Ingham in 1955 as a tool to help individuals, teams and organizations become more self aware. The idea is that by using the model you would gain a better understanding of yourself, how others saw you and that process could help improve relationships.  This model, or tool, works really well in team building and can help reduce the silos that so often keep organizations from growing or succeeding over time. My curiosity is around using it to bridge the gap that often exists between public organizations and their communities.

How does the Johari Window work?

It’s a pretty simple model that uses the metaphor of opening the panes of the window. In the original model participants were provided with a list of 56 adjectives (ex. able, logical, quiet, responsive, etc.) and asked to pick 5 or 6 that that they believed described themselves. Then participants would do the same for each other. These adjectives, or describing words, were then added to each person’s window. This is my Johari Window that I began while teaching a facilitation skills course many years ago. Notice the lack of entries in the Arena (top left) area.

Johari window example

For some context on this, I was teaching a short course and had used the Johari Window to begin a class discussion around feedback and boundaries. It seemed only fair to model what I was teaching so had invited the group to provide me with feedback using this online application. I have also used this in the classroom using a flip chart and post-its, in real time, and without the use of the list of adjectives and have found it works really well – as long as the group is made up of people fairly equal in power. Bias rears its head when the group is mixed and the issues of safety or impression control are at play. In other words, this doesn’t work as well if the “boss” is in the room.

Ask and tell

The power in the model comes from asking others to provide you with information about how they see you and telling others about yourself. Asking and telling is what opens the window. In team building this kind of process can bring people together by fostering understanding. In organizations this can be used to help departments understand what each does – it’s values, priorities and challenges. There is an affinity, I think, between this model and the Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator. Both offer opportunities to reflect on one’s self and improve relationships with others through mutual understanding.

Johari window for organizations

Does the Johari Window scale?

At the individual level the Johari Window can help people learning more about themselves and how other people see them. In teams and organization it can add clarity and improve team and interdepartmental relationships. But can it be used by an organization to help form better relationships with community stakeholders? What would that look like and how might that work?

What if we asked our community to share what they know or thought about us as an organization? Of course most public and community organizations do that often enough with feedback forms, surveys and the like. I wonder about taking it to the next level by using that information as a basis for deeper learning for both the organization and their community. The more an organization or a community knows about itself, the wiser it becomes.

Ask the right questions

So what are the questions that we can ask community members to get a better idea about what they know about us, that we don’t know? And, how do we compare what the community knows to what we know? How do we open the window? One way might be to send out a survey asking community members to list the words that they would use to describe the organization and to provide an example of why they chose that word. Then send the same question out to the organization members and especially to leadership. The words in common would make up the Open area in the Johari Window. Words from the community not used by the organization would be added to the Blind area and words from the organization not included in the community responses would be the Hidden area.

Wouldn’t that be powerful information for any organization and especially for public organizations like schools, districts, municipalities, even non-profits, that want to genuinely engage their community stakeholders? It could provide the basis for a communication plan that targeted what the community didn’t know about the organization. It could also be used to help make meaningful changes in the organization itself.

How else might we use the Johari Window?

I like tools and models, especially ones that can be adapted to multiple uses. The Johari Window adapts and scales brilliantly so how else might we use this tool? What are your favourite tools or models for learning about your teams, organizations or community?


Adapted from original published as Self-Knowledge and Community Engagement by Jamie Billingham August 18, 2012 on blog. Also posted to LinkedIn.


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Engagement and Feedback with VoiceThread

Reading Time: 4 minutes

I’m a student of engagement and feedback. I think they’re related on micro and macro levels and are on a continuum. A micro engagement could be a small as a glance exchanged between two people. A macro engagement could be – no it doesn’t have to do with a ring – a community wide, civic engagement activity that spans months or even years.

Feedback is similar. Micro feedback can also be a glance or a “look”. You know, the one your mom gave you when you were about to misbehave in a restaurant. Macro level feedback can be as large scale and long term as a longitudinal research project about health outcomes or educational initiatives.

I also think that feedback on a micro level can improve outcomes at a macro or community level. The sum of the parts kind of thing.

In behavioral health, many counsellors use a system of feedback called My Outcomes. I’ve posted on it before but due to the originators of the system restructuring their organization the links may be broken, so here’s a link to their new site and video. Don’t let the medical profession type language scare you off. The system itself is easy, effective and brilliant. I used it for the last few years that I worked as a counselor and even the most street entrenched of my clients loved it. They loved it because it offered them an opportunity to tell me clearly what they thought and felt about our relationship and time together.

I have also used the MyOutcomes tool (which comes in a paper version that any individual can use for free on Barry Duncan’s website by the way) to get feedback from groups that I’ve facilitated. And to be fair here is link to Scott Miller‘s resource page. Miller and Duncan co-created the system and then had some kind of change in their relationship, each taking a different path.

In thinking about feedback, engagement and then having a Twitter conversation with @pmacoun that began with the cool things he’s doing with claymation in his classroom which eventually lead to swapping VoiceThread links. His first link is this charming story created by his daughter and captured on the VoiceThread mobile app. The second link he shared was to a really awesome example of digital storytelling by Grade One students at Aspengrove School in Nanaimo, BC.

The VoiceThreads got me to thinking about my own experiences in elementary school and I had an epiphany about siloed curriculum and classes in high school being evil, but will save that for another post. It also got me thinking about how I would like to see VoiceThread used for feedback and community engagement. See, if you stick with me long enough I eventually get back around to the point 🙂

Wouldn’t it be amazing to start a VoiceThread for each child in a class at the beginning of the school year and use it to provide both a space for reflection (for older kids) and for a space to provide ongoing formative feedback in the  tone of appreciative inquiry?

Lets say Johnny is a grade three student. At the beginning of the year his teacher would take a picture of him or better yet a short video. Johnny could add comments, his teacher could say something she has come to appreciate about Johnny, other teachers and even his classmates could add a comment or two. This could be done monthly with a new picture or video each month or just one picture and lots of comments. The link could be shared with parents right from the beginning. They could also add comments.

At the end of the year each child would have ten months worth of positive affirmations about them to take with them into the next year. The VoiceThread could be burned onto a DVD for those families that struggle with internet access. (I work with a lot of economically challenged families and virtually all have a DVD player). Innovative schools could even sell additional copies to grandparents. I have seven grandchicklets and I promise you, I would purchase something like this from each of them.

This is a way to provide feedback that builds learners up and is a way to engage multiple people in that process. It’s kind of like the pat on the back process where at the end of the year each child draws an outline of their hand an it’s passed around so others can write something they like about that person… this is the digital or 2.0 version.

I would also love to see VoiceThread used for larger scale, macro if you will, community engagement. Imagine using it to gather informal feedback about a school or class initiative. Or using it to share a special project or story about a class in general. Because of the way VoiceThread works you can control who has access, it can be moderated and it can be left open for adding comments, for as long as you want.

Ok, I rest my case. Leaving you with the VoiceThread that won me over in the first place. Click the arrow in the bottom right corner to progress through all the slides. The third slide has some interesting ideas about formative and summative assessment.

Update: Here is the workshop archive for May – June 2015, from the VoiceThread blog.

What other ways can you think of to use VoiceThread or other kinds of collaborative technology to engage community or provide feedback?

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