Reflecting on a year of freelance facilitation online, and looking ahead

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

I Declare A Climate Emergency

This time last summer, as I reviewed the year to June 2020, I reflected that my January 2020 resolution to travel less and work more online had worked out well so far. I am still wondering when I might finally be tempted to accept any face-to-face work.

As in previous years, I shall share here 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 a four-level ORID reflection, of course.

In the year to June 2021 I delivered 32 contracts for 22 clients. That compares with 25 contracts for 19 clients the year before, and 25 for 14 the year before that. As my work has gone wholly online the past year, and part of the year before, numbers of contracts and clients have risen. It has felt busier too. After deciding and then failing to keep this summer largely free of client commitments, I am appreciating that I have now finally made some time to catch up and reflect.

This past year’s contracts involved a total of more than 100 individual online sessions and no travel at all. That compares to 14 face-to-face, one ‘hybrid’ and 16 wholly virtual events (of one or more sessions) the year before, involving 28 nights away from home for work; and 31 face-to-face and just one virtual event the year before that, with 47 nights away. My business expenses for travel and accommodation fell to zero for the past year, and with them the associated carbon impact (and the many transactions to be recorded and reconciled in the accounts).

Introduction to Producing Virtual Events

Because most online sessions require a producer as well as a facilitator, or two or more facilitators to share those roles, most of these these contracts have involved working as a team. For ten I was sub-contracted to a colleague, and for 19 I sub-contracted one or more colleagues myself. That compares to 7 and 4 the year before. This past year I have worked solo hardly at all, whereas before the pandemic I worked alone more often than not. I have very much enjoyed the opportunities for broader and deeper collaboration with colleagues.

Partners that I have contracted with this past year include ICA colleagues Megan Evans, Alan Heckman, Jo Nelson and particularly Orla Cronin, and IAF collegues Marie Dubost and Bruno Selun. I have collaborated too 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 been largely UK charities and international NGOs, European agencies and contractors, NGO networks, Associations and a few others. In addition to my usual mix of clients and projects in the fields of international development, humanitarian response and human rights, this past year has seen a welcome increase for me in environmental and climate justice work (another January 2020 resolution) as well as in health and education.

Of this past year’s contracts, 11 involved facilitation while 18 involved training and 7 involved coaching and consulting. That compares to 7 facilitation & 16 training the year before, and 14 facilitation & 14 training the year before that. So I find myself providing increasingly more training relative to facilitation, and increasingly coaching and consulting as well. I have enjoyed devoting more of my energy to supporting others in their facilitation roles and practice, and less doing it for them myself.

Tired but hopeful after an online Management Team “Away Day”

Facilitation contracts this past year have ranged in scale from a single session of 90 minutes at relatively short notice to a series of 20 sessions collaboratively designed and prepared over several months:

Julie Deutschmann, ACE

Julie Deutschmann, Communication Officer at Architects’ Council of Europe (ACE-CAE), wrote in a recommendation:

“We would like to thank and congratulate Martin for the work done to facilitate the Architects’ Council of Europe (ACE) online Strategic Development Session. The preparation went very well and the integration of new digital tools into the session was very helpful in allowing for the valuable contribution from our members. The excellent facilitation provided by Martin and his colleague Orla allowed participants to articulate strategic thinking while sticking to the aims of the workshop.”

Barbara Weber

Barbara Weber, Director, Global Strategy and Impact at Amnesty International, wrote:

“Thanks for facilitating our online Strategy Labs – cross-regional, multiple languages. You supported us in focusing on the main issues. Very much appreciated.”

Introduction to Facilitation Online

My scheduled public training this past year has been limited to my Introduction to Facilitation Online session, which I provided 6 times publicly during the year and 9 times in-house. I worked with fellow ICA:UK trainers to develop and deliver the new Group Facilitation Methods I Online and with Orla Cronin to deliver and offer the new Introduction to Producing Virtual Events I Online session and Facilitating Virtual Events I Online course as well. Instead of offering the longer courses publicly myself, I have chosen to offer them in-house only and to refer individuals to the ICA:UK schedule.

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:

Louise Reeve, Policy and Communications Business Partner at Newcastle City Council, wrote in a recommendation:

“Some training to recommend from Martin Gilbraith – I attended his Introduction to Facilitation Online course. Whatever your experience level, you should find something in this training which can make your online sessions just that bit better and more enjoyable”

Enrico Teotti

Enrico Teotti, Agile coach and (visual) facilitator at Avanscoperta, wrote:

“I attended Martin’s ORID class online Group Facilitation Methods Online. The class was divided with practical homework and exercises which I find a great way to learn. Martin and Jo were great hosts able get in to deeper conversations when the group desired that still respecting the course agenda.”

Coaching and consulting contracts this past year have ranged in scale from one or two one-hour sessions with a single coachee to providing training, coaching and consulting support for multiple teams to design and lead multi-session and multi-lingual international conferences for hundreds of delegates:

Rosa Brandon

Rosa Brandon, Programme Quality Officer at Oxfam Ireland, wrote in a recommendation:

“Martin provided invaluable support to Oxfam Ireland in the build-up to a series of multi-stakeholder online workshops. He provided tailored ‘coaching sessions’ to our team, which helped us to prepare and deliver several engaging virtual sessions. These sessions directly catered to our needs, building our ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ virtual facilitation skills and knowledge. Furthermore, he also co-facilitated an in-house “Introduction to Facilitation Online” workshop with colleagues across Southern and Eastern Africa. This excellent workshop was well received by all participants. Thanks, Martin!”

Björn van Roozendaal

Björn van Roozendaal, Programmes Director at ILGA-Europe, wrote:

“Together with other folks at the Kumquat team Martin helped us to organize the ILGA-Europe Gathering Online 2020. Organizing a large event online for the first time came with many questions and challenges. Martin particularly helped us with providing training and assistance to put together the flow of the programme and to ensure that we were ready to facilitate the many spaces that our event was made up with. It was a pleasure working with Martin!”

Just as last year was drawing to a close in June, a new contract with Amnesty International was getting underway in preparation for its first online Global Assembly. This involved me and my team of Marie Dubost, Orla Cronin, Hector Villarreal Lozoya & Charo Lanao in the design and facilitation of a series of 16 Discussion Group sessions in July & August and parts of last week’s plenary meeting as well, with 3-4 delegates of each of 65 national entities worldwide working in English, French and Spanish.

Dr. Anjhula Mya Singh Bais

Anjhula Mya Singh Bais, Interim Chair of the International Board, wrote:

“Martin has been an asset to Amnesty International. He was a consistent and compassionate presence through multicultural regional meetings and strategy sessions. Throughout 16 sessions of the online 2021 Global Assembly of Amnesty International, he demonstrated a high technical proficiency on the complexity of organisational procedures, terminology, and processes. He demonstrates that he truly hears and sees everyone and increased the quality of our participation.”

In my volunteering, I completed 5 years of chapter leadership with IAF England & Wales in December. That left me (happily) without regular Board meetings to attend for the first time in perhaps 25 years!

IAF E&W 2020 Annual Conference

For International Facilitation Week in October, the first online IAF England & Wales Annual Conference had attracted over 100 participants for a full week’s programme of over 25 peer-led learning and networking sessions, led largely this year by Susannah Raffe and others of the IAF E&W Leadership Team. The regular schedule of several free, online facilitation meetups each month continues still.

I continued to serve as a mentor in the IAF mentoring programme, stepping up my commitment this year to working with two mentees in parallel. I have continued to gain as much as I have given, and have very much enjoyed the opportunity to accompany fellow facilitators on their professional journey in this way.

Chizu Matsushita, Facilitator of dialogue and participatory community/team development, wrote:

“I grew from being not confident at all to quite confident about the facilitation skills I have been developing. I have felt a tangible impact. I now believe that a professional facilitator is a real and incredibly impactful profession through which I can make contributions in areas I deeply care.”

I have not been anxious to take on another long-term leadership role, but I have diversified my volunteer interests a little by turning my social media experience to tweeting since last September for the Gay Outdoor Club. This is a group that I have appreciated participating in for many years, all the more since I have been travelling less and keen to be outdoors more. I have continued to serve as volunteer webmaster for ICA International and to tweet for International Facilitation Week.

Facilitation Competencies for Agilists

I continued to host free facilitation webinars, although somewhat less regularly this past year and mostly only in response to invitations from partners. This happened to result in two sessions for different groups on Facilitation Competencies for Agilists, plus Is there a single, universal principle of facilitation? with IAF Belgium and Scaling up engagement and dialogue for the IAF global webinar series.

This last session drew on insights of previous work with Michael Ambjorn of AlignYourOrg on the power of partnership between facilitation and communication, including research for a chapter in the book the Power of Facilitation #FacPower.

FacPower out now!

Now available since May, this book is free to download in order to enable and encourage everyone to read it and to share it.

For your free copy please click here or on the image (right), and for recordings of ‘meet the author’ sessions held over the summer see News – #FacPower.

Facilitating Breakthrough, Adam Kahane

I have been increasingly been invited this past year to contribute to, endorse or help to promote the publications of other colleagues as well, and I have been pleased to be able to do that. This has included an endorsement and an online session in support of More Than Halfway to Somewhere: how exposure to other cultures has shaped our lives with ICA colleague John Burbidge, a Foreword to How to Facilitate LEGO Serious Play Online by Sean Blair and most recently an endorsement and an online session (next month) in support of Facilitating Breakthrough: How to Remove Obstacles, Bridge Differences, and Move Forward Together by Adam Kahane. I am more than a little awe-struck to find my endorsement for that latter book listed next to one from Nelson Mandela.

In September I joined IAF Chair Vinay Kumar in exploring the rapidly growing field of virtual facilitation in a podcast Re-Tooling for Virtual Facilitation.

So what I have learned, and what are some implications for my future practice and professional development?

If keeping my resolution to travel less and work more online was ever going to be difficult, it didn’t turn out that way. Before the pandemic I had found it difficult to commit to multiple short online sessions over time while remaining available to commit to several days or a week at a time for a face-to-face event plus travel. Since my schedule has filled with short online sessions that can be delivered from home, or even elsewhere, I have had no appetite to commit to being in a particular place to deliver, nor to accept the risks and uncertainties now associated with working face-to-face. When I am finally tempted to accept face-to-face work again, it will most likely be at short notice and local to me or at least easy to reach without flying. My expectation is that I shall continue to work mostly if not wholly online.

When is online better than face-to-face

I find that there is ample continuing demand for online facilitation services, not least among international organizations and other distributed groups who may also be concerned to reduce the expense and carbon impact associated with meeting face-to-face. My experience has been that many clients and groups have been pleasantly surprised and impressed over the past year and more by what can be achieved online, that they continue to recognize that they have much to learn in order to best reap the benefits and avoid the pitfalls, and so they continue to recognize the potential added value of professional facilitation services more than for the face-to-face context with which they are still much more familiar. While they are finding that meeting effectively online does not save all of the costs of meeting face-to-face, the savings can allow them to budget for facilitation that they otherwise may not have.

After growing and leading a team of Associates with ICA:UK over many years, and leading and managing larger and more collaborative client projects, I chose to keep my practice small and work largely solo since I went freelance in 2012. While I have enjoyed that, I find now that I have enjoyed leading and managing larger and more collaborative client projects again, online, so I am inclined to allow that to grow further.

After choosing to keep my taxable business turnover below the threshold at which I would be required to register for VAT, partly in order not to make my services more expensive to unregistered smaller clients and individuals on public courses, I have found myself unable to maintain that this year and I have had to apply to register. So I am inclined to accept the administration of VAT in preference to that of public courses, and to accept the potential loss of smaller clients and projects in favour of fewer larger ones.

I have enjoyed the growth of coaching, consulting and mentoring that has occurred organically in my practice over the past year and more, so I shall include those more explicitly in my offer in order to grow them further.

I have enjoyed working on several client projects involving international governance this past year, and finding my own governance experience relevant and helpful for that, so I am interested to see that grow further – and therefore I am interested that two such new opportunities have just arisen already in the past weeks.

I have been challenged by the Black Lives Matter movement and other recent manifestations and responses to systemic injustice and oppression, and by clients who have been similarly challenged, to reflect on how I might ensure that my own practice is more effectively and explicitly anti-racist, feminist and anti-oppressive, and to commit to working on that.

I have enjoyed continuing to advance my Spanish learning since returning from Sitges into lockdown last year, and finally being able to return for a first visit again last month. I hope to continue advance, and to continue to visit.

Thank you for following!


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.

How to Facilitate LEGO Serious Play Online – #FacWeek Foreword

How to Facilitate LEGO® Serious Play® Online

Welcome to International Facilitation Week 2020, starting today! #FacWeek

This year I am pleased to join with Sean Blair CPF in launching his new book, for which I am pleased to have contributed the Foreword, below.

Join Sean and me if you can at this year’s online IAF England & Wales Annual Conference, in which he will be leading a session The story of how LEGO® Serious Play®, a face-to-face method went #Online and I shall be co-hosting this month’s UK & Ireland facilitators virtual coffee meetup #IAFmeetup – all welcome!

Also this week, on Thursday I shall be leading Facilitation Competencies for Agilists with fellow ICA:UK ToP trainer Megan Evans part of Agile Tour London 2020.  And of course I shall be tweeting @FacWeek!

How will you celebrate and promote the power of facilitation this year? Check out the global schedule of events at www.facweek.org, and you will not be left short of ideas!


I started out as a facilitator in 1986, with my first training in the ICA ‘Technology of Participation’ (ToP) methodology that has been my facilitation speciality ever since.

I have been providing facilitation and facilitation training professionally to a wide range of clients since 1997, became a Certified™ Professional Facilitator (CPF) of the International Association of Facilitators in 2008 and was inducted into the IAF Hall of Fame in 2014, then became CPF | Master this year in 2020.

All of this time I have worked remotely, in and with geographically distributed groups, as well as face-to-face. I have been using online technology in this work for as long as it has been available.

I have never sought to make online facilitation a particular speciality, however – until now, of course. I have not made LEGO® Serious Play® a speciality either, in spite of having enjoyed a long and distinguished early childhood career in LEGO®!

I believe that a facilitator is first a facilitator, and only second an online facilitator or a LEGO Serious Play facilitator. I believe that the keys to mastering facilitation lie in the values and the stance of the facilitator, the competencies and the disciplines, rather than the space or the platform, the methods or the tools.

Nevertheless, I am excited to commend to you this book ‘How To Facilitate Meetings & Workshops Using The LEGO® Serious Play® Method Online’. Here are three reasons why.

I know Sean, and that he is a competent, experienced and accomplished facilitator. Questions are the primary tool of every facilitator, and I know that he asks good questions and that he asks them well. In an early meetup of IAF England & Wales, in London in perhaps 2013, he posed the question: “Is there such a thing as a universal principle of facilitation?”

It didn’t take me long to think and respond that, in my own facilitation at least, there is certainly something approaching that – the ‘ORID’ model underlies of the ToP Focused Conversation method and the ToP methodology as a whole.

I know that Sean has since integrated this approach in his practice, and in his previous book ‘Mastering The LEGO Serious Play Method’. I was sufficiently inspired by the metaphor of ORID as a universal principle that I blogged about it then and have used it in my training ever since.

Many facilitators have rapidly developed a speciality in working online this year, as Sean and I have as well. Some have done so more quickly and easily than others, and some with greater enthusiasm. Most, in my experience, have had reservations about some of the very real limitations of online facilitation. Only recently I think more of us are becoming belatedly more aware of some equally real limitations of face-to-face, and some real advantages of working online.

So, it is not only LEGO Serious Play practitioners that might take heart and find inspiration in the many innovations that Sean shares in this book. There is much here for all of us to learn from – not least, the rigour and creativity with which he has designed ‘a digital process that uses bricks’ [substitute your preferred tool or method here] ‘rather than an analogue process poorly rendered online’.

I’ve heard it said that, in online facilitation, every participant brings their share of the meeting room with them. This is a challenge for LEGO Serious Play practitioners perhaps more than most, and one to which this book rises admirably.

As Sean makes clear in his Guiding Principles, success in achieving outcomes rather than just engagement through facilitation comes largely from the planning and preparation, and from the capacity to divert nimbly from the plan when the moment requires improvisation.

All of this can be considerably more complex and difficult online than face-to-face. So, if this is what can be done with LEGO Serious Play, think what else can be possible online!

Finally, we are in the midst of a climate emergency, as well as a public health emergency. I believe that the two are not unrelated, and that they demand new ways of connecting, communicating and collaborating that are less carbon intensive as well as more COVID-19 secure, and that are more creative, compassionate and empowering as well. I believe that facilitation has a central role to play on the latter, with bricks as well as without, and that designing and delivering facilitation well online must play a part on the former.

I have witnessed an extraordinary flourishing of creativity and innovation among facilitators in response to the pandemic and lockdown of recent months, and an extraordinary generosity of sharing of it as well – largely, of course, online.

I am delighted to see this valuable and timely new book enter the fray, and just in time for International Facilitation Week! I am proud to be able to welcome you to it, and grateful to Sean for sharing it.

Buy the book, online of course, from Serious Work.


See also about mehow I workwho 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.

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

Another year in freelance facilitation, and how it turned out!

Introduction to Facilitation Online

Since I posted Reflecting on another year of freelance facilitation a year ago, last August, our lives and work have changed radically for many of us. I mentioned then that I would be taking ‘something of a sabbatical’ from October to March in Sitges, in Spain. As it turned out, that was cut short by less than three weeks by my early return to London due to COVID19.

I Declare A Climate EmergencyI reflected in Sitges in January on What can I do about climate change, personally and as a facilitator?. I concluded, among other things, that I would seek to travel less, and work more online. That has worked out well so far!

In the year to June 2020 I delivered 25 contracts for 19 clients in 5 countries and online – that compares with 25 for 14 in 7 countries & online the year before. So, the same number of contracts for a few more clients in a few less countries.

Of those 25 contracts last year 7 were facilitated processes (14 the year before), 16 were facilitation training courses (14) and 2 were largely consulting (0). They involved 14 face-to-face and one ‘hybrid’ event (31 f2f), and 16 wholly virtual sessions or series of sessions (1). I spent 28 nights away on business, 4 in the UK and 24 abroad, compared with 14+33=47 last year.

So, half as much face-to-face and half as much facilitation, and considerably more training and consulting – plus 16 times as many virtual events (admittedly many were smaller) and 40% fewer nights away on business.

The fall in face-to-face work and nights away certainly comes as no surprise. One virtual and 10 face-to-face contracts were in the 3 months before Sitges, and 2 virtual and 5 face-to-face contracts were in the almost 6 months there. Since then I have canceled all 14 of my face-to-face public courses for 2020, and four in-house contracts were either canceled or delivered online.  Prior to a very welcome holiday in Wales these past two weeks, I had had no nights away at all since returning and entering lockdown early on 12 March. Until the end of June I had not traveled more than a few miles by foot or bicycle. I am grateful that plenty of online work has come my way to take to take up the slack, and interested that that has involved a significant rise in training and consulting.

ICA:UK AGM, December 2000 at Wick Court CentreMy online work did not just start with COVID19, however.  With the Wikimedia Foundation last July on behalf of ICA:UK, I provided virtual co-facilitation for remote participants in a 3-day meeting of a strategy working group of around 12 in Utrecht. With AEIDL in December, I designed and facilitated a 2-day ‘hybrid’ team planning meeting involving around 15 participants in Brussels and another 5 online. In February from Sitges I produced a pair of online facilitation training sessions with Extinction Rebellion, on behalf of Orla Cronin Research. In fact I have been facilitating and training online for clients since at least since 2012, and otherwise also since long before – as I recalled in May, in From the Archive: a 2001 online Focused Conversation on ICA:UK values. So I have been fortunate to be in a position to respond quickly to the sudden increase in demand for everything online. That response has included adding new modules on virtual facilitation to my training offer since March, namely Introduction to Facilitation Online and Facilitating Virtual Events I Online.

What else has changed for me, in response to the rise in online working, is much more co-facilitation and producing and much more sub-contracting and partnership working. Existing partners with whom I have collaborated a great deal more, in recent months especially, include ICA Associates Inc., ICA:UK and Orla Cronin Research. New partners that I have been pleased to have the opportunity to work with as well this year include Kumquat Consult and Rees McCann.

My nature of my clients has changed considerably less this past year than the nature of my work with them. Returning clients in the past year have included Amnesty International, Greater Cambridge Partnership, Interact EU, Personal Image, PICUM and of course ICA:UK. New clients have included  AEIDLThe BrookeEMCDDA, Extinction Rebellion, ILGA EuropeNCVO, Southern Hemisphere and the Wikimedia Foundation.  So, still UK charities and international NGOs, plus European agencies and contractors, NGO networks, Associations and a few others. Also this year I have worked (both online and face-to-face) with colleagues of IAF chapters in Australia, Italy, Portugal, Romania, Spain and Turkey.

Photo by Mikael Kristenson https://unsplash.com/photos/3aVlWP-7bg8

After a considerable pause in my long-standing series of Free facilitation webinars, before and during my time in Sitges, the onset of lockdown from March proved a timely opportunity to convene some online sessions to demonstrate something of virtual facilitation while exploring issues around the new online working. Several of these were scheduled in partnership with ICA:UK as part of its Online Focused Conversation Series: Taking time to connect, learn and reflect. Topics included Promoting inclusion in online facilitation, Taking your event online: what could possibly go wrong?, How engaging can your online session be?, When is online better than face-to-face? and Exploring Facilitation Competencies. Three of these attracted more than 100 participants, one as many as 250, and they all generated a wealth of insight and very positive feedback.

thumbnailMy role as Chair of IAF England & Wales again accounted for most of my volunteer time this year. Our 2-day Annual Conference in October, the Power and Practice of Facilitation, attracted over 100 participants from across the country and beyond. In December another three Board members were elected, bringing our number to nine, and we held our first online Annual Members meeting.  A dozen of our wider Leadership Team of 28 met overnight for the first time for our annual planning and team-building gathering, in January in Birmingham. That led to the development of IAF E&W Hubs and Guardrails for Buddying, among other new developments. Our #IAFpodcast has now reached over 20 episodes – including, with my own involvement, on The importance of values in facilitation and Facilitation in different languages. Since we announced in early April that all our local meetups around the country would be meeting online until further notice, we have seen an extraordinary flowering of peer support and learning opportunities among IAF facilitators and friends – including much learning and sharing on online facilitation, of course.

In my own professional development this year, my fourth 4-yearly CPF assessment submission Evidencing facilitation competencies led to my being awarded the new CPF | Master designation in April. I embarked on a new mentoring relationship with my second mentee through the IAF Mentoring Programme.  My session proposal with Michael Ambjorn of AlignYourOrg for the IAF Gobal Summit in Stockholm this October 2020 was accepted, but then of course the summit was canceled due to COVID19. We established a simple website and social media channels for the Power of Facilitation book project for which we have co-authored a chapter, on which our Summit session was to have been based. We are hopeful that the book will nevertheless be published in time to launch during this year’s International Facilitation Week in October, albeit not in Stockholm.

I continued to participate in the ICA:UK ToP trainers’ network and to serve as volunteer webmaster for ICA International, and I attended this year’s ICA Europe regional gathering in Vienna in November.

So, what else of the sabbatical in Sitges? I did certainly enjoy a little less busyness, and a little more sunshine. I was indeed able to advance my Spanish skills somewhat, with the aid of several weeks of intensive classes and some practice – including on occasion with IAF Spain. I did also find some time reflect, write and learn, and to look ahead to my next seven years of freelance facilitation – not least on What can I do about climate change, personally and as a facilitator?.

I shall certainly continue to travel less and work more online than I did prior to last October, that much is clear.  What interests me more, now, is when I shall again travel or work face-to-face at all, and how much. I realised just how unenthusiastic I am about returning to face to face facilitation already when I recommended others for two client opportunities last week that normally I would have been very pleased to accept myself.  For more on how that turns out, watch this space…

Thank you for following!


See also about mehow I workwho 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.

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

What can I do about climate change, personally and as a facilitator?

I Declare A Climate Emergency

On the weekend that David Attenborough addresses members of the public who are taking part in the UK’s first climate assembly, starting in Birmingham, I am heartened to know that more and more of us are seriously raising and addressing concerns about climate change, and challenging and supporting others to do so as well. I am heartened too by the increasing recognition of the role that engagement, deliberation and facilitation have to play.

This is a question that I have been pondering more and more myself, especially as I take something of a sabbatical this winter in Sitges, in Spain, to give me some extra time to “reflect, write and learn, and to look ahead to my next seven years of freelance facilitation“. That seems to be working, even though I have found little time for writing and most of the time I have devoted to learning has been spent studying Spanish. My last couple of blog posts have helped, and I didn’t even have to write them. I reflected on my career and my facilitation practice with James Smart in an interview with Session Lab, and on the importance of values in facilitation with Helene Jewell for the IAF Facilitation Stories podcast. And I have done a little reading and research, including estimating my own personal and professional carbon footprint.

What I have learned, and what (more) can I do?

Carbonfootprint tells me that the average annual carbon footprint for people in the UK is 6.5 tonnes of CO2 equivalent (CO2e), for the EU about 6.4 tonnes and worldwide about 5 tonnes – and that the worldwide target to combat climate change is 2 tonnes. It’s free carbon footprint calculator tells me that my own carbon footprint for 2019 amounts to about 10.3 tonnes – 6.2 from flying and 4.1 from everything else.

It comes as no great surprise then that the single most effective way for me to reduce my own carbon footprint is to fly less. I flew 31 single flights in 2019, all within Europe, 8 personal and 23 for work. That compares to 24 and 25 in 2017 and 2018, however those two years included two trips to the Middle East, two to North America, one to Africa and one to Asia & Australia (and a few business class upgrades), resulting in emissions of around 12-13 tonnes per year from flights alone. So, while I have already somewhat reduced the carbon impact of my flying, I think it is clear that I am still among the minority of problem flyers in the UK that needs to stop taking so many flights.

WHAT CAN I DO, TO CALM THE CLIMATE?

Reducing the rest of my carbon footprint will be harder. Travel and household energy are typically the areas of highest personal carbon impact, and it seems that mine are otherwise already low. I live in central London, I don’t own a car and rarely hire one, and I travel otherwise largely by bus and train or on foot locally. So the carbon footprint of my non-flight travel amounted to around 0.2 tonnes in 2019. I live in a small, modern and well insulated flat, and I understand from Ecotricity that their supply of 100% renewable household gas & electricity already contributes precisely zero to my carbon footprint. An equivalent supply of non-renewable energy would otherwise contribute around 0.9 tonnes.

The remainder of my emissions are from ‘secondary’ sources, largely consumption – of food, drink, clothing and other products & supplies, use of appliances, and recreational and professional activities. For me these amounted to around 3.8 tonnes in 2019 – 1.5 on hotels, restaurants and the like (much of that for business), and 2.3 on the rest. Already I have substantially reduced my meat and dairy intake in recent years, albeit primarily for health reasons. I have never had much interest in shopping or expensive hobbies and I don’t keep pets. Traveling less could certainly reduce the contribution of my hotel & restaurant consumption.

What does that leave?

As well as reducing our own carbon footprints, we can all use what influence we have to challenge and support others to reduce theirs as well. This can include how we vote, and how we spend and invest. Also how we donate and volunteer, and how we exercise influence and leadership in our in our own workplaces, communities and societies. I have long taken environmental and sustainability considerations into how I vote, and in my choice to invest in an ethical pension. I could donate and volunteer more, and I could pay more attention to how I spend and invest. I suspect that I could make much more of an impact in how I exercise influence and leadership, and particularly in my professional role as a facilitator.

sustainable facilitation easy hacks

As facilitators we can, of course, take care to use recycled flip chart paper and refillable marker pens, and venues that provide these and that recycle and use renewable energy. There are some more ‘easy hacks’ here. Such measures can be worthwhile for the indirect impact they can have by influencing others, as much as for the direct impact of reducing emissions themselves.

However, the greatest contribution to the carbon footprint of a facilitation contract is likely to be associated with any travel, board & lodging involved in meeting face-to-face. That would include our own as facilitators, of course, but especially that of the group – and even more so for a larger group and where air travel may be involved.

So, we can seek to work with clients in the contracting and design process to limit and reduce the carbon impact of the facilitation process as a whole – for example by choice of venue and design of face-to-face events, but also by the use of more online facilitation and blended or hybrid approaches (those that involve face-to-face and virtual elements in sequence or at once).

We can also choose not to seek or to accept work that would likely involve a high carbon impact, perhaps by referring a distant client to a trusted colleague or IAF Certified Professional Facilitator located closer to the group or the venue. We can of course also choose to seek work particularly from groups and organisations that are working to respond constructively to the climate crisis and not from those that are not.

We may find ourselves faced with new ethical dilemmas. If I decline a facilitation contract, could that result in a higher carbon impact than accepting it and working with the client to reduce its carbon impact? Or could it result in a less effective and socially beneficial meeting or process without affecting the carbon footprint? If I decline to travel to provide facilitation training to a distant group that requests it, could that result in more flights and a greater impact due to participants’ travel to my scheduled public courses in London and Brussels?

We can also share and collaborate with each other as facilitators, to explore what else we can each do and what we can all do together and as a profession. This post is inspired in part by just such conversations at recent IAF England & Wales facilitation meetups and our 2019 annual conference, including for example on Greening our practice with Penny Walker and on Climate Conversations with Susannah Raffe.

I am looking forward to considering how IAF E&W can support more of such collaboration at our annual face-to-face Leadership Team meeting in Birmingham this coming week. I hope that the global Board of IAF may be having a similar conversation at its annual face-to-face Board meeting, that is taking place in Kuala Lumpur as I write.

I understand that it is planned already to hold fewer, larger CPF assessment events in order to reduce assessor travel. Will that reduce or increase travel and carbon impact overall? Will this year’s single IAF Global Facilitation Summit in Sweden, the home flygskam (flight shame), have a higher or lower carbon impact than the usual 3 or 4 regional conferences each year? What can be done to limit the carbon impact and maximise the beneficial social impact of this year’s summit in particular, and IAF as a whole?

We can also choose to ‘offset’ emissions by supporting projects that aim to tackle climate change and help to improve the lives of some of those most affected. In 2019 I ‘offset’ 72 tonnes of CO2e by donating £540 to Climatecare, roughly equivalent to my total personal & professional carbon footprint since I went freelance in 2012 – on that basis, improbably good value!

What (more) shall I do?

I am declaring a climate emergency.

I shall seek to limit and reduce my own personal & professional carbon footprint – my aim is to contribute no more than the current UK average within 5 years, ie. a reduction of around 37% from my 10.3 tonnes in 2019 to 6.5 in 2024.

I shall seek to use what influence I can to challenge and support others to respond constructively themselves as well, both personally and professionally – starting by including a short statement to that effect at How I work and in future proposals to clients.

In particular, I shall seek to:

  • fly less, and travel normally by rail (and perhaps sea) to destinations that can be reached within a single day or overnight journey
  • travel less overall, and mostly to places accessible to London without flying – that includes Sitges, in case you were wondering
  • consider carbon impact as well as price and convenience in deciding whether and how to travel (and never air miles)
  • make the most of travel by taking time to take advantage of and enjoy both the journey and the destination
  • work more with groups and organisations that are working to respond constructively to the climate crisis, and less with those that are not
  • work with clients to limit and reduce the carbon impact of our work, including by choice of venue and process design and by the use of more online, blended and hybrid approaches
  • consider the likely carbon impact as well as likely value (to the client, to me and to the wider social good) of prospective work in deciding whether to accept it or perhaps refer it
  • collaborate with other facilitators to explore what else we can each do, and what we can all do together and as a profession, and with IAF on what we can do as an association
  • support projects, campaigns and politics that aim to to respond constructively to the climate crisis
  • periodically reflect on my progress relative to these goals, and share what I else learn and plan as a result.

In addition to the links shared above, my thinking on this has been informed also by other posts of Penny Walker including What can I do to calm the climate and Managing the change to sustainability, and by Business declares a climate emergency, The Man in Seat 61 and Trains vs. planes: What’s the real cost of travel? Top of my reading list is now Europe by Rail: The Definitive Guide.

What questions are you asking yourself, what have you learned and what will you do? What can you contribute to my own thinking and plans? Please do add a comment below, or contact me.


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.

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