Facilitating diverse and at times, polarized, viewpoints – what did I learn in the past year? How will I use my lessons in the upcoming year? On June 30, 2018, I completed my 24th year of working as an independent facilitator. Apart from completing the tedious year-end bookkeeping reports to send to my accountant, I enjoy reflecting upon the past year and using what I learned in my next year. I will describe some of the main lessons in a series of blogs. I start with this blog about facilitation of sessions where participants knowingly have strongly diverse and sometimes, polarized, viewpoints. The caveat is that none of these situations were extremely controversial. Participants, while disagreeing on topics, were willing to talk together and find mutually agreed upon solutions. I am not a trained mediator and, therefore, carefully assess with the organizations, what they need, what their desired outcomes are, and what is happening. Then, I offer what I can provide as a facilitator and we mutually decide if I work with them. Examples of situations:
- A non-profit board – Board members disagreed about the governance of the organization, their role, and management’s role.
- Community service providers and government officials – participants asked me to facilitate a different way of talking, a different dialogue about long-standing issues of trust.
- An Aboriginal society and municipality – determining how to work together effectively and respectfully with different histories, culture, and experiences and leadership and governance approaches
- A community resident group and a drug treatment house owner – developing an agreement to ensure community safety
How did I encourage participants to acknowledge and share their emotions, explore and understand the facts of the topic, and work towards mutually beneficial results? Some activities I use and suggest are to:
- Develop group behaviour guidelines (guiding principles or ground rules)
- Hold a Hopes and Fears Conversation
- Start on a positive note by developing a vision of success through a consensus building method
- Identify, understand and agree upon the facts of the situation
- Identify and acknowledge the areas of conflict and develop ways to discuss and resolve them
- Decide upon and consistently use a decision-making method
- Hold Opening and Closing Conversations at each session to reflect back and look ahead
- Create warm, inviting and soothing physical environments – Work in circle arrangement as much as possible
- Use foundational facilitation approaches such as Technology of Participation https://icausa.memberclicks.net/ ORID or Focused Conversation and Appreciative Inquiry https://appreciativeinquiry.champlain.edu/learn/appreciative-inquiry-introduction/
- Frequently check-in with the participants as to their emotions
My most valuable lesson was the importance of starting with participants creating a shared vision of success. Most participants wanted to start with talking about their issues or gaps or problems. I encouraged them to start by focusing on the possibilities: what do we each want; how do our individual visions or goals align or combine; what is the difference we all want to create. Participants, after creating the shared vision of success, were excited, optimistic and enthusiastic, and found it much easier to discuss the challenges that prevented them from achieving the success.
Next blog will be about the lessons from my past year regarding co-facilitation. Can’t wait to co-facilitate more in 2018-2019!