Moving facilitation from “for the people” to “by the people”

In June 2019, I celebrated 25 years in my facilitation business. Yippee!! Over the past eight months, I have reflected on those years: what I learned, what I gained, what I contributed, what I believed, and how I acted then and now. Sometimes, my reflection occurred serendipitously. Here is a story of one unexpected time and a drawing I created to illustrate my idea.

In November 2019, I participated in a facilitator gathering with ICA Associates Inc. celebrate their 20th anniversary. This wonderful organization took the approach of inviting people across Canada to join in discussions about the future of our participatory society in 10 years. John Miller ICA Associates facilitated the session and opened with a question, inviting each of us to answer.

How would you describe the transformation of facilitation over the past 20 years?

Wow! Thought-provoking! A phrase immediately came to me: For the people. Then, before saying anything, I thought a bit harder. The next phrase was: With the people. And yes, one more pause before I shared my answer. My final phrase was: By the people. When I spoke my phrase to the group, many nodded and several said their answer was “what Barb said.”

I think that the movement from for the people, with the people, to by the people is very much my personal transformation. I hope that it is also a professional transformation of the facilitation field. Ultimately, as a facilitator, I want individuals in families, teams, businesses, communities, and groups of friends and strangers throughout the world to talk together in a caring and beneficial way. I can help others achieve this goal by using my expertise to train, encourage, coach, and mentor individuals to learn conversation and decision-making skills.

Of course, I continue to work with organizations at the stages of for the people and with the people. After all, providing facilitation services is my business as well as my passion. Many people in groups want the support of a facilitator to help them hold productive discussions and reach beneficial decisions. And individuals and the groups in which they participate, need their own transformation journey to learn the ways to converse meaningfully together. Yet, I am very glad that, in a few minutes of reflection, my thoughts about the transformation of facilitation moved to by the people.

How can a facilitator help participants move to by the people conversations? Some ideas are:

  • Train participants in specific skills of discussion using methods and tools such as the ORID Conversation, The Circle Way, discussion guidelines of The Skilled Facilitator
  • Offer approaches such as Art of Hosting, The Circle Way, and Open Space Technology that enable people to self-organize
  • When invited by the participants, observe their discussions and suggest ways to enhance
  • Co-design and co-facilitate with several of the participants

And I end with a nod of appreciation to Abraham Lincoln since his quote, “Government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the Earth” undoubtedly influenced me.

Moving facilitation from “for the people” to “by the people”
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