Facilitation heaven

My first thought last Friday after the workshop I described in my last blog entry was: I am in facilitation heaven.

I wanted to share some of my reflections on what it was about this meeting that I thought went really well. Facilitation could be described as the art of making things easier – in French facile means easy. I am sure I don’t need to tell you that conservation needs all the facilitating it can get.

  1. Planning as a team. I drafted a design and then spent several hours revising it with the team here. We also jointly came up with the specific wording of our three key messages that we wanted the participants to leave with. From past experience I know that it is essential to make sure you design a plan that the ‘owners’ of the process are comfortable with and believe in. I was very grateful to the director, programme manager and programme officers here for making so much time here to make sure we had a good plan.
  2. Using a story well. Mr Bartolo Teul (“Barts”) began his introduction to the workshop with a story. I am a big believer in the power of telling something in a story format to have more effect. I recently finished a book called The Story Factor (Annette Simmons) about the art of using stories to inspire people without tellingthem what to do. I have been looking for inspiration for good stories that would be relevant to my work – and how to deliver them effectively, and Barts showed me a fantastic example.Knowing that the community leaders here occasionally bristle at the idea of their authority being challenged, he began the workshop by telling the story of a Rabbi who was constantly questioned and challenged by one particular guy. Everyone else couldn’t understand why the Rabbi let this be and didn’t confront this man who kept challenging his ideas. But he never did. And then one day when that man died, and all the other people saw how much the Rabbi cried at his funeral they asked him again, but why are you so sad? And the Rabbi replied, because he was my only friend. He was the only one who listened and took the time to challenge me and correct me. All of you stand by and let me make mistakes. He was a real friend.This story set the scene for an open discussion and was an indirect way to kindly ask people to leave their egos at the door and take the time to learn from each other.
  3. Being in the hands of an expert facilitator. Barts is from this area and has been with this organisation since they were founded nearly fifteen years ago. I knew he had great knowledge of the communities, but it wasn’t until I saw him in action, managing this tough group of people, that I was able to bask in the glow of a truly great facilitator. There is something about knowing your context and your audience that is essential to participatory community work. And the wisdom of experience too. Not that I think my role in facilitation wasn’t important in this situation too – but I would never have achieved the same impact if I had tried to be the lead facilitator.My role as a facilitator in the process was: to understand the meeting convener’s objectives and help them design an agenda that will achieve them, to prepare every detail in advance (preparing the flip-charts, cutting out pictures, getting the invitations out, planning logistics, etc), to ensure the smooth flow of the workshop as it happens (by having an annotated copy of the agenda for all the staff to remind us of the key message in each session, and the materials needed at each stage), to fill in content and process when appropriate, but then – and this is when a facilitator is in heaven – to be able to sit back and let the real expert run the show.
  4. Intentional participation that works. We intentionally designed the workshop to ensure we would not be talking at the participants for too long. We had a well planned activity with a clear reason for why we were getting people to participate. And the best part is, everyone participated very actively and it stimulated exactly the kind of discussion we needed to have! In all likelihood we would not have gotten that level of reflection without first having people participate in an activity that got them moving, thinking and talking amongst themselves.
    5. Challenge and conflict. A smooth flowing meeting isn’t the objective of good facilitation, and in fact it can be a symptom that people are not comfortable enough to raise any issues they have. So it was actually reassuring when we got some raised voices and pointed questions at the end. The concerns were legitimate – the communities were not getting information passed back to them from their community representatives who sit on the organisation’s Board. However, bringing this up gave us all a chance to make an action point to repeat this workshop with the community reps, and for the staff to go to the communities directly to share information with them directly.
For anyone interested in facilitation and learning processes in the context of conservation and sustainability issues, I highly recommend the blog written by two women who have taught me a lot about facilitation and inspired me to keep improving.  You Learn Something New Every Day

3 Replies to “Facilitation heaven”

  1. Thank you for sharing all your experiences. This is really interesting and informative. No training will pay the experience you are getting “in situ”. Its great to read about it and to feel “envidia sana” : ) Keep on with the good work!

    1. I believe that evtnheyirg that is said on this is completely true. I’ve found that once you’re on Facebook it’s almost hard not to not be on it for a long period. I admit I spend more time on there than I should and belive that nearly everyone on it does as well. But the main point is if someone can spend nearly 6 hours on it they can just as easily use use elearning as a tool. The last point that is made is that it’s not for everyone really speaks to a lot of people. Just because everyone else in the world is using it doesn’t mean that you have to use it. If elearning is not for you, you don’t have to use it if it’s not your cup of tea. And another point is there is always room for improvement. If at first you can’t figure something out, you can always take the time to get to know it better and learn to improve your performance on the matter.

  2. I’m gonna be like the crowd in the rabbi story because I agree, agree, agree…I agree, watching Mr. Barts in action is an impressive thing. He’s wise and funny, lighthearted and authoritative, all at the same time.

    I agree, thorough preparation is essential to make things flow on the day (reminds me of teaching).

    I agree, stories are a powerful tool. Why is it that when someone tells a story, we listen? Is it because we heard stories as children and we have fond associations with them? Is it because there’s a familiar pattern with a story and we’re comfortable listening, knowing that the story is going to lead us to some kind of a conclusion? I don’t know but I’m interested in that book you mentioned.

    When are you coming back Julie?! We could use your many talents. I guess there are others that need you too though, right?

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