Choosing the right NSRF protocol depends on what the presenter REALLY wants.

Sometimes a Tuning Protocol will be so clearly effective in a meeting that one of the attendees will come to you afterward, insisting very clearly that they want “That Tuning thing, too!” But later, when you preconference with them, you aren’t sure if the Tuning will get them what they really want. Do they really need a Tuning, or maybe a Structured Charrette? Or perhaps this is actually a “situation” rather than a “thing” and what they really need is a Dilemma Consultancy or other dilemma protocol.

Here’s a short post to help distinguish the three:

The Tuning Protocol gives the presenter specific ideas about a particular aspect of their project, designed to make it better.

If they feel like their “thing” (assignment, assessment, project) is in working condition, but just not working optimally, a Tuning can allow the group to focus on a particular aspect that isn’t working as well as it might, to make it better. Think of a guitar that’s slightly out-of-tune, and it seems this particular string is the problem. Or perhaps the entire guitar might better be re-tuned to the same key as the rest of the musicians. A good focusing question might ask “How can we make the visuals work better in communicating my main message?” or “How might we shift the focus of this assignment to more clearly align with Common Core principles?”

The Structured Charrette brainstorms a lot of options when you’re not convinced your first choice makes sense.

But if “the thing” isn’t necessarily working all that well, a Structured Charrette will give the presenter lots of broad ideas to consider.  Beware that participants in a Charrette never actually analyze a problem, and their posts are not specifically designed to “make it better” — but sometimes backing up a step or two to brainstorm about truly different options makes the choice clearer to get the desired outcome. One sample focusing question might be “What are some good ways for us to communicate how the state-mandated curriculum changes affect their children?” 

And then, sometimes “improving the thing” isn’t the point at all, and what your presenter needs is an entirely different perspective.

Occasionally a participant will be so focused on the materials they’ve developed to try to resolve a problem that they haven’t stepped back to see the bigger picture that may contain a “no win” situation. Dilemma protocols direct the group to look at a problem analytically, and then push everyone’s thinking, not just “to do this thing” in a particular fashion, but to reconsider the problem from a higher vantage point. Sometimes you may have been focused on having a better taxicab experience, when a dilemma protocol might reveal that a messenger on a bike, or renting one of the ubiquitious electric scooters, or grabbing the subway might be a much better “delivery system” to solve your problem.

The bottom line is, it all depends on the focusing question and the underlying needs. And we’ll write about those more in future posts here on NSRF Connections.

If you have ideas or questions about these protocols, please comment below or email Thanks for reading!