Monday, October 17, 2016

How Quickly Could I Train a Facilitator?

I enjoyed a fabulous brunch yesterday at the Duluth Grill, a well-established local institution that features local, fresh, organic food—some of which is grown in raised beds in their parking lot! 

As the place was packed around noon (we were lucky to be seated in only 30 minutes) the wait afforded our party of four (Elph Morgan, Lorna Koestner, Susan, and me) just enough time to tour the parking lot and all the flora. It happens that Lorna has had a personal hand in the plethora of parking lot plantings and was able to tell us all about them. In addition to a variety of fall-thriving vegetables that are an easy fit with the cuisine (rhubarb, chives, and many varieties of lettuce and kale) there were ornamentals in bloom (cosmos, poppies, datura, mullein, and pansies) and fruiting exotics (black nightshade and white everbearing strawberries) that we could munch on.

When we got inside we found the menu was almost as distinctive as the raised beds. I had the Everything Skillet, Susan went with the Mairzy Doats Bowl, Lorna selected the Rabbit Marsala, and Elph opted for the Salmon Bowl. Yum! 

• • •
During breakfast Elph (an old friend from Ann Arbor) had a question for me. How quickly could I train someone to be a decent facilitator assuming they started with no familiarity with consensus. What an interesting question! He wasn't talking world class; just baseline competent.

I thought about it for a bit, and came up with this response: It all depends on the person's ability to be able to shift perspectives. If they stumble with this basic facilitation skill—the ability to step back from one's own viewpoint to see the same dynamic through the eyes of others (reference Trump, the classic one-trick pony who only sees the world through Donald's eyes)—then it would be a project. While I'm confident I could coach them up to develop that capacity (assuming they aspired to learn it), it would probably take months. 

On the other hand, if the person already had that capacity, I felt I could get them to decent in a single weekend.

Elph was lamenting that he was unable to find any programs to help people learn basic facilitation skills in a cooperative setting (think inclusive culture) in a short time. When I reflected on what I offer, I had to admit I don't have much in my portfolio to meet that need—even though I consider facilitation training a specialty. While I conduct a number of two-year trainings (I have three going concurrently) and I expressly welcome people into my classes from any background and with no prior experience, it nonetheless is a 24-month commitment, which is a fairly steep barrier.

I also conduct consensus trainings (and facilitation trainings) for communities, most of whom would be willing to have one or two outsiders join the party for a reasonable fee, but I haven't done anything to promote this possibility and it rarely happens.

Finally, I do a number of workshops at events each year, and it's common to offer something on facilitation once or twice. But those are just 90-miute introductions designed to inspire, not train. Training requires a sequence that is way beyond the scope of a one-session workshop: 
—Presentation of theory
—Demonstration of principles and skills
—Practice under supervision
—Flying solo

Over dinner last night I discussed with Susan my intention to follow up with Elph to see if we could put together a prototype facilitation training weekend for dummies, where the target audience is people who are interested in cooperative culture yet have no particular background in consensus or community living. I have a long train journey coming up next week (when I rumble from Los Angeles to Quebec by way of Vancouver BC) which should give me the perfect occasion to piece together a proposal.

If you, the reader, have interest in participating—or know someone who might be—please let me know and I'll make sure that you're informed about what bubbles up. Contact me directly at

Elph also asked me what I had available in writing about consensus facilitation. I told him (as I tell everyone) quite a lot, though it's scattered among my blog entries, Communities magazine articles, and client reports. Now that I've retired from administrative work for FIC and have my multiple myeloma under control, I'm laboring regularly on organizing my writing into books. Elph encouraged me to not dawdle and had this advice about what would be a useful presentation to him:
—Elucidation of principles
—Step-by-step guide to execution (think cookbook)
—Stories that breathe life into the above

As I'm still in the organizing phase (trying to figure out what I already have and what's missing), I admitted that I haven't yet given much thought to layout of the material. That said, Elph's sequencing appeals to me, so we'll see what develops. His request that I include stories has special resonance for me. I view stories as the oldest vehicle extant for transmitting information and the easiest way for people to retain lessons (there's a reason that traveling minstrels were so popular before the invention of movable type or the internet). 

Fortunately, after 30 years as a professional facilitator, I have lots of stories. All I have to do is pay attention.

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