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.

See also about mehow I workwho I work with and recommendations & case studies, and please contact me about how we might work together.

Register now on Eventbrite for my free facilitation webinars, and for my regularly scheduled ToP facilitation training courses in London and Brussels.

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!

Martin Gilbraith Associates Ltd

Gaining perspective, world-wide and history-longPlease join me in welcoming to the world Martin Gilbraith Associates Ltd, incorporated on 25 June 2013 – almost exactly nine months since I left employment and went freelance at the end of last September.

I wrote last December in Gaining perspective, world-wide and history-long of what a treat it felt for me to be embarking something of a sabbatical.  I hope I shall continue to have plenty of time for exploration, reflection and learning (and blogging) even as I am getting ever busier with clients and with my volunteer roles. Suffice it to say, however, that I am not yet missing my former management responsibilties, and I have decided to commit myself to pursuing my next big thing – and this is it.

I hope you’ll continue to share the journey with me by means of this blog, and that you’ll contact me if you have any ideas for working with me and my new company!

Facilitation Daily – news, views & links from the world’s leading facilitators

Facilitation Daily is an online daily newspaper at paperli, featuring news, views and links from the world’s leading facilitators – members of the International Association of Facilitators and others.

Each issue includes dozens of stories, videos and photos drawn from the latest tweets and blog posts of over 300 contributors. They include tips and advice, reflections and musings, previews and reviews, announcements and offers, requests for proposals and invitations to tender.

To read today’s paper and to subscribe to receive the paper daily by email, click on the image above

To be included as a contributor, please direct message me via twitter at @martingilbraith or contact me with your twitter name.

Creativity in facilitation, and Just One Lie

IAF Europe February 2013Last week I read the latest February issue of the IAF (International Association of Facilitators) Europe magazine. Gillian Martin Mehers, in her article Workshop Games Everywhere, writes of how she found herself creating a new workshop activity from an unexpected source of inspiration, in order not to fall back on repeating familiar exercises with a group with which she works regularly. In this case she drew on questions she found in the ‘Proust Interview’ in Vanity Fair magazine.

I was reminded of an experience of my own of a couple of years ago, preparing to lead a rare 3-day face-to-face meeting of the IAF global Board, after almost half of it’s members had been newly elected. In this case I was looking for some activity or activities to break the ice and help us all get to know each other better, but also to enable me to punctuate a long and intense meeting with some moments of light relief.  I ended up adapting the well-known icebreaker ‘two truths and a lie’ to create an activity that I could return to throughout the meeting. I was sufficfiently pleased with the result that I wrote up the exercise for the IAF Methods Database, and I thought it might bear repeating here (see below).  See what you think!

I find the IAF an endless and invaluable source of creative inspiration for my own practice as a facilitator – the magazine and newsletters, the conferences and events, and of course the many creative members that contribute to them. Gillian is a great example, as you will see also in her own blog You Learn Somthing New Every Day.

If you find yourself stuck for inspiration some time, you may indeed find inspiration in the most unexpected places.  If you don’t, you could do worse than browse the hundreds of activities contributed to the IAF Methods Database for ideas!

Just One Lie

Have one-half a flipchart page and a pad of post-its for each individual in the meeting.  At the start, have each participant write their name at the top of their flipchart page and hang it on the wall.  Then have each individual put the names of all of their colleagues on post-its, one name per post-it.

  1. At the start of the session, ask the group to mingle, asking one another questions to get acquainted, such as “What sports do you like?” “Where do you like to take your holidays?” “What is your favorite food?”; or about their career, such as “How did you get into facilitation”, “When you do join IAF”, “What was your greatest  facilitation achievement?”; or about the meeting, such as “What is your worst fear for this meeting?”.  Or just ask for one fact they would like to share with the group.
  2. Tell the participants, “For every person you meet, put their name and one fact you have learned about them onto the post-it with their name.  As you meet every person in the group, you should accumulate a post-it for each person.
  3. “However, as you answer questions about yourself, please ensure that one (and only one) answer you give is a lie, something entirely not true of you.”
  4. When everyone has accumulated one fact post-it about everyone else, have participants distribute the post-its onto each individual’s flipchart pages.
  5. Introduce yourself by reading out the flip chart page with your own name and facts, and then invite the group to guess which is a lie.  Use a red marker to identify tick every true fact until the lie is revealed, then a cross to identify that.
  6. Next, introduce another participant in the same way.  When the lie is revealed, it is their turn to select and introduce another.
  7. As the meeting proceeds, start sessions and end breaks with the last person introduced to select and introduce another
  8. By the end of the meeting everyone should have been introduced, and all but one have introduced another.  Then you can celebrate the success of the person whose lie took the most guesses to reveal