Back in 2006 BB (Before Blogging) I attended a training course for facilitators on the role of facilitation in disaster recovery. At the time I said it was probably the most significant training I’d ever done as a facilitator. I wrote an article for the Australasian Facilitators’ Network, to debrief my experience and to share what I’d learnt with others. I think it’s appropriate to republish it now.
My views on disasters and the role of facilitation have been both reinforced and changed completely as I reflect on a two-day workshop I recently completed called “Facilitating Psycho-Social Reconstruction” – and I’ll come back to what that actually means in a moment.
But first, a little background: this workshop was designed and delivered by the Global Facilitator Service Corps (GFSC) is a voluntary group of committed and passionate people who provide a way for facilitators to contribute our facilitation skills to disaster preparedness and recovery. It is ambitious, it’s altruistic, it’s voluntary, and organic.
The workshop was created and delivered by Gil Brenson-Lazan with help from BJ and Lenny Diamond who organised the workshop, provided behind-the-scenes support and developed the notes; and Mike Kane and Erness Wright-Irvin, both Hurricane Katrina survivors from New Orleans, who helped deliver the workshop. Their stories will remain with me for a long time.
The workshop ran over two days. There were about 14 of us – from across the USA, Canada and Australia.
Some highlights: Haiti-born Suze describing the chronic trauma of Haitian people living in the United States; Scott talking of his experiences as a 9/11 survivor; Erness describing her own immediate denial that there was any urgency to leave as Hurricane Katrina bore down on New Orleans; Mike describing his experiences of living with friends and his coping mechanism of either extreme activity or total inactivity. These personal, first-hand stories make the reports we see on our news come alive with a potency that is rarely possible via the media. Yet again, the power of personal anecdote was reinforced. And we all had stories to tell – maybe not of the same scale as 9/11 or Hurricane Katrina – but personal disasters nonetheless that underlined the common human experience, and needs.
I’d always assumed that the immediate post-disaster recovery was best left to experts, with facilitators coming in to help with longer-term reconstruction of communities. Boy, was I wrong! And I’d also assumed that disaster only meant the all-too-regular large-scale natural and human-induced disasters. Wrong again! And I thought that the role of the facilitator began only after disasters. Three strikes and you’re out! I was wrong on all three counts.
The experts, the recovery teams, the bureaucrats – everyone is traumatised by disaster and have similar, but different, needs according to their circumstances. And yes, that includes us, as facilitators, too. Facilitators can contribute straight away, building the foundations for faster and more effective, recovery.
While there will always be a need for facilitation around large-scale, high profile disasters, there are everyday disasters too – happening in organizations and communities. Understanding the psychological and social impacts on individuals and groups helps us as facilitators to respond better and appropriately.
And for me, the most exciting of all, is the potential for facilitators to help build resilience and local capacity in groups and communities – so that if and when disaster occurs the group or community is prepared for psychosocial reconstruction.
Now there’s a term you may not of heard before. It simply means the reintegration of individual with community/group needs. During chronic or after acute trauma, individuals respond by reverting to survival mode. The longer individuals stay isolated and looking after themselves, the more likely they are to become dependent and adopt dysfunctional strategies to cope and suffer secondary crises.
The model developed by GFSC explores all of this and much, much more: individual needs and responses, leadership styles, approaches, skills, what to look out for and importantly, crisis intervention techniques – building rapport, the power of language, debriefing after a critical incident, building group resilience, suicide risk and referral (there are some things well outside the realm of facilitation and should be referred to professional therapists), avoiding conflict escalation (note – not avoiding conflict); and caring for ourselves and developing personal resilience.
Why facilitation? What do we bring that others don’t to these situations? It’s simply really – an understanding of the innate power of groups, the importance of participation and the belief that groups have within them the resources they need for whatever it is they need to do for survival, recovery and growth.
At any time during the recovery process people can slip into ineffective strategies to cope – and while this model looks linear, it’s not really. Understanding this model can be helpful in responding as a facilitator – recognising what individuals and groups are going through.