Another year in freelance facilitation, now both online and in-person again

Wallace Space Euston

Scaling up engagement and dialogue the power of facilitation and communications in partnership #FacPower

Last summer as I reviewed the year to June 2021, I wondered when I might finally be tempted to accept any face-to-face work again. As it turned out, after 2 years of the COVID19 pandemic spent working exclusively online, the last quarter of this year to June (and July too) were all about in-person events.

As in previous years, I shall share here in this longer read some data and reflections on the last year of my professional practice, and some insights and implications for my future practice and professional development. It is broadly a four-level ORID reflection again, of course.

In this past year to June 2022 I delivered 19 contracts for 15 clients. That compares with 32 contracts for 22 clients the year before, and 25 for 19 the year before that. I had been so busy in 2020-21 that I had resolved to be more selective this year in my client commitments. Whether that is what resulted in the reduced workload or whether fewer opportunities came my way, the outcome was welcome and I was very pleased to have had the contracts that I did.

This past year’s contracts involved a total 76 individual online sessions and 2 in-person events in Belfast and London. That compares with more than 100 online sessions and none in-person the year before; and before that 14 in-person, one ‘hybrid’ and 16 wholly virtual events (of one or more sessions).

I Declare A Climate Emergency

I resolved in January 2020 to restrict my travel mostly to places accessible to London without flying, and of course to try to travel less and work more online (that worked out well). So it suited me well that my international clients continued largely to request online work and my first two contracts for in-person events were both in the UK and one within walking distance in London. I have been happy to return to working in-person only in the last quarter and to return to hybrid working not at all (yet), and I have been happy to better acquaint myself with rail & ferry routes to Northern Ireland.

For one contract this year I was sub-contracted to a colleague and for nine I sub-contracted to one or more colleagues myself (or in one case licensed a colleague to deliver a training session independently). That compares to 10 & 19 last year and 7 & 4 the year before. So I have returned to working more on my own client contracts, compared to last year. Compared to before the pandemic, however, my work has continued to be more collaborative and involve much more co-facilitation. My contracts have often been larger as well.

Partners that I have contracted with this past year include again ICA:UK colleagues Megan Evans and Orla Cronin, and this year IAF colleagues Marie Dubost, Charo Lanao and Hector Villarreal Lozoya. I have otherwise collaborated also with others of the ICA:UK team and that of Orla Cronin, and with many IAF colleagues – some mentioned below.

Clients I have worked with have again included largely UK charities and international NGOs, although this year also UK devolved government and no European agencies, contractors, associations or NGO networks.

Of this past year’s contracts, 7 involved facilitation while 7 involved training and 6 involved coaching and consulting. That compares to 11 facilitation, 18 training and 7 coaching & consulting the year before, and 7 facilitation & 16 training the year before that. So my facilitation and training work have returned to their previous more or less equal balance, and the proportion of contracts involving coaching and consulting has continued to rise – that too has been welcome.

Facilitation contracts this past year have ranged in scale from a single session of 60-90 minutes at relatively short notice to as many as 17 sessions collaboratively designed and prepared over several months:

  • with Amnesty International, design and lead facilitation of a series of 17 sessions of the online 2021 Global Assembly, involving a multilingual team of 5 facilitators and 3-4 delegates of each of almost 70 member entities worldwide working in English, French and Spanish
  • with Oxford Properties on behalf of Traction Strategy, breakout session facilitation for an online Global Leadership Conference of around 300 delegates
  • with the Portuguese Refugee Council and Amnesty International Ireland, design and facilitation of a second online Best Practice Convening session of around 50 key actors in Community Sponsorship of Refugees across Europe
  • with Amnesty International, design and facilitation of an online team-building session for the International Board, Coalition Leadership Team and Governance Programme staff of the International Secretariat
  • with the Natural History Consortium, design and facilitation of a series of six online conversations bringing together 90 diverse stakeholders at ‘Communicate’, the UK’s conference for environmental communicators
  • with Amnesty International, Europe & Central Asia region, lead design and facilitation of a 5-session online Regional Forum involving over 100 delegates from around 25 member organisations
  • with Global Fishing Watch, design and facilitation of a 3-day retreat of the global Executive Team of 14 in London

Ann Burroughs

Ann Burroughs, Chair of the 2021 Global Assembly and Preparatory Committee, Amnesty International, wrote in a recommendation:

“Martin and his team provided outstanding support during Amnesty International’s 2021 Global Assembly which for the first time was held entirely online. They were integral in the planning of the model which helped to ensure broad participation and access for delegates of almost 70 member entities. Their experience and familiarity with facilitating online spaces were game changing and were critical in helping to build trust in the process and in a new model of digital governance.”

Savita Wilmott

Savita Willmott, CEO, The Natural History Consortium, wrote:

“Martin supported our charity in January 2022 to bring together 90 diverse stakeholders into a series of six online conversations in a single day. We were looking to tackle complex environmental topics, and have strong outputs. His advice and support was invaluable to design an effective programme for the day as well as to expertly facilitate the session alongside another facilitator. We achieved our aim of avoiding a “talking shop” – the outputs of the session are informing our strategic work six months later, and the connections made between organisations are thriving. Martin strikes a brilliant balance between flexibility and attention to detail, and we’d recommend him without hesitation.”

Training contracts this past year have ranged in scale from a single introductory session for one group to a series of multi-session courses for multiple groups:

For the first year since 2014, I offered no scheduled public ToP facilitation training myself this past year. Instead, I have invited participants to register with ICA:UK or another ICA worldwide. I have welcomed the reduced workload and risk that has resulted, and I have no plans at present to resume a paid public training offering.

I have expanded and clarified my offering of in-house facilitation training to include tailored courses that were not previously offered on a public schedule, and to make clearer which courses are now available online or in-person or both.

Coaching and consulting contracts this past year have again ranged in scale from one or two one-hour sessions with a single coachee to providing coaching and consulting support for multiple teams to design and lead a multi-session international event:

  • with Lindsey Green of Frankly Green +Webb, facilitation coaching in support of strategic planning with clients in the museum and arts sector
  • with Nicole Moran of Advisory & Facilitation Services, facilitation coaching in support of online strategic planning and focus group sessions
  • with Action Aid International, facilitation coaching and support for the Convener, Organising Committee and Governance staff of the Global Secretariat in preparation for sessions of the online Annual General Meeting

Nicole Moran, Global Development Advisory & Facilitation Services, wrote in a recommendation:

“Martin is the perfect coach, blending expertise and experience in the finest manner to provide excellent coaching and training support to me. His professional, encouraging and non-judgmental approach helped me venture to use a range of approaches, online platforms and tools – whether for training, review meetings, presenting the results of an evaluation. Since 2020 when Covid redefined our ways of working and relating, my work has shifted almost entirely to the virtual platform. I felt it important to get some expert guidance to ensure that I select the right tools and approaches for online working and continue to remain as efficient and effective as possible with my clients, my team and others. I am grateful for the professional support and guidance of Martin and looking forward to Martin’s continued guidance.”

In my volunteering, I have not (yet) been tempted to take up any new leadership role and have instead enjoyed contributing on a more ad hoc basis to a number of projects, more and less facilitation-related.

I continued my social media support by tweeting for Facilitation Week, as I have since the first #FacWeek in 2013, and by managing the website and social media for the Power of Facilitation book project. Having managed the website and social media for ICA International since I stood down as President in 2016, I was pleased to be able to support the new ICAI Board this year to appoint a new website and social media manager to succeed me (the fabulous Rena Koç) and to see a welcome refresh of the ICAI website.

IAF Facilitation Summit 2021

For Facilitation Week I also co-hosted two sessions of the IAF Facilitation Summit in October – ‘Facilitating Breakthrough: How to Remove Obstacles, Bridge Differences, and Move Forward Together’ with Adam Kahane and ‘Scaling Up Engagement & Dialogue’ with Michael Ambjorn, both drawing on recently released publications.

For the Power of Facilitation I also continued to work with fellow contributors to promote the book, during Facilitation Week and otherwise, and so to use the book to promote the power of facilitation worldwide. As well as supporting and promoting online ‘meet the author’ sessions and articles, book reviews etc, I supported more than 80 IAF colleagues around the world to convene and start to work to translate the book into more than a dozen languages.

For ICA:UK and ICA International, I also continued to participate in the UK ToP Associates network and the ICAI Global ToP Advisory Group, and latterly in the new ICAI Global ToP Community of Practice.

For IAF, I continued to serve as a mentor in the IAF mentoring programme, working again with two mentees in parallel this past year.

Manal Sayid, Facilitator, Consultant and Trainer, wrote:

“Martin has provided everything I could hope for in a mentorship relationship! He was super helpful in his sharing of relevant resources, his guidance in terms of all the questions I had, and I felt like we built great rapport and therefore could share some challenges and vulnerabilities candidly!”

I began to offer free facilitation coaching in November, which enabled me to support six young people during the year in their work for climate justice, gender equity or anti-racism.

Jacob Warn, Activist, Teacher & Consultant, Europe Must Act, wrote:

“What a fabulous [free facilitation coaching] session! Can I just say on behalf of us all how thankful we are – what an ‘espresso-shot’ of insight and wisdom, it’s really so generous of you to support in this open way and just so appreciated. I can’t wait to explore the various links you’ve shared and reflect more on the questions you’ve prompted, and we would really gladly take up your offer to have another session to workshop our upcoming strategy session in 2022!”

Ukraine anti-war protest, 6 March 2022 in London

I have been glad to be able to support Ukrainian colleagues in Ukraine and elsewhere since the Russian invasion in February, not least as part of a loose network of facilitators, trainers and consultants in Ukraine and around the world that has met weekly online led by ICA USA ToP colleagues of the Global Synergy Group.

I have been awed and inspired by much of the resolve, resistance, solidarity and leadership that I have seen in response to the war, and grateful to those colleagues in Kyiv who have challenged me to realise that every show of support is valued, and that support that is unseen and unheard is no support at all – see Facilitator neutrality in the context of war and oppression #StandWithUkraine.

Join our new Online group, Weekly Online Social and scheduled online events!

For the Gay Outdoor Club I stepped up from my social media support role to launch and co-ordinate a new Online group as well, and to host regular online socials – inspired in no small part by my 5 years of hosting free facilitation meetups of IAF England & Wales. Of course I didn’t join GOC to attend online meetings, least of all to lead them! It has turned out, however, that there is a real interest in connecting, meeting and socialising online, even among members of an outdoor club like GOC, as evidenced by responses to a feedback survey in May. I have been glad to be able to apply my professional skills to support the club and fellow members in this way.

Exploring feminist facilitation

My professional development has been focused largely on Exploring feminist facilitation and, more broadly, how I can ensure that my own practice as a professional facilitator is more effectively and explicitly feminist, anti-racist and anti-oppressive.

What was most helpful for me in this was participating this year in the 12-week online feminist leadership development programme of We Are Feminist Leaders. This provided me with a comprehensive framework by which to understand what feminism brings to leadership, and thus to facilitation, and also a powerful demonstration of what feminist, anti-racist and anti-oppressive facilitation can look like in practice.

I have continued to value the professional community and facilitation meetups of IAF England & Wales as a participant, and particularly this year’s hybrid Re-Facilitation Conference which I attended online. I found that an inspiring demonstration of how effective hybrid facilitation can be, even with a minimal budget but at least a collaborative team of experienced facilitators and a lot of good will. It inspired a number of valuable articles and blog posts too, not least from SessionLab the very thorough An honest* guide to planning and facilitating successful hybrid events.

My recent return to in-person working has led me to reflect and draw some initial conclusions on Mitigating COVID risks for in person and hybrid events to inform contracting discussions with future clients and groups.

While for many in the UK the COVID pandemic is effectively over, for others here and elsewhere it clearly isn’t. There are risks to my own work and health to consider as well as those of my clients and groups, and some potential for ethical dilemmas to arise. With a more or less equal mix of online and in-person events in the pipeline for the coming months, I do now feel better prepared to navigate the risks.

I shall certainly take advantage of the autumn booster vaccination promised for over-50s in the UK as soon as that is available. I shall continue to approach opportunities for prospective hybrid events with even greater caution than I did before the pandemic, careful to try to ensure that expectation and ambition are aligned with resources (or vice versa) and that valuable opportunities for asynchronous collaboration are not overlooked in a rush to synchronous hybrid working.

Another rail route that I have been happy to acquaint myself with has been the high-speed line from Paris to Barcelona, after I resolved during something of a sabbatical in Sitges two years ago to try to spend more time there more often. It is a real privilege to be able to work in such a way as to be able to do that, and I am thankful that COVID-related travel disruptions affected our last trip barely at all for the first time since we went back.

Such disruptions did prevent me from taking more than one week of intensive Spanish class while I was there, but I have taken to attending Spanish conversation meetups in London now as well. It was a wet and windy week in the Outer Hebrides this month that distracted me from my daily Duolingo Spanish practice sufficiently to bring and end to more than a year-long streak in the Diamond League – if you are familiar with that little green owl, you may feel my disappointment!

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