Constituency building and group facilitation

18-minute video = Unscripted thoughts about the relationship between constituency building and group facilitation in Action Research,

We Know More Than We Are, At First, Prepared To Acknowledge

We Know More Than We Are, At First, Prepared To Acknowledge: Journeying to Develop Critical Thinking, a paper from 2002, is now available at Read more of this post

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?

1.  People are frustrated and cynical about what has happened in the past.  Ask: Why?  What do you want?

2. Curiousity + playfulness

Other ICA developments noted in the discussion:

  • ICA asks a facilitator to define the rational and experiential aims of the process.  Rational is synonymous with knowing, i.e., what will be learned.  Experiential is synonymous with existential—how will the process affect your way of being.
  • Grouping or clustering of post-its in Strategic planning is looking for the gestalt.  The process is like doing a jigsaw puzzle.  The pieces (post-its) are a mess at the start.  You begin by finding edges, then pieces that fit together, then you start seeing what the jigsaw puzzle is a picture of.  If you find a piece is left out, you work to see where it fits in.
  • Strategic Participatory Planning has been carried out over a year at Ontario Institute for Studies in Education and is now happening in the Education College at Brock University.  The picture of the process is no longer on the OISE website, but see here for a link to the outcome.

(Start of road trip; forward to Day 5 morning)

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.

In contrast, a facilitator could create the conditions (or rules or structure or process) for collaboration, which facilitates participants being more collaborative without asking them to change their behavior—or having to draw explicit attention to the cultivation of collaborators.  There is a “which comes first, chicken or egg?” aspect to this, given that rules or structure or process work better when there are at least some participants who already have developed the skills and dispositions I list.  At the same time, one way to cultivate those skills and dispositions is through well-facilitated demonstration or real-life activities.

Nevertheless, people who write books on group process and facilitation, e.g., Senge et al. 5th Discipline Fieldbook, do not give much emphasis to the cultivation of collaborators.  Most weight is put on creating the conditions for collaboration among whoever signs up for or is roped into the group process a facilitator is leading.  (Readers should point me to works that disturb this assertion of mine.)  If a facilitator has confidence in handling all-comers, then it is simpler to set a small set of guiding themes, such as balance advocacy with inquiry, or start from concrete observables and don’t climb quickly up the ladder of inference.  My longer listing of skills and dispositions of effective collaborators would then seem unnecessarily complicated.  Let me just say, however, that I want some more eggs with my chickens.

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? Read more of this post

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

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

Teacher-Student-Subject interactions (schema)

Teacher-Student-Subject interactions (schema in development in 1997-98)


Collective project

      = “course” or “subject”
    + supporting each other to maximum yield, i.e., the best work in the circumstances


  • establishes some parameters
    • assessment & grading system [note]
    • course is a collective project in addition to individual projects
    • core case studies & activities
    • proposes ideal sequence to final paper/ report/ product
    • expectations
    • framing, e.g., courses with PT are high in abstract conceptualization
  • provides resources from experience
    • case studies [note]
    • critical heuristics/ angles of illumination [note]
    • other tools, e.g.,
      • writing
        • freewriting
        • direct writing
      • sharing & responding
      • mapping
    • binders
      • newspaper clippings
      • assignments of previous students
      • previous reports
    • websites
    • bibliographic suggestions, website addresses & contacts
  • reads & listens, i.e., is an audience
  • models
    • critical thinking
    • reciprocal animation
    • heterogeneous re/construction
    • learning, listening, facilitating, providing resources
  • learns, i.e, is a student also
    • current issues include…
    • on-going issues include….
    • conducts course evaluations that are useful for learning
  • facilitates
    • switches hats from teacher role
      to allow student insights to emerge & synergize

last updated 24 june 1998

“a chasm between a world others had built for him and his own not yet formed. It is this gap which mentors often serve to bridge.” Common Fire, p. 89.

Example of assessment scheme from a workshop research course

“Sense-making” to contextualize or to respond to written and spoken work

Brief reasons for experiencing/ experimenting with a structured planning process in a seminar course
Basic propositions of the ICA workshop process

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