Tag Archives: facilitation

“Changing Academic Life”: extracts from a nomination statement

[I didn’t receive the award, but it was helpful to assemble what I’ve done in relation to a possible path ahead.]
“Most workshops are dysfunctional—this one wasn’t!” read an evaluation from the first New England Workshop on Science and Social Change (NewSSC), a 4-day workshop I have organized since 2004 around issues ranging from ecological restoration to public involvement in environmental health.[2] “I now know 13 other people I can go to for advice, encouragement, teaching help, ideas, collaboration, anything,” one 2008 participant wrote in her evaluation. Continue reading

Uptake and application of participation and collaboration skills (Day 4 of Learning road trip)

Discussion with Duncan Holmes and Jo Nelson at ICA Canada along the lines of “what have we learned about conditions that influence uptake and application of participation and collaboration skills learned in facilitated workshops.”

Reframed question: What makes people want to go through learning of tools and processes?
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Effective collaborators: Structural conditions vs. personal development

An exchange with a colleague leads me to note a contrasting “structural” approach on the issue of effective collaborators to the one presented in a recent series of posts, where I noted:

An effective collaborator draws on many skills and dispositions [listed in the posts].  We can cultivate these skills and dispositions through participation in suitable activities and through creative habits, such as always taking stock of what we did (and did not do) and planning ways to improve. Participants who cultivate themselves as collaborators can bring their skills and dispositions to any collaboration (or workshop, group process, etc.) they get involved in. To the extent that participants in a collaboration have been cultivating themselves as collaborators, the people organizing or facilitating the collaboration can expect their efforts to be more fruitful.

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Alternating between teacher and facilitator

Workshop at the meetings of the International Association of Facilitators, Toronto, Canada, April 27 – 30, 2000

Participation in a group process or workshop is easily stifled when participants perceive a facilitator to prefer some ideas and outcomes over others. When insights emerge from the participants themselves, they become more invested in the process and the outcomes. But what should teachers who use facilitation techniques some of the time in their classes do to be perceived as facilitating not directing the class. Conversely, what should facilitators of any kind of group do when they see that a crucial insight is not emerging? Continue reading

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