Looking forward to it….

The start of 2012 is a bit hectic here in the rhizosphere. The exciting thing for me is that almost all 7 of Rhizome’s facilitators are in action in January and February.

Perry’s facilitating a day of meeting facilitation skills with the folk at Climate Rush, looking at their own meetings as well as public meetings they hope to organise. And that theme of facilitating internal and external meetings runs through several other pieces of work we have lined up – Maria and myself will be running a day’s training for the staff of 38 Degrees, and then Jo and I will be doing something similar for staff at WDM.

Carl is leading on a 2 day mediation course happening in early January, co-incidentally starting on the first day of the International Year of Co-operatives – us, a co-op, training members of other co-ops as mediators to support co-ops, and all for Co-operatives UK.

Meanwhile Emily (with her Transition hat on) and I will be training the 3rd generation of facilitators for Transition Leicester’s Footpaths project.

Perry and I are working with Talk Action on a day long consensus decision-making workshop on January 26th – which will hopefully run a few times each year, if the pilot is a success.

And Jo’s also leading some work for Greenpeace, organising and facilitating a review day for the team of volunteer political lobbying trainers, who we trained in 2011, to happen in late February.

We’ll also be revamping some old resources and publishing some new ones to support this work – all available to download for free from our resources page. This includes guides on all aspects of mediation, an area of our resources we’ve been painfully slow to add to. I hope they are worth the wait!

Rainbow lobbyers: training the trainers

Greenpeace UK have a vision of having a trained lobbyist in every constituency in the UK. Their reputation is in taking direct action, but lobbying MPs (and I include MSPs, AMs and MLAs in that), MEPs, councilors and corporate representatives is also an essential part of the work they do. To that end, this weekend, I was training trainers in delivering Greenpeace’s political lobbying training.

The 12 participants all had existing experience as trainers, teachers or lecturers which added to the challenge of creating a workshop that felt useful to them. From the feedback it looks like the agenda met that challenge. Overall the workshop was a success. There were, of course, one or two niggles about specific exercises which didn’t work as well as they might for everyone. This reflects my experience of this kind of course over the years. Because it’s full of opportunities for people to practice and receive peer feedback it’s always well received.

I’ll be emailing out the evaluation form so that people can add further reflections, and because one or two participants had to leave before the final evaluation session. In usual Rhizome fashion, I’ll share anything new

What worked best for me was stepping away from traditional learning theory and focusing on the skills and attitudes that make ensure trainers are also competent facilitators. Because an awareness of things such as learning styles and the need for experiential learning had been applied in the development of the political lobbying training I could afford to change to focus. So we spent much of Saturday working on enhancing existing skills in listening, reporting on the state and sense of the group, and formulating questions that helped to draw learning out of the group. We also dedicated some specific time to looking at roleplay as a tool.

What worked less well from my own perspective was my own reporting on the state of the group. In part this was because I stepped away from this role, having explicitly invited and encouraged the participants to take it on. But they were not always forthcoming, and there were dynamics in play that were worthy of naming in order to both ameliorate them and share some collective learning around them.

Of course I didn’t ignore these dynamics, employing a number of techniques to deal with them. But nor did I shine a light on them in the way that naming them might have.

The Greenpeace staff seemed genuinely happy with the quality of the work they’d received from Rhizome at the weekend and in the run up to it. This was a new departure for Greenpeace. They have other trainers – nonviolent direct action trainers and street campaign trainers who haven’t received this kind of support – sink or swim has been the name of the game to date. I hope that will change and that Rhizome may be asked to be part of that change.

Rainbow lobbyers

Since June, I’ve been working in a small way to support Greenpeace UK in developing a training package on political lobbying skills. The package will in turn play its part in the formation of a new network of lobbyists.

Up until recently my role was simply suggesting potential improvements to the developing agenda. On Saturday I joined Greenpeace trainers and a dozen enthusiastic trainees in Birmingham to see the agenda working in action. It’s rare that I get the chance just to observe. My copious notes will now be fed into a meeting next month. The good news is that the agenda is 95% there.

Greenpeace staff have paid real attention to engaging all learners. They’ve created some innovative activities. For example, I’m a big fan of using the format of the card game ‘Pit’ to introduce the stages of the lobbying process and wake people up after lunch.

And the agenda is supported superbly by the presence of an ex-MP throughout the session.

Then in mid-November Rhizome will be facilitating a training for trainers for lobbyists interested in sharing their skills and experience through training others.

Of course the planned progression of the project (develop training then train trainers prior to sending them out to train) isn’t working out quite as envisaged. This is the world of campaigning, after all, and there are always events to respond to. Stop Climate Chaos’s Big Climate Connection mass lobby now takes place before our training for trainers so some brave souls will be asked to jump into the deep end and deliver trainings for lobbyists before being trained as trainers.

But I can’t complain. The first formal training I ever delivered was Greenpeace nonviolent direct action training. My preparation? Taking part in the workshop once and then being handed a hard copy of the agenda. I didn’t attend a training for trainers until almost a decade later.