This can seem like an impossible thing, these days… even as it’s clear that we, especially here in the U.S., need it more than ever! Yet many of us know from experience that it is indeed possible, though it often takes real incentives to bring people to the table in the first place. And even when that larger context is present, it still takes time, energy, and resources to create shared understanding and arrive at some joint steps forward.
The Dynamic Facilitation work I’ve been practicing since 2000, can be a useful tool for those of us who feel called to the work of bridge-building. It makes it easier for a group of people to become curious about differences, rather than threatened by them. And it turns a situation of potential conflict, into an opportunity to get creative, together.
I’m deeply grateful for my training in this work, and I have received a lot of appreciation over the years for my work as a facilitator. And my deepest joy is helping people learn this practice. At the same time, there’s a lot I don’t know…. and this is where I could really use some help.
I’m still learning how to communicate with others about the essence of this work… still figuring out how to get the word out and who to connect with, in order to help this work spread and grow. And, I am still learning how to ask for help with all this. Any input and ideas you may have to offer, will be most appreciated!
Along these lines, here’s an insight I had recently, about something I was not doing very effectively… and the subsequent learning that came from this realization. Earlier this year, in February 2016, I offered a one-day workshop in Asheville, North Carolina, called “Creative Conversations Across Differences“. The workshop had a few different layers to it; in addition to being an intro for newcomers to this work, it was also an opportunity for people who have been learning Dynamic Facilitation for some time, to practice their skills and receive coaching.
Overall, it was quite an energizing gathering. For the “hot topic” of the day, the group chose the following cluster of questions: “How do we limit the influence of money in politics? Does our vote count? What is the influence of government in our lives?” We had an intense, passionate, heartfelt conversation about this topic, with three different practitioners taking turns facilitating.
Our harvest from that day doesn’t quite capture the creative and non-linear nature of this process, a we do a “light sort” afterward and group the contributions by theme. As a result, the harvest ends up looking more organized and less spontaneous than the experience of the process in real-time. Nonetheless, as you can gather from the document, it was a powerful, broad-ranging conversation. Participants were deeply moved, and I wish I’d captured some of the comments from that closing circle.
Ok, fast-forward to a few weeks ago… my husband and I were attending a multi-day workshop on another powerful methodology called Constellations, when I ran into a fellow participant who had attended my one-day workshop in North Carolina. She was a newcomer to my work, and that had been her first exposure to it. When we talked about it briefly, she referred to it as “that active listening workshop you offered…”
Huh?? My jaw nearly dropped, to hear my work described that way… sure, “active listening” is a part of what we do, but it’s FAR from the whole story…
And then I realized, that this was my responsibility. There was something significant here that I needed to learn. During that one-day workshop, I had not given participants a simple way to “hold” or “frame” their experience. This person had simply picked out one feature that she recognized, and now was using it to refer to the whole of that experience.
That afternoon, I sketched out the following chart. Yes, ‘active listening’ (I prefer to call it ‘heart-centered listening’, for reasons I won’t go into here) is ONE of the four main things we do. However, we are also actively harvesting each contribution. Beyond that, we are actively welcoming and protecting each of the divergent perspectives that are present in the group… while at the same time, actively inviting and drawing out each person’s creativity.
By engaging in all four of these movements, we facilitate the emergence of what Jim Rough, the founder of Dynamic Facilitation, calls a “choice-creating” process. I like to describe this as a spacious and welcoming thinking environment, where creative thinking and critical thinking can co-exist, together, without squelching each other or stepping on one another’s toes. At the same time, we are also harvesting in rich detail, the valuable work we are doing together… something that, in my opinion, happens far too little in many dialogical processes.
Of course, while energizing, this experience can also be somewhat of a let-down afterward, especially if we have just engaged in a high-level conversation with a one-off group that has come together for a demo evening or for a one-day workshop, and that won’t necessarily be continuing to work together on a concrete project. (This is one reason I much prefer offering three-day workshops.)
Still, I would hope that a short-term exposure shows people what is possible… and what they could do, in an ongoing way, as a part of their own groups and organizations, if they chose to develop the in-house capacity to support this kind of work.
And so, I’m curious… for those of you who have experienced the Dynamic Facilitation (DF) process, how well does the above diagram communicate and hold the essence of this work? Is there something you might add to it, or a tweak you would want to offer?
Of course, DF is not the only group facilitation methodology I use. Recently, post-election, my husband and I facilitated a community gathering where we led a Constellations-centered exploration on the topic of connecting with family members of different political persuasions; a few years ago, a friend and I hosted a community-wide World Cafe gathering, on the use of empathy in conflict de-escalation and school safety. Circle process, Future Search, action research, Open Space Technology, Deep Democracy — each of these (and many more) has its own gifts to offer.
Yet in many situations, Dynamic Facilitation can be a highly useful tool for exploring challenging and controversial topics in a creative and engaging manner. Recently, another friend hosted a small gathering for people who wanted to learn about how this work is being used for participatory public policy processes in Europe. Since our gathering turned out to be post-election, the demo topic we facilitated was, “How do we organize in an effective way, in the current political situation?” (This time, we did capture participants’ comments afterward…)
Other examples from the last few years include a conversation on “Wind Power in Vermont“and one on “Extending the Rail Line into the Berkshires“. Naively, in both cases I was initially unsure whether either of these topics would be sufficiently controversial; yet each time, participants assured me that they would be, and of course they were right. However, per usual, participants greatly enjoyed the conversation and would have gladly continued beyond the 60 -75 minute time-frame of the demo.
It seems to me that this is “enjoyment” factor is significant; part of the reason we have such difficulties in our country is that so many of us do not enjoy “political” conversations, because of how unpleasant they can so easily become. I’ve been developing a strong hunch that these harvests alone, do not adequately convey the “flavor” of Dynamic Facilitation in action; my new plan is to do whatever possible to hire a video person whenever I do either a demo or a workshop, to gather more visual testimonies.
I’ll wrap up with some harvests from more extended conversations. This conversation on race and class was from a day-long workshop in Asheville in 2015, where participants explored the same topic in both morning and afternoon sessions. And this harvest, on “Bridging Divides to Create a Better Future for Our Children”, was from multi-day, multi-layer event in Durham, NC in 2015.
My next question is mostly rhetorical… doesn’t it seem to you, that this work is needed now, more than ever?? Maybe I am simply asking for encouragement… Even though I greatly enjoy the work I do, for whatever constellation of reasons, this journey has often felt far too solitary and unrewarding. I believe and trust that this may be changing; at the same time, my learning to ask for help more easily, may well be a key part of this change…
Which brings me to my last question: beyond just “keep on, keeping on”… assuming you agree that this work is needed, what ideas do you have, about how to share it with others in more effective ways? I’m delighted to hear that the work keeps growing in Austria and in Germany… yet what might we do, to help it grow here, in the U.S.?
Here is my landing page for my next upcoming workshop in Maine in April; any insight and input about how to better communicate with those who could benefit from this work, will be most gladly appreciated…
in closing… thank you so much for your support and encouragement over the years.
And may you and your family, enjoy a meaningful holiday season…
with much love,