I recently had the pleasure of meeting Ed Rege (of PICO-Eastern Africa), an organizational development expert and a well-known facilitator in Africa and worldwide, and a former trainee of Sam Kaner. Ed also happens to be an ex ILRI-staff and not just any staff but a geneticist who rose to become the leader of ILRI’s global Biotechnology Program. His story about using facilitation is fascinating and his plans are big. Here below is the interview…
What is your understanding of what facilitation does, or is helpful for:
The biggest challenge facing institutions these days is the inability for people to speak with each other constructively, meaningfully and productively. And yet stakeholder engagements are increasingly seen as a critical tool for working together, strategizing and problem-solving. This is complicated by the fact the globalizing world means increased multicultural stakeholder mixes which raise issues about ‘understanding each other’, ‘are we going together?’. Facilitation helps people do their best thinking while taking into account their differences so it’s a big deal, at family level, in teams, in institutions and across institutions in partnerships.
What has been your personal trajectory in the world of facilitation and how are you using that skill now?
I find facilitation such a powerful tool in almost all aspects of my work (leadership training, strategy development, project development and implementation processes, etc.), but also in my personal relationships with individuals and family. Indeed, facilitation is useful in all manners of communication where there’s a need to discuss openly without shying away from the fear of hurting each other, or being misunderstood.
I use facilitation in various situations to make sure that people productive interactions e.g. in a bar conversation, in a family discussion, in office meetings etc. My trajectory has been to really popularize the use of facilitative skills in programs and organizations. In this regard we (PICO-EA) have had the opportunity to support various continental level processes. My vision is to help create a large number of competent facilitators that can support development processes in the continent – and eventually a pan-African community of practice on process facilitation.
What do you notice as interesting trends (if any) in the world of facilitation?
First of all, the recognition that facilitation is not something you pick and do but you need real training in, and the recognition that people need it to the point that institutions are bringing in experienced facilitators and trainers.
Secondly, even though you don’t need to be a content expert to support a process, it is increasingly clear that to be effective a facilitator needs to understand the key issues; one therefore needs to do some research in order to support meaningful conversations around issues. Good facilitators tend to be those that do that homework.
What are your plans in the future?
I have one big dream: that every institution, particularly in agriculture and rural development, have access to a facilitator physically and within their reach. We (PICO-Eastern Africa) are beginning to develop different kinds of facilitation training courses to make that happen. I would like, in the next five years, to be irrelevant – when we have a large enough number of good facilitators across the continent. The focus is on developing a pool of very good facilitators, particularly focusing on Africa, and to have a forum where these people share ideas and learn – the Community of Practice.
What would you advise young wannabe facilitators?
I would advise them first that they ensure they do a good training to be introduced to fundamental facilitation skills and secondly that they internalize and use facilitation as a life skill; and to increasingly use that in an integrated way, as a ‘way of life’ e.g. the way you manage your team, the way you are with your friends, etc. and this way you are practicing and improving through just about everything you do! It becomes second nature so you don’t have to struggle in a facilitation situation.
They should look for a mentor, for a mentoring that helps them look up to and study those problems, co-facilitate etc. so it really speeds up their confidence over time.
Any other thing you’d like to mention?
I’m now convinced that facilitation should not be considered as ‘another’ profession. We say that communication skills are needed by everyone (even though we do have communication experts). That is the way I feel about facilitation. That is a realisation that I really now value. It doesn’t matter if you are an architect, medical doctor etc. If you are working with a facilitative person, you will feel it. And since it doesn’t cost too much to become a facilitator why not pick up the skills and make it a practice in your life?