What Facilitation Can Do

Colourful Dhaka

Colourful Dhaka

In September I was that lucky bastard who had an assignment in Dhaka, Bangladesh. I had two very different things to do there. First of all, I was to perform an audit of the financial processes and financial administration of an NGO. And secondly, I was to work with the NGO staff on organisational management issues.

The main thing to be addressed with the team members was the organisational set up, and the system of in-built checks and balances. Based on written and other information I had received beforehand, my impression was that there was definitely some room for improvement.

The question was how to go about that?

For me, the main aim was not so much to develop a new, better balanced structure on the spot. Rather, I wanted to help the team talk about management issues, checks and balances, division of tasks and responsibilities, and the like. I wanted to assist the team to reach its own conclusions about how they wanted their organisation to be structured and organised.

Of course I did want to make them see certain things. But I did not want to show them as such. I wanted to help them see.

Basically, what I wanted was to facilitate a meeting of the team discussing the organisational structure and management. And that is what I did. I prepared a sort of script and I asked questions like ‘Can you tell me what committees and boards there are in your organisation?’, ‘Do you know what the tasks and responsibilities of this committee are?’ and ‘Who has seen a written decision made by that committee?’ and many, many more (in fact, I had more questions than could fit into the two-days programme I had developed).

Organisational structure emerging

Organisational structure emerging

Step by step it became clear that the organisational structure that had been very nicely presented in a project proposal was basically a mystery to most of the team members. They did manage, in the end, to sketch a rough organigram. They also identified which information was lacking and discovered questions that needed to be asked about the management structure.

At the end of the two days we spent together (covering more organisational management issues after clarifying the organigram to the extent possible) team members said they felt very happy and excited. Most team members found that this joint discussion had created a new level of transparency which they felt to be very important and needed. This made them happy and also excited – because now new steps had to be developed and taken and they had to make themselves part of those.

I, too, was satisfied. Through the seemingly loose Q&A structure of the two-day meeting almost all issues the client had identified beforehand as important had been put on the table and discussed. More importantly, these issues had been identified as issues for concern and change by the team itself – as a result of their sharing of information, experiences and questions regarding the organisational management and structure. The team members present had been empowered by the discovery of information that was either new to them or had never before been put together in a context.

I could have given them the same amount of new information in a training on organisational management, with lots of lectures and presentations about how an NGO should be organised and structured. It might have taken less time, and would certainly have been much easier to prepare and conduct. However, my aim was also to empower and mobilise the team members. And I am convinced that facilitating their own discovery process with self-generated insights was in this case much more effective and powerful than any training could have been.

I-do-not-want-to-show

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Change Is Never Easy But It Can Be Done

Recently, I had the great pleasure of reading the book “Switch – How To Change Things When Change Is Hard” by Chip and Dan Heath. Apart from it being very well written, and thus fun and easy to read, this book is a must-read for all of us. Not just for the so-called professionals, but truly for every one of us out here. After all, in one way or another we are all dealing with change. Changes that are forced upon us, changes that we want to see in others as well as changes that we want for ourselves and our communities and societies.

Infographic Rider Elephant Path via Visual.ly

Infographic Rider Elephant Path via Visual.ly

The Heath brothers dish out many stories about people involved in change – in different environments, on different levels and with very different goals. All of them are used to visualise different aspects of their in principle very simple framework for successful change. It consists of an elephant, a rider on top of the elephant and a path they can take. Since you all must read the book, I will not say more than this about it: change needs motivation from the heart, energy and dogged perseverance (elephant) as well as a rationale – understanding of the ultimate goal and the need for change – combined with clear thinking and analysis of the situation (the rider). It is possible to shape the path so that it is easier-going. And: small steps are all-important.

What made this simple framework so appealing to me, is that I could easily recognise my own experiences in it. I, too, have found that in order to achieve change you need to get people motivated to move and that this is more than just explaining to them why such and such change is important. Knowing is by far not enough to get into action, while at the same time not having certain background information can make it difficult to move in the “right” direction. I, too, have noticed that small steps can lead to bigger changes, and that it is important to pay sufficient attention to the value of every achievement, however small it may seem to the ambitious change-maker. I recognise these notions from my own personal life of course, but also from projects that I was engaged in professionally.

For instance, after reading this book I much better understand why the Green Agenda approach for local sustainable development that I was involved in developing is so powerful and successful in many local communities.

Some local values in a community in Kosova

Some local values in a community in Kosova

It starts out simple: bring together as many local stakeholders as possible and ask them what they value about their community. Those that have read Switch will recognise an elephant appetiser here (Find the Feeling) combined with a hint for the rider (Point to the Destination). People are invited to tap from a feeling of pride in their community and challenged to overlook problems for the moment.

Working group in Nedelisce, Croatia, explains what they have done

Working group in Nedelisce, Croatia, explains what they have done

Next in the Green Agenda method, thematic multi-stakeholder working groups are formed – each dealing with one of the selected priority values. Each group performs a thorough analysis of the value: what trends can be seen in regard of the value, what impacts do the trends have, what is the ideal situation of the value, what is the difference between the current or projected future situation and the ideal (=problem), what are (root) causes, and what could be solutions. During all these steps the groups are intensively supported. Also, groups are encouraged to break down the causes and solutions into manageable ones (proposing to build a 2 million euro sewerage system is not exactly within the reach of local stakeholders in a small rural community – at least not for starters). Again – elephant feed all around: the needed change gets down to a doable level (Shrink the Change) and the groups strengthen their common identity (Grow your People). At the same time, the rider is called upon for his or her analytical skills and powers.

The final steps in the Green Agenda method include the formulation of a strategic plan, an action plan and a monitoring plan incorporating the findings and proposals of all thematic multi-stakeholder working groups. And preparing a so-called Green Agenda document which describes these plans, and includes information about the steps taken to develop them. The document is presented at local meetings in which people can still propose changes. Finally, the document is adopted by the local authorities and implementation starts – with involvement of local stakeholders. Here, it’s easy to recognise elements of rider incentives: concrete steps are proposed and adopted (Script the Critical Moves) as well as aspects of shaping the path: local people are mobilised to get involved and become engaged (Rally the Herd), whereas adoption of the document developed by local stakeholders also changes the status of the ideas of these stakeholders and increases local ownership of local policies (Tweak the Environment).

Watermill project: realised after Green Agenda project ended!

Watermill project: realised after Green Agenda project ended!

The method as a whole also contributes to Building Habits – another way of shaping the path – as it develops ways and means of realising genuine stakeholder involvement. All the steps taken, linkages built and communication channels opened can be used in future processes as well, and in reality they are.

So quite apart from understanding why some of my worse habits are still with me, this book helped me understand more of the actual strengths of a method I have been using and propagating for almost a decade now. Understanding this better will certainly help me in developing more successful approaches to groups I work with and projects I help design. I wish you the same experience when reading this must-read book – and I hope that my small hints of the treasures you will find there are sufficient to make you curious enough to go find Switch!

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Webinar Tools

Yesterday evening a threesome of which I was part facilitated a webinar in the frame of the Curriculum Social Media for Learning & Change in which we all participate. Since we had used BigMarker a few times already (as participants, not as facilitators though) we decided to try something else for a change. We came up with a combination of Skype and SynchTube, since we wanted to watch videos together, do two quick polls, have a discussion, share a document and have a chat. With these two tools, all of that was possible.

SynchTube
(please note that SynchTube is now out of use. TogetherTube could be an alternative).

In SynchTubeyou can create a room to watch videos, chat and do polls. You can do this, without having an account! Once you’ve created the room, you can share the link and everyone who gets the link can enter the room. The room looks like this:

SynchTube: overview of a room

SynchTube: overview of a room

On the left hand side you will find the video. On the right hand side there is a space to chat. It is important to first type your name in the box “Enter a name” and then click “Join chat”. Otherwise you will remain “unnamed” as is shown at the top right hand side.

SynchTube: poll

SynchTube: poll

The arrow at the bottom right hand side points to where polls can be added. A poll needs to have at least 2 possible answers. Participants can click on the number in front of the answer of their choice and vote. Everyone can vote only once. The scores are immediately updated. The leader can close the poll and start a new one.

Polls can be created only by the “leader” of the room. Initially, this is the person who created the room, but this person can give others the leaders role by clicking on a name and choosing to make them leader. If you want to remove someone from the room, you can click on their name and choose “kick”.

SynchTube: chat space

SynchTube: chat space

While you’re watching a video or taking a poll, you can share thoughts in the chat space. In the picture you can see that I managed to name myself and joined the chat. Below the chat space there is a small bar to type your chat contributions.

Some tips

  • You need at least 2, preferably 3, facilitators, even if you work with a small group only. The reason is that you need at least one person that will take care of all tech issues – like mishaps with SynchTube, people who have problems with Skype, etc etc – and one person that will do the actual facilitation of the discussion and work. If people are chatting and talking at the same time, it is practical to have a third person who will bring up issues from the chat into the discussion. So while you can save on time and expenses for travelling by working online, you may need more persons for facilitation than if you would have organised a face-to-face event.
  • The tech person should (try to) deal with the tech problems without interfering in the session itself, to the extent this is possible. This means that the tech person may need to set up separate connections (phone, Skype, etc) with people that are experiencing problems, and that way may miss out on some of the content being shared.
  • Be prepared for technical problems messing up your session especially at the start of the webinar. Meaning: allow space in the agenda for delays. And: be cool about it if and when it happens. Don’t panic the participants with your own panic!
  • Try out the tech tools at least twice yourself and check the possibilities of the tools you’ve chosen to work with. For instance in this case we had originally thought to use GoogleHangout (via Google+). We tried it twice – the first time it worked excellently and the second time it did not work nearly as well without us having a clear clue as to the why. Also, we found out in the nick of time that GoogleHangout allows for maximum 10 people to join at any given time. And as we invited more than 10 participants and could not be sure enough of them would cancel to stay within the limit of 10, we decided to look for another tool that would allow for over 10 participants at the same time.
  • Send participants clear instructions beforehand. If you will use a tool that you are not sure they have used before, send them a short guide of the tool. You can make screen shots from your test sessions to visualise certain elements of the tools and insert them in a written text if you cannot find a clear guide online.
  • Let participants do some of the thinking before the webinar. In this case, we sent participants a link to a Prezi highlighting some of the questions to be tackled in the webinar as well as a link to an online survey (via FluidSurveys) through which we collected certain information already. We presented the results of the survey during the webinar and used this as a starting point for further exchange.
  • Be clear on the order of things: we will start in Skype, then we will share a link to a SynchTube room and we will watch videos there, for instance. Let people know what to expect and give clear instructions: “Now we will go to SynchTube. Don’t forget to enter your name for the chat.”
  • Be clear on the rules: once we move to SynchTube, mute your skype to avoid hearing echos. And make sure that everyone does this, too!
  • During a Skype discussion, be sure to address certain questions to a specific person, and use their name. In a face-to-face event it is much easier to look at someone while addressing a question to the group. Obviously, this does not work on Skype.
  • Be sure to check a chat, if you have any, regularly and refer to remarks made there.
  • Create atmosphere in the beginning: do not start rightaway with going from one tool to the next. First establish that everyone is there and make sure that everyone knows what will happen, how and when.

An evaluation was conducted in Wallwisher (now: Padlet) and generated positive feedback:

Wallwisher Evaluation (in NL)

Wallwisher Evaluation (in NL)

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Sticky Wall

Is this all? (photo Simon Koolwijk)

Is this all? (photo Simon Koolwijk)

It looks like just a nice blue-coloured piece of cloth that is sticky on one side. You tape it to a wall with the sticky side on the front, and there you are. Well, not quite.

It’s a tool that has never let me down so far. So what’s so special about it?

First of all, the sticky wall is a tool used in the Technology of Participation (ToP), as developed by the Institute of Cultural Affairs in the USA (ICA-USA). So it’s not just a gadget, it is part of a way of working, a participatory approach. I was trained in this methodology by Simon Koolwijk and have used it for around 10 years now.

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