The jazz of facilitation is magnificent in Moscow

This article was first written for the IAF Europe newsletter, April 2013

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The first week of April was Facilitation Week in Moscow.  The centrepiece of the week was the 4th annual Moscow Facilitators Conference, held on April 5th. This was accompanied by two days of facilitation training before the conference and another two days afterwards.  The conference week was convened by Liudmila Dudorova, chair of the IAF Russia chapter, and her facilitation company Personal Image.  The annual conference under Liudmila’s leadership has clearly played a significant role in promoting facilitation in Russia and attracting increasing numbers of Russian facilitators to IAF, as evidenced by the ever growing numbers of Russian delegates at the annual IAF Europe conference.

The conference itself attracted around 65 delegates at the four star Vega conference hotel, for a full day programme from 10am-7pm.  Most came from Moscow, but some also from other regions of Russia and from neighbouring countries.  Most were leaders, managers and practitioners within large Russian companies, or independent professional facilitators and other professional contractors who offer facilitation alongside other services.

St Basils Cathedral MoscowThe conference theme of idea generation, innovation and the exchange of experience was explored through eight sessions, in plenary and in two parallel groups.  I was delighted to be invited to join as an international guest presenter, along with Bruce Rowling of Pinpoint Facilitation.  Bruce has worked with Liudmila and her company in Russia over several years, but for me it was my first visit so I was delighted to be able to see something of Moscow while I was there.

I provided two days of pre-conference training to a group of 28, introducing three of ICA’s Technology of Participation (ToP) facilitation methods, namely Focused Conversation, Consensus Workshop and Action Planning.  I also provided a keynote presentation to the conference, sharing some experience of how these methods have been applied by ICA:UK in partnership with the Royal Society of Arts – in engaging and mobilising the RSA’s 27,000 Fellows to contribute to social impact through civic innovation, toward achieving the RSA’s ambition to be ‘the best place to have an idea’. My presentation can be viewed in my recent post. Bruce provided a conference session and post-conference training drawing on the Pinpoint approach and graphic facilitation.  Neither of us would have been of much use to anyone without the expert and tireless interpretation of Mikhail Rossus, although Bruce was at least adept at Russian small talk involving hello, vodka, thank you and goodbye! I am grateful to ICA Ukraine for providing ToP training materials in Russian for me.

Further conference sessions included Liudmila’s own masterclass on facilitating creativity and innovation in companies, Tim Nestik on knowledge management, Alexander Dudurov on graphic facilitation, Alexandra Kosulina & Mariya Pronina on idea generation, Victoria Bekhtereva on innovation projects and Julia Linkin with a case study of Open Space facilitation in a bank.  Creativity was emphasised throughout the day, starting with a jazz duo accompanying our opening exercise to depict how we generate ideas, by collage in the style of Matisse!

ToP facilitation training in MoscowI experienced a great spirit of sharing and learning at the conference, just as at all the IAF conferences I have attended, and clearly a great passion for facilitation. I also experienced a great hunger for tools and methods, and a particular sense of urgency in learning and applying them.  When I asked what participants hoped to gain from my conference session, the majority of responses were to do with tools and methods to apply. In tailoring my pre-conference training in advance, I was advised that participants would appreciate more methods and want little time on practice and planning to apply what they had learned, and this was certainly borne out in my experience.  In another conversation a conference delegate suggested to me that Russians like to learn and apply quickly because they feel they have some catching up to do – and they intend to catch up and overtake.  Certainly few UK courses I have delivered have attracted such close (and very welcome) attention as this one. Every moment’s break was taken as an opportunity to photograph the latest graphics, flipcharts or cards on the sticky wall for later reference, and several audio devices were recording the whole course for later playback.  I left in no doubt that ToP methods will find a valuable and active place in the toolkits of many Russian facilitators, and that facilitation itself has an important role to play in Russia.

I gained many new Facebook friends and LinkedIn connections from my visit, so I invited them to share some of their own reflections on the conference. This is what they wrote:

“This year’s conference was dynamic and really energy-intensive. It was nice to see a lot of new members and enthusiastic people who are so involved in facilitation. During our work-shop we were happy to feel the engagement of the group, their enthusiasm, genuine interest and active position. And it is very important that our European colleagues have time to visit our conference, thank you Martin for coming!” – Alexandra Kosulina, Moscow

“What I can say about this conference? There were a lot of people who know what is facilitation and who use facilitation at work, and if compared with last year’s conference the number of such people has increased considerably. This is really good, and says that the facilitation in Russia goes forward at a steady gait. The conference was very instrumental and practical – speakers, case studies, master classes – everything was very useful.” – Mariya Pronina, Moscow

“I really enjoyed it. I especially liked your examples and case studies. Thank you” – Alex Kuznetsov, Moscow

“The conference was full of new knowledge and techniques, but the most important discovery for me was the ToP method of Focused Conversation (ORID) which you set out in the training before. Last week I used it in a discussion on our annual report with the employees of our company, and I was impressed by the results – it really involved them in the discussion, and most importantly in the process of developing specific solutions for the future in a meaningful and constructive way.” – Sergey Shupletsov, Moscow

“The training was very useful to me. It broadened my knowledge of effective methods of facilitation: the ToP methods of Focused Conversation, Consensus Workshop etc. The method of Action Planning was especially interesting to me. I already practiced this method when carrying out a session on implementation of organizational decisions. It helped the group while being focused on the purposes to draw up effectively the plan of action. In addition, I also applied this method to accomplish my personal decisions. The model of behaviour shown by Martin during his facilitation has also been very inspiring to me. It is a striking example of the possibility to operate the group progressing towards making the decision, showing respect and trust for the ability of a group to create the decision by itself” – Leonid Bogdanov, Kiev

“It was interesting for me to see your style, new methods and especially new materials. Your training was just really important to me. The conference was rich in new contacts, insights and ideas. For example, just tomorrow I’ll use some new methods from that day. The Jazz of facilitation in the beginning was so magnificent!” – Victoria Bekhtereva, Moscow

 “For me it was great to discover the way to plan a project with ToP Action Planning. Especially the idea of grouping actions by teams that allows the project teams to form and work afterwards in those teams. The idea of using the Focused Conversation method in personal life is also very interesting. I certainly will try to do it. And of course the networking process during the session was valuable. My next step is to go deeply into the ICA books for more information and cases.” – Ariadna Denisova, Moscow

I am very grateful top Liudmila and Mikhail for hosting me so generously, and to everyone involved for making my first trip to Moscow such a memorable and enjoyable one.  I look forward to following the further growth and development of facilitation and IAF in Russia through the many new connections I made in Moscow.  Also I hope that other chapters of IAF in Europe and elsewhere (my own England & Wales chapter included) might emulate the Moscow Facilitators Conference in its approach!

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