How can you develop facilitation that matters?

February 16, 2016 1 Comment

This article was published in the winter 2015 edition of effect – Effective Philanthropy by the European Foundation Centre.

As we consider the changing socio-economic context in Europe and further afield, as the complexity of multi-faceted issues becomes ever more apparent and foundations try to figure out what to do to make change happen, one thing is certain. Conversations need to be started, understanding needs to be reached, agreements need to be built. This is where facilitation comes in. Facilitation creates the kind of safe spaces for people to discuss the most difficult and controversial issues. Our local work in Northern Ireland is a reminder of the need to engage in building peace and nurturing shared societies at local levels, group by group, community by community. At the core of this work is creating the conditions whereby people can begin to hear each other and be, to quote J P Lederach, ‘paradoxically curious’. Curious about each other, about how we see the world and about what drives us to hold – and defend – the positions we adopt.

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Only by starting here – at the level of discovering common or shared interests – can we begin to find spaces and places for alignment and pursuing change. A model that is particularly helpful is Dimensions of Success. In a retreat with local community activists from both sides of the ‘peace wall’ in Belfast, we focused on the results they wanted to see for their communities through a process that honoured the rights of everyone. We helped build relationships that enabled the group to keep communicating, increase understanding and ultimately agree on significant actions to take locally. A year later, they are still engaging in joint activities that are helping to reduce tension in their communities on adjacent sides of the peace wall. They now have the tools to continue facilitating this connection. As we work towards greater civic engagement, we focus on designing for the margins – that is, constantly seeking those who are affected, but not included – what Chrislip calls ‘the unusual voices’: those with a high stake but often, little influence. This involves paying attention to race, gender, sexual orientation, age and other areas where marginalisation exists. If we design conversations, dialogues and workshops with these in mind, we can be assured that everyone can contribute. Our commitment to ‘Big Democracy’ is challenging us to think about how we design interactions so that people can work together more. Facilitation eases the gap between discovering alignment and building agreement towards a more civil society.

Full PDF edition: Effect, Winter 2015

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