Storming into action

I’m a firm believer in the power of experience, of doing, in learning. Nothing new there – it’s pretty standard practice nowadays and variations of experiential learning cycles abound.

For me it’s about emotional engagement. I can learn without doing. I can learn from books, videos, presentations and all that jazz. But it’s sometimes hard to know what I feel about something until I grasp the nettle and try it out.

Viv McWaters and Johnnie Moore have written about what they’re calling “action storming” or “problem theatre” – just one method they use to shift people from thinking about to doing, from head to heart. It’s a method they’ve used to get people exploring working with ‘difficult people’, something that comes up for every group of would-be, or existing, facilitators and trainers. Action storming draws on a number of strands of dramatic technique.

“This involves trying different approaches in quick succession, and as soon as someone in the group makes a suggestions along the lines of, “Why don’t you try…?” we invite them to tags the protagonist out and do what they have suggested – try something. We’ve found it creates a completely different way of tackling those difficult moments. Instead of theorising about what might work, analysing different responses and becoming increasingly abstract, Action Storming is far more concrete. You can see a physical shift in people when they get it – when something they try just works. Sometimes it’s obvious, sometimes it’s a surprise” Viv McWaters

Here’s a slide show they’ve put together to promote the technique:

Action storming,Viv McWaters

Emily and myself use a couple of related techniques in our facilitator training for Transition Leicester’s Footpaths project. The first  involves stepping into the role of the ‘difficult person’ to glean insights into their side of the story and then stepping back into facilitator role to act from a position of new-found understanding and confidence. The second is a quick-fire try-out of possible approaches to a common difficult scenario. It’s amazing how quickly people’s understanding can shift from a few minutes of doing and observing their peers doing.

I’ll keep reading about Viv and Johnnie’s technique with interest, but look forward more to doing it.



One, two, three

Here’s three posts that caught my attention this evening:

Dismantling the meeting, bit by bit

Photo: Fintan264

There are aspects of meetings I’ve always just accepted. There are other aspects I’ve always been uneasy about, but gone along with. Hmmm, probably not the kind of thing one should admit to on the internet.

Over the last year or so I’ve had the opportunity and the catalysts to challenge that acceptance and ‘going along with’ and make changes in how I think about meetings and how I approach them as a facilitator. Some of those catalysts have been in the form of wise words from co-facilitators. Some in the form of articles and blog posts – the joy of the web is that you can access thoughts of facilitators you may never meet.

Viv McWaters has just contributes a good-sized catalyst to the process of dismantling the meeting bit by bit in her post the myth of the agenda. Read it. Here’s a taste to tempt you:

An agenda is wallpaper – it covers the cracks in your meeting by pretending to provide structure and control. And certainty. When groups of people get together, yes, even for a meeting, amazing things can happen – if you allow it. An agenda is all about control and apparent efficiency. It’s also about someone being in charge – deciding what will and will not be on the agenda. It’s just another example of a one-to-many process.

Meaningful meetings and connecting individuals

Here’s a couple of quick links to recent posts with some useful ideas and resources:

From Gillian at You Learn Something New Every Day, a compilation of posts on Making Meetings Meaningful. There’s a lot of stuff here I would never have got to without it being pulled together like this.

And secondly some nice theory and ideas for Connecting Individuals in a Large Group Meeting from Viv McWaters:

Groups are strange beasts, made up of individuals – and no matter how often groups come together, each time they are unique, even if the people remain the same. I suppose that’s self evident. What really interests me is the human connection between individuals that forms the glue of groups. It’s this human connection that, I think, can help or hinder groups in the work they need to do. That’s why I think connecting activities are useful. Even groups that meet often and where the participants are well-known to each other can go a little deeper in connecting and knowing each other.

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.