Facilitation for me is the key to getting a group to buy-into any sort of change management process, knowledge sharing approach or system usability design process. It is never easy and the facilitation can be rather messy and on the surface appear disorganized and un-focused. I know from my work inside organizations that enabling the conversation between people involved in a process can be very difficult. The traditional meeting format doesn’t work because one or two leaders will dominate the discussion and often the other people will adapt whatever they say to suit the situation and not offend the leaders. Over the past three years I’ve learned how to use some of these facilitation techniques in classes, conferences and workshops; Bohm Dialogue, Knowledge Café, Open Space Technology, Butterfly Stamping, Appreciative Inquiry, Anecdote Circles, Future/Backwards and a few others. In learning settings these all seem to work quite well. However, when I’ve tried some of these facilitation techniques in the workplace I’ve had various degrees of success. This is certainly due to my lack of skill and experience but I think there is a big difference in a class or workshop using a facilitation technique where most people are very willing to give it a go and in the workplace where there are typically a few people who say ‘why are we doing this’ ‘let me just tell you my problem so I can get back to my desk’ ‘I think this is a waste of time’. It is not that everyone is negative and resistant to using the technique but even some resistance makes the process materially different from a learning experience in a class or workshop.
I went to a 3-day workshop on dialogue sponsored by the CP Yen Foundation in Taipei between November 4 – 6. The foundation’s goal is to ‘foster the art of dialogue’. The workshop had about 40 people almost all from Taiwan, myself from Hong Kong and 3 from mainland China. I had gone to a workshop called “Profound Journey Dialogue” this past May sponsored by ICA, Institute of Cultural Affairs, and was very impressed with the energy and passion of the participants. I knew some of the same people would be attending this workshop so I wanted to join. Taiwan is making a serious effort to build an inclusive and participatory democratic society and there is quite a lot of interest in the process of facilitating communication, dialogue, knowledge exchange and community participation. The CP Yen Foundation translated all of the workshop materials into Chinese so there are now many useful resources on dialogue and facilitation for Chinese speakers.
The workshop facilitator was Philip Thomas. He has a background in Latin American conflict resolution and has co-written a book with Bettye Pruitt, Democratic Dialogues: A Handbook for Practitioners published by United Nations Development Programme. The book can be downloaded for free.
Here is the flyer on the workshop. Philip has been generous to let me post the slides from the workshop here. Also, here are some photographs taken during the workshop. I’m so impressed with all of these people’s passion and commitment to pushing the boundaries of dialogue and participation.
So what do we mean by ‘dialogue’? Except for the Bohm quote all of these are from the Philip Thomas’ presentation materials:
“Because the nature of Dialogue is exploratory, its meaning and its methods continue to unfold. No firm rules can be laid down for conducting a Dialogue because its essence is learning – not as the result of consuming a body of information or doctrine imparted by an authority, nor as a means of examining or criticizing a particular theory or programme, but rather as part of an unfolding process of creative participation between peers.”
David Bohm, Donald Factor and Peter Garrett
“Dialogue asks that we navigate the narrow ridge between holding to our own perspectives while at the same time remaining profoundly open to the Other.”
“Truth only reveals itself when one gives up all preconceived ideas.”
“Each person’s view is a unique perspective on a larger reality. If I can “look out” through your view and you through mine, we will each see something we might not have seen all along.
The origin of the vision is much less important than the process whereby it comes to be shared. It is not truly a “shared vision” until it connects with the personal visions of people throughout the organization.”
The book by Daniel Yankelovich – The Magic of Dialogue: Transforming Conflict into Cooperation has been translated into Chinese and was being sold at the workshop. Here is a PBS video interview with him from 1999.
Some of the facilitation techniques we used in the workshop were familiar to me and some were new to me. A very good resource recommendation Philip gave us was THE NATIONAL COALITION FOR DIALOGUE & DELIBERATION.
A 3-day workshop provides the opportunity to listen and do and ask and re-listen and re-do and ask again. These are some of the snippets with some references to the slides that resonated to me:
3D – Dialogue, Deliberation and Decision – see slide no. 20
Dialogue is a methodology to see the whole problem
Deliberation is deciding between the possible trade-offs
Decision is making the choice
Dialogue is about how to deal with dissent – not about eliminating differences.
Consultation does not equal consensus building.
Pab = Dba
Power of ‘a’ over ‘b’ is equal to the dependency of ‘b’ to ‘a’
Design is a dialogic process – this is the chorography part of a dance.
Facilitation is the execution – this is the performance part of a dance.
Triangle of Satisfaction – see slide no. 34
One side Psychological (People)
One side Substantive (Product)
One side Process (Process)
The people in the middle of the process are key. They communicate with the top and the bottom and provide a web of interaction between the top, middle and bottom levels of people. See slide no. 27.
There is a difference between the process design and the execution. Design the process carefully, thoroughly, participatively and respectively. Interview the participants carefully and document the results. Map the issues. Map the actors. Know the context. See slide no. 42.
Be aware that dialogic processes can be used as window dressing to obscure real issues and problems. People in an organization may try to use dialogic processes to their own ends.
In order to move beyond dialogue there needs to be a wiliness to reach
agreement and follow-thru with implementation. If all you can do is have a dialogue that is acceptable but don’t make promises beyond the dialogue.