Catching up….

In case you (very sensibly) spent less time reading blogs over the festive season, here’s a quick catch up with a few gems that were posted recently….

First the usual suspects:

Chris Johnston’s Shepherd and Flock offers a critical analysis of the relationship between campaigning NGOs and their grassroots networks. Here’s a taste:

The bottom line is, if you want extraordinary activists, you need to support them in pursuing their agenda, not yours. And that requires you be a facilitator, not a shepherd.

Dwight Towers offers us a Perfect 5 point checklist for saving the world (just one of many great posts in the last couple of weeks) in which he shares Francis Moore Lappe’s Living democracy checklist.

Dwight also pointed us to Viv McWaters blog where she’s been treating us to a series of posts on facilitation:

  • Great facilitation – what is it? In which Viv talks about the qualities of great facilitation – empathy, humility, bravery, playfulness, collaboration and responsiveness. It’s a good list illustrated with good comments.
  • Rethinking facilitation – a video of new educational approaches: If you can google facilitation processes and get millions of result,  watch videos of facilitators in action, read facilitation blogs, articles and even books on-line, why the expense (in time and money) of coming together for training? It’s no longer necessary to come together to get the information you need to facilitate.Not necessary, perhaps, but Viv shares some thoughts about how best to use the opportunity of face-to-face training
  • You wouldn’t paint by numbers, so why would you want to facilitate by numbers?

It drives me nuts when facilitation is described mechanically: do this, then this, then that, and voila! Funnily, it never seems to quite work out that way in the real world.

So here’s the paradox. I love helping others to learn how to facilitate, work effectively with groups, upset entrenched patterns, surface emotions and unleash creativity, have big and small conversations. Yet when someone asks me how I know to do this or that when facilitating, I’m flummoxed. I often don’t know. I guess it’s a bit like asking an artist how they knew to put that stroke exactly there, or why use those combinations of colours. How did they know? I’m guessing they just knew because it becomes innate – through years and years of practice, through trial and error, through trusting their talent and their instincts. Through taking a chance, being brave, by being willing to make lots of mistakes before getting it ‘right’. By mucking it up, throwing it out and starting over. By believing they can do it, that it can be done.

Viv’s a welcome addition to my feed-reader. Hope you agree.


7 thoughts on “Catching up….

  1. I think that, alongside trying stuff and seeing what happens, making specific time to reflect on what’s happened is crucial. It accelerates the learning process, IMHO.

    And it really helps to do this with a ‘thinking partner’ or co-coach or facilitation buddy.

    I’ve also recently completed one-to-one facilitation training programme, which I will blog about when I get round to it. One person in a small organisation wanted to improve his faciltiation skills, and we spent 4 x 2 hour sessions over the course of about 6 months, meeting to reflect on what he’d recently, plan meetings which were coming up, and with me also contributing exercises, tips and things to read from time time where this seemed helpful (I guess it’s this latter bit which makes this different from coaching).

    The client got a lot of learning from this approach, and felt supported putting it into practice (this is what he said, anyway). I also learnt about facilitation and about helping people learn.

    • As always, thanks for the comment. The 1-2-1 facilitation training is something I’ve been contemplating for a while to deal with just such situations. I’m regularly asked for such support by a single staff member in an organisation in which the skills are only relevant for them, so an in-house training for a whole team or similar isn’t appropriate. Look forward to your blog and will compare notes when I finally get round to undertaking this approach!

  2. Hi Matthew and Penny,

    (thanks for the shout out). Reflection and debrief are so vital. In my experience, it’s often the thing that gets forgotten, because we are so relieved “it” is over, and there’s a new problem rearing its head. You’ve the best of intentions, but your scribbled notes end up in a wodge of paper….
    And of course, if things went a bit badly, we’re reluctant – either as mentors or mentees – to bring that up and explore why and what to do about it next time….

    I suppose it’s like that [can’t remember the source!] thing about a 40-20-40 rule, with 40 per cent of the time being spent before and after a meeting on prep and debrief/doing the agreed actions.

    All best wishes to you both (Good website, Penny!)

    Dwight Towers

  3. Thanks for the hat tip, and cheers to both yourself and Dwight for flagging Viv’s blog. Great insights. There was something in the ‘paint by numbers’ piece that chimed with the Derren Brown book I’ve just finished reading. DB talks about many NLP techniques failing because they take natural phenomena like friends mirroring body movements and turn them into ‘techniques’. There is something about boiling down the massive complexities of human interaction into rigid techniques that just doesn’t work. Which is frustrating, because pure intuition is missing a trick too. I guess that’s why it’s the ‘art’ of facilitation…

    • My experience is that a lot of these techniques only truly work when you’re fluent in them – I’m thinking about nonviolent communication as an example. When I hear someone using NVC it winds me up something chronic – it’s so obvious and stilted. But then you meet those who have either made a natural/intuitive leap to fluency, or just persevered with winding people up until they have reached that state of unconscious competence, and you don’t even realise they’re using a technique.

      It’s also why I think we need to foster attitudes rather than techniques. I suspect those who make intuitive leaps and attain fluency do so because they already have, or soon achieve, the appropriate underlying attitude. Those without it are applying a technique, those with it are doing something a whole lot more natural. Maybe it’s a being rather than doing thing? That’s what I like about Viv’s posts – she seems to be talking about being a facilitator rather than doing facilitation.

    • “attitudes rather than techniques” – what a brilliant concept. Thank you for a real lightbulb moment! Excuse me while I indulge in a completely hunch-driven rant: People have, excuse my French, very finely honed bullshit detectors. Faking something, be it interest, genuine compassion, rapport or passion takes psychopathic levels of ‘skill’. It’s also highly manipulative. For those of us who aren’t Jeffrey Archer, we have to actually mean it if it’s going to work, and if we’re going to do it with integrity.

      Attitudes rather techniques is also important because it significantly changes the way you would help others to become facilitators, campaigners, leaders. The discussion needs to be about what you must become, not what you must do. Blimey. Plenty to think about.

      • Happy to be of service. Attitude/state of mind/values – whatever we call it is so important. Relevant to your Shepherd and flock post as well, surely? Organisations focusing on the technique of participatory campaigning but sometimes lacking the attitude needed to genuinely empower grassroots campaigners….. the result can seem (and in some cases may be) insincere.

        It’s something quite a few facilitators we work with are talking about in terms of consensus decision-making. There’s a conversation in progress at the moment about whether consensus training needs to focus a lot more on the values of consensus – what attitudes we need to be consensual – rather than just the technical understanding and skills to make co-operative decisions. No amount of technique will foster genuine co-operation in the absence of the necessary attitudes and values. I can’t help feeling that a lot of the problems with process of some of the larger movements like Climate Camp could have been avoided if we’d had this conversation in 2005 when the first concerted effort to offer consensus training was held.We have an odd situation in which people are signed up to co-operation but operating under a value system that’s largely competitive. Still, live and learn – there are plans for a 5 day event to explore this more fully – we’ll keep you posted.

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