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Group Facilitation

Meetings, workshops and conferences bring people together for a shared purpose. However, organisers of such events all too often focus on the content and practicalities of the event – ‘Who should be invited? Where will it be held? What will be discussed?’ – with little detailed attention given to the actual purpose in fostering such collaboration – 'Why are people participating? How diverse are our participants? Does this event and its design provide the best possible chance of achieving its original purpose?'

Perhaps this is not too surprising as such meta-processes are often unnoticed or undervalued. This is where iFacilitate excels - we are passionate about working with group process and enabling constructive group interactions. 

At iFacilitate, we work with you to agree purpose, design the event to ensure that it is fit for that purpose, and evaluate its achievements. We ensure that the event design enables all participants to interact constructively with each other, to engage fully with the subject matter, and to contribute productively. We can also take care of all the practicalities of managing the event. We are experienced in working face-to-face, online, or a combination of both.

The participants at your meeting, workshop or conference will leave your event feeling that their time has been effectively used, and having realised a number of tangible outcomes such as:

  •         development of new relationships and strengthening of existing ones;
  •         attainment of shared perspectives and learning on topics of common interest or concern;
  •         evolution of creative approaches to problem-solving and discovery of new ideas and projects;
  •         agreement on actions, plans, and ways to move forward.

Group Facilitation at work...

Collaborating and facilitating at a 4-day international workshop in Croatia

This 4-day international workshop, titled ‘Toward a Platform for Motivated and Gifted Youth’, was organised by the Science and Society Synergy Institute (S3I), Čakovec, Croatia in February 2012. It was financed by the Youth in Action programme of the British Council and attended by 50 participants from Croatia, Serbia, France, Hungary, Slovenia, and the United Kingdom. The meeting brought together educators, science promoters, educational researchers, and policy-makers from organisations that support the development of young people. The aim was to share practice, to learn from each other, and to explore the potential for collaboration and for making joint funding bids.

Elizabeth of iFacilitate was invited to support the process and help in the facilitation of its sessions. In the preparatory phase, she supported the planning of the overall workshop, provided advice for the other moderators, and created a detailed design for the final day action planning.

In addition Elizabeth was asked to take over facilitation on Day 3 when the scheduled moderators were unable to attend. With little time to plan, a straightforward approach was needed – Elizabeth gave participants the opportunity to self-organise into small groups and select topics of interest to them, providing a framework and means for capturing key points emerging from the discussions.

Design and facilitation of the action planning day (Day 4)

Elizabeth drew up a detailed facilitator’s design plan for Day 4 in order to ensure the stated aims of the day were met and that actions were agreed upon. During the first three days, she had recorded and compiled the outputs that came out of presentations, discussions, and recordings so that they could be used by participants during this action planning day. As not all participants were able to stay for the final day, and with some new participants arriving for the action planning only, the availability of Elizabeth’s recordings in an accessible format was invaluable.

Elizabeth designed the process to allow newcomers to integrate and for the group collectively to form a cohesive working unit. As well as handouts, she provided pre-prepared flipchart templates that helped to structure the discussions and to capture feedback. Discussions included exploring shared and differing understandings of ‘gifted’ and ‘motivated’, and evaluating similarities and differences between the different organisations represented in the room.

Ultimately participants identified and prioritised a number of actions for more in-depth consideration, and developed further ideas on how they may progress them. Elizabeth provided a compilation of all recordings which informed the 4-day event's final report and supported the programme in taking forward its outputs.   

 
Feedback from participants of the action planning day:

 "Today I feel that I found the way to enrich our project significantly."

 "I’m happy that we got some well-defined action ideas drafted."

 "You have really put a lot of effort into the preparation. It is nice to meet a professional facilitator." 

Organising and facilitating a workshop between academics and practitioners in the UK

In June 2012 Elizabeth of iFacilitate designed and facilitated a workshop that brought together 25 participants from academic and practitioner backgrounds with a shared interest and involvement in the teaching and learning of peace and conflict studies. Elizabeth secured funding from the Higher Education Academy (UK) to organise this workshop, which was hosted by the Open University in their London office. She was supported by a very able colleague and co-facilitator, Lesley Adams.

The opportunity to meet and discuss their work and roles was welcomed by those attending and considered very timely. All participated readily in the activities of the day, which included sharing personal perspectives of their perceived position on the 'academic-practitioner' continuum, a concept that in itself provoked some lively discussion. They then explored strengths, weaknesses, needs and opportunities of their roles and areas of work, as well as shared thinking on their approaches to teaching in the field of peacebuilding and conflict management. Participants addressed the question: 'Is there a need for a clearer definition of what peacebuilding is, and of the core competencies needed by professionals who work in the field?'

 

A strong recurrent theme that emerged from the workshop was the willingness and enthusiasm among participants for greater interaction and productive collaboration between academics and practitioners. Suggestions going forward included organising academic-practitioner exchange events, a shared forum for peer review, involvement of practitioners in academic course design and delivery, and joint research projects.

 

Comments contained within participant evaluations:

"Today I feel that I have participated in a very interesting workshop, and for the first time I dealt with the practice/academic research divide."

"Today I met very interesting people, become aware of a range of different viewpoints and approaches, and found the informal and formal aspects stimulating."

"This was a very well planned and participative meeting of minds. Enjoyable and clear in its intention."

"Thank you for putting this together. Very useful and more of these please."  

Elizabeth has used the findings from this event to inform her ongoing practice as a facilitator, mediator and tutor.  She has collaborated with a colleague to produce a working paper entitled Bridging Theory and Practice: the Potential Role of Peace and Conflict Studies in Higher Education’ [pdf] and was invited to participate in a panel at a conference in Israel in 2015, on exploring ‘Bridging Theory and Practice of Creative Conflict Engagement’. Such work has influenced her approach to writing educational materials, such as that for the Open University, and recent client work which drew on the academic literature to inform practice in strategy development and in innovation.

Facilitating the Soliya Connect programme

Soliya is an organisation that strives to create opportunities for constructive dialogue though use of a virtual exchange platform. Elizabeth of iFacilitate successfully completed its advanced facilitator training programme, and subsequently facilitated the organisation's Connect programme during 2016’s Spring and Autumn semesters. Since 2003 Soliya has implemented the Connect programme in over 100 universities, covering 28 countries across Europe, the Middle East, North Africa, North America, and South Asia.

Through online dialogue, Elizabeth worked with a co-facilitator in supporting students in their engagement with one another, committing two hours a week for a period of eight weeks. Students were spread across the globe and, with individuals coming from Italy, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Pakistan, Turkey, and the USA. The process enables students to gain a deeper understanding of the perspectives of others on important – and at times contentious – socio-political issues, and to develop their critical thinking, cross-cultural communication, and media literacy skills.

Such work has extended Elizabeth’s ability to support online interaction and to enable communication between those from diverse backgrounds and cultures. English is the common language of use but is not the first language for all participants. Thus, care is needed to ensure understanding, particularly when dealing with sensitive issues. Her work in Teaching English as a Second Language (TESOL) is providing Elizabeth with further insights and ideas on approaches to supporting effective communication in such contexts.