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Deepening Facilitation: Report Back on ‘Facilitating Change’ Week in Wales

 

A Photo from a previous visit to a nearby area in Wales

 

We the People, We the material 

It’s been about a month since I returned from a challenging, yet exhilarating week in rural Wales. There were about 25 of us – most of us were from the UK, and some from other parts of Europe. When people come together, I am excited about the possibilities that exist, and the extent to which those possibilities are tapped depends, in part, on how the group is facilitated. 

At this gathering, called ‘Facilitating Change‘ we had come to explore deeper, more inclusive ways to facilitate groups. It felt like a landmark event, whose ripples are yet to be widely felt. It was organised by Seeds for Change, Rhizome, and Tripod

Everyone participating had some experience in facilitating groups. Some participants also had experience in training others to facilitate. However, perhaps the most profound difference between this gathering and other facilitation training I have been on, was not the level of experience of participants – even though the level here was high – but that at this gathering we focussed almost entirely on the relationships between our selves: WE were the material! – living together, eating together, facilitating together, reflecting on our and each other’s patterns, and participating together – for a whole week.


The Magnifying Glass: Mainstream, Margins, and more..

 
A central focus during this rich time we spent together was reflecting on mainstreams and margins within groups, focussing not on groups out there, but on our group that had gathered for the week. What are the mainstream values, attitudes and behaviours, for example, in our group? And which values, attitudes, and behaviours are being marginalised… perhaps unconsciously? 

Related to this, we explored rank, power and privilege, developing awareness of our own rank in the group, how we used our power, or allowed others to step into theirs. I am speaking here from my own understanding.

There was no set formula, and a range of approaches were used to experientially explore the concepts: from ‘Process Work’, to ‘Forum theatre’, to Joanna Macy’s ‘The Work that Reconnects’, to the various methods more commonly used in the tool-kit of grassroot facilitators, whether small group work, paired work or exercises within the larger group. Some sessions hit the mark more than others. But each offered much learning. The variety made it both interesting, and for me, very effective.
  
 
Participants become the facilitators
 
The sessions on the first day-and-a-half were facilitated by the organisers. Thereafter, much of the facilitation was passed to us, the participants, and we would facilitate in pairs. After the previous session had ended, there would be space for some feedback to the pair who had facilitated it. The group as a whole would then consider where we are at now: “What is the diagnosis?”, What is emerging right now? And what is being silenced? These kinds of questions would help inform us, and in particular the next pair, stimulating us to reflect on what approaches and exercises might further the group now. The next pair were chosen by picking two names from an envelope – this was a time when I think we all felt quite anxious – in particular because the pair would then have just half an hour, or so, to prepare their session!


Diving Deeper into the Process


Whether you were facilitating, or participating, the week was challenging! The process was ‘alive’ throughout – our attention was frequently directed towards considering where the group was at in any given time, and what was needed to take the group (i.e us!) further. Conflict was drawn out. Not all significant conflict. Differences were acknowledged. Not all significant differences either – we were far from 100% successful  – but the important thing for me was that it became more ok to express within the group things that would usually be more difficult – not that it became easy either! One helpful approach used at least a couple of times after something especially difficult had happened, was some kind of re-enactment – a few people playing different roles, helping to bring up different themes or emotions that had been acutely felt, even if not expressed. This often carried with it a quality of humour, which softened the tension, and made communication easier. It was wonderful to witness this, and for me, this helped to bridge differences and draw me closer to other participants. 
The week also created a context that supported greater awareness of my own pain and patterns, helped strip away some of my social mask – and related to that – deepened my relationship with others. Out of this experience, I am more aware how easy it can be for action groups to just travel on the surface, going through the motions. I want to dive deeper. I want to glide underwater, into the unknown, and experience the depths, the richness that is there. And I want to support others to be able to do the same.

While there was plenty of time spent in the company of one another, whether during formal sessions or during the evening, I felt it important to have some time alone. My spiritual practises that I immersed myself into several times a day were really helpful to me, helping to reduce some of the mental noise and process some of the emotions that were arising. 

I also felt that a few more exercises of a meditative or contemplative nature within the formal workshops would have been really helpful. There were certainly strong emotions that arose for many of us, and practises that expanded the ‘inner container’ that held ’emotional content’ would, I think, have really helped our individual and collective processing of that content.




The Question of Resistance


So, was nobody in the group resisting the process? The answer is that there was plenty of resistance. Particularly at the beginning. We were being pushed to go deeper, to be real, to stop being polite that would otherwise hold us back from talking about the difficult stuff. This resistance tried to defend its ground, but eventually – after some pain – things began to open up.   There were also the later stages of the week. In retrospect, I sense that I became a little complacent during these even though I never stopped journeying. However, I have wondered if I could have voiced a little more that I was feeling within, during the later stages, and which might thus add fuel for more growth. Or maybe I intuitively felt there was enough already being processed: too much fuel can also smother a fire. I’ll be reflecting more on this.

Some Personal Insights


Some personal insights that became more real for me during the week were as follows:

Within a groups, it can be fine to ditch the agenda (or to be prepared to).
-The fastest journey is not necessarily the seemingly shortest route.
-Emotions hold wisdom, and wisdom informs.

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For anyone who is interested, below is some of the pre-gathering reading that went round…. 

 

“We wanted to give you a bit of background, to give you a an idea where this project has come from and to help you get into a state of mind which will help us have a productive week together. Hopefully you’ll get a wee bit of time away from your busy lives, while travelling if not before, to reflect on why you were attracted to come to this event, your hopes and expectations…

This was a project that was dreamed up a few years ago that we’ve been working hard on ever since. It came out of noticing that despite the great increase in the use of facilitation in the grassroots social change and campaigning scenes in the UK, in part through the Training for Action trainings in advance of the Scottish G8 and through the Camp for Climate Action, we still participate in some really bad meetings! So despite this increased capacity, both of facilitators formal and informal, and of general meeting skills, what happened? Why are meetings sometimes drawn out and overly painful? How come facilitators from time to time fail to support fairness and creativity in our processes?

Well, this set us thinking (when we say us, we mean a loose set of experienced activist-facilitators from different places). Was the problem that we’d focussed too much on certain skills without allowing our intuition to develop? Are there secrets out there in different cultures and approaches that we’ve ‘missed? What are the attitudes or understandings that are lacking, or is it something else? What is the place of values in all this? Are there values behind good facilitation? Is good facilitation about helping a group uncover their values and work to them?

We’re sure you’ve got more questions too, and some answers. And it’s in this spirit that we’re all getting together. It is not just about learning new tools and exercises, though I’m sure we’ll all learn some along the way, maybe even develop new ones. Its about working out how we can develop the state of mind and express the values that underpin our practice as intuitive facilitators. It’s a chance for all the great people who are taking part to bang our heads together, to think, to dream, to feel, and to see what we come up with and where we get to; and wherever we do get to, it’ll be a start. Hopefully together we will advance how grassroots facilitation is practiced, for ourselves, for other facilitators, and for all we work with.”

Ameen,

Love, Muzammal

WIN’s workshops: click here

 

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