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May 25th, 2008

From Siem Reap, Cambodia.

It’s been a while since I’ve blogged. I’ve just completed two straight weeks of facilitating in three different countries. I really should take my own advice from my previous post and not work so hard!

The work has been varied, stimulating, challenging at times, and mostly fun. I’ve worked with irrigation farmers, public servants and aid workers. Some have been existing clients, some new. The work itself has ranged from scenario planning, organisational culture change, team building, facilitation training (in person and on-line) and facilitating pieces of a five-day forum. Oh, and there’s been the odd excursion to amazing places like Angkor Wat. 

Sometimes I wonder if I add any value as a facilitator. After all, the people mentioned above are the ones doing the work. This was especially apparent this week working with aid workers. I travel back to Australia and my comfortable life while they continue to struggle with the effects of disasters such as Cyclone Nargis in Burma and the Chinese earthquake. These people often work with groups and communities so I’d use facilitation processes that they can probably use in their own work. So while I’ve pondered on this blog about the role of a facilitator, I’m now considering our value.

Focus, processes, time-keeping, summarising, efficiency are all important. But what I think really adds value is challenging – challenging existing thinking and behaviour patterns. As an external facilitator I make observations and say things to a group that, even when known amongst the group itself, is hard for any one person of the group to say.  And sense-making. Providing different ways for individuals and the group to make sense of a shared experience by providing frameworks and different tools.

Let me give an example of sense making. At the end of a week-long forum with aid workers I wanted to do some reflecting on the whole week. And my client wanted some data for an evaluation report. With people from 17 different countries in the room it was obvious that one approach just wouldn’t cut it. So I offered four and invited them to self-select which one they wanted to work on.

1. A standard ORID (focused discussion) format: facts and figures, reactions and significance of the event.

2. The three-bears approach: Hmmm – just right; Whoa – way too much!; and Please – can I have some more?

3. Visual Explorer where they used the cards to tell a story of the week.

4. The Story Spine: Once upon a time…; Every day…; But one day…; Because of that… (x n); Until finally…; And ever since then…

The results were extraordinary – each producing different aspects of the same experience in a way that was engaging and stimulating. 

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