The RSA Small Groups methodology – facilitating innovative practical solutions to today’s social challenges

Margaret-Mead-QuoteReaders familiar with my work with the RSA may be interested in a couple of recent posts to the RSA blog (links below). For others interested but not yet so familiar, first a little context…

In January 2011 I had a speculative meeting with RSA Chief Executive Matthew Taylor to talk about facilitation and how it might add value to the RSA and its mission of ‘finding innovative practical solutions to today’s social challenges’. I found Matthew intrigued by the practical and philosophical questions of what it takes for a small group of people to transform a good idea into practical action and social impact (I thought to myself ‘yes Margaret Mead, of course, but how exactly?’) We quickly concluded that skills and methods of effective facilitation might indeed add value, and set to talking about what could be done to develop them systematically within the RSA.

Matthew then introduced me to the RSA’s Head of Fellowship Michael Ambjorn. The result was an ongoing partnership between ICA:UK and the RSA to develop a ‘small group methodology’, founded on ICA’s Technology of Participation, to help the RSA to engage with and mobilise its Fellowship – to increase it’s social impact, and achieve its ambition of being ‘the best place to have an idea’.

Michael has now recently stepped down from his RSA staff role, as I stepped down from my ICA:UK staff role last year.  In reflecting on his tenure in A few notes on Fellowship 2010-13, he describes the RSA Small Groups methodology as one of four planks of the strategy by which the Fellowship Team has sought ‘to deliver on Trustees’ ambition that the RSA should support its most active, engaged and innovative Fellows, and that they should see the RSA as a major resource for the achievement of their goals’.  In another recent post, RSA West & South West Regional Programme manager Lou Matter reports in Learning through facilitation and working in partnership on recent facilitation training for Fellows held in Bristol, one of a series of recent courses around the regions and the latest phase in the unfolding partnership. An overview of the partnership and the methodology can be found here on my blog, in the presentation I prepared for the Moscow Facilitators conference earlier this year Facilitating innovative practical solutions to today’s social challenges.

As I commented on Michael’s post, it has been a real pleasure working with him and the RSA these past few years. Two and a half years is not a long time to embed significant change, however – least of all for an organisation founded in 1754, with a Fellowship now numbering 27,000. I believe we have barely begun to see the impact that facilitation could have for the RSA, so I do hope that this approach may continue to enjoy such support under new leadership. I certainly hope to be able to continue to lend support as an active and engaged Fellow myself, and I hope and expect we can count on Michael to do likewise!

Move beyond ‘seat of the pants’ facilitation

“Move beyond ‘seat of the pants’ facilitation and reliance on instinct, and use the most powerful facilitation methods and processes available in the world today.”

Well done and thank you to Bill Staples and ICA Associates in Canada for another great little video in their series introducing ICA’s Technology of Participation (ToP) facilitation approach – see also Introducing the Technology of Participation on Vimeo and How I work.

This new 3 minute video (above) previews ICA’s flagship 2-day ToP Group Facilitation Methods training course. This course introduces the foundational ToP Focused Conversation and ToP Consensus Workshop methods, through demonstration, theory, practice and application.

This course, and others building on these two foundational methods, are available from ICAs in all continents worldwide – including ICA Associates and of course ICA:UK.  For links and further details, please see ICA International or contact me.

What do facilitators do, really?


This great little 4 minute video was published by the International Institute of Facilitation and Change (IIFAC) a few weeks ago.  Beatrice Briggs of IIFAC is IAF Director for Latin America & the Carribbean, based in Mexico.  It is now available also in multiple languages.

John Miller of ICA Associates in Canada has commented:

Muchos Gracias Beatrice! I USED your video in a high school classroom to good effect in less than 25 minutes!! (I was “show and tell” …a guest speaker).

1) Context that models facilitation (topic, importance, purpose, process/agenda, roles…)
2) Show the 4 min video
3) Led a Focused Conversation about the video. Each question was pre-written on cards and posted one after the other on the wall, when asked.
4) Q&A. Briefly answer questions that arose (actually this is still part of the ORID started in #3)
5) Present a method. Briefly show the 4 levels of thinking (ORID) beside the list of questions stuck on the wall. (Used printed pages from a simple overview created years ago with bullet points and edited MS Screen Beans.)
6) Wrap-up. Distribute 1-page summary (created with the student who invited and introduced me) that resembles the 4 PPT pages stuck to the wall. And Thanks.

Wish I had 5 more minutes to reflect on what I did to model what’s in the video. The Focused Conversation got everyone involved, even the ones at the “back of the class.” Almost “fun” for them. Certainly grounded it in their experience. Very cool to see. THANKS for the resource.

What do you think of how the role of the facilitator is presented here, and how might you use the video?

Nb: see also Three dimensions of the facilitator role – a focused conversation posted 2013, and my 2017 free facilitation webinar:

Facilitating innovative practical solutions to today’s social challenges

Facilitating innovative practical solutionsMany thanks to Liudmila Dudorov and Mikhail Rossus and all at GoTraining & IAF Russia for hosting me so well, and to them and all who attended my course and conference presentation for making my first trip to Moscow such a memorable and enjoyable one.

Facilitating innovative practical solutions RUSThe 4th annual Moscow Facilitators conference attracted around 60 delegates, and my pre-conference training 28. There is clearly a passion for facilitation here in Russia, and a hunger for methods and tools – and a sense of urgency about getting and applying them. It seems to be an exciting place to be a facilitator!

My full conference presentation is available in English & Russian by clicking on the images above.

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