Liberating Structures

Liberating Structures

In honour of our most recent BCODN event, we explore liberating structures and how they can improve your organization.

What are liberating structures?

Developed by Henri Lipmanowicz and Keith McCandless, Liberating Structures are facilitation, meeting, and conversation techniques that open a dialogue and distributes the sharing of information from a more traditional, top down flow of information to a more inclusive, broad selection of information sources, as well as more involvement and inclusivity from all levels of the organization in designing solutions. “Liberating structures…put the innovative power once reserved for experts only in the hands of everyone” (Lipmanowicz & McCandless, 2014). This improves collaboration (how we work together), engagement, ownership and trust.

Liberating Structures shift the normal order of the ‘way things get done around here’ in the organization – from traditional modes of information sharing such as presentations, meetings, weekly “check-ins” (too rigid, inhibiting), brainstorming sessions (too loose) ; to an open sharing of information and solutions (liberating), but that minimallystructures the waywe interact (structures).

“Unwittingly, the conventional structures used to organize how people routinely work together stifle inclusion and engagement” – Lipmanowicz & McCandless, 2014

So, how do I get started?

A defining feature of Liberating Structures lies in their simplicity. The techniques are simple as well as easy to understand.  Walking through an example clarifies what a liberating structure technique looks and feels like.

The authors recommend starting with the simplest ones and building your practice from there. Here are some examples of liberating structures to get you started:

1-2-4-All (12 minutes):  Engage everyone in generating questions, ideas, and suggestions

Present an organizational issue or challenge to the group and ask “How would you handle this challenge?”; “What ideas or actions would you recommend”

Materials needed: Paper and pen for participants to record observations and insights

  1. Each participant reflects alone and writes down thoughts (1 min)
  2. In pairs, participants generate and share ideas together, building on previous self-reflection (2 mins)
  3. Participants share and build on ideas generated in pairs in foursomes; noticing similarities and differences (4 mins)
  4. Each group of 4 shares one idea with the entire group “What is one idea that stood out in your conversation?” (5 mins)

Impromptu networking (20 minutes)Rapidly share challenges and expectations, build new connections

Ask the group “ What big challenge do you bring to this gathering? What do you hope to get from and hope to give to this group or community?”

As with regular networking, participants will engage in conversation with one key difference: they will be directly sharing with each other a challenge they are facing (and hoping to solve), and what they are hoping to get from or give to the group. Encourage participants to spend 4-5 minutes discussing in pairs with their networking partner, and then finding a new partner to share their challenges and hopes with (for approximately 3 rounds).

Impromptu networking helps participants establish new connections by sharing their stories, hopes, and challenges, while also helping them to deepen and clarify solutions.

There are a total of 33 Liberating Structures, hand-picked by Lipmanowicz & McCandless, you can view them all here:


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