Finding out what we know

When we’re working together we need to have access to relevant information. Finding out what we know is partly to do with getting the relevant information on the table – the data and facts. But it’s also about tapping into the stuff that’s less tangible – the knowledge that’s wrapped into people’s experience and memories – and making this visible. In other words it’s about bringing people’s voices and their different experiences into the room, in a spirit of curiosity and learning. It’s that process we’re exploring in the second of the seven broad categories we’re using to help organise the material the Facilitation Anywhere training programme.

River of life

This combination of tangible and intangible is often best surfaced using a visual metaphor such as a journey, timeline or map. Pete worked for the wonderful Ewen Le Borgne (seen below taking a photo) on an end-of-project review meeting in Ethiopia (the first five years of RIPPLE EthiopiaRiver of Project Life - sharing

Simply drawing a river on rough paper, and having people put up significant moments that represented the progress of the project – and the connections, links and people with whom they worked – enabled current and past members of the project team to come back together quickly. The group was energised and spent a long time sharing and laughing after the model had been constructed. And as we went onto the rest of the workshop it was striking to see how much had come into the room with the exercise – the memories, tensions, high points and disappointments that had characterised the process were there to be ‘used’: to be talked about, to form the basis for planning and learning lessons for other projects. (More about River of Life in the KS Toolkit we shared in our last post).

Presentations can be fun too, really!

Presentations are at the other end of the spectrum for finding out what we know.  Well-organised, visual, strictly-timed  presentations that are integrated into participative activities can be very effective in bringing large amounts of information and data into meetings, both online and face to face.  Though, as we all know, long, turgid, over-factual and droning presentations outnumber good ones. Banning powerpoint can work with an audience ready to experiment but there are lots of situations where participants expect and value formal presentations, especially important for national staff who haven’t attended many international meetings.

The nightmare for a facilitator is that ‘please facilitate this agenda’ job, where by the time the facilitator is engaged, the organiser has already contacted loads of presenters, who are busy preparing 50-slide decks. Ewen Le Borgne is a model of someone who ‘works out loud’ and his blogs are a constant source of ideas and provocations. Here’s one describing exactly that situation and how they managed it.

Online, you have 60 – 90 seconds to keep my attention

For online meetings the issues are more acute.  All of the above applies but there are all the other issues that matter when the meeting is not face to face. Here’s an excellent resource, suggested by the peerless Nancy White.  Susan Stewart highlights just how careful we need to be if we use these traditional tools in online meetings or webinars and provides some very useful rules of thumb for comparing face to face and online activities.

Being the facilitator

Curious, collaborating, challenging, creative…..

Through the collaborative process of developing the training programme we’ve had to find out what we each know, both practically in terms of approaches and methods but also, more significantly, what we know works and how we know it. This latter exemplifies the more intuitive, deeper set of ideas that have to come into the room in meetings and workshops if the participants are to exploit to the maximum their experience and wisdom. We’re curious about how each other works and we’ve also found that working together has been wonderfully challenging, of each other’s comfort zones, old assumptions, regular ways of doing things (“I always start with…..”). In the same way, we need to enable participants to position themselves outside their normal way of being at work:

  • to locate their ‘beginner’s mind’ – come with a curiosity about every new venture, make no assumptions, begin afresh and ask lots of questions, to bring a spirit of curiosity into the space
  • to recognise and adopt a stance that will maximise shared learning, well put in this snippet about Mutual Learning

mutual learning

What are you curious about? What could you do differently with your group this time?

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Facilitation Anywhere – who are the Facilitators?

Oxfam WWS Oct 13(2)Openings

There are 35 (or 350) people in the room – how do you start smoothly, connecting and bringing people into the room and the task?

Facilitation Anywhere – face to face and online – is a new training course we’re putting together with INTRAC. We’re using seven broad categories to help organise the material and the event. Openings is, unsurprisingly, the first category. In a series of short posts we’re going to share to share some of our reflections as we design the programme. We’ll be noting two sets of ideas:

  1. We’re selecting some of our favourite methods and tools from our personal archives, which we’re going to collate for the course, in a webspace. So we’ll share one or two resources here.
  2. Preparing the course is triggering lots of reflections about our own practice, which we want to share.  We’ve been asking ourselves, ‘When I facilitate, who do I become and what am I bringing of myself to this role? Who am I as a facilitator?”

Resources

We’ll start with one of our resources of choice, the KS Toolkit, which has a great selection of icebreakers, and much, much more besides. Many of the icebreakers listed in the Toolkit can adapted to start online meetings. But here are some online-icebreakers suggested (and tested) by the very excellent Joitske Hulsebosch.

Being the Facilitator

We know that people want to both enjoy themselves and do some serious work when they attend events. Imagine: participants have arrived and are in the room, wondering about those they don’t know.  But are they really here?  The world they’ve just left behind is crowding out everything else. All the unanswered emails (and the child with a runny nose) and the endless list of things they have to go back to.

Helping people ‘arrive’, in every sense of the word, is part of what we do as facilitators.  What does it take to stand up in front of 30 to 300 people and help them be fully present?   We think that starts with ourselves.  It’s all about getting centred and grounded, so that we give people a sense of confidence in us as we embark on the work we’re about to do together.
So, how do we get ready?

Pete:

  • Before the event I develop a checklist, usually using an online resource like Google docs to cater for online meetings. I share that with the organisers and continually edit it as we design and plan to make sure we’re as ready as we can be
  • For very large meetings I get used to the mike and the size of the room and numbers by talking to people as they come in, asking them to sit with people they don’t know. That assumes we’ve got control of the room and its layout: it’s more difficult if there are tiers of seats in a lecture theatre – terrible venue for a participative meeting!

Isobel:

  • Writing up colourful charts and getting the room ready help me get into the right space, and I always try to sit quietly in the room before anyone arrives.  My biggest fear is going blank, so I don’t go anywhere without my A5 note-book with outlines for each session on post-its, and a pencil behind my ear.
  • Then it’s a matter of relaxing and chatting to people as they arrive and letting it all happen!

What do you do?  Do you do your own centring exercise or go over checklists?

Taking a question for a walk

IMAG1215

Many of us do our best thinking when we’re well away from the desk and computer. When HelpAge International country directors got together for four days to share learning and reflect on the organisation’s new strategy this happened out-of-doors as well as in the meeting room. As the conference lead facilitator I wanted them to have some space to reflect on the conversations so far, and integrate what they were learning.  We invited them to pair up, and take some questions for a walk, thinking aloud and listening to each other in turn.  Some pairs joined up as fours, and the conversations took their own course.  There was no ‘reporting back’.  Instead they met up in their regional groups where they shared insights and shifted into looking at actions.  Great weather and beautiful countryside all helped!

Excellent Events and Magical Meetings – face to face or online

Isobel McConnan and Pete Cranston are running a Facilitation Training course – or maybe Facilitating a Facilitation course – with INTRAC. The course runs in two parts

  • An two hour online introduction on the 14th November
  • A three day course in Oxford from Tuesday 22 November 2016 – Thursday 24 November 2016

We’re also planning to continue blogging, ouir online conversation about Facilitating Anywhere. Come and join us – share and learn