Principles for welcoming all voices

By Keith McCandless

Keith McCandless (biography)

Which principles would allow us to manage and lead groups that aspire to include all voices in shaping next steps and the future?

Liberating Structures is an approach to working together that puts innovative and facilitative power in the hands of everyone. It does this through 33 adaptable microstructures that allow groups of people of any size to be all-inclusive and to unleash everyone’s power.

Liberating Structures is based on ten principles that help guide choices and keep a community together while moving toward their set purpose.

Liberating Structures practice and principles come alive through active engagement. The path is co-evolving, iterative, and mutually shaped. As shown in the table below, each principle is couched as follows: When Liberating Structures are part of everyday interactions, it is possible to…

Each principle is accompanied by ‘Must Do’s’ and ‘Must Not Do’s’, also presented in the table below.

Must Do’s are practices to guide action and behavior. They are valued but not often practiced because conventional structures make it too difficult.

Must Not Do’s are common behaviors and practices that stifle inclusion, trust, and innovation. They are often unexamined habits so familiar that they are easily overlooked.

Ten Liberating Structures Principles (McCandless and friends, 2021).
Abbreviations and explanations: LS = Liberating Structures; PPT = Microsoft Powerpoint presentation program; improv = improvisation as a form of live theatre; 9 Whys = ask why an activity is important up to 9 times to understand the fundamental purpose (

Do you have examples to share of how you have used these principles in research or higher education and how they have amplified good practices? Are there other principles that you have used to guide effective ways of working together?

To find out more:
You can find these principles on the Liberating Structures website at:

See also:
McCandless, K. and friends. (2021). Principles for a world welcoming all voices. Part 2. LinkedIn. (Online): Part 1 of this LinkedIn article provides examples of the application of the principles. (Online):

Biography: Keith McCandless is co-developer of Liberating Structures and co-author of the book “The Surprising Power of Liberating Structures – Simple Rules to Unleash a Culture of Innovation” (2014). Keith operates a global consulting practice focused on strategy development, creative adaptability, and including all voices in shaping next steps. He calls himself a structured improvisationalist.

11 thoughts on “Principles for welcoming all voices”

  1. …”everybody to use every day in routine activities…” Yes Sir, this work/and package, is going to save having to sit through more and more trainings as way to advance change, to get to everyday practice. Your “plug and play” approach is a useful message to us all as well.

    • Hello Bill, maybe you are like me… I am gonna poke out my own eyes if I am subjected to more training and meeting that feature one-way (often passive aggressive) presentations. There is an assumption that we need more know-how before we can start in on the work. However, if your approach to complex challenges is simple to use and copy AND you respect people, it is possible to generate momentum immediately. We tried to keep the LS methods as simple as possible via Min Specs.

  2. Gemma, fabulous insights. Exploring the adjacent possibilities is a rich source of innovation. Wise Crowds and Troika Consulting are reliably surprising ways to cultivate peer learning + action. It does feel like magic when peers can understand and offer options in very short exchanges. LS can take a bit of the mystery out of the magic. Thank you for the kind words.

  3. Thank you for bringing Liberating Structures to this community’s radar, Keith! I utilize LS regularly in my team science practice. In a recent workshop I facilitated, I used a LS method called “Wise Crowd” as a way to gather inputs on “blockers, blindspots and what needs attention” through bottom up dynamics, and then generate insight in self-organized groups. It did magic! Every “client” in each of the six wise crowds we had rated their “consultants” as “off-the-chart wise”. One tip is that when we invite participants to self-organize around wise crowd topics, we should ask them to join groups where topics are not at the center of their attention. This is a great way to generate diversity and pollinate ideas.

  4. Excellent article; I really appreciate the actionable points made in the table! It’s so helpful to see beyond pedagogy/theoretical framework and into what actions we can specifically take.

    • Thanks Lauren. Above all, LS focuses attention on our habits and every day actions–the unwitting ways we exclude, stifle, and over control. > With a wink and sly grin < I only wish we could make conventional structures (presentations, updates, facilitated discussion, open discussions) illegal in all countries… so that we could hear all the voices. Then, we would act our way forward with velocity. LS is a start on a new way to organize.

      Glad you like the details in the table. You might think LS principles preceded the practice or were transcribed on stone tablets from on high. Far from it. Henri Lipmanowicz (my wily co-author) and I worked for eight years trying to help groups organize in a new way before there was a hint of a book or explicit principles.

      We gathered evidence of effectiveness and gained confidence directly from liberating experiences with clients and learning groups. Our clients and partners encouraged us to write and publish. We resisted and dawdled for years.

      Once Henri and I started writing, we dug deeper into our experience. We revisited our favorite stories and reexamined field observations in finer detail. The writing focus was on describing “how to” learn and apply the 33 LS interaction patterns. The big challenge was to make our implicit experience explicit so others could use it consciously.

      We discovered that more of our practice was unconscious and unexamined than we expected. Oh my, there was more hard work to discern what was important and what could be ignored. This sharp revelation sparked the creation of the five design elements and the framework for describing each LS with minimum specifications. The challenge was amplified because we were aiming for a “plug-and-play” guide for everybody to use every day in routine activities.

      • Hi, Keith, it is lovely to hear the story behind all the fabulous LS methods and features. I would also like to share my love for the LS community! The community makes the methods come live. During this past year I attended two LS groups with avid users of LS across the world, and they really made LS come alive for me. I have been practicing LS much more since joining the community. We are all developing new LS methods all the time as well. It is really a powerful community. I also love the website where everything is there for reference. Thank you for starting this for us!

        • Ahhh, the user community is the lifeblood of Liberating Structures. Not sure if you know that there is no (and there never has been) a formal organizational structure for LS. A vast informal network and community of practice has taken shape since we published in 2013. Via principles and peer/community support, this loose group guides fidelity of LS methods across domains and disciplines. Also, the LS community–via LS Slack and other virtual platforms–invents new methods for challenges not addressed by the original 33 we published (e.g., Grief/Transition Walking, Network Pattern Cards). Within a few months of the pandemic unfolding, this community creatively adapted 95% of the methods to online platforms. Took my breath away.

          • I am completely with you, Keith. The LS user community is among the most vibrant communities in the world. It would be interesting to study the secrets behind the vibrancy. So many companies are struggling with disengagement of their employees on the one hand, and on the other hand we have a thriving community with no formal organizational structure. What is going on? I bet the process of answering this question will yield great insights for organizations as they move to post-covid era.

            • Super question! When will the study begin? ;^) I am “in.” Ettienne Wenger’s work on CoPs (Communities of Practice) and Ev Rogers on the spread of innovation has shaped my thinking. However, this community shaped itself around a shared interest in a new form of organizing. A transdisciplinary, inclusive, and far more distributed approach. I have hunches about what supports the vibrant + creative + adaptable community. Written about it here in the “LS Iceberg.” Three elements help support the CoP: 1) the playful & practical LS methods “above the waterline”; 2) the principles “just below the waterline” that guide fidelity in practice and keep the community together; and, 3) the LS micro-structural DNA (five design elements “deeper under the surface”) that invite users to invent their own liberating methods. Each element makes a contribution to the whole without requiring each user to dip into principles or micro-design.


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