Facilitating | Te whakahaere
Facilitation is about supporting groups to work cooperatively and effectively together and involving all participants in a meaningful way.
Good facilitation is about helping people identify goals and values, build strong relationships, and think about process and content. It’s about making people feel welcome. It can include things as simple as doing a coffee run or booking a community hall.
Dialogue is central to supporting transitions in teams, organisations and communities. There are many tools to start meaningful conversations that engage groups of people to design creative solutions.
Effective facilitation can enrich democratic processes and create a culture that is supportive of collaboration.
Understanding the role of a facilitator
The role of facilitating a just transition process may extend from running meetings and conversations on the day, right through to capability building within the group that you are working with.
Consider what you’re trying to do on a particular day, then select the tools you would like to bring in. The tools you choose may be different if the goal is reaching consensus, voting on a decision, shaping a shared vision, brainstorming potential solutions, or simply building relationships and understanding. Be clear about your objectives.
Think about the critical questions you want to answer in each session, and what key conversations you would like to have. Take the subject area, think about the group and then plan a set of questions that can open the conversation but also converge to a point when you need to make a decision or reach a point of clarity.
You can think of your questions as forming a diamond shape, allowing the conversation to open up into a range of possibilities and then come together towards mutual understanding or a consensus. You want to craft questions that open space for things that you don’t usually hear.
A good facilitator aims to encourage participants to think productively, listen openly, share ideas, ask questions, uncover variables, find solutions and identify actions.
To achieve results, groups must identify the scope and scale of the work together, and what improvements might be possible. The goal might be clear to a work team, while for a larger group of multiple stakeholders, it might be more important to help them identify shared values and aspirations.
Relationships are key to fostering new thinking and ideas. As well as asking which people are affected and need to be in the room, you can reflect on whether the group is working well and how you might resolve any differences.
Process – how you work together
Relationships that support creative and innovative collaborations do not simply happen. Consider what type of process would work for your community, and what structures, resources and roles will support this work. Most importantly, agree as a group how you can create a supportive environment for all.
Content – what you do together
Content is what the group or collaborative is about, what you hope to achieve, what information is being shared and what decisions need to be made or outcomes achieved. Effective knowledge-sharing improves team and individual productivity, empowers your members, and builds a strong, connected community or collaborative.
As the leadership group, you need to think about whether you are privileging certain knowledge or perspectives over others, whether you have access to the right information and expertise, and how the issue could be seen from different perspectives. You might need to check with others.
Keeping participants safe
When you’re co-designing, it can be a challenging experience for everyone, so you need to think about how you can make it a safe space to be in, especially for vulnerable communities.
Kelly Ann McKercher’s model of care in co-design reminds us that good practice requires us to go beyond business as usual and work harder to create and maintain safety in these new collaborations. We should especially be looking to better support groups that have been traumatised or marginalised.
Who cares? Introducing a model of care for co-design(external link) — Kelly Ann McKercher (LinkedIn)
When creating a safe space, one useful tool is the Chatham House Rule. Under this rule, participants are free to use the information received, but neither the identity nor the affiliation of the speaker(s), nor that of any other participant, may be revealed.
Chatham House Rule(external link) — Chatham House
Even in meetings subject to the Chatham House Rule, participants may face constraints in what they can say. For example, public servants invited in their individual capacity may still not have the same degree of freedom as others to share information and opinion. Similarly, business collaborators may be constrained from sharing commercially sensitive information, and people involved in legal proceedings may not be able to comment on related issues.
A useful principle for creating a safe space is operating on a ‘no surprises’ basis. Trust can be built by agreeing on agenda items in advance, keeping people well informed and issuing an open-door invitation for participants to provide feedback and raise concerns as soon as they arise.
It can be useful to prepare meeting summaries with an opportunity for participant review and approval before finalisation. Summaries clearly document the scope of discussions, decisions and other meeting outcomes. This can help participants know they were heard and avoid misunderstandings that could undermine progress.
After more than 30 years of working closely alongside whānau families and hapori communities in Porirua, the Hutt Valley and Wellington, Wesley Community Action have learned that with the right support, the hapori with first-hand experience can drive sustainable responses to complex issues.
Rather than a single transition process, this is about multiple initiatives and projects driven by members of the community, joined up and learning from each other over time through Wesley Community Action’s Te Hiko: Centre for Community Innovation.
Currently there are a wide range of projects at different stages, which alone and together are having an impact on the economic, environmental and social wellbeing of those involved and the wider Wellington region.
Te Hiko Library(external link) — tehiko.org.nz
Photo credit: Wesley Community Action