This workshop was based on the book, "Managing Facilitated Processes", which was given to all participants. The workshop was fast-paced and content-laden, yet still provided many opportunities for interaction with other group participants. We started by looking at 18 different processes, or types of meetings, and discussing what types we were most familiar with. The range of experience in the room was inspiring and because we then knew our group members' area of expertice, we were able to get more out of our interactions with them. The faculty working groups (FWGs) that consume most of my time fall into the category of a consultation, with elements of a think tank. One theme that ran through the day was that in all cases, the facilitator must be careful to customize the activites to get the best results. So, although the text presents 18 processes, in reality these are only guidelines and meeting a specific objective may require a combination. Another theme that we returned to throughout the day was the approach to preparing for facilitation:
The facilitator's approach must be:
- Integrated Facilitators must control the design of the process to ensure it will meet the desired outcomes; they must facilitate the day to ensure the process works; and they must manage all other items that might impact the process including logistical issues, room setup, and expectations of what can be achieved. The process includes what needs to happen before the actual session, what will happen during the session, and what follow up needs to occur to ensure that objectives are met.
- Customized The process must be customized to the objectives required by the client. Facilitators need to consider not only the outcomes, but the participants required to meet the outcomes, the make-up of groups that may be required or have an interest, cultural issues if the facilitation is bringing together diverse groups, or take the facilitator out of their own culture, and literacy issues, especially where public consultation may be required (can the participants read the materials?).
- Systematic Facilitators need to be thorough. The use of prompters, many of which the text provides, can help to ensure that details are not overlooked.
We then discussed agreements and the importance of clarifiying exactly what the client wants. As a facilitator, I need to clarify with not only the Dean and other sponsors of the FWG, but with the faculty participants exactly what is expected. When discussing what type of objective is to be met, clients often use terminology that is incorrect and so the facilitator needs to be careful to clarify what they are being asked to do. For example, a client may ask for a consultation, when in reality they want a think tank. The needs of either in terms of who to invite and how to structure the meeting will differ. In my FWGs, the objectives require a combination of both, which in turn requires some customization.
The question of personal style was very interesting. For example, in my facilitation with the FWGs, I use SharePoint to manage documents and capture the day's proceedings in Word, which is projected on a screen. This is very convenient because as I type out comments, everyone can see what I am writing thus providing a strong measure of transparency. This also means that at the end of the day, I am finished - I do not need to go away and type up notes and try to remember what I meant by notes which may be, at times, rather cryptic. However, I also need to be aware that some people may not be familiar or comfortable with this style. So, I need to take care to ensure that people are able to follow what I am doing by explaining what they are looking at and clarifying what difficulties they may have with my style. Generally, the point of this chapter was to raise awareness that the facilitator's style might not be suitable for a particular group of participants and that they need to be prepared to change their style to accommodate the participants if need be.
Careful attention needs to be paid to the participant list. This, of course, is entirely dependant on the type of session that is being held. Types of participants may include speakers, experts, members of the public, supervisors / decision makers, or stakeholders. The facilitator must also consider the motivation for a participant to attend. In the case of the FWGs, the faculty members may have volunteered out of self-interest, or they may have been 'voluntold' by their Academic Chair. Once they are on the FWg, then their presence is required and so they need to understand that they have made a coimmitment to be there. So, for each participant the facilitator needs to persuade, inform and engage in order to ensure their presence. In the case of invited speakers, the facilitator must be careful to ensure that the speaker knows what their topic is, the length of time expected and other parameters which will guide them to be appropriate.
Throughout the session, we were given prompters which help to ensure that facilitators are considering all aspects of a particular issue. One that I found especially useful was for documentation. It covers a document inventory of types (agenda, rationale, glossary, etc.), how to distribute them (electronically via email or a website, snail mail), when (before, during or after), and why (commuicate goals, presents needs, invite feedback etc.).