Box 2.7

Box 2.7 Facilitation – bringing methods to life

Author: Katie Finney

3,5 min read

The role of the facilitator has emerged as critical in multiple settings where people have come together seeking to create positive change in the world. Many now acknowledge the impact that an individual with the knowledge and skills of facilitation can have in guiding a group towards a shared goal: The facilitator is an aware and conscious listener, and a clear communicator, who understands group dynamics and provides process expertise, usually in the form of questions and suggestions. She/he grows meaningful relationships, participation, and collaboration, focuses a group on its purpose, and guides its development through organic cycles, using cooperative processes and collective decision-making. The idea of co-production recognizes the potential of bringing together different voices and forms of expertise and this often needs to find or create different ways to have a conversation that brings out the best of what everyone has to offer. .

In the following, we share insights from one of the Jam and Justice mini-projects developed within the Action Research Collective (ARC), called ‘GM Decides’ . GM Decides started as a project inspired by digital democratic innovation across the world, particularly Decidim in Barcelona – a digital platform for participatory decision-making. The GM Decides team wanted to know whether and how such an innovation could be realized in Greater Manchester (GM) and specifically how such a platform could be co-designed with and for women. A Partnership Group of women working in digital, community, and participation across Greater Manchester was formed by co-researcher members of the ARC.


There is no single method

One important outcome was insight into the facilitation of processes that enable participation in decision-making. These insights relate not to the methods used, but to the vital invisible understanding through which a facilitator chooses appropriate tools and methods and delivers them with powerful impact. Facilitators need to know what tools and methods they can use and how to develop the skills to deliver them, especially when groups of people often articulate competing agendas. However, there are numerous skills and options. A simple search on search engine Ecosia brings up 63,400,000 results for ‘facilitation methods’, and 18,900,000 ‘facilitation training’ options are discoverable online. Given this, it is an understandable response for facilitators to pick and choose their trusted approaches and prioritize the importance of one method or skill over others.


Valuing what we cannot see

When a facilitator knows how human psychology works – that our experience of life is created from the inside out through thought in the moment and that all people have innate mental health (Pransky, 2019) – they can be freed up to be responsive in the moment. This means they can serve the needs of the group to achieve their purpose. Realizing how experience is created shifts our state of mind; hence facilitators are better able to know when they are inside or outside the logic.

Facilitators can work without taking group dynamics and tensions personally. They can draw from the facilitator toolbox the most appropriate tools and methods to use in a given context – throwing the plan out of the window if needed.


Learning to let go

In the GM Decides process, we avoided taking changes in project direction and differing levels of participation personally. This experience demonstrated that, with clarity of mind, facilitators are able to let go of their own preconceived ideas of what a project should look like and set their own agendas aside, welcoming and supporting diversity of participation.

The methods used were creative, and outcomes unexpected. By emphasizing that the answers to the issues being examined lay with each of the GM Decides participants, it was possible to appreciate the expertise and contribution of each person. Holding this as true means that, in co-production practice, the roles of people from communities and all sectors become clearer, more constructive, and equally valued.


Taking it forward

Facilitation and co-production value expertise in its many and varied forms. Truly understanding that each person has innate capacity to contribute removes any personal or professional pressure. What we realize is that the facilitator is never really doing the work. It becomes clear that, as a facilitator, you are not responsible for, or concerned with, the outcome. When a facilitator knows that each person has innate capacity, they know that their true task is to consistently point people towards this fact – so that when people show up to tackle tricky challenges or develop new solutions, they apply their unique learned skills to maximum effect. For facilitators and all practitioners of social change, it is vital to look more closely in the direction of the invisible factors which bring life and effectiveness to the methods we choose.


Suggested readings

  • Banks, S. (1998) The Missing Link, International Human Relations Inc., Vancouver.
  • Bettinger, D. and Swerdloff, N. (2016) Coming Home: Uncovering the Foundations of Psychological Well-being, CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, Scotts Valley, CA
  • Neill, M. (2013) The Inside Out Revolution, Hay House, London.
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