Monday, July 19, 2010

Facilitation in the embodied world and in cyberspace.

Talking to the two of my friends/colleagues last night who do a lot of face to face facilitation.

Rob Nielsen who works for the government and Dr Christine King from the University Of QLD (The best intellect I know on the Darling Downs)

I've been thinking about comparing face to face facilitation to online e-based facilitation-the embodied world and life in cyberspace.

What matters in face to face facilitation?

Rob stressed clear goals and purpose for the meeting being facilitated, allowing everyone to speak, not allowing the extroverts to take up all the talk time, allowing the introverts time to think - before they have to answer, rules and values and norms that allow for respectful solution focused dialogue, keeping the group on task.

Rob's work helps groups make decisions, agree on plans, chart change strategies, overcome blockages. It’s about wise and united action. Rob works with many rural organizations and teams.

Chrissy’s work seems more varied and multicultural as she works in various countries but also a has rural focus.

Talking to Chrissy, we covered how different facilitation tasks can be depending on whether there is a sense united purpose or festering conflicts in a group.

I recalled a working definition I came up with in the mid 1980s-before emails even.
It was different work- the effort to communicate was costly based on printing, photocopiers, the rare computer and the postal service.

"Networks are groups people who communicate and cooperate because they perceive they have a common interest. "

A little digging at a s face to face event could reveal that there was not much united purpose.

In the e-world, people can link up with others of like minds and get underway if they get critical mass quite easily.

There are many millions of blogs out there. Anyone can blog away - but you need networks for it to start to make a difference. It is more than writing well. They don't have to all agree. They don't have to join an organisation anymore. They don't have to resolve conflict with others. They don't have to listen or read other who do not share their ideas and values. They can enjoy their splendid isolation if they choose.

But for a little more effort people can form networks with dissimilar people, and use wiki and web 2.0 collaboration tools to share perspectives, share information, come to agreement, commit their resources and skills and share their networks and credibility and take action together. All this requires dialogue and mutual respect. Without these people will not come to a shared agreement about the shape of the problem and effective strategies that will lead to it's solution. Together such people can become powerful.

What are the key change processes in the above model?

Good facilitation leads to informal learning which leads to improved problem models and a better understanding of resources that could be mobilised as part of the solution.

Good facilitation leads to a sense of ownership because collaborative partners have been listened to and their interests have been respected by others.

The learning excites and motivates people. (People like to commit to activities were they can learn.)

The respectful relationships motive worker engagement.

The quality of plans motivates action and investment in the collaborative strategy. No of is a smart as all of us. Together we can achieve that which is beyond us a individuals.

What I have written reminds me a project I developed in 2009 called NEYONDS.
For a short video pitch about this project to get a social entrepreneurs grant see

Or in 100 words.
NEYONDS-Network for the Early Years on the Downs and Surrounds.
With this project we will establish a sustainable social enterprise. NEYONDS will reinvent the interagency meeting using Web 2.0 media. This project will create a self funding-self governing NGO with a community capacity building mission.

Our project works to reorient service systems towards an early intervention prevention and human development paradigm.

NEYONDS aims to empower the innovators /risk takers in human services/school systems. It will link up innovators whom are concerned about the outcomes that matter for their communities. NEYONDS uses Web 2.0 power shifting technologies to shake up ineffective practices and to break down the silos in human services/education.


  1. Hi Malcolm

    Thank you very much for this post. Very thought-provoking and made me review what I am doing as facilitator of this course. How do you see the facilitator's role in education as compared to the NGO or business context...the same or different?

    What was the outcome of NEYONDS?

  2. This is a very cool and insightful post. I like the ideas you express about communities of diverse people. I wonder what the minimum criteria for effective online collaboration are?

  3. @Michael What do you mean by "minimum criteria for effective online collaboration"?

  4. well this is a very thoughtful and stimulating post- I will probably dream these words tonight- a spooky thought.

  5. I too think this is very thought provoking. Thank you Malcolm! Just to get in the conversation above about minimum criteria, I heard you say dialogue and mutual respect. Unpacking that could be a whole other blog post. And the belief that we can do more together than as individuals. That premise is what inspired me to hang out my shingle as a facilitator. The tricky part is that we all have our human foibles which can get in the way - either in person or in cyberspace.

  6. Wow - a flurry of responses-as we say in Australia. Thanks for your kind words and comments and stimulating questions.

    I would tend to think in terms of a balance of facilitors and dampeners rather than minimium conditions for effective online communication/learning.

    Some factors help a dialogue out and some put a break on chances of success.

    I think a online communities facilator would load up as many positives as is do-able and put in place strategies to minimise the dampeners. Then you cross your fingers. A balance of forces infuence the possibilities of a great conversation or a so - so event.

    It's a chaotic system if you understand that paradigm.

    My aim is biased towards transformational change and key change process in that is transformational learning.

    I'll try write more on this lattter.

    I home to learn about factors that help and strategies to deal with the dampeners.
    Better start working on a list of issues and tactics.

  7. "Together we can achieve that which is beyond us a individuals."
    I love this, thanks! Sounds like you are doing important work.