In this day and age, with the advent of globalisation, events attended by international audiences are commonplace. In such situations, organisers may need to hire professionals who will provide translation services. Guest post from Deborah Chobanian advises us on how to get the best from interpreters at an event.
One of the most helpful things a facilitator does, is to transform how groups feel about the messy, sticky, unfocused middle of meetings. Facilitators often call this the ‘groan zone’. The phase of a meeting when conversations go a bit random, and it feels as if no progress is being made.
But what if we reframe the groan zone: if we help groups explore and appreciate the wonders of the ‘adventure forest’?
Nancy Kline’s Time to Think was one of the first books I read about coaching, and it has had a profound effect on my work with groups and in one-to-one settings. Kline believes that “everything we do depends for its quality on the thinking we do first. Our thinking depends on the quality of our attention for each other”.
Here’s her guidance on how to create a holistic setting which enables people to do their best thinking.
In my short visit to Japan, I was privileged to be able to meet with three groups of facilitators: in Kyoto, Osaka and Tokyo. Huge thanks to everyone who helped make this possible! These were evenings of surprising connections, open-hearted curiosity, tolerance of misunderstanding, and delicious food.
This blog post reflects on some observations and conversations about three (and a half) aspects of culture which may trip up an outsider coming to facilitate in Japan.
What a warm welcome I have had in Kyoto and Osaka, from facilitators based in this Kansai area of Japan.
When I knew I was going to come to Japan, to visit my daughter who is studying in Tokyo for a year, I wanted to make the most of the trip by meeting facilitation and sustainability professionals and learning more about their work in a very different cultural context.
As a participation professional who’s been lurking around NHS Citizen as it develops, one of the most exciting aspects has been the webcasting. Even the debriefing team meeting at the end of the NHS Citizen Design Workshop in January this year (2015) was webcast. This is a level of openness and commitment to transparent reflection that goes way beyond anything I’ve been involved with before. I fell in love with NHS Citizen as I watched that.
On the other hand, when I was sitting down to design the detail of the particular event I was brought in to facilitate - the Citizens’ Jury test in Hatfield on 3rd and 4th March 2015 - I had some reservations.
When I first met with Brigid Finlayson and Carolina Karlstrom, to see whether we could work together to create the first She is Still Sustainable, we talked a lot about the kind of event we wanted to make it. And our conversation focused a lot on mood, atmosphere, emotional tone: we wanted it to be “warm, safe, friendly event which is refreshing, inspiring and supportive”.
Any fool can design a workshop. What really tests you is having to redesign it part-way through.
You’ve done a great plan, and prepared your materials. You know how you’d like the space laid out, and your workshop will take the group on a journey towards a convergent, satisfying conclusion.
And then it all goes horribly wrong. Nasty surprises throw your plans into disarray. You need to redesign and you need to do it NOW!
Many organisations in the sustainability field do their best system-changing work when they are collaborating. And they find themselves in a challenging situation - playing the role of convening and facilitating, whilst also being a collaborator, with expertise and an opinion on what a good outcome would look like and how to get to it. This dual role causes problems. Here’s how to fix them.
Inside some organisations, there are networks of facilitators who design and run better meetings. Perhaps you are in such a network, or have worked with people who are. Perhaps you've designed and run training for people who go on to be part of such a network. These are, for the most part, people who facilitate either as a part of their job (and are given management support and time within their job to do this) or on top of their day job (having to carve out time informally, and doing it because they love it). They are not generally full-time facilitators.
I was asked to share some insights about facilitation networks, for SALAR, the Swedish Association of Local Government and Regions. This was done as part of some work that Edward Andersson is helping them with. A link to my presentation is at the bottom of this post.
Facilitation as an essential skill for participative approaches to decision-making
SALAR's interest came from their desire to revitalise dialogue between citizens and local government, in order that decisions taken at a local and regional level are much better informed by people's experiences, insight and preferences. When bringing together a group of citizens to discuss contentious questions like whether and how best to welcome refugees, or what to do about school provision or local transport services, you need a skillful facilitator who can both design a good process and facilitate it 'in the room'.
And the in-house facilitator network I know best - at the Environment Agency* - arose because of exactly this impulse: the need to have much better conversations with stakeholders (both professional stakeholders and communities) about important questions like pollution control, flood risk management and protecting water quality. (The Environment Agency also has a framework contract for Stakeholder Engagement, Advice and Facilitation Services, known as SEAFS, which has professional independent facilitators on it.)
Facilitation for internal conversations
There are also in-house facilitator networks which focus on internal conversations, rather than inside-outside conversations. They help out with specific initiatives or projects - like whole-staff conversations in the run-up to the development of strategic plans - or can be called on for smaller conversations, like project planning or to sort out a problem. Some organisations choose to take a very focused approach to their facilitation, by training facilitators in a specific methodology like agile or design thinking. Others will equip their facilitators with a wider range of tools.
There was a period in the UK when the stars aligned, and there was enough political focus on the role of citizen participation in local decision making that all sorts of public bodies - police, emergency services, health, education, local government and so on - needed to build their capacity to facilitate conversations with stakeholders and the public. A solution which emerged - developed and championed by InterAct Networks - was to train facilitators from a number of different organisations which all covered the same geographical area. So someone from a county council, a health authority and a community group might work together - with no money changing hands - to facilitate a workshop on behalf of an education authority. And when the county council needed external facilitators, they could call on others in the network to help out. This was one (cash-cheap) way to address the need for independent, neutral facilitation, where the facilitator does not have a stake in the outcome of the conversation.
At its height in 2004, there were between 15 and 20 such inter-organisational networks swapping facilitation resources and playing that neutral facilitator role for each other. Often, the in-house facilitators would would alongside professional independent facilitators who would lead on process design while the network members played support roles, for example facilitating table groups in larger workshops.
When I went looking for these kinds of networks again in 2017, I couldn't find any of the original networks still operating. (I did find a different inter-organisation facilitator network, trained by Dawn Williams of Sage Gateshead, informally swapping facilitation services between museums in the North East of England.)
More in-house networks
After my work for SALAR was completed, I found out about some other in-house networks. This was at a fascinating panel discussion as part of the (IAF) International Association of Facilitators conference in Paris, in October 2017. We heard from four organisations about their internal networks: DHL Express Russia, Airbus, Decathlon and ENGIE Global Energy Management. DHL Express Russia has trained 200 in-house facilitators!
As well as networks where the purpose is to build an organisation's capacity to design and run better meetings, there are networks which are essentially there to facilitate peer learning between people who want to improve their facilitation skills. There are loads of these, and they fall into two categories: alumni of a particular training course, e.g. Art of Hosting or TOP; and 'all-comers' peer learning, like the learning meet-ups organised by the IAF in the UK. These are much more likely to include 'all comers' than to be confined to a single organisation.
What makes them work?
There are six key lessons that I took from talking to people who run successful networks and also to those with insights into networks that haven't continued:
- Management support for network members - people need support from their managers to do the training, and then use their new skills for the benefit of colleagues and the wider organisation.
- Coordination doesn't happen by magic. Networks are never 'self-sustaining'. Coordination, leadership, administration takes real people real time. It can be 'hidden' within someone's day job, or done on top of the day job, but it still needs doing.
- The network must have a clear purpose (peer learning; advocating for the use of facilitative approaches; swapping of facilitator resources), and that purpose must meet a real organisational need (otherwise management support will not happen).
- For peer learning networks, people need to think about four things: whether there is an 'entry level' of minimum knowledge, skill or training; how to support members in actively using their skills; encouraging reflective practice and peer or 'client' feedback; and building in face-to-face refreshers where people share skills, learn new ones, and problem solve for each other.
- For 'swapping' networks, whether intra- or inter-organisational, even stronger organisational support is needed. There need to be guidelines for quality control, a protocol for receiving appropriate requests for facilitation support, and time for coordination.
What do you need to think about?
When setting up a facilitator network, the initiators need to think about:
- its purpose - is it about facilitation skills which may be used in any situation, or about promoting public engagement or participative decision-making? is it primarily there to enable continued learning and skills development, or to provide (semi) independent facilitation for each other's teams (swapping facilitator resource)?
- its boundaries - do all the members need to be from the same organisation? or to have gone through the same training? Is there a minimum level of skill or training that they need, to be able to offer themselves to facilitate for others in the name of the network? If there is 'swapping' of facilitators, there are some additional questions: how will 'clients' know about the resource, and how to use it well? How will requests for facilitation be filtered and allocated? How will facilitators get feedback? Does it matter if some members never make themselves available to facilitate in this way?
- the organisational context - consider and explore things like: senior level sponsorship; the learning and development or professional development aspects, and how to get support from this team; making it part of people's 'day job'; if it's about promoting and enabling public and stakeholder engagement, consider how the organisation can integrate public engagement into the decision-making or policy-making cycle; whether or not the organisation has access to external professional facilitation support, in addition to its in-house network, and how this may dovetail with the network.
- its coordination and management - how will the network get the resources to do the coordination and management; how will the coordinator(s) / manager(s) have a mandate from the network members, or from the organisation; who 'owns' the network, and can make decisions about its future?
Find out more
My presentation to SALAR is available here. It's a powerpoint slide show, .ppsx. This page should help if you are having trouble viewing it. The presentation is in three parts, and the participants had a chance to discuss the questions between each section. (For process geeks: we then had Q&A via skype, and doing it this way enabled me to stick to my no flying experiment.)
If you'd like to talk about setting up or revitalising an in-house facilitation network, do get in touch.
*Along with colleagues from InterAct Networks and 3KQ, I have trained in-house facilitators at the Environment Agency, and worked with them to facilitate workshops involving stakeholders and the public.
Facilitators need to stay out of the content- which belongs to the group - and intervene only to improve process. (There's more on this here: the neutral facilitator.) But sometimes we get tempted to smuggle in our own views when we question or reflect back to the group.
"Have you thought about [my great idea]?"
"It sounds as if you're saying [what I think]. Have I got that right?"
Training a cohort of facilitators yesterday with my great friend Rhuari Bennett from 3KQ, we called this the wolf in sheep's clothing.
Keep it sheepy!
A description of carousel technique in action plus a free download on how to run one yourself.
If you're involved in a local group - campaigners, activists, community action, faith group - there will be some really important things you want to achieve in the world. And you'll have some kind of team, committee, council or similar organising the activities behind the scenes. How are those meetings? Clear, engaging, effective? Or dull, interminable, frustrating, repetitive?
I've led a couple of two-hour training sessions this year for groups on how to run meetings which make clear decisions that stick. So that they can spend time on doing the stuff that really matters.
Here are the handouts from the workshop I ran in mid November.
If you think your group would benefit, get in touch to see what I can do to help you.
We know it shouldn’t be like this, but sometimes we find ourselves in a meeting which is ill-defined, purposeless and chaotic.
Maybe it’s been called at short notice. Maybe everyone thought someone else was doing the thinking about the agenda and aims. Maybe the organisation has a culture of always being "too busy" to pay attention to planning meetings.
For whatever reason, you’re sitting there and the conversation has somehow begun without a structured beginning.
This is the moment to use the five minute meeting makeover!