Facilitation training: the importance of practising your practice

My experience this week with members of the Detention Forum, working with fellow Rhizome member Hannah Clayton, crystallised some emerging thoughts about facilitation in general and facilitation training in particular.

First, I feel that some facilitation training sees facilitation as a discipline, as a body of knowledge to be passed on, albeit that that knowledge is about process and experience: it isn’t Latin. But I see facilitation as first of all a craft. Like all crafts, you can theorise about them. But no amount of theory will make you a decent potter if you never get your hands dirty. Facilitation is like pottery: it’s the getting the hands dirty that counts.

Second, most facilitation training starts with a syllabus. But most people, if they have tried out facilitation or are about to, have particular aspects that they want to feel more confident about and to improve. For the Detention Forum, for instance, we had a session on working with people with strong and opposing views, because that is what they asked for. One of the advantages of working with people all from the same organisation is that they are likely to have overlapping interests, making it easier to shape the agenda around those interests.

Thirdly, I have found that it is possible to set up role plays in the moment that give people a chance to practice ideas or techniques that have been presented and/or discussed. Using the Detention Forum again as illustration, members practised dealing with people with those strong and opposing views, on the one hand, and encouraging people who weren’t speaking, on the other. I’m fairly sure they learned more from such trials than from anything said by Hannah or by me!

Down with theory! Up with practice!



A forum for consensus

Hannah and I were at work with the Detention Forum on earlier this month, facilitating a 5 hour session on consensus decision-making. The Forum is “a loose network of over 30 NGOs who are working on immigration detention issues” and as such is evolving its processes all the time. The co-ordination group are trying to work as consensually as possible and want to support other working groups and the wider Forum to do the same. Hence the training.

This was very much a chance for the Forum to explore whether formal consensus was for them, or whether there were elements or values within consensus that were useful to them without necessarily adopting the formal consensus process wholesale.

We threw them into a decision-making experience out of which we drew the values, attitudes, states of mind, of co-operative decision-making. These we discusses, explored and mapped onto the formal consensus process before throwing them back into another decision-making activity.

It’s clear that all the talk of values had an impact – reaffirming to the participants how they envision their relationships in meetings, causing pause for thought in some cases. The session left them with challenges and questions – one being about sharing the experience and learning with the wider Forum. How do you support others to work towards these laudable values? How do you make the transition from values to actual behaviour in meetings?

Fortunately Hannah and Perry will be working with them again at the end of the month, with a focus on facilitation. I suspect the role of facilitation in supporting groups to work to their higher values will be on the agenda!

With the Forum’s permission we used the session to so some internal skill-sharing. Hannah was keen to learn more about facilitating consensus training. Not that you’d have known she had more to learn from her assured performance!

From the evaluation we seem to have been successful in supporting people to see beyond consensus process to consensus values, and in helping them to appreciate that potentially tricky aspects of consensus, such as the block, are positive when used appropriately.

“It was very timely and useful for us, giving us much to think about but also helping us to think differently about meetings and discussions we’ve already had, seeing them in context…

I was quite cynical beforehand but this session has completely changed my mind”

Of the couple of ‘negative’ comments we received one was concerned with an activity we did in which we asked some people to take on roles. The roles were unnecessary in this instance and as much (or more) would have been learnt without them. Hannah and I drew the same conclusion in our debrief conversation. Always good to have that confirmed by the participants. The other was simply a comment that the formal consensus process wasn’t, in this participant’s view, appropriate for the Detention Forum.