This edition has been created by guest editor Rosemary Cairns of the International Association of Facilitators and our own Bob MacKenzie. Here is an extract from their introductory article.
Facilitators as bridge builders: the authors
The bridges constructed here are fashioned out of words. And they are robust. Despite their wide range of perspectives and contexts, none of the authors is suggesting that there’s only one way to facilitate. You’ll not find here any attempt to impose rigid, standardised or homogenised formulae. Indeed, flexibility and improvisation are recurring themes. Within significant areas of overlap and agreement illustrated in these stories, there’s a clear commitment to letting a hundred flowers bloom, and to celebrating difference and diversity.
In this vein, each author has contributed something different and enriching to the discourse of facilitation, and each writes with their own unique signature. The following summary gives a flavour of their distinctiveness.
Several years ago in Edinburgh, Richard Chapman (UK) took part in a workshop run by Martin Gilbraith on the facilitation profession – past, present, and future. Three aspects came to the fore - individual practitioner journeys, the profession, and the wider social, community and global context. In the spirit of that workshop, he takes us on a personally-guided whistle stop tour of how professional process facilitation emerged just after WWII, grew through four decades of exploration, research and development, and now offers a peer-developed infrastructure for the profession.
As our world model has shifted from an industrial to an ecological one, how we generate solutions to problems also has altered. For facilitators, that means changing both how we do our work and how we learn to do it. The focus shifts from tools, techniques and processes, to who we are as facilitators. Viv McWaters (Australia) and Johnnie Moore (UK) have developed an innovative and improvisational model for helping people learn how to facilitate, and they explain how this helps people learn how to be confident facilitators.
Annette Moench (Germany) and Yoga Nesadurai (Malaysia) also tackle the challenge of how to facilitate in a changing world that is affecting our lives at every level. This new world calls on us to become ‘transformative facilitators’ who can help people move from an individualistic perspective to an inter-connected, collective way of co-existence. They share some frameworks they have developed for this task, including the transformative spiral and the room of potentials, and explain how they have been using these tools in a variety of corporate settings.
Successful facilitation usually requires participants to change something, be it attitudes, values and perceptions, or systems, processes, and plans. Thus facilitators are almost always working with people who are making new patterns or breaking or re-shaping old patterns. Understanding the various dimensions of learning means facilitators can help participants learn how they learn, thus becoming more effective decision-makers, problem-solvers, innovators, leaders or team members. Ann Alder (UK) explains how she is drawing on the notions of patterns, norms and research into the seven dimensions of learning in order to help her clients build this meta-cognitive skill.
Dancing doesn’t work well if both partners try to lead; a smooth process depends on one leading and one following, although they can exchange those roles if they wish. Similarly, in a facilitated event, the formal leader and the facilitator perform a delicate dance in terms of group leadership. Agreeing to facilitation de facto involves the formal leader temporarily relinquishing some of his or her authority. But what happens when no one wants to take the lead? Then the facilitator faces a challenge – someone must lead if the event is to be productive. Sarah Lewis (UK) offers some lessons from experience about how facilitators can deal with the challenge of temporary leadership of a group.
Can you involve everyone in strategic planning? And can you teach the staff of an organisation to become facilitators, creating an ongoing and long term capacity for the organisation to facilitate its own change? In this case study of a Welsh housing project, Ann Lukens (UK) and Jonathan Dudding (UK) explain how participatory techniques allowed everyone – managers, staff, and clients – to help develop the plan for the organisation’s next five years, and how staff learned to facilitate as the process went along.
Facilitating online is an art that requires both facilitative skills and knowledge of the virtual world, explains Simon Koolwijk (the Netherlands), who has been facilitating online events for five years. He identifies 12 key factors that make an event successful, including the kind of preparation that is required. Online events need facilitators, but the approach is different from face to face facilitation. He offers insights into eight competencies demonstrated by successful online facilitators, shares stories of events that worked, as well as one that didn’t, and explains why.
Even though participants groan about ‘death by Powerpoint’, many subject matter experts think this is the only way to share a lot of complex knowledge. That is how they were taught to teach. Changing those habits of a lifetime means helping them understand the physiology and psychology of learning in a different way. Pamela Lupton-Bowers (Switzerland) helps clients design events that allow participants to learn in simulated events, facilitated by experts who have learned how to facilitate. The result has been a series of experiential events in which participants learn with excitement and energy.
And then there is the question of ‘who facilitates the facilitators’? While facilitators can turn to other people and other resources for assistance, another source of aid is always available to us, even in the heat of the moment - ourselves. Bob MacKenzie (UK), as a learning facilitator, has developed a personal self-facilitation framework constructed around four pillars - the personal, the professional, the public/political, and the philosophical. He explains how he developed and uses this 4PSFF framework.
Change within a group takes place at three levels – measurable, intangible, and invisible, suggests Vicky Cosstick (UK). While a range of techniques exist to facilitate change in the first two levels, those techniques don’t impact the undiscussable or not easily discussed topics that lurk at the deepest level. What creates change here is conversation, and the most effective of those conversations tend to leave the facilitator sitting on the sidelines. That is good, because it means the group is holding the conversation and that is what leads to change. In this graceful essay, Vicky explains that in this case, the less the facilitator appears to do, the better the result.
In some ways, the biggest change in a society is the one that takes a nation from conflict to peace. And just as some of its members facilitate conflict, there are also local people who facilitate peace. Rosemary Cairns (Serbia/Canada) writes about how facilitation skills equip local peacebuilders to work effectively with their communities, giving them skills to deal with conflict effectively, and to build organisations that are uniquely equipped to rebuild peace within their societies.
In evaluation, the idea that a neutral external person should assess a project’s results has been a key premise for a long time. Jeremy Wyatt’s (UK) organisation is showing that facilitating local organisations to evaluate the results of their own activities can produce practical results that are useful to the organisations and to their donors. And this is no ‘soft’ qualitative evaluation either. This work is starting to produce ‘hard’ financial data that is showing the effectiveness of these social activities. Jeremy explains what his team has learned through this process, both about evaluation and about facilitation.
Both as editors and authors, working on this journal has afforded us profound insights into how to facilitate change in groups and individuals. All the authors have shared their practical knowledge and theoretical understandings of why their strategies work so well. We hope that you will enjoy learning from their stories as much as we have. We hope their wisdom helps build bridges that will take you to new levels and sites of thinking and practice in your own work.