“One day a woman went hoeing in the field. Before she started hoeing she put her baby under the shade of a tree. Whilst she was working in the field some baboons came and stole her baby.” The constantly original and creative Charles Dhewa grabbed instantly our attention during a session at the 2011 IFAD ShareFair as he told one of the Bantu narratives he describes in his powerful paper, “Traducture and Sensemaking: Experiences from Southern Africa“. We were working together in a session exploring sense-making as a process, and the stories were triggers for us to reflect on how different people take different meanings from a single prompt.
Dhewa developed the sense-making framework illustrated above that embraces the complexity of this process, especially when working with people from different cultures and with widely varied experience. The paper explores the dimensions illustrated above and it’s a good introduction thinking about the role of a facilitator in working with large and small groups of people as they sense together and shape ideas and new meanings from their discussions.
As we described in our first blog on sense-making and emergence, the process of collective learning and making sense of what is emerging is probably the most complex part of a workshop. Several popular and well-tested facilitation techniques can be used to support these processes, including:
- World Cafe, where participants have rounds of conversations on linked sets of questions, with ‘hosts’ at tables recording the progressively richer exchanges.
- The wide range of variations in storytelling methods
- The different approaches to Appreciative Inquiry, with their emphasis on seeking the affirmative and positive as the basis for considering future actions
- Future Backwards or Backcasting – taking people out to a future they construct, either or both ideal or nightmare and then considering how they will or did get to that future, as the basis for thinking about what they might do next
We’ve gathered together a wiki collection of resources and links sorted by the six typical event phases that we use loosely to structure our Facilitation Anywhere workshops (the next one is 22- 24 November, 2016) which we share with participants at the workshops. Of course anyone who’s prepared to contribute one or two resources can also join the wiki!
Out of the corners of our eyes
The exercise with the Bantu narratives above illustrates that an indirect or sideways approach is often effective in enabling groups to feel their way to emerging ideas and common ground. For example, the graphic facilitation techniques we described in the previous blog are extremely effective in providing participants with a picture of links between and clusters of ideas, as are more traditional approaches using cards and post-its, clustering and sorting them into groups. Similarly, frameworks to enable free-flowing, participative conversation techniques like Fishbowls or Samoan circles, where participants both participate and observe the passage of ideas, provide material to be reflected on and processed. And of course reflection takes time. Scheduling activities in two parts, that allow participants time – often overnight – for processing of ideas and conversations, can enable new conjunctions or understanding of balance between priorities to emerge.
Ecocycle planning is another great, practical Liberating Structures synthesis of approaches – itself an example of an emergent idea. The picture above illustrates how we used it with a new program, the merging of two existing grant portfolios, as a way for participants to map their work in relation to each other and the overall program. The placing of the activities necessitated reflection and discussion among teams, but the most valuable conversations followed as participants questioned and discussed both individual placements and the emerging pattern of investment.
What about you? Please share your stories: what are your best, or worst, experiences of working with emergence and sense-making?