Blog > Good and bad facilitation

June 8, 2011

There was an article in the paper the other day about collecting used bicycles and sending them to Africa. This is not uncommon. All sorts of goods are collected in developed countries and sent to developing countries. Sounds fair enough. The arguments for range from environmental benefits (recycling) to feel-good benefits (thinking that you are making a difference) to practical benefits (surely it’s better that someone gets access to bicycles / shoes / t-shirts / bras etc than they just get thrown out).

According to some humanitarian aid professionals, sending used, unwanted goods to developing countries is just bad aid. Why? Mainly because the need is determined by the people donating (“We have all these left-over goods. Surely someone can use them?”) rather than the people receiving the goods. That puts the recipients in a tricky situation. If they accept the goods, they keep the cycle going. If they don’t accept them, because maybe they need something else, they’re seen as ungrateful.

So how is good aid done? Glad you asked. Over at Tales from the Hood, #SWEDOW (Stuff We Don’t Want) has become a red flag for bad aid and has led to posts like this one to explain good and bad aid to the rest of us. Here’s a taster…

The way aid should be done:

1) Understand the need that needs to be addressed, the problem that needs to be solved.

2) Plan a solution based on that need, on that problem.

3) Implement the solution to meet the need, fix the problem.

The way far too many amateurs want to do aid:

1) Have a solution (used clothes, volunteers, bunch of soccer balls, a gadget, etc…)

2) Find a problem that you can, with a little imagination, use the solution identified in Step 1 to partially solve.

* * *

The fact that there are masochists in the world does not mean it’s a okay to go around hitting people…

The fact that you can pound nails in using a screwdriver does not mean that it’s a good idea to use screwdrivers for driving nails…

The fact that you can find someone in Haiti who wants your old clothes does not mean that sending used clothes to Haiti is a good idea.

Read more here…

And if you’d like to read more about what makes good aid, try this.

Which got me thinking about good and bad facilitation. Like aid, facilitation may appear good on the surface, but scratch a little, and you might not like what you find.

Here’s another little thought starter about facipulation (HT to Lynn Walsh) incidently also from an aid blog (no, I’m not sure what that means except that I read a few aid blogs cos they’re interesting, teach me stuff I didn’t know and are well written). And even more on facipulation over at Stuff Expat Aid Workers Like.

So, what makes good facilitation? Here’s a few ideas. Feel free to add you own (and alternatively, what makes bad facilitation?)

Be clear about the need for facilitation Facilitation encourages difference – in form, in thinking and in approach. So you don’t need a facilitator for yet another meeting, to reach consensus or agreements, when decisions have already been made, when you simply need to get through the agenda or when you think a workshop might be a good place to start when things are going pear shaped and you don’t know what else to do.

Make sure all activities and processes serve the need.Once you’re clear about the need for a facilitated gathering – and that can be the hardest part of any facilitation – then everything that’s done should serve that need. Geoff Brown understands this well, and it comes from his extra-curricula activity of organising a local music festival. The music festival is very successful, and everyone wants to jump on. The decision about whether or not to include a great new idea is not how great or how new the idea is, it’s simply this: does it serve the music?

Know that you are not in charge or have control over the outcome. We’re talking people here. People in groups. People with opinions. People who spark off each other. Thinking you are in control of a group of people when facilitating is simply delusional. Influence. Now that’s a whole different ball-game.

Be prepared for messiness, confusion, frustration As above.

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