Why do participants become more invested in a facilitated process and the outcomes when their voice is heard?

During a workshop on “Open Spaces for Changing Science and Society,” I came across a proto-blog entry of mine from 9 years ago:

5 May 02
Facilitation training teaches one that participants become more invested in the process and the outcomes when insights emerge from themselves, when their voice is heard. (One of the outcomes, is an interest in participating in further group process.) I extend this principle about group process to reflection processes, such as freewriting, that allow a person to bring to the surface insights that they were not, at first, prepared to acknowledge. (See http://www.faculty.umb.edu/pjt/journey.html)

Q1: What is it about being a person that makes this the case?

This question might make more sense if we ask another question, Q2: why can’t a person become just as invested in a well-thought out plan that others with more experience and knowledge had produced?

One answer to Q2 is that there is often a backlash against innovations and change, a backlash that reveals people’s fear.

Q3: What leads to people having fear that gets in the way of their intelligence?

One answer to Q3 depends on noting that people have a backlog of fear that they haven’t processed from previous experiences (see Weissglass, “Constructivist Listening,” 1990) and are constantly operating on top of this, keeping it suppressed. If anything starts to open that Pandora’s box, it is scary and it feels safer to close it again.

One kind of answer to Q1 then is that in well-facilitated participation the person is getting more in touch with their intelligence, seeing how a web of support can be built, and noticing what that feels like before fear has a chance to get in the way.

Q4: What kind of group process could we invent that would build a support structure for each individual as they try to make changes (that is, not only when they participate in group processes such as participatory planning)?

One answer is the circle of elders in which say 6 people listen to a person’s problem of the moment and then the person listens to the responses, which are not supposed to take the form of direct advice. (Does anyone have a source for this?)

Others? Or adaptations of this?


Weissglass, J. (1990). “Constructivist listening for empowerment and change.” The Educational Forum 54(4): 351-370


About Peter J. Taylor
Peter Taylor is a Professor at the University of Massachusetts Boston where he teaches and directs undergraduate and graduate programs on critical thinking, reflective practice, and science-in-society. His research and writing focuses on the complexity of environmental and health sciences in their social context, incl. Unruly Complexity: Ecology, Interpretation, Engagement (U. Chicago Press, 2005) and Nature-nurture? No (2014, http://bit.ly/NNN2014). On reflective practice, see Taking Yourself Seriously: Processes of Research & Engagement (with J. Szteiter, 2012, http://bit.ly/TYS2012).

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