This is the essay that I wrote and submitted for my IAF Certified Professional Facilitator | Master (CPF | M) re-certification in December, which has just now been approved.
The requirement of the essay was to “link lessons learned since your last re-certification to the IAF Core Competences, demonstrating changes in your facilitation style / behaviour, and indicating what growth you have experienced as a facilitator during the period since your last certification”.
As in 2008, 2012 and 2016, I use the IAF competencies as a framework by which to reflect on and illustrate some of my professional experience, learning and development – this time in the four years since 2016.
A. Create Collaborative Client Relationships
I have continued to deliver around 20-25 contracts per year for around 15-20 clients, most face-to-face and some virtual or involving some virtual component – see Reflecting on another year of freelance facilitation. In recent years the balance has shifted from around two thirds facilitation and one third facilitation training to about half and half.
I have continued to work with international NGOs, foundations, associations, networks and alliances, and a few others, largely in Europe and the Middle East and particularly in London and Brussels. However, this past year has seen the return of UK local authorities and multi-sector partnerships, after many years working with such clients on behalf of ICA:UK in the 2000s. New fields for me this past year include agile coaching, software development, Results Based Management and remote team working.
After working mostly with other facilitators in my early career, I continue now to work mostly solo. However, I have enjoyed being stretched by new co-facilitation experiences in recent years. These have included working as lead facilitator for one of 6 teams of 3 (lead, co-facilitator & graphic recorder) each with a sub-group of around 35 delegates at a two-day conference of over 200 – with Lorensbergs for the New Shape Forum of the Global Challenges Foundation (featured image, above); and as a remote virtual co-facilitator supporting a few remote participants to an otherwise largely face-to-face meeting – the latter was one of many topics I covered in a recent interview with SessionLab published this month.
Much of my work in recent years has been relatively short-term and small scale, involving a single event of one or a few days or a series of two or more over a few weeks or months. One recent example of a multi-session process was with Oxfam OPTI, involving design and facilitation of a series of consultation & consensus building workshops to engage over 100 staff of 4 Oxfam affiliates based in Jerusalem, Gaza & Ramallah in operationalising a new One Country Strategy and Country Operating Model – see case study.
A longer process and more complex multi-session process was with Eurochild, involving process design and facilitation over 6 months to help to engage around 170 member organisations in developing a new strategic plan, including with around 100 member representatives at a General Assembly meeting and with 20 Board members and Secretariat staff at a 2-day planning retreat in Brussels – see case study & video.
For many years I have routinely gathered participant and client feedback at the close of each workshop, course or project. In 2017 I reviewed and analyzed such feedback from ToP facilitation courses, taster sessions & webinars over the previous 5 years since I went freelance – 47 training courses, 13 conference & meetup taster sessions and 7 webinars reaching a total of 1,089 participants – and began routinely to invite feedback from training participants and facilitation clients also 3-6 months after each event or project. This has resulted in 71 online survey responses received so far, and a number of client recommendations:
Neil Mehta of Water Wisdom UK wrote in July 2019: “Martin is a highly experienced and professional facilitator whom I’ve worked and collaborated with over several years in two of the charities I have led. Martin has facilitated a number of strategy retreats for our teams. He helped us think through how to successfully design and document a 3-year strategy as a collective resulting also with a clear 12-month KPI to execute for the executive/operational team. A real star.”
B. Plan Appropriate Group Processes
A regional team retreat for an international non-profit, for 60 staff of 5 country offices in Sicily in 2018, was to be held in a venue provided in-kind by a partner organisation in the old city of Syracuse.
It turned out to be a beautiful and inspiring venue, entirely appropriate in terms of the group and the content of their work – but less so in terms of facilitation process. The Institute is housed in a restored 16th century church, a listed building with peeling walls filled with precious art and whose only large plenary room is a lecture theatre with fixed rows of seats facing a raised stage with a giant and immovable oak table in front of a screen.
It was clear that there would not be an option to use any alternative venue, so I began to wonder what sort of process could I use to turn to advantage these features that I might otherwise consider disadvantages for the sort of team-building, learning & planning that was called for.
I had recently been introduced to the Interview Matrix method at the IAF Ottawa conference, so decided to use that for a vision workshop where I would otherwise have used the ToP Consensus Workshop method with a sticky wall. I find that the Interview Matrix is not as powerful for consensus-building, but it was quite adequate for this occasion. It allowed the group to work half the time interviewing each other in changing pairs, in and between their fixed rows of seats, and the other half discerning patterns in the interview data in groups of 10-15 in smaller breakout rooms.
I had also been recently introduced to Mentimeter, at the IABC EMENA Copenhagen conference, so I decided to use that for group introductions and brainstorming in the opening and other plenary sessions. There was no alternative to sitting in rows facing a screen, so the group made use of the screen and their own smart phones, where they were sitting. We kept the plenaries to a minimum, but were able to use them well for whole group reflection & learning in-between smaller break-out sessions in other more conducive rooms.
Gnanam Devadass, Deputy Director, Campaigns, at Amnesty International wrote in December 2017: “Martin supported the design and development and also facilitated Amnesty International’s four-day Global Activism Hackathon, held at the International Secretariat in London in October 2017 and attended by 60 participants and resource people. His participatory approaches, methodologies and tools enabled the fullest participation of multi-lingual delegates from diverse backgrounds from across the globe. His facilitation was excellent and greatly appreciated by the participants. He worked well with the organising team and the steering group. His professional and flexible approach was very impressive and helped to achieve the intended outcomes of the Activism Hackathon.”
C. Create and Sustain a Participatory Environment
In 2019 in facilitated a two-day team retreat for the 20 or so staff of an international association. I was referred by a previous client who had recommended me because it was expected to be a difficult meeting and was being approached with trepidation by all concerned. I was advised that were trust issues and difficult relationships within the staff, not least between a new management team that had been recently appointed to replace their predecessors that had left under a cloud, and who were keen to establish their leadership and new ways of working, and long-established staff who felt threatened and insecure and in some cases were suspected to be in ongoing, friendly relations with the ousted leadership.
I agreed to take on the project as a 9-day contract to allow ample time for individual telephone interviews and an online survey in advance, to consult on issues and concerns and to build support for the process and my facilitation. I coached the new Director and management team on their roles in the meeting, and consulted with a number of key stakeholders that would not be present – notably the external consultant whose investigation and report had led to the change of management. The meeting was held in a beautiful countryside retreat centre with good facilities for meeting and for more informal interaction. We used a variety of methods and approaches and we allowed plenty of time for each session and took everything slowly and surely. For the most sensitive and risky session we sat in a circle of chairs and made extensive use of silent individual reflection.
I think everyone found the meeting difficult, and probably the Director and management team most of all, but I think that they all were relieved and pleased that they had been able to talk to each other constructively and begin to address some of their real issues together. I was reassured that a slow and careful, inclusive and collaborative approach seemed to have been enough to enable them to do so.
Barbara Hintermann, Secretary General at CAUX-Initiatives of Change Foundation wrote in September 2017: “Martin facilitated our Caux Reference Group meeting in June 2016 held in Caux/Switzerland. The Caux Reference Group is an international advisory group to the CAUX-Initiatives of Change (IofC) Foundation, composed of about 50 persons from the International IofC network. Martin facilitated the meeting with the necessary calm and used various facilitation tools to engage the group actively. While there were some rather emotional moments, Martin managed that the participants delivered the key elements for a variety of changes that needed to be reviewed by the foundation.”
D. Guide Group to Appropriate and Useful Outcomes
The Oxfam & Eurochild case studies referred to above in (A) and the recommendation of the CAUX-Initiatives of Change Foundation were among a series of six examples of how I have applied, customised and adapted the ToP Consensus Workshop method that I shared in a series of weekly posts to mark International Facilitation Week in 2017 – Responding to changing situations and needs with ToP Consensus Workshop.
Another of these examples helps to illustrate how I have managed small and large group processes to draw out data and insight from a group, helped the group synthesise patterns and guided the group to consensus and desired outcomes – this was the 5-day International Council Meeting & Conference of the International Council of Unitarians & Universalists (ICUU) in Mennorode, the Netherlands in 2016.
This was the culmination of a 9-month strategic planning process, involving also a series of online sessions and a ToP Participatory Strategic Planning retreat in Boston in the spring with a focus group of around 25. At the Council Meeting of 140 we used a series of ‘World Café’ style table conversations in changing small groups to discern learnings and implications from the strategy development process, following a few short presentations from those involved and drawing on documentation. In the afternoon we used a ‘super-sized’ Consensus Workshop process to answer the Focus Question ‘“What are key elements of the mission and purpose of ‘ICUU 2.0’, for the next 20 years?”.
At the end of the day volunteers were invited to join a working group to discern and articulate the emerging consensus concisely in a revised mission statement for approval by vote of the formal Council Meeting at the end of the week. The final statement was strengthened further by some minor revisions suggested during the formal Council Meeting. Once approved, the new mission statement was verbally translated as it was read aloud in all of the 25 or so languages spoken by those present, to symbolise global consensus and commitment: “The Mission of the ICUU is to empower existing and emerging member groups to sustain and grow our global faith community”.
Osama Saeed Bhutta, Director of Communications at Amnesty International wrote in February 2018: “I attended a meeting facilitated by Martin and was so impressed that I had him do the same for my directorate’s annual retreat. He has a singular ability to get people talking and dreaming freely, but to then to pull it together for a focused action-oriented conclusion. The meeting he held for us yielded a bonded team and a new comms strategy, a legacy that will live on for a long time to come.”
Jana Hainsworth, Secretary General at Eurochild wrote in September 2017: “Great that we had structure, but also great that we could think on our feet to adjust the planning according to what we were hearing from members. All in all we got a huge amount of raw material for development of the strategic plan. The methodology clearly helped.”
E. Build and Maintain Professional Knowledge
ICA’s Technology of Participation (ToP) methodology continues to serve me well as the basis of my practice – I wrote in 2014 that I regard the ORID framework of ToP as something of a universal principle of facilitation. However, I continue to explore and apply other methodologies and approaches as well. In addition to the Interview Matrix and Mentimeter mentioned above in (B), other examples include Liberating Structures and Agile.
I discovered Liberating Structures by buying the book and downloading the app, and explored the toolkit further by hosting demo sessions at IAF England & Wales meetups and by attending the London LS Users Group. I applied and adapted 1-2-4-All structure (with ORID questions) as co-facilitator for one of 4 table groups in a workshop of 60 senior leadership of an international tech company in 2019.
After meeting many agilists through IAF E&W meetups and attending the IAF EME conference on Agile & facilitation in Milan, my interest was piqued further when I facilitated a 2-day team retreat for a partnership of eight agile coaches. Subsequently I took Certified Scrum Master training. While I learned that I have no interest in working as a scrum master, I gained valuable insight into how & where facilitation is so widely used in such approaches; and how the CSM certification process works and how very much it differs from the IAF process.
With ICA Associates Inc of Canada in 2017, I attended and trained as a trainer in each of the new IAF-endorsed ToP Facilitation Essentials courses, Facilitating Client Collaboration and Meetings That Work. Since 2018 I have been offering this series of courses in Europe, including also ToP Group Facilitation Methods – see Join me for ToP facilitation training in London, Brussels & elsewhere in 2020!
I have continued to tweet, blog and host free facilitation webinars, and to host and attend IAF and other meetups and conferences – particularly as chapter lead and now Board Chair of IAF England & Wales. In that capacity I have been excited to support the launch of a new IAF E&W podcast in 2019, Facilitation Stories.
E. Model Positive Professional Attitude
For the January 2020 episode of that new IAF E&W podcast I was interviewed on The Importance of Values in Facilitation. Helene Jewell wrote in the show notes:
Martin talks about the importance of values – both personal and IAF values, which talk about the collective wisdom of the group. He says that what you believe has an enormous impact on the group. Martin talks about defining values and how the IAF values resonate with him and his involvement with developing the ICA UK values. Values are what is important to people and what drives them, and are important to be able to define what is meaningful and important to them.
He told us about taking decisions not to do work that conflicted with his values, mostly around contracting with the client.
Martin started working with ICA as a volunteer and his first workshop involved creating a personal timeline as a personal reflection tool. He talked about a book by John and Maureen Jenkins (founder members of IAF) – 9 disciplines of a facilitator – leading groups by transforming yourself. All about understanding your own values. A phrase from Maureen that resonated with Martin “however good a facilitator you are […] your most powerful tool as a facilitator is your own interior condition”.
See also about me, how I work, who I work with and recommendations & case studies, and please contact me about how we might work together. Please do not delay before contacting me – the earlier I hear from you, the more chance that I will be able to help and the more helpful I may be able to be.