A welcome opportunity to pause and reflect this summer

This June completed my fourth year in business as Martin Gilbraith Associates Ltd, and in October it will be 5 years since I went freelance from ICA:UK. Following what has been a bumper year for client work, for the first time in probably 15 months I am looking forward to several consecutive weeks of desk time, free of delivering client contracts – and a holiday in August after that!

In the last 12 months, it turns out, I have delivered 26 contracts for 18 clients in 9 countries, involving 32 face-to-face and 3 virtual events and 24 facilitated processes and 11 facilitation training courses. That has involved 73 nights away from home, 18 in the UK and 55 abroad. No wonder it felt like a bumper year – that represents an increase of around 70% in client work compared to my first four years of freelance practice, and the contracts on average were larger too.

I have been fortunate and grateful to enjoy a diverse and stimulating, often inspiring, range of groups and contexts to work with this past year. Recent client contracts for facilitation have included large and multi-event, multi-stakeholder strategic planning processes with international NGO networks such as ICUU, Girls Not Brides and Eurochild (above), and smaller, relatively simpler strategy and planning retreats such as with CENTR, Wells For India, Lorensbergs and the Peel Institute. Also large and relatively complex and challenging international team meetings such as with Amnesty International and Oxfam OPTI, and a small but complex and challenging closed Ministerial Forum with the International Union on Tuberculosis and Lung Disease. Also a conference of activists on refugee and migration issues with Amnesty UK, and facilitated leadership development labs, face-to-face & virtual, for managers of Astra Zeneca. Facilitation training has included courses with civil servants of Ofgem and the Care Quality Commission, for agile finance software project managers of Santander and bereavement counselors of the Dove Service, and for diverse groups on public courses in London, Brussels, Geneva and Moscow. I lost some bids for work, and had to turn down some opportunities as well, but I wouldn’t have wished for any other workload.

It is no wonder then that I have spent less time on other things. My volunteer time has reduced since I completed my four year term as ICAI President in December, although since then I have somewhat increased my time growing IAF England & Wales‘ activity and leadership team and partnership with IABC.

Readers may have noticed that I have managed fewer blog posts (only 20 this past year from an average of 32 the past four), and only one of my “bi-monthly” free facilitation webinars – plus in May What does it take for people to align behind change? with Michael Ambjorn, published today by MILE Madinah on YouTube.

So, what do I hope to make of this opportunity to pause and reflect?

Mostly, I hope to take the opportunity to reflect and learn from this recent experience, and share some insights here on my blog – so watch this space!

I hope to review my recent years’ ToP facilitation training end-of-course participant evaluations, and launch an online survey to invite past participants to share something of what they have applied of their learning and how, and what difference their training has made to them and the groups they work with. I hope to draft and begin to post some more facilitation case studies from my facilitation work of this last year, and request further client feedback.

I hope to schedule one or two more free facilitation webinars for the autumn, and share a recording of one already scheduled for this month with IAF India – with Martin Farrell of IAF England & Wales, on the topic of co-facilitation (below).

I hope to catch upon some reading – next up after Penny Pullan CPF’s Virtual Leadership, Responsible Facilitation by Jim Campbell formerly of ICA Belgium.

Also, I have some advance preparation to do for delivery work in the autumn, including for my new IAF-endorsed Meetings That Work courses in London & Brussels in September, with Bill Staples of ICA Associates (book here). And I hope that my calendar for the autumn will continue to fill itself – so do feel free to contact me if you’d like to help with that!

In the meantime, I am hoping also to enjoy some more summery good weather, and all that goes with it – at home in London, at the WOMAD music festival later this month and in Sitges in August.

Wishing you an opportunity to pause and reflect as well when you can…


For more on my work, and what others have to say about it, please see how I workwho I work with and recommendations & case studies – or view my profile and connect with me on LinkedIn.

You can connect with me also by joining my free facilitation webinars online, and IAF England & Wales’ free facilitation meetups in London and elsewhere.

Power to the People, and the power of facilitation and communications in partnership

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In my last post I blogged on Power to the People – why I am excited to be attending #EuroComm 2015, the April 12-14 Europe MENA conference of the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) in London. Here I’d like to share a few of my reflections on that event, and something of the potential that I see for mutual learning and collaboration between facilitators and communicators, and for partnership between IAF and IABC.

I was struck at the event, as I was in browsing the agenda in advance, by the emphasis on the changing role of the communications profession, ‘from cascade to conversation’ (Katie MacAulay) and ‘from crafting and controlling messages to facilitator, coach and guide’ (Barbara Gibson). Highlights for me among the presentations were stories of large-scale staff engagement at HSBC Exchange from Ulrike Felber and on the Art of Participatory Leadership at the European Commisison  from Ian Andersen, and on ‘bringing values alive’ at Newsweaver from Andrew O’Shaughnessy.  There was a lot valuable experience evident of engaging people at scale in change processes, from which I think facilitators could learn a great deal – particularly when it comes to engaging all those stakeholders who, for one reason or another, will never be ‘in the room’ to participate directly in a facilitated process.

I was also struck, however, that there seemed less awareness of the body of knowledge and experience that the facilitation profession has accumulated – in particular, the value of designing and leading a group through a structured series of questions and activities to achieve a particular purpose. Mention was made of using workshops to engage people, but (with the exception of the Art of Participatory Leadership) I gained little sense of their methodology or process design. While it was made clear that communications today must involve listening, and no longer just talking, I reflected that a third element that is key to making conversation productive as well as engaging is to ask purposeful questions. It seems to me that this is an area where communications professional may be able to learn from facilitators.

In spite of the emphasis in the content of the conference on communications as dialogue rather than broadcast, in terms of process I found the sessions mostly structured as presentations with dialogue limited to questions from the floor – between the stage and the tiered seating of a lecture theatre. I dare say that IAF facilitators could have learned a thing or two about making presentations engaging, but certainly I find that IAF conferences enable a greater depth and breadth of conversation.

It was partly for this reason that another highlight for me was the session on the future of the communications profession, which was held in a large classroom rather than a lecture theatre and facilitated as a number of parallel small table conversations. This session also highlighted for me the potential for the two professions and the two associations to learn from each other’s experience of common issues and challenges, such as upholding and raising professional standards and mobilising and managing volunteers and chapters.

I was impressed (as you might hope) by the use of social media at EuroComm, including vox pop videos on facebook and especially the very cool Whova mobile app for conference networking – also by the speed and number of conference reviews published online, for example by Daniel Munslow and by the AB team, and by IABC on storify. So imagine my surprise when, as #EuroComm twitter statistics were projected at the closing session, it turned out that the most prolific tweeter with the widest reach was… me, the facilitator at a conference of communicators!

Already IAF and IABC members are able to enjoy reciprocal discounts at each others’ conferences, at least in Europe. I want to encourage members of both associations to take advantage of that, and connect with each other to further explore the potential for mutual learning and collaboration, and for partnership. The door is open – step through and see what you find!

IAF members, attend the IABC World Conference, 14-17 June in San Francisco, or check the IABC global calendar for an event near you or online.

IABC members, attend the IAF North America Conference, 14-16 May in Banff; or the IAF Asia Conference, 20-22 August in Mumbai – or join me at the IAF Europe MENA Conference, 16-18 October in Stockholm

Chapters of both IAF and IABC, connect with each other locally and see what opportunities emerge!

My facilitation stories, tips and advice on Meeting Tips Radio

Meeting Tips RadioMeeting Tips Radio is an online podcast that pledges “to share stories, tips and advice from the best meeting facilitators in the world, so you can improve your meetings, improve your career, and improve your life“.

The site is published by Meeting Tips Radio host and interviewer Reine Kassulker, based in Minneapolis USA. Many of the world-class facilitators he has interviewed before me are among those who developed ICA’s Technology of Participation facilitation methodology in the 1970-80s, and who founded the International Association of Facilitators in the early 1990s. So I feel honoured indeed to be included now in this distinguished company, and to be the first guest interviewed outside of North America as well.

To hear my own stories, tips and advice, click on the image above and then click play – or download to listen later. In the 43 minute interview, I share something of my experience of the recent ICA Ukraine PEACE Summit in Kiev, some of the challenges I have experienced in virtual facilitation, my own ‘universal principle facilitation‘ ORID, my approach to meeting preparation, and how I use social media in my facilitation and in my facilitation business. I also share some tips and advice for fellow facilitators just starting out in social media, and for people just starting out as faciliators. Also, not least, I share how to get in touch if you are ready to offer me a six-figure facilitation contract…

Do also check out the archive of fascinating previous interviews at Meeting Tips Radio – listen to Marilyn Oyler on the invention of the sticky wall, Sunny Walker on virtual facilitation, Catherine Tornbom on conflict resolution, Mirja Hanson on lessons from her book Clues to Achieving Consensus, Nathaniel Cadwell on Agile meetings and innovation games, Rebecca Gilgen on ‘stealth facilitation’, Deb Burnight on strategic planning, Irina Fursman on her work in Ukraine, Linda Alton on the origins of ORID and the ToP Focused Conversation method – and much more!

And on that six-figure contract… just contact me!

Evidencing facilitation competencies – reflecting on lessons learned

Building a future together: Broadening ownership in corporate planningThis ‘from the archive’ post is the essay I wrote for my IAF Certified Professional Facilitator (CPF) re-certification in 2012. I was reminded of it as I am now preparing a portfolio for my ICA Certified ToP Facilitator (CTF) assessment. This requires up-to-date evidence of all the IAF core competencies (broadly speaking), as well as of mastery in applying the core facilitation methods of ICA’s Technology of Participation (ToP). The requirement of the essay was to “link lessons learned since your original certification date 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”.


I shall use the IAF competencies as a framework by which to reflect on and illustrate some of my professional experience and development since my CPF assessment in 2008.

A. Create Collaborative Client Relationships
Since my 2008 CPF assessment I have had the opportunity to lead the contracting and design of my largest client project to date, a 12 month process of facilitation capacity building and facilitated strategic planning delivered by myself and two colleagues [Jonathan Dudding and Ann Lukens] over 60 person days.  The project involved 90 manager trainees and around 400 staff and 1,000 members and other stakeholders of a community-based housing association in South Wales. It was later written up in an article Building a future together: Broadening ownership in corporate planning for the joint AMED & IAF Europe issue of the AMED Journal last year, and presented at the joint AMED & IAF Europe workshop in London in March 2012.

The contracting & design process itself comprised multiple meetings and project drafts over several months, but the investment in developing clarity and trust in advance proved invaluable to later success.  This whole process served to stretch and develop greatly my capacity for creating collaborative relationships with clients, and also with co-facilitators and partners. One key insight was the importance of frequent, regular face-to-face meetings between ICA:UK’s local Associate and the client’s internal project team as well as between myself and the client’s leadership.  Another related insight was to recognize that our intervention was but a small component of a much larger transformation process for the client, to which we could and did make a significant contribution but which we could not and need not fully understand or influence.

B. Plan Appropriate Group Processes
Since 2008 I have facilitated a second ‘Big Meeting’ for a user-led organisation of people with learning difficulties, the first of which served as the focus of my essay for my CPF assessment then (Evidencing facilitation competencies: planning with people with learning difficulties). This second event was conceived by the client as a ‘planning party’, in order to better engage participants than would a straightforward facilitated planning session, so atmosphere and drama were key to success.  This was achieved with the aid of plenty of games, balloons, cakes and craft materials, through a process designed collaboratively with the client.

In working with 60 academic researchers more recently in May of this year, the key was to allow plenty of time and space for participants to engage in lengthy, free-ranging and in-depth discussion in small groups. I was able to achieve this by giving them free reign of the beautiful and sunny botanical gardens adjacent to the venue for their small group sessions.  In spite of some resistance to what some perceived as over-simplification and dumbing down of complex issues, I was also able finally to bring the group to a collective conclusion in order to meet the needs of the client.

C. Create and Sustain a Participatory Environment
I made a point of developing experience and skills in virtual facilitation since my CPF in 2008, by selecting relevant sessions at each IAF conference attended and also by attending an 8-week virtual training course in ToP facilitation (Virtual Facilitation Online).  I have also had plenty of opportunity to practice virtual collaboration through my roles with the global IAF Board, and through participating in increasingly regular and sophisticated online global gatherings of members of ICA International (eg: ICAI online regional gatherings facilitate peer to peer support and collaboration). As a result I am increasingly proficient in the use of a variety of virtual tools myself, and my raised awareness of what is now possible encouraged me to lead the Board in scheduling IAF’s first online Annual Members Meeting later this year and procuring technical support through an open and competitive tendering process.

I have also made a point since 2008 of further exploring approaches to conflict, including by selecting conference sessions accordingly, by reading on conflict resolution and by some involvement in ICA:UK’s partnership work developing the Kumi method for social transformation in conflict situations on which I presented at the IAF Istanbul conference.  I am not aware that my facilitation practice has changed significantly as a result, but I certainly feel more confident in relation to conflict.

D. Guide Group to Appropriate and Useful Outcomes
I have experimented with a number of new tools and techniques since 2008.  In addition to virtual approaches mentioned above, these have included the suite tools of ICA’s Organisational Transformation course, which was new to me when I supported Bill Staples of ICA Associates to deliver it as a pre-conference course at the IAF Oxford conference in 2009. I have subsequently been able to apply some of these with success within ICA:UK and with ICA:UK clients as well.

I have adapted and applied multiple approaches in combination, including for example ToP, Open Space and Solutions Focus with the South Wales Housing Association mentioned above; and ToP and world café with a number or clients. I adapted a well-known ice-breaker to create on the hoof “Just one lie” for use at the IAF Board meeting in London in 2011, and subsequently wrote it up and contributed it to the IAF Methods Database and Global Flipchart Method of the Month [see Creativity in facilitation, and Just One Lie].

E. Build and Maintain Professional Knowledge
Since applying to join the IAF Board and take my CPF assessment in 2008 I have read through all the back issues of the IAF Journal and the IAF Handbooks and a number of other facilitation titles as well.  I have attended two IAF conferences each year.

My IAF Board roles have helped me to expand my professional network and relationships greatly, which has been enormously valuable for my learning and professional development.  This has also been aided by my increased use of social media in the last few years, particularly LinkedIn and twitter, which I find invaluable sources of new material of interest as well as new personal and professional connections.

In drafting this essay I have learned that I need to become more methodical in maintaining a record of my professional development in order to more easily and effectively renew my CPF in four years from now!  I have plans to start blogging regularly so I hope that will help greatly [Welcome to my new website and blog!].

In my forthcoming freelance career I am looking forward to focusing my professional practice more on the international development and humanitarian sector, and to the opportunities for learning and development that that will afford me.

F. Model Positive Professional Attitude
Since I have begun inviting professional recommendations via LinkedIn, I am proud that values professionalism and integrity have been referred to repeatedly.

I am excited as well as somewhat apprehensive to have given notice to step down from my role as Chief Executive from the end of September, after 16 years with ICA:UK [A new transition for ICA:UK – and for me], with a view to working freelance as a professional facilitator and facilitation trainer for at least some time.  With my IAF Chair role ending soon as well, in December [Reflections on a term as IAF Chair], I am relishing the prospect that my reduced responsibilities might allow more time for reflection and learning, and exploration of new opportunities and new avenues for professional development and service.

Four steps to a universal principle of facilitation and learning

This post was first written for and published by Kellow Learning: facilitating curious futures, as the first of a series of monthly guest posts from members of the global Kellow Learning Network.

At a recent monthly meet-up of the International Association of Facilitators in London, the question was posed “is there a single, universal principle of facilitation?”  More to the point of course, if there is – what is it!

It didn’t take me long to think and respond that, in my own facilitation at least, there is certainly something approaching that – a simple four-level model of human behaviour that is always in my mind as I design and facilitate any learning or collaborative process, and that is very often explicitly the basis of the design.  Anyone who has worked or taken training with me, or who is familiar with ICA’s Technology of Participation (ToP) approach, will know immediately what I am talking about.  It is the basis of the ToP Focused Conversation method, featured in the foundational ToP Group Facilitation Methods course, and it is affectionately known as ORID.

ORID is a model of how we respond as human beings to each other and our environment, and so too of how we learn, make decisions and act.  We perceive our external reality through our senses of sight, sound, touch, taste and smell. These are our sources of data, the Objective level of the model.  We experience an internal response to such data initially, whether or not we are conscious of it.  These emotional, intuitive or gut reactions represent the Reflective level.  We discern meaning, ascribe value or significance, and learn at the Interpretive level.  When we come to some sort of conclusion, resolution or action that is at the Decisional level.   We go through this process countless times every day, often subconsciously.  For example, I hear my alarm clock through my sleep in the morning and roll over in bed to ignore it and continue sleeping; until I realise that it is getting late and I must get up, so I reach to switch on the light.

The ToP focused conversation method uses ORID as the basis for crafting a series of questions, by which to lead a group through a conversation which is focused, inclusive and productive.  The conversation is focused by crafting questions explicitly to help the group address a particular topic.  It follows the four levels of ORID in turn, taking the group on a journey together from surface to depth understanding, learning and resolution.  This is inclusive because different people (and people of different cultures) tend to be stronger and more comfortable at the different levels, so this enables everyone to participate where they are most comfortable and to contribute from their strengths.  This discipline of addressing each level together in turn also helps to test unspoken assumptions and overcome unconscious biases, and so helps to make the conversation more productive and conclusions more robust.

I find that this approach applies equally well to an informal small group conversation of a few minutes as it does to an elaborate large group process of days, weeks or months.  For example, I shared the design of a small group conversation from a training context in my recent blog post Three dimensions of the facilitator role – a focused conversation with video.  For an example from virtal faciliation see the twitter chat ‘Facilitating a Diverse Group of People‘, designed and led with @BenZiegler to celebrate International Facilitation Week last October. Another recent post ‘from the archive’ Staff away day with George House Trust illustrates ORID applied to the design of a whole day event – opening, overview, introductions and ground rules at the Objective level; ‘Wall of Wonder’ historical scan and story-telling at the Reflective level; World Café conversation at the Interpretive level, on “How we would like to be able to describe the culture of GHT”; and at the Decisional level, a team-building exercise, next steps, and closing reflection and evaluation.

Also I find that ORID applies well in conjunction with all sorts of other methods and tools.  The World Café method used in the George House Trust example is a case in point.  In a consultation event involving around 70 researchers helping to shape a future grant programme of a national Research Council, I used ORID to structure the four, progressive small-group table conversations of a World Café session – [O] highlights of our own research relevant to the research theme, [R] exciting emerging themes and questions, [I] opportunities for mutual support & collaboration, and [D] implications for researchers and for the Research Council. I plan to share more examples of ORID as a process design tool in future posts.

So, my universal principle is this – whatever the aims for your group process, there will be four key steps to achieving them.  Even if you have an apparently simple, single question to address, often four questions will work better than one.  As another example, if you want to ask “what shall we do about problem X?”, consider that your D-level question and ask first “what do we know about problem X?”, “what have been some of our challenges and breakthroughs in the past in relation to problem X?”, and “what have we learned from our experience about what might work and what doesn’t work in relation to problem X?”.

For a detailed explanation and practical guidance on the ToP Focused Conversation method, including many example conversation designs, see The Art of Focused Conversation: 100 ways to access group wisdom in the workplace and The Art of Focused Conversation for Schools: Over 100 Ways to Guide Clear Thinking and Promote Learning.

If you have found a universal principle of facilitation or learning yourself, please do share it!  I do not claim that mine is the single universal principle…

I am grateful to Sean Blair of ProMeet for posing the question at the IAF Facilitators & Friends London meet-up. Do join us (it’s free) on the 2nd Thursday of the month in central London, or join us online to schedule a meet-up where you are.


For more on my work, and what others have to say about it, please see how I workwho I work with and recommendations & case studies – or view my profile and connect with me on LinkedIn.

You can connect with me also by joining my free facilitation webinars online, and IAF England & Wales’ free facilitation meetups in London and elsewhere.

My first 416 days as a freelance facilitator

National Freelancers DayToday is National Freelancers Day here in the UK, and so a good day I think to reflect on my own first year and a bit as a freelancer.  I did think that twice before, but on my anniversary on October 1st I was too busy with client work, and during International Facilitation Week (October 21-27) I was too busy with International Facilitation Week.  At 7am this morning I was working with Orla Cronin to facilitate an online workshop for worldwide contributors to a collaborative writing process taking place in South Africa this week, ‘Exploring the Real Work of Social Change‘, but apart from that I am happy to be having a relatively quiet week. So here goes. I have even updated my profile photo to mark the occasion – a new look for a new year.

London Mayor Boris Johnson is quoted as saying in support for National Freelancers Day that “taking the plunge as a freelancer is an immense decision that in many ways can appear daunting but it’s also a choice that’s brave, ambitious, fulfilling and rewarding“. My own decision initially was to work freelance to earn an income and keep my options open for a while, while deciding what to do next after stepping down as Chief Executive of ICA:UK after 16 years. I thought of it more as a sabbatical at first than as a new career, and after delivering facilitation, training and consulting services to ICA:UK clients all those years it did not seem particularly brave or ambitious. The immense part had been deciding to step down from my previous role. It was indeed rewarding and fulfilling, however, and soon enough I had decided that this was how I wanted to continue to work.

In that sense the process has been a little like the way my career as a whole began and then continued. I took a ‘year out’ after my undergraduate degree to volunteer with ICA in India in 1986, and 27 years later I am still with ICA and serving as volunteer President of ICA International. Working freelance is enabling me to do that now, and whatever other paid or unpaid work I want to take on, with maximum flexibility and minimum administration and overheads.  What’s not to like?

In my first year as a freelancer I have had the opportunity to deliver facilitation and facilitation training contracts in Dublin, Geneva, Moscow, Ramallah, Zurich and online, as well as around the UK and even within walking distance from my home base in London. The groups I have worked with have ranged from local community-based organisations to UN-mandated international agencies, and from global corporations to small consultancies and social enterprise start-ups (see also who I work with and how I work). This diversity is a major attraction for me – always stimulating, mostly challenging and never dull.

Having worked for years as well with public sector clients in the UK, these have been notable for me by their absence this past year. Notwithstanding David Cameron’s enthusiasm for freelancers (and entrepreneurs) ‘as the engine of our economy and economic revival’, it has certainly been a good year not to be reliant on UK clients, and especially not on UK public sector clients. Many years of international involvement and Board service with my professional association the International Association of Facilitators has been very helpful there, as well as long-standing relationships with ICA colleagues worldwide. I have Brussels, Geneva and New York to look forward to in December & January, and a number of mostly European prospects in the pipeline for after that, so I am happy to say an over-reliance on UK work does not seem to be a problem as yet. I would welcome more gigs that I can walk to as well though!

On deciding to establish myself in business as a freelancer I also joined PCG: the Freelancers Association (the people behind National Freelancers Day), and have found this invaluable.  I have experience of non-profit management and governance, including registering and preparing SORP-compliant accounts for a UK charitable company, but it has been a relief to be able to learn quickly and easily the particularities of company and tax law etc. as they apply to me now as a freelancer – and to discover just how less onerous it is to establish and run a private company with one shareholder, one Director and one employee.  For someone whose stock in trade is participatory decision making, it’s nothing short of revolutionary for me that I get to decide everything by myself, without consultation, and within much lesser constraints than I am used to.  I am proud to say that Martin Gilbraith Associates Ltd is now well and truly in business, and even has its new cloud-based Crunch accounting system up to date (quote ‘mg15641m’ if you join too, and we both get free vouchers).

Throughout this past year I have particularly enjoyed and appreciated the extra time I have been able to find for professional development, reflection, reading and writing.  I am pleased to have accumulated over 40 posts and 6,000 site views on this blog, and to have read many books (and many more than each of the previous years) and attended numerous events with IAF, at the RSA and elsewhere. I still aspire to make more connection between the professional development, reflection and reading and the writing, but happy for that to be a goal.

In the meantime, I enjoyed so much the opportunity to use my Arabic again on my recent trips to Palestine that I have joined an Arabic conversation meet-up group in London. That experience has also got me wondering more about the reality and prospects for participation and facilitative leadership in the Arab world generally, almost 20 years on from my own six years with ICA Egypt and my masters research on civil society and democtratisation, and with the revolutions of the so called ‘Arab Spring’ continuing to unfold.

Thank you for following, and please feel free to share your own reflections and comments as well.


For more on my work, and what others have to say about it, please see how I workwho I work with and recommendations & case studies – or view my profile and connect with me on LinkedIn.

You can connect with me also by joining my free facilitation webinars online, and IAF England & Wales’ free facilitation meetups in London and elsewhere.

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!