AEA365 | A Tip-a-Day by and for Evaluators



Cassandra O’Neill on Collaboration and Mental Models

My name is Cassandra O’Neill and I’ve been a consultant for the past 10 years. I’m a member of a network of consultants and coaches called Wholonomy Consulting.  I’m also the President-Elect for the Arizona Evaluation Network and a member of the AEA Local Affiliate Council. A theme in my work is using effective engagement for high impact collaboration.  I have several resources to share with others interested in increasing the effectiveness and impact of collaborations.

Hot Tip: Collaboration is one of those phrases like strategic planning – that can mean something different to every person. Collaboration is talked about all the time without any clarification or definition. One of the most useful things to do with a group that is collaborating or wants to – is to explore the mental models that people have about collaboration and related ideas such as resources.

I have a pretty quick and easy way to do this which helps groups identify the different beliefs and assumptions about collaboration that are in the room. Why is this so important?  To answer this question, I am going to tell you a story about something that happened recently. I just gave a workshop on high impact presenting. In this workshop I demonstrated about 12 different ways to present information without lecturing or telling people the information.  At the end of the workshop I was reading the Appreciative Reviews and someone wrote – I didn’t learn anything that I can use in presenting.  I realized that this person’s mental model of presenting as lecturing was so strong, that nothing that was experienced in the two hours could be connected to presenting — since it wasn’t lecture. Think about the missed learning opportunities!

An example of how important exploring mental models, beliefs and assumptions can be for effective collaborations — is the impact of the beliefs that people have about resources.  When I ask people to identify a belief they have about resources, there is usually one of two responses shared.  Either the belief that resources are unlimited and abundant is shared or the belief that resources are scarce and limited. You can see how knowing people’s beliefs about this topic influence everything else that is involved in collaboration.  This exploration of beliefs may allow people who believe resources are scarce to see that this may be a limiting belief rather than a fact. See a link to my blog for tips on how to do this with a group.

And you can use any word or set of words with a group. Once I had people do this exercise three times with the following words – collaboration, resources, and sustainability.  You could do it with the word evaluation and quickly learn about the beliefs and assumptions that people have about evaluation.

This contribution is from the aea365 Daily Tips blog, by and for evaluators, from the American Evaluation Association. Please consider contributing – send a note of interest to

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  • Cassandra O'Neill · December 6, 2011 at 10:07 am

    We have finished our e-book describing some engagement strategies to use in meeting facilitation or when presenting. You can purchase our new e-book Six Secrets for High Engagement Presentations at the following link


  • Sagt om samverkan | UTVÄRDERINGSBLOGGEN · May 21, 2010 at 7:52 am

    […] bloggen AEA 365 uttryckte sig Cassandra O’Neill på följande sätt om […]


  • Cassandra · April 2, 2010 at 9:04 am

    absolutely I’d be willing to share – please send me an email at


  • Sheila · March 30, 2010 at 6:06 am

    Cassandra, this is an excellent tip. As a frequent presenter, I do find comments on feedback forms that perplex me, and it is helpful to think about mental models in this respect. Recently, I did a presentation on topic ABC and on the feedback form, someone complained that the session didn’t have information on Topic XYZ! It drove me crazy! I thought I had clearly described the session as being about ABC. But, it’s likely that person’s mental model of topic ABC is closely related, if not synonymous with topic XYZ. 🙂 Would you be willing to share the high impact presenting strategies from your workshop?


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