Ep. 022:  Sandra Janoff

SANDRA at work.jpg

Show Notes

Susan interviews Sandra Janoff – says she is in a class by herself.

No one quite like her when talking about strategies to build common ground, except perhaps her now retired partner Marv Weisbord. Hugely intelligent, insightful.

Coming from conflict resolution field, Susan drawn to Future Search. Future Search not specifically a conflict resolution or peacebuilding tool, but really is in many ways.

Future Search a process of systemic change – getting the whole system in the room to plan a collaborative future together.

A process to create healthy systems.

Not just a tool or technique, talking about conditions that set up the possibilities for collaboration.

Susan remembers struggling to figure out how to talk about the systemic conflict resolution she was doing and getting Sandra’s simple, yet perfect suggestion to just talk about “building common ground”.

Susan teaches a course at Center for Global Affairs at NYU. Favorite book on facilitation for students is Janoff and Weisbord’s, Don’t Just Do Something Stand There and their most recent book, Lead More, Control Less, directed to leaders themselves.

Susan also remembers Janoff suggesting a very simple rule for facilitators – “love, and do what you will.”

Susan shares Janoff’s bio.

Janoff won a lifetime achievement award from the Organization Development Network, 2016.

Sandra co-developed the Future Search methodology which is a non-traditional way of doing strategic planning because it brings stakeholders together in a setting where there is a great deal of dialogue and the opportunity to discover a shared vision and action agenda.

Janoff also directs the Future Search network where Future Search principles applied in communities around the world for whatever people can afford.

Supporting people in all sectors

She quotes a UNICEF Regional Director in Indonesia. Convened a Future Search to improve education for Indonesian school children

“Considering how much time and resources we spend in meetings it should shock us that we don’t get more important work done. Meetings are where we confront and resolve the problems society faces and if we can’t transform our ability to act in meetings how can we expect transformation in society.”

Janoff says her mission is to run meetings that matter. Coleman talks about early book that she was drawn to Making Meetings Work.

Janoff’s name is synonymous with process of Future search.

Janoff talks about the set of principles that is Future Search.

Four principals

  1. Getting the whole system in the room. “If want people to understand and transform the system they are in, they need to experience it. When the same people talk to each other, we only perpetuate the kind of conditions we are trying to get out from under. The biggest frustration and the reason people are cynical about meetings is not because of who is present, but who is missing.” So we get people with authority, resources, expertise, information and need or “AREIN”. When you get all these people together, you create understanding and then people are capable of action that they were not capable of before. This turns conventional strategic planning upside down.
  2. Blind man and elephant metaphor – each of us believes that our part is reflective of the whole v. understanding the complexity of the whole system that can only be understood by hearing all perspectives. This kind of learning takes time and with Future Search we take the time to do the learning before we go into action. If you don’t do this you are just acting on what you already know which is not transformative.
  3. Focusing on the future and common ground, and putting the problems and conflicts in the background. We move from asking what went wrong and how do you fix it, to what do you want to do and who wants to work together to make it happen. You don’t have to resolve every difference to work together on those things that you share. Coleman observes that, in this process, participants who come in polarized often notice that that zone of difference narrows.
  4. Allowing the group to take responsibility.

This is a 2.5 day journey that involves exploring the past, present and creating possible futures, and then discovering the common ground agenda and translating into action.

Tells a story of working with a community in Hawaii, invited by the Queen Emma Foundation which elaborates on how Future Search works. A native Hawaiin points out that this way of working is the way they always have worked.

Janoff observes — it’s always old wine in new bottles.

Actions that came out of the Future Search spread throughout the community. Calmed animosities among many of the local communities. The multi-stakeholder planning group created in the Future Search continues to this day.

In other words, they integrated a whole systemic strategic planning methodology.

The Future Search starts in the planning. We pushe the boundaries of who is there so that we are not bringing in your assumptions but come down to what is really real.

Transformation means doing what you could not do before.

Coleman points out that, of course, it’s all about what happens as a result and this is great testimony that 10 years out the original planning group is operational.

Coleman asks Janoff to share some of the seeds that got planted in her to do this work.

Janoff talks about “mediating” between her rebellious older brother and her parents. Very “win-lose”. Made her nuts as a kid. Trying to make peace. Wasn’t always successful.

First professional experience was as a teacher in an alternative school.

Janoff describes herself as a counter dependent person. Can be a very good follower but only with a leader that she believes in.

School was small. Staff all young. We created structures that could meet the changing needs of the kids and could do that because we had autonomy. Janoff says her focus has always been on structure change as opposed to behavior change. Can’t change anyone’s behavior but can change structures.

Coleman comments that sees this a lot more now – really looking at the conditions, structures, etc. in teams, families, whole systems.

And must differentiate before you can integrate.

Coleman asks Janoff for a Future Search in a more conflictual setting.

Janoff talks about applying in Northern Ireland, with the FAA – gridlock in the skies.

Tells about a Future Search for UNICEF in Sudan in 1999 during the Sudanese civil war.

UNICEF asks Janoff to do a Future Search for the children of Southern Sudan. They decide to do for children first and then bring into the adult conference.

New concept to have children have their own experience.

Took place in Nairobi because war raging in Sudan.

40 children arrive dusty, glazed. Amazed at running water, towels, beds.

Janoff describes the experience. Even in the face of such hardships, they have dreams.

There is a video of this the Children of Southern Sudan” on futuresearch.net.

Couldn’t start her normal way. Instead said “you are the future of your country and your voice is important”.

Dealing with six languages in the room. Moving story about creating group understanding.

10 of 40 kids went to adult conference.

Coleman comments on another learning from Janoff – “don’t do something for the system that the system can do for itself.” That this principle became a primary parenting principle for Coleman. Need to create structures/conditions that are flexible re children.

Janoff comments that The Peacebuilding Podcast communicating important stories about creating a more humane world.

We are living under conditions of non-stop change and increasing diversity.

So must do something different – can’t repeat old patterns and believe that things will change. People only change if they do something they haven’t done before.

Quotes a friend from Northern Ireland. Are you we going to be the kind of world that looks at people drowning in the Mediterranean or getting shot in Syria.

We need new conversations and new ways of coming together.

In so many places, people are building communities that are sustainable. Under the right conditions, people can build a bright future.

When we make the circle bigger, things get better.

Her core words of wisdom to younger people, ground yourself in what is in your heart to help people transform.

When we can do whatever is in our sphere of influence, will make the world a more justice, humane, sustainable place where we can live with our differences and move forward together. Unless we are able manage the frustration and move together on a shared aspiration we will not have much of a future.


Sandra Janoff has twenty-five years experience planning, designing, and facilitating whole-systems interventions in the public and private sector. She co-developed the principle-based methodology called Future Search, a process used world-wide to get the whole system in the room, focusing on the future and creating values-based action strategies.

Sandra consults to organizations and communities in Africa, Asia, Europe, India, North and South America, Australia and New Zealand. She has worked on a vast array of complex social, technical and economic issues and has taught Future Search principles to over 4000 people.

Organizations with whom she has worked include: Haworth Furniture, 3M Plant Engineering, Cigna Insurance-Global Risk Management, FAIRWAY Filamentos, Brazilian Institute of Quality and Productivity, Quaker Foods Topeka Pet Foods Division, British Airways-Human Resource Division, Whole Foods Market, Federal Aviation Administration, Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Maryland, Reichhold Chemical, Quaker Foods, The Alliance –a joint venture of AT&T, CWA and IBEW, Federal Reserve Bank, Inter-American Development Bank, World Bank, Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Kepler’s Books, New Leaf Distributing Company, Malloy Lithography, Forte Consulting, Rose Glen Capital, Community Resource Exchange, Ashridge Business School, Auburn University, Austin Community College, Drexel University, Johns Hopkins University, National Lewis University, Peabody College, Resources for Human Development, National Baptist Ministries, Boy Scouts of St. Louis, Missouri, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and Tearfund Foundation.

In particular:

From 2003 to the present, Sandra has worked with IKEA, the global home furnishings business, on a number of initiatives including: Redesigning the pipeline using the Ektorp as a prototype, Implementing the supply chain strategy, Creating an IKEA partnership in China, Creating a sustainability agenda, Creating the Store of the Future, Creating customer success in China 2030, Building a vision and direction for IKEA Food, Building a vision and direction for IKEA Communications, Building the Global HR

agenda, Creating and implementing the Quality Strategy, Supporting the US Retail Management Team, US Logistics Team, US HR Team, US Commercial Team, Trading Team for the Americas, Canadian Management Team and Global Retail Team.

Since 2004, Sandra has been consulting to four State Departments of Corrections to create a strategic future: Nebraska Department of Corrections, Washington State Department of Corrections, Massachusetts Department of Corrections and Virginia Department of Corrections. She has worked on the issue of reentry with the City of Philadelphia PA Reentry Initiative and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Reentry Initiative. Most recent is an initiative with the Virginia Department of Corrections in partnership with the Commonwealth of Virginia addressing the issue of gangs.

The organizations with whom she has worked in the areas of health and human service include: INOVA Health Systems in Virginia in the redesign of the patient care process across the entire system, U.S. Center for Disease Control to create policy and local practice around hospital/community collaboration, Woman’s Hospital in Baton Rouge, LA after the Katrina crisis to set a strategic direction for women’s health, Maternity Care System in the U.S. to create improved integration of services for women and families, and the Rajasthan State Institute of Public Administration to build an integrated network for social development among human service organizations.

Sandra has worked with communities around the world. In the Ko’olau Loa District, a rural community in Oahu, Hawaii, she helped them build a healthy community and reconnect to traditional values, followed by a redesign at the local hospital. In Northern Ireland, she supported a city-wide effort for a unified regeneration plan for Derry-Londonderry after decades of sectarian violence. Also in Northern Ireland, she worked with the cities of Strabane, Coleraine and the county of Fermanagh to engage all stakeholders in formulating their own integrated economic plans. Currently she is supporting the community surrounding Lough Neigh to develop shared ownership and usage of Lough in the face of centuries of contention. Her work with Santa Cruz County brought the community together around their pressing issue of housing. In 2004, she consulted to a public/private sector initiative in Southwest Michigan that undertook regional economic and social transformation. She rejoined the effort in 2014. She worked on a similar initiative in the Holland-Zeeland region of Michigan where they undertook to build best practice among local community governments.

Sandra has worked with international humanitarian agencies. With UNICEF’s Operation Life Line Sudan, she supported an initiative titled Finding a Future for the Children of South Sudan during the North/South Sudanese civil war. This resulted in a Future Search in South Sudan to demobilize child soldiers and over 13,000 children were released and sent back to their homes. Continued work in Sudan has addressed boundary issues in Darfur and safety for children in the new Republic of South Sudan. In

Indonesia, she helped create a strategy for a region-based education policy and organized a team to work with 40 local communities. In Uganda, she worked on a national initiative to end violence against children in schools. This addressed issues of corporal punishment, rape and other violent acts. Related work includes building a future for Karamoja, the land in Northern Uganda belonging to the nomadic Karamojong. In the Maldives, she consulted to an initiative to end drug trafficking and reform the national drug policy which installed a Drug Court in place of the Criminal Court to handle small-scale narcotics cases. She has worked with UNDP to rethink capacity development for disaster risk reduction and UNPFA-Division of Management Services and UN Office of Program Planning, Budget and Accounting for strategic planning.

Sandra directs Future Search Network, an international service organization formed to bring Future Search principles to communities anywhere in the world for whatever people can afford. Sandra has taught over 4000 people around the world the principles, philosophy and practice of Future Search methodology. She also teaches advanced facilitation and leadership in a Master Class. In 2011, the Organization Development Network awarded Sandra and Marv and the Future Search Network the Global Work Award and in 2014, the Share the Wealth Award.

Sandra has a Ph.D. in psychology from Temple University, Philadelphia, PA. She is co-author of Future Search: An Action Guide to Finding Common Ground (Berrett-Koehler, 3rd ed, 2010), Don’t Just Do Something, Stand There! Ten Principles for Leading Meetings that Matter (Berrett-Koehler, 2007) and Lead More, Control Less (Berrett-Koehler, 2015). Other publications are “Woman and the Legal Projession” (Janoff, 1994); “System Theory and Small Groups” (Agazarian & Janoff, 1993) and “The Influence of Legal Education on Moral Reasoning” (Janoff, 1991).

She has also published articles or chapters in handbooks or journals such as: Handbook of Large Group Interventions, The Change Handbook, The IAF Handbook of Group Facilitation, Journal of Applied Behavioral Science, Health Care Journal, Organizational Dynamics, Training Magazine and others.

In October 2016, Sandra received the Organization Development Network’s Lifetime Achievement Award.

Contact Sandra

You can contact Sandra via her email sjanoff@futuresearch.net or her website.