Questions for organisations working on momentum for sustainability

Originally written for the recertification process for the IAF Certified Professional Facilitator designation in 2016

How can organisations influence change in complex environments?

Most of our facilitation work is with mission-based organisations and NGOs, especially around sustainability. Our clients do important work, trying to change the world for better. However, they also know that fixed command-and-control plans do not take into account the ever-changing realities of their work. At the same time, they can also not be blind to the power structures and economic interests invested in the status quo:

  • How can they plan and build involvement over time so that we can make the world a better place?
  • And what facilitation approaches and questions will help them get there and break out of their old patterns?

How can we create effective interactions beyond the in-person meeting?

Instead of a fixed team in a fixed location, the groups we work with increasingly want to get stuff done in distributed teams and international networks of organisations and individuals. Of course, they will organise in-person meetings from time to time – but what systems, structures and processes can we create to facilitate connection and conversation when they are not in the same room?

For us, this exploration ranges from synchronous online meetings and chat rooms via staged multi-day online workshops to more open asynchronous online discussions and forums. While technology often works on the premise of the passive participant, I focus on designing processes that are fun to participate in and help the group to co-create meaningful outcomes together.

How can we build facilitation skills with colleagues and clients?

Co-facilitation is a powerful practice to increase reflection and learning from my own workshops. Doing so has given me the opportunity to pick up new ways of introducing sessions, increase the amount of visualization during the workshop and build and adapt agendas in a collaborative process. It’s also a good way to share facilitation knowledge and build capacity.

The question remains: If participatory processes are key to address today’s societal challenges, how can we train up more people to apply them? What are the barriers for their use and wider spread?

How can we improve the quality of our conversations?

Trust the wisdom of the group

Pay attention to possible tensions within the group, and between their current reality and their ambitions.

Include prompts and opportunities for these to surface during the meeting. Some of these will be taken up; others will be disregarded. No matter what frame you create, the group always has the last word on what happens.

Shape the flow of a process

Pay more attention to the overarching narrative of a process – finding metaphors for each element, and making sense that they seamlessly build onward to a bigger whole.

In online facilitated sessions, use tools and practices to ensure that all participants – independent of their technical capabilities – can see what is going on and contribute meaningfully to the conversation.

Help the group see themselves and their task in a new light, providing both new insights on the big picture and clarity on the next steps.

Questions for organisations working on momentum for sustainability
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