Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Tips for Multi-Everything Facilitation

Just got back from an exhilarating multi-country, multi-disciplinary, multi-stakeholder, multi-language planning workshop. So much "multi" can make workshop planning quite an adventure: Will the participants understand each other, across cultures, disciplines, languages and perspectives? Will those who come with the money listen to those who come with the expertise? Will the participants reach any agreement or useful conclusions within a short (2-day) spell of time? In the end, things appeared to work out beautifully. I see three major factors for such success:

  • Careful preparation: For every workshop day, I invested some three preparation days - reading background materials; talking to participants representing all the different perspectives that would be at the workshop to find out about expectations and worries; writing up a workshop plan and sharing its different steps with the participants. (And even with all this preparation time, I missed out on a few issues that needed to be dealt with when the workshop started!) But even before the facilitator came in, the organisers made sure that those invited to the workshop were the people who worked on the subject matter and could decide on behalf of their organisations.
  • Full, balanced participation:  To make sure no single voice would dominate the discussion, we agreed that some participants from an organisation that was over-represented at the meeting would be observers and note-takers. The gender balance was quite good, with men only slightly over-represented. The facilitation techniques encouraged every single participant to express herself/ himself calmly. The observers had opportunities to share their feed-back with all, helping me to adapt facilitation to the perceived needs. 
  • High quality interpretation: Yes, conference interpreters are "expensive", but working with a professional translation team is the easiest way to make sure those who don't speak the dominant language can contribute fully to the workshop. Where no professional translation team is available, plan for plenty of extra time for informal, consecutive translation; and intersperse the workshop with small group work in language groups. 
Most importantly, the basic rule for any workshop is: it's the participants' workshop, and every single participant who has agreed to give their time and attention to the workshop deserves the same attention, and has the same right to shape the  discussions. If facilitators and organisers respect this principle, half of the work is done. The other half is swift, effective follow-up!

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