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Synanim is a dynamical learning and leadership development system available on demand via the internet. Users interact within small groups dynamically, responding to group ideas and choices as they emerge in real time. Synanim solutions may be designed for learning, leadership development, and opinion research. Regardless of emphasis, participants consistently find the Synanim experience rewarding and fun. The process motivates deep learning and commitment by challenging individual communication skill, initiative, and empathy. Synanim has engaged as many as over 13,000 people for a single, team-building and leadership development event. It can cost-effectively serve any group size, from dozens to millions.

Synanim was founded by Brian Sarrazin. A business and technology strategist, Brian has worked with emerging technology companies for over twenty years, first as an employee of Sperry Corporation (now UNISYS) and more recently as a management consultant with clients including PBS/KQED and Goldman Sachs.

Brian invented Synanim based on research into cognitive science and social constructivist learning theory.

We learned about Synanim when Tom Atlee sent this message to the NCDD Discussion list in November 2007:

There is a very provocative written process that doesn't claim to do dialogue or deliberation or consensus process, but in fact has the potential to create a very deep-level consensus purely through an iterative group writing exercise.  I've always wanted someone to experiment with it as a form of deliberation, because if it worked well, it would revolutionize the field.

It is an iterative process whose proprietary form is called Synanim; I'd love to see an open source version developed.  It involves groups of ten participants in which each participant writes up their idea of an answer to the assigned question or task and then, online, shares it anonymously with the other 9 group members.  Then each person picks one of the posted responses (their own or another's) and revises it, and then posts their new proposal as if they had completed the task or answered the question.  After a number of iterations of this post-choose-revise-post cycle, the founders of the process (Synanim <http://www.synanim.com/>) say that usually the answers converge on a consensus — or, occasionally, 2 or 3 consensuses among subgroups.

You can have thousands of people participating.  In this case, upon completion of the first task/question, one person is picked from each group to join people from other groups to forge broader consensus on that task, or to move on to another task on the same project.  The computer choses this "leader" by noting (a) how many times people in his/her group chose his/her writeup in the preceding task cycle and (b) how many times he or she chose writeups that many other members of the group chose.  The computer ranks the participants overall and choses the one with the highest score on these two parameters as the group's "leader" (who can then participate in the higher level sessions), presumably because they have some resonance with what their group thinks about it all.

I find this fascinating.  It totally challenges my normal sense that real interaction — whether written or oral — is required for dialogue or deliberation to take place.  This Synanim process has a very different feel, but given the theoretical power of iteration (from chaos, complexity, and fractal mathematics), and its observed power in some D&D processes, I can see how it would work quite powerfully.

Resource Link: synanim.com

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