Who needs facilitators?


April 23rd, 2008

While there’s been a flurry of posts on the Australasian Facilitators’ Network list about the processes used at last weekend’s 2020 summit (where 1000 of Australia’s ‘best and brightest’ – not my words – gathered in Canberra to discuss 10 topics with a Chair and co-Chair for each topic and an array of facilitators) there’s been disquiet, and some downright fury, at the quality of facilitation at the summit. 

An article in today’s Australian newspaper talks about concerns that some voices were not heard, others misrepresented, and outcomes pre-determined at worst or manipulated by the Chairs at best.Hard to know if these claims are true. But it does raise an opportunity to explore just what the role of the facilitator is/was/should be in such a situation. Here’s what’s clear so far: 1000 people sat through an opening and plenary sessions at the beginning of each day and at the end where the big ideas were revealed from each stream. At other times they were in their ‘streams’ groups of 100 – seems different facilitation processes were used with each stream (based on images from television reports). I saw processes where people came to a podium and talked for a short time about their ideas. I saw people sitting in rows; I saw people sitting in small groups; I saw some graphic facilitations; and I saw people writing on flip charts.

Fellow facilitators who knew about the call for facilitators to help with the summit said the brief was broad and vague (aren’t they all?) and none of them was selected. Seems it was a process of ‘who you know’.

I’ve heard first-hand comments like: “The facilitator in our stream wanted agreement before they would write anything up. They wouldn’t allow us to disagree and have different points of view.”

I’ve heard via the media that what people said was rewritten in the scribe/facilitator’s words to a point where the person couldn’t recognise their own words or ideas.

If true, this is not good facilitation and any facilitator worth their salt knows it too – and wouldn’t do it. No matter what the stakes or what the pressures. So it raises the questions about who was facilitating and whether they had any facilitation skills at all. It raises a more important question about the image of facilitation and facilitators.

Good facilitation is transformational – enabling individuals to work together for growth, development and change. And facilitation is no longer an added extra – the skills, the understandings and the personal awareness that accompanies good facilitation can be a part of everyone’s professional kit bag. Facilitation requires us to believe in the wisdom of individuals and groups and their capacity to resolve, build, challenge, shape and grow. But all this doesn’t always come naturally, especially if we are used to being in control. We have to learn some of the basic practices of facilitation and, most importantly, learn how to GET OUT OF THE WAY.

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