Recognizing Patterns of Feedback
Feedback loops are the patterns that drive systems. They are a series of forces that connect to one another in a cyclical way to form a loop and dictate how a system functions. This exercise will help you spot these cyclical patterns in how your newsroom operates and functions.
After this exercise, you'll be able to:
See how your newsroom operates as a series of interconnected, cyclical patterns
Understand how these feedback loops drive how your newsroom operates
Surface ideas for how to disrupt potentially problematic loops
30 - 60 minutes
Materials + Set-up
Materials needed: sticky notes, flip chart, markers
Here's What You Need To Get Started
Recognizing Patterns of Feedback
Identify Forces (5 minutes)
Think about your newsroom and the myriad forces that go into it. For instance, if you're in a traditional newsroom, some of those forces could include management hierarchies, ability to collaborate across beats, or deadlines.
Take a few minutes to write some of these on a piece of paper. You can do this individually or as a group. If you've already mapped your newsroom, review the forces you came up with.
Pick a Force (5 minutes)
Look at the forces you've identified and pick one that really resonates with your group. This could be one that's particular important to you all, or one that you feel needs to be addressed. Write that force on a sticky note and place it at the top of your flip chart paper.
Create a Loop (15-25 minutes)
Ask: What does that force cause? Try to find another force that answers that question. If you need to add new forces, that’s fine too. Keep asking that question until you’ve created a loop that feeds back around to the first force. Each loop should have about 3-6 forces.
If you get stuck, try working backwards. Starting with the first force, ask: What causes this?
Note: It might be useful here to refine the language you’ve used, in order to keep the forces neutral. For example, instead of saying “Lack of Diversity,” you could say “Diversity.” Keeping your forces value-neutral can help you see what happens when a particular force increases or decreases.
Describe the Connections (5 minutes)
Once you’ve created your loop, it’s time to label the connections between each force. In the graphic below, notice how an increase in beat assignments hypothetically leads to increased siloing of reporters. Use “+” and “-” signs to indicate the relationships between each force.
Talk it Out (10 minutes)
Take a step back and talk through your loop. Does it make sense? Are you able to talk through each connection? Is there something missing that’s crucial to this story?
Repeat if desired.
Group Discussion (15-20 minutes)
Creating these loops can be a useful way of organizing your different understandings of the newsroom. They're also a great way to visualize how people, processes, and traditions interact with and perpetuate one another. After you've created a few of these loops, ask your group:
How might these feedback loops connect to another? And another? (Try it!)
Are there ways to disrupt an unhealthy loop?
Who can you bring in from the newsroom to test the accuracy of your feedback loop?
Your newsroom is underscored by a series of connecting feedback loops.
Seeing these patterns of feedback can help you and your team better understand how entrenched processes and traditions happen – and how to disrupt them.
The loops you've created are from your perspective. It's crucial to test your assumptions and get feedback on these from other colleagues.