Of ‘healthy human systems’ beyond ‘the field’ and facilitating conversations that change the world: an interview with Sam Kaner and Nelli Noakes

Agile KM for me... and you?

Wearing my 'Suspend your judgment' suspenders provided by Community at Work (Credits: EIB) Wearing my ‘Suspend your judgment’ suspenders provided by Community at Work (Credits: EIB)

I can gladly say I am now one of the 4500 or so people that have been privileged to be formally trained by Sam Kaner and Nelli Noakes of Community at work on ‘Group facilitation skills – Putting participatory values into practice’. And it was a hell of an experience!

So what a fantastic opportunity for me to interview them on what they see as ‘facilitation’ and how they see it evolve, as well as the connections they see with knowledge management. 

No more word from me now, just enjoy… 

Do you see some fundamental trends in facilitation practice over the recent past?

Sam Kaner (SK) When “group facilitation” originated, it was one component in a deeper insight about the powerful role of face-to-face groups as a transformative medium for changing the culture of the organization or community.  The skills…

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A good idea for today and everyday: paraphrasing

Agile KM for me... and you?

Paraphrasing always had a negative connotation for my French ears. Like beating around the bush or repeating things without value.

I know a much better meaning now: it’s a cornerstone of listening and learning.

I’ve been in this wonderful course from Sam Kaner about facilitation and participatory decision making. Quality stuff! And one of the first skills we learnt was paraphrasing.

Paraphrase, mirror, mimic each other, create a connection and have fun! (Credits: Arnold Newman / Getty Images) Paraphrase, mirror, mimic each other, create a connection and have fun! (Credits: Arnold Newman / Getty Images)

This technique is useful for events and any piece of work involving people conversing, in fact even for personal life.

Essentially it’s about interpreting what someone said to check we understood. Sometimes it’s just mirroring (repeating), sometimes drawing the person to say more, or even ask others t osay more about the same topic. Obvious you would think! All the more so as facilitators. Yes, I do it often,  but not systematically…

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And then it struck me: MUSIC!!!

Agile KM for me... and you?

How could I not think of this one before? How come two overwhelming parts of my brain – learning process facilitation and music – did not connect earlier properly?

While relaxing from the last of three events in a row in Nairobi this week, I ended up chatting with our graphic facilitation duo (check their wonderful work at that event here), one of these artists confessed that of all the elements that make up a perfect event (missing the references for this here – do you know?), he enjoyed our event very much, but really missed one aspect: music!

Now, I’ve been an avid music collector for the past 25 to 30 years, amassing treasured beats, melodies and quirky noise experiments from around the world, across genres, for different moods, on different beats, for different purposes, in different languages, using different instruments. Or none… Over the equivalent of several…

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Killing my darlings: the workshop

Agile KM for me... and you?

Last week I facilitated a really hectic workshop on the fascinating topic of ‘community-based adaptation (to climate change) and resilience in the East and Southern African Drylands‘. A number of us (in the organising team) wondered at a point or another if the workshop was the best venue to create new meaning around this complex topic.

Workshops... are they still any good to express ourselves and create new meaning? (Credits: UNAMID / FlickR) Workshops… are they still any good to express ourselves and create new meaning? (Credits: UNAMID / FlickR)

Simultaneously – aaah serendipity… – my friend Amanda Harding posted about ‘Reinventing the workshop‘, giving the example of an event (that suspiciously looked like a writeshop, if you ask me though).

Perhaps ‘workshops’ are indeed past their prime?

And since change is here to stay and we have to facilitate it, one of the things we’ll have to do on a regular basis is to kill our darlings, our pet ideas and approaches…

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Facilitation and collective action back on the menu… big time!

Agile KM for me... and you?

(Disclaimer for Nadia, Russell and others who commented on this post [and see feedback/results here by the way]: This post was drafted before and thus does not yet reflect some of the changes that I hope to bring into this blog based on your collective feedback…)

Lots of different happenings in the world of event/process facilitation as far as I’m concerned – lots of useful links and ideas that might inspire you too…

Graphic Facilitation with Nancy White (Credits: Gauri Salokhe / FlickR) Graphic Facilitation with Nancy White (Credits: Gauri Salokhe / FlickR)

I’ve finally gotten into reading ‘The surprising power of liberating structures‘, and what a platinum mine of useful reflections, methods, tips, designs etc. a real gem for all collective action process (and event) facilitators… It’s perhaps the best recent thing I can think about that might help me revive the post collection ‘The Chemistry of Magical Facilitation

I’ve been following some…

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(You’re not welcome) On the dark side of co-facilitation

Agile KM for me... and you?

Facilitation (Credits - VisualPunch / FlickR) Facilitation (Credits – VisualPunch / FlickR)

Meanwhile, another excellent KM4Dev conversation is raging, on the topic of defining ‘what a facilitator is‘.

Among other contributions, my fellow facilitator, KM4Dev mate and friend Nancy White shared a list of issues related to the dark side of facilitation…

The real life and dark sides of a facilitator below. I’m sure there are a few people here who can add to this list. 😉

Nancy

  • called in after everything is really messed up (tip: build relationships before client lists)
  • is not briefed on the deeper, real and often problematic issues (“Oh, this is a fantastic group.” Right! Tip: develop a good set of questions to help discern the issues)
  • is asked to facilitate, but not included in design of a (really bad) agenda (tip: refuse to do this unless the designer was brilliant!)
  • runs into very interesting gender issues that are…

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All the mistakes you make, all the promises you break… in your events

Agile KM for me... and you?

Always make new mistakes (Credits - Elycefeliz) Always make new mistakes (Credits – Elycefeliz)

Should’ve seen it coming a lot earlier… that mistake that was so familiar when it happened again. Or rather: those mistakes

I just ended a streak of five events in four weeks to facilitate in the past four weeks and when repetition happens, the danger of the auto-mode is glowing in the dark.

Auto-mode is the enemy of learning, it’s the number one factor for breaking promises to improve. I make all my mistakes with events when I end up revisiting that dreaded auto-square 1.

So, upon the excellent inspiration from Amanda Harding, a fellow facilitator who helped me out on the last event I designed and steered, I decided to jot down a list of some dreaded intellectual and practical roundabouts I wish to avoid in future events.

Pack too much

This is my one consciously blind spot…

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Reducing complexity to a workshop? Wake & step up!

Agile KM for me... and you?

Workshops are just like stepping stones on our sense-making and trust-building pathways (Credits - Xeeliz / FlickR) Workshops are just like stepping stones on our sense-making and trust-building pathways (Credits – Xeeliz / FlickR)

A short shoot post today. The white screen syndrome is kinda hitting me at the moment. But one thing is coming to mind: the delusion of packing the complexity of multi-faceted, multi-stakeholder, multi-perspective programs into planning activities in a planning workshop of one, two or even three days.

I have recently facilitated a number of workshops (some of them listed here) for initiatives that integrate very different disciplines and arguably worldviews: social science, biophysical science, economics, mixing different fields of expertise in one same agricultural stream.

Almost every time we schedule such planning workshops, the commissioners’ expectations are that we will be able to come up with a neat action plan. This is where the delusion starts.

We can achieve a neat action plan in one workshop:

  • When we have a…

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The chemistry of magical facilitation (2b) – And play more with the BOSSY HERALD!

Agile KM for me... and you?

Participants: Who are they? What are they coming for? (credits: ILRI)

In the second part of this second chapter on the chemistry of magical (event) facilitation, I will examine the attendance (the participants), the location and the dynamics of the event, the other three crucial elements to make the HERALD play for you, as well as the matter at hand: the content.

Attendance (the participants)

The people that participate to your event are perhaps the most important and delicate part behind the success (or failure) of your entire event because you can prepare and mould every other bit of the event, but not your participants.

So when looking at your attendance, think about: presence, profile and relation (both now and after the event).

Presence of participants
Presence relates both to their physical and to their emotional/intellectual presence.

First of all, you need the physical presence of your participants. How many are planning to come? How many are effectively coming? There are…

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Harnessing the power of introverts – a LinkedIn discussion

Agile KM for me... and you?

Introverts are definitely the talk of town then… After a last post touching upon the matter of introverts and social media, I landed in a fascinating LinkedIn discussion about introverts and how to facilitate workshops so as to harness their power.

Emma Konopka started this conversation on the basis of a blog post and of  the TedTalk video below:

“…what (more) I could do to make sure introverts have a voice in workshops, and whether/how I could build in some solitude in my sessions. What do you do? And what do you think of the TED Talk?”

About 18 rich responses came in from 14 different people. I hereby attempt to summarize them according to the main patterns of the conversation.

Susan Cain: The power of introverts (the TED talk which triggered the discussion)

Who are introverts?

Clearly there was some ambiguity as to what is meant with being…

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