Liberating Structures
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Liberating Structures (LS) offers an alternative way to approach and design how people work together. It provides a menu of Liberating Structures (patterns) to replace or complement conventional organizational practices. They introduce tiny shifts in the way we meet, plan, decide and relate to one another. They put the innovative power once reserved for experts only in the hands of everyone.

Description of the tool

Liberating Structures are easy-to-learn microstructures that enhance relational coordination and trust. They quickly foster lively participation in groups of any size, making it possible to truly include and unleash everyone. The ten leadership Principles below highlight what becomes possible when LS are used to structure everyday interactions: Include and unleash everyone Practice deep respect for people and local solutions Build trust as you go Learn by failing forward Practice self-discovery within a group Amplify freedom and responsibility Emphasize possibilities: believe before you see Invite creative destruction to enable innovation Engage in seriously-playful curiosity Never start without a clear purpose(s) They take the form of (at the time of writing) a menu 33 micro practices to be implemented in the everyday organizational life. Those can be used in isolation but are ideally better suited for being combined and nested.

Steps of application

Five elements define the underlying design of all LS: a structuring invitation how the space is arranged and what materials are needed how participation is distributed); how groups are configured  a sequence of steps and time allocation Each LS is designed with variations on these five structural elements. The elements are the minimum specifications (Min Specs) or essential foundation required to generate results. Understanding this foundation helps you prepare when leading and facilitating with LS. The best way to familiarise and get to use them for optimal impact is to test and practice them. A good starting point would be to first try 1-2-4-All. This structure provides the foundation for many others. The detailed narrative below explores how to bring this microstructure into practice. Additionally, we recommend that you work with a partner who is able to observe and give you candid feedback about first efforts. We know that the group is smarter than any single individual. The challenge is how to tap into a group’s collective intelligence and creativity when discussing an issue. It is also vital to prevent a conversation dominated by a couple of people and avoid a discussion that goes on, and on, and on?

1-2-4-All is one of the most effective methods and can be used by anyone for groups of any size.  1-2-4-All is so simple that it is one of the easiest LS to learn. The structural changes it introduces have a surprisingly big impact on group discussions. Since nearly all meetings routinely include group discussions the opportunities for using 1-2-4-All are extremely frequent. Try it once and you will know enough to start using this LS regularly. 1-2-4-All breaks down discussions into steps that allow participants to contribute individually and work together at the top of their intelligence  

Hereafter the min specs for 1-2-4-all is presented:

1. Structuring invitation A question asking for ideas or proposals about an issue (ex. What opportunities do YOU see for making progress on this challenge? How would you handle this situation? What ideas or actions do you recommend?)

2. How participation is distributed Everyone is given an equal time and opportunity to participate

3. How Groups Are Configured Individual Pairs Groups of four Whole group (in this order)

4. How Space Is Arranged and Materials Needed Small café tables with 4 chairs per table or groups of 4 chairs with no tables at all Notepads to record observations and insights

5. Sequence and Allocate Time Bells signal transitions in rapid cycle 1-2-4-All conversations (1-2 min) Silent self reflection on a shared challenge or issue (framed as a question) (2-5 min) Generate and share ideas in pairs (2-5 min) Share ideas from pairs in foursomes (5 min) Each group shares one important idea with all and meanings/conclusions are recorded


Liberating Structures constitute a very useful safety net for assuring more inclusive, effective and efficient use of energy along the whole life-cycle of any given community process. This tool is to be used along the whole process presented in the Prefigurating Utopia framework.

Context of origin

Visual representation


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