Exploring feminist facilitation

Photo by Red Dot on Unsplash

What does feminism bring to facilitation, and what does feminist facilitation look like? How can I ensure that my own practice as a professional facilitator is more effectively and explicitly feminist, anti-racist and anti-oppressive?

This longer-read post tells the story of why and how I have been exploring feminist, anti-racist and anti-oppressive facilitation this past year and more, what I have learned and how I am starting to apply it.

Are you practicing or exploring feminist facilitation yourself, or are you interested to do so? Please share any reflections, questions or links in a comment below, below, or contact me.


Why and how I have been exploring feminist facilitation

I wrote last September in Reflecting on a year of freelance facilitation online, and looking ahead:

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.

One of the clients I was referring to was Amnesty International, with whom I have facilitated several regional and global governance events since 2020, including last year’s 2021 Europe & Central Asia Regional Forum and Global Assembly – see Who I work with and Recommendations & case studies.  Discussions of anti-racism and feminist leadership have featured prominently in these events, and we sought to model an explicitly feminist and anti-racist approach to their design and facilitation.

In Reflecting on Amnesty International’s Global Assembly 2021, international member representative and youth activist Dumiso Gatsha of Botswana wrote powerfully of her vision of “the kind of Amnesty I want to continue to be a part of; one that lives and advocates what it truly means to be born of dignity through solidarity and action for those who don’t have the power”, and of the “feminist leadership approach to which our movement committed” at that Assembly.

In preparing for the Europe & Central Asia Regional Forum earlier that year, I had searched online for references to feminist facilitation and resources that I might draw on as we sought to uphold that commitment to feminist leadership and anti-racism in our design and facilitation. I did not find much, but what I found on twitter (to my surprise, above) led me back to an earlier exchange in which Leila Billing of We Are Feminist Leaders had asked me in 2019 if I could share any such references and resources with her! We had met a few years before that when I had provided ToP facilitation training to Girls Not Brides.

I concluded that I might need to do more to find what I was looking for than just a quick online search, but also that there were others out there who I might learn from and with – even if none of them had yet shared an easy-to-find online beginners guide to feminist facilitation…

Those that I have learned with and from since then include all those with whom I have worked at Amnesty International during this period, including my co-facilitators for those contracts – most notably and repeatedly Orla Cronin and Marie Dubost.  They also include several other clients and prospective clients during this period, my IAF mentees and the young social justice activists who have accepted my offer of free facilitation coaching. They include IAF colleagues of the Social Inclusion Facilitators Special Interest Group, ICA colleagues of the US ToP Network in particular and fellow facilitators of the Involve Practitioners Network. They also include a number of authors and podcasters that I have discovered along the way, not least adrienne maree brown and other black feminist contributors to Holding Change: The Way of Emergent Strategy Facilitation and Mediation.

What has been most helpful for me, however, has been participating this year in the 12-week online feminist leadership development programme of We Are Feminist Leaders, led by Leila Billing and Natalie Brook. This has provided me with a comprehensive framework by which to understand what feminism brings to leadership, and thus to facilitation, and also a powerful demonstration of what feminist, anti-racist and anti-oppressive facilitation can look like in practice. I am grateful to Leila and Natalie, and especially to the cohort of mostly young feminist leaders with whom I shared the programme from whom I learned much too.

What I have learned

A comprehensive framework by which to understand what feminism brings to leadership, and thus to facilitation

What I learned in those 12 weeks can be summed up in large part by Leila in her earlier tweet summarizing what she had found herself, that “basically power analysis is key“.

The programme covers key concepts and principles behind feminist leadership, with particular emphasis on intersectionality and different dimensions of power and privilege, and key practical aspects including power sharing and self & collective care.  Much of the power analysis was familiar to me from my work in international development and human rights, although I was struck by how far the theory has progressed since my own development studies MA of 25 years ago now. Much of the practice would be familiar to any good professional facilitator, however what I found most interesting and valuable was what I found to be largely absent or at best implicit in much professional facilitation – namely power, and politics & purpose.

Feminist Leadership DiamondIn Feminist Leadership for Social Transformation: Clearing the Conceptual Cloud, Srilatha Batliwala identifies four essential components of feminist leadership which she presents in the Feminist Leadership “Diamond” (right).

Batliwala describes values as ‘the ethical norms that guide behaviour’ and principles as ‘norms that guide action’. These are thus broadly analogous to the IAF Statement of Values & Code of Ethics for facilitators, described by IAF as the ‘values and ethical principles that guide our actions’.  She describes practices as being ‘about ways of doing and enabling a myriad of things’. These are therefore broadly analogous to the IAF Core Competencies, ‘the basic set of skills, knowledge, and behaviours that facilitators must have in order to be successful facilitating in a wide variety of environments’.

So, what do we notice when we compare Batliwala’s framework for understanding feminist leadership with the IAF’s framework for guiding and certifying professional facilitation?

What I think the two frameworks clearly share at these levels of principles & values and practices are a belief in ‘the inherent value of the individual’ (IAF) and in the value of ‘consultative, collective, transparent and accountable decision-making’ (SB), and ‘Respect, Safety, Equity, and Trust’ recognising ‘the culture, rights, and autonomy of the group’ and seeking to ‘promote equitable relationships’ and ‘honour and recognise diversity, ensuring inclusiveness’ (IAF). Like the feminist leadership framework, the IAF framework recognises diversity and difference, the potential for conflict and risks to welfare and dignity and the importance of ‘a safe environment for conflict to surface’.

What I think feminist leadership brings to facilitation, that the IAF framework lacks, is a clear recognition of the structural and systemic sources of inequity of power and privilege in wider society, how these may be reflected in groups and how they must be addressed in order to achieve broader goals of human rights, peace and a healthy planet – even just to achieve an inclusive participatory meeting or process. This broader social context features prominently even in the principles & values and practices quadrants of Batliwala’s Diamond of feminist leadership, and warrants a further quadrant each for power and for politics & purpose. I did not find the words power, privilege, politics or purpose in the IAF Statement of Values & Code of Ethics or the IAF Core Competencies, except purpose in relation to the aims of a meeting and privilege in relation to conflict of interest.

A key emphasis of the IAF framework that is absent from that of feminist leadership is the ‘impartial’ role that facilitators are called upon to fill ‘in service to our clients… [including] the groups we facilitate’, involving ‘stewardship of process and impartiality toward content’.  I argued in my last post Facilitator neutrality in the context of war and oppression in March that facilitation is not a neutral practice or profession at all, and that as professional facilitators we must stand up against systems and structures of power, discrimination and oppression, violence and war. I think that the missing feminist leadership quadrants of power and politics & purpose provide clues to how we might do that.

Power

“Leadership is first and foremost about power – it is about holding power, exercising power, and changing the distribution and relations of power…  Feminist leadership means functioning with a greater consciousness not only of others’ but also of one’s own power” – Srilatha Batliwala, Feminist Leadership for Social Transformation: Clearing the Conceptual Cloud

During the programme we drew in particular on a power analysis outlined by Lisa VeneKlasen and Valerie Miller in A New Weave of Power, People & Politics: The Action Guide for Advocacy and Citizen Participation. This identifies four ‘expressions’ of power (familiar to me from Naila Kabeer’s 1994 Reversed Realities), namely Power Over, Power With, Power To and Power Within; three ‘realms’ in which power is expressed, namely Public, Private and Intimate; and three ‘levels’ of political power, namely Visible, Hidden and Invisible. We looked also at the notion of ‘deep structures’ in organisations, “the hidden sites and processes of power and influence… where the culture of the organisation is embedded and reproduced“, a locus of Invisible power and where Power Under is often expressed (Batliwala).

Suffice to say here that the analysis suggests that power is available to everyone to a greater or a lesser degree, determined in large part by the nature and degree of each individual’s intersecting privilege, and that power can be exercised in such a way as to enhance or diminish the power and privilege of others – and so to respect their rights or to violate them. Batliwala argues that “Feminist leadership will strive to make the practice of power visible, democratic, legitimate and accountable, at all levels and in both private and public realms.”

To explore intersectionality, the way that people’s identities and privilege intersect, and so their sources of power and inequality, we drew in particular on the CRIAW-ICREF Intersectionality Wheel (right).

If we are to meaningfully “recognise barriers to participation and ways to address them” in order to “honour and recognise diversity, ensuring inclusiveness“, as  the IAF Core Competencies (C2) expect of professional facilitators, then this is where  such “power analysis is key“.

Politics & purpose

“I define feminist leadership as a process of transforming ourselves, our communities, and the larger world, to embrace a feminist vision of social justice. It’s the process of working to make the feminist vision of a non-violent, non-discriminatory world, a reality (…) It’s about mobilizing others around this vision of change” – Srilatha Batliwala, The Feminist Leadership project: a series celebrating feminist leaders

Batliwala defines feminist leadership here in terms of its feminist political purpose, rather than in terms of its principles & values or its practices. It is perhaps appropriate that the purpose of a professional association can be seen to be non-political, as I think the IAF Vision and Mission can. Perhaps also then it is appropriate for IAF, in contrast, to define professional facilitation in terms of its principles and practices in the IAF Statement of Values & Code of Ethics and IAF Core Competencies.

Clarity of desired outcomes is central to the professional facilitators’ task, however, as made clear in the IAF Core Competencies (D) ‘Guide Group to Appropriate and Useful Outcomes’. In a world that is inescapably political, I would argue that professional facilitators have both a right and a responsibility to be transparent and accountable to their own political purpose of their professional facilitation practice, as well as to the desired outcomes of each particular facilitated process. Many facilitators already are, not least those who apply facilitation in their practice of feminist leadership, anti-racism and social inclusion, and in social justice movements more broadly.

“Enabling people to bring about positive change in their organisations and communities through facilitation… [toward] a just and sustainable world for all” – ICA:UK Misson & Vision

IAF was founded in 1994 by a global network of 70 ICA ToP facilitators, and the practice and provision of training in ICA’s Technology of Participation facilitation methodology remains central to the work of ICAs around the world. For ICA and for ToP facilitators, facilitation is seen as a tool of transformational change – toward a mission and vision described by ICA:UK as “enabling people to bring about positive change in their organisations and communities through facilitation” toward “a just and sustainable world for all“.

I have continued to regard that as my own purpose as a professional facilitator since I helped to articulate it more than 20 years ago as part of a 2001 online Focused Conversation on ICA:UK values.  I recognise it as a political purpose, and therefore that ‘power analysis is key‘.

A powerful demonstration of what feminist, anti-racist and anti-oppressive facilitation can look like in practice

Many if not most of the IAF Core Competencies were in evidence in the design and facilitation of the We Are Feminist Leaders programme. Notable exceptions were D3. ‘Guide the group to consensus’ and F3. “Model neutrality”, as consensus and content neutrality were not really relevant or necessary in such a facilitated group process of individual learning and leadership development. What I found particularly noticeable was how attention to power and privilege helped to ‘honour and recognise diversity, ensuring inclusiveness’ (IAF Core Competence C2); and how practical aspects of feminist leadership such as power sharing and self & collective care were demonstrated.

Applying the concepts and tools of feminist leadership together to our own and each other’s lived experience helped to ‘create a climate of trust and safety’ and ‘recognise barriers to participation and ways to address them’. Power sharing was demonstrated by means of effective co-facilitation by the programme leaders, and by means of the very participatory process by which members of the group themselves exercised leadership together throughout the programme.

Self & collective care was demonstrated by diligent application of the ’10 principles of a feminist classroom’ that were shared at the outset and referred to throughout. These included the importance of mutual learning and building a learning community; attention to lived experience, to feelings as much as thoughts, and to our own and each other’s power and privilege and how they affect our positions and perspectives; courage and compassion in sharing and challenging in safety, and in taking action on what we learn in pursuit of social justice beyond the classroom. Perhaps most important, that “the feminist classroom will not be perfect, because we are not perfect”.

Even as an older white man among a diverse group of mostly younger women, I felt entirely welcome and included myself – although I had felt some trepidation before about signing up for a programme ‘for emerging leaders’. I think I can credit my own experience of inclusion to the very welcoming and inclusive space that was created, as well as to my own ‘unique circumstances of power, privilege and identity’ (CRIAW) that can make it relatively easy for me to feel welcome and included.

The privilege of my own unique circumstances was brought home to me most powerfully when we reflected on how we can care for our own and each other’s well-being in the face of the trauma that can be experienced by those resisting systemic oppression or inequality, and struggling to make a non-violent, non-discriminatory world a reality.  I do not feel traumatized by my own work toward a just and sustainable world for all, and generally I do not struggle with caring for myself and others – because generally I can expect to be cared for by society, and it is not violence and discrimination against me that is standing in my way.

How I am starting to apply it

I seek to take a feminist and anti-racist approach to my work, informed by an understanding of the way people’s intersecting identities (age, race, sexuality, gender, class, ability etc.) impact the ways that they have power and privilege, and the ways they face marginalization and discrimination. Mindful of such inequalities, I strive to create an safe environment that is inclusive of diverse lived experience, and ensure that even the most excluded have an equal voice and opportunity to contribute.

I recognize that my own intersecting identities as an older, anglophone, white British gay man (middle class and able-bodied) may position me to be better able to achieve those goals with some groups than with others. With clients and groups for whom I may not be best positioned to facilitate myself, I recommend others and/or offer to partner or co-facilitate with others as appropriate.

I have included the above text on my web page How I work, and I now use or adapt it as appropriate in proposals to clients and in contracting and design conversations with clients and groups. I have recommended clients to others, and partnered and co-facilitated with others, where I have realised that I was not best positioned to facilitate with a particular group myself.

I have started to offer free facilitation coaching to young people using facilitation in their work for peace, climate justice, gender equity or anti-racism, or otherwise in response to systemic injustice and oppression or toward achieving a just and sustainable world for all – in order to support and share power with them, and to be inspired and learn from their experience; and also to further diversify the network of colleagues who I am able to recommend to clients and/or offer to partner or co-facilitate with.

ECA Regional Forum 2022 - Invitation to guide behaviour in sessionsI have started to draw on principles and practices of feminist leadership and anti-racism in how I contract with groups and invite them to contract with each other. This invitation to guide behaviour in sessions, for example, was first developed for Amnesty’s ECA Regional Forum in 2021, and then adapted for use at their 2021 Global Assembly and 2022 ECA Regional Forum as well.  It drew on insights of a capacity building session led by my co-facilitator Orla Cronin, which itself drew on ActionAid’s Ten Principles of Feminist Leadership.

I shall continue this exploration in professional development with colleagues and in my professional practice with clients and groups.  Among an abundance of professional development opportunities, I am particularly looking forward to joining an Action Learning Set with other ’emerging’ feminist leaders who have completed the 12-week We Are Feminist Leaders programme. I am looking forward to learning also in my volunteer role with the (predominately older, white, gay male) Gay Outdoor Club as it works to implement a new Inclusion and Diversity Policy – toward a more diverse and inclusive GOC, “for everyone in the LGBTQI+ community who wants to enjoy outdoor activities”.

As I continue to educate myself, I hope to be better able to help to educate my clients and groups as well – on how we must all be prepared to invest time and budget, as well as creativity, courage and compassion, to address power and privilege as we must if we truly mean to ‘recognise barriers to participation and ways to address them’ in order to ‘honour and recognise diversity, ensuring inclusiveness’.

Are you practicing or exploring feminist facilitation yourself, or are you interested to do so? Please share any reflections, questions or links in a comment below, below, or contact me.


See also about mehow I workwho 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.

Evidencing facilitation competencies – CPF | Master

This is the essay that I wrote and submitted for my IAF Certified Professional Facilitator | Master (CPF | M) re-certification in December, which has just now been approved.

The requirement of the essay was to “link lessons learned since your last re-certification 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”.

As in 2008, 2012 and 2016, I use the IAF competencies as a framework by which to reflect on and illustrate some of my professional experience, learning and development – this time in the four years since 2016.


A. Create Collaborative Client Relationships

I have continued to deliver around 20-25 contracts per year for around 15-20 clients, most face-to-face and some virtual or involving some virtual component – see Reflecting on another year of freelance facilitation. In recent years the balance has shifted from around two thirds facilitation and one third facilitation training to about half and half.

I have continued to work with international NGOs, foundations, associations, networks and alliances, and a few others, largely in Europe and the Middle East and particularly in London and Brussels. However, this past year has seen the return of UK local authorities and multi-sector partnerships, after many years working with such clients on behalf of ICA:UK in the 2000s. New fields for me this past year include agile coaching, software development, Results Based Management and remote team working.

After working mostly with other facilitators in my early career, I continue now to work mostly solo. However, I have enjoyed being stretched by new co-facilitation experiences in recent years. These have included working as lead facilitator for one of 6 teams of 3 (lead, co-facilitator & graphic recorder) each with a sub-group of around 35 delegates at a two-day conference of over 200 – with Lorensbergs for the New Shape Forum of the Global Challenges Foundation (featured image, above); and as a remote virtual co-facilitator supporting a few remote participants to an otherwise largely face-to-face meeting – the latter was one of many topics I covered in a recent interview with SessionLab published this month.

Much of my work in recent years has been relatively short-term and small scale, involving a single event of one or a few days or a series of two or more over a few weeks or months. One recent example of a multi-session process was with Oxfam OPTI, involving design and facilitation of a series of consultation & consensus building workshops to engage over 100 staff of 4 Oxfam affiliates based in Jerusalem, Gaza & Ramallah in operationalising a new One Country Strategy and Country Operating Model – see case study.

A longer process and more complex multi-session process was with Eurochild, involving process design and facilitation over 6 months to help to engage around 170 member organisations in developing a new strategic plan, including with around 100 member representatives at a General Assembly meeting and with 20 Board members and Secretariat staff at a 2-day planning retreat in Brussels – see case study & video.

Since 2018 I now offer the ToP Facilitating Client Collaboration course, one of the IAF-endorsed ‘ToP Facilitation Essentials’ series, which covers this competence in some depth.

For many years I have routinely gathered participant and client feedback at the close of each workshop, course or project. In 2017 I reviewed and analyzed such feedback from ToP facilitation courses, taster sessions & webinars over the previous 5 years since I went freelance – 47 training courses, 13 conference & meetup taster sessions and 7 webinars reaching a total of 1,089 participants – and began routinely to invite feedback from training participants and facilitation clients also 3-6 months after each event or project. This has resulted in 71 online survey responses received so far, and a number of client recommendations:

Neil Mehta of Water Wisdom UK wrote in July 2019: “Martin is a highly experienced and professional facilitator whom I’ve worked and collaborated with over several years in two of the charities I have led. Martin has facilitated a number of strategy retreats for our teams. He helped us think through how to successfully design and document a 3-year strategy as a collective resulting also with a clear 12-month KPI to execute for the executive/operational team. A real star.”

B. Plan Appropriate Group Processes

A regional team retreat for an international non-profit, for 60 staff of 5 country offices in Sicily in 2018, was to be held in a venue provided in-kind by a partner organisation in the old city of Syracuse.

Syracuse Institute

It turned out to be a beautiful and inspiring venue, entirely appropriate in terms of the group and the content of their work – but less so in terms of facilitation process. The Institute is housed in a restored 16th century church, a listed building with peeling walls filled with precious art and whose only large plenary room is a lecture theatre with fixed rows of seats facing a raised stage with a giant and immovable oak table in front of a screen.

It was clear that there would not be an option to use any alternative venue, so I began to wonder what sort of process could I use to turn to advantage these features that I might otherwise consider disadvantages for the sort of team-building, learning & planning that was called for.

I had recently been introduced to the Interview Matrix method at the IAF Ottawa conference, so decided to use that for a vision workshop where I would otherwise have used the ToP Consensus Workshop method with a sticky wall. I find that the Interview Matrix is not as powerful for consensus-building, but it was quite adequate for this occasion. It allowed the group to work half the time interviewing each other in changing pairs, in and between their fixed rows of seats, and the other half discerning patterns in the interview data in groups of 10-15 in smaller breakout rooms.

I had also been recently introduced to Mentimeter, at the IABC EMENA Copenhagen conference, so I decided to use that for group introductions and brainstorming in the opening and other plenary sessions. There was no alternative to sitting in rows facing a screen, so the group made use of the screen and their own smart phones, where they were sitting. We kept the plenaries to a minimum, but were able to use them well for whole group reflection & learning in-between smaller break-out sessions in other more conducive rooms.

Gnanam Devadass, Deputy Director, Campaigns, at Amnesty International wrote in December 2017: “Martin supported the design and development and also facilitated Amnesty International’s four-day Global Activism Hackathon, held at the International Secretariat in London in October 2017 and attended by 60 participants and resource people. His participatory approaches, methodologies and tools enabled the fullest participation of multi-lingual delegates from diverse backgrounds from across the globe. His facilitation was excellent and greatly appreciated by the participants. He worked well with the organising team and the steering group. His professional and flexible approach was very impressive and helped to achieve the intended outcomes of the Activism Hackathon.”

C. Create and Sustain a Participatory Environment

Reflecting on another year of freelance facilitation

In 2019 in facilitated a two-day team retreat for the 20 or so staff of an international association. I was referred by a previous client who had recommended me because it was expected to be a difficult meeting and was being approached with trepidation by all concerned. I was advised that were trust issues and difficult relationships within the staff, not least between a new management team that had been recently appointed to replace their predecessors that had left under a cloud, and who were keen to establish their leadership and new ways of working, and long-established staff who felt threatened and insecure and in some cases were suspected to be in ongoing, friendly relations with the ousted leadership.

I agreed to take on the project as a 9-day contract to allow ample time for individual telephone interviews and an online survey in advance, to consult on issues and concerns and to build support for the process and my facilitation. I coached the new Director and management team on their roles in the meeting, and consulted with a number of key stakeholders that would not be present – notably the external consultant whose investigation and report had led to the change of management. The meeting was held in a beautiful countryside retreat centre with good facilities for meeting and for more informal interaction. We used a variety of methods and approaches and we allowed plenty of time for each session and took everything slowly and surely. For the most sensitive and risky session we sat in a circle of chairs and made extensive use of silent individual reflection.

I think everyone found the meeting difficult, and probably the Director and management team most of all, but I think that they all were relieved and pleased that they had been able to talk to each other constructively and begin to address some of their real issues together. I was reassured that a slow and careful, inclusive and collaborative approach seemed to have been enough to enable them to do so.

Barbara Hintermann, Secretary General at CAUX-Initiatives of Change Foundation wrote in September 2017: “Martin facilitated our Caux Reference Group meeting in June 2016 held in Caux/Switzerland. The Caux Reference Group is an international advisory group to the CAUX-Initiatives of Change (IofC) Foundation, composed of about 50 persons from the International IofC network. Martin facilitated the meeting with the necessary calm and used various facilitation tools to engage the group actively. While there were some rather emotional moments, Martin managed that the participants delivered the key elements for a variety of changes that needed to be reviewed by the foundation.”

D. Guide Group to Appropriate and Useful Outcomes

The Oxfam & Eurochild case studies referred to above in (A) and the recommendation of the CAUX-Initiatives of Change Foundation were among a series of six examples of how I have applied, customised and adapted the ToP Consensus Workshop method that I shared in a series of weekly posts to mark International Facilitation Week in 2017 – Responding to changing situations and needs with ToP Consensus Workshop.

Another of these examples helps to illustrate how I have managed small and large group processes to draw out data and insight from a group, helped the group synthesise patterns and guided the group to consensus and desired outcomes – this was the 5-day International Council Meeting & Conference of the International Council of Unitarians & Universalists (ICUU) in Mennorode, the Netherlands in 2016.

This was the culmination of a 9-month strategic planning process, involving also a series of online sessions and a ToP Participatory Strategic Planning retreat in Boston in the spring with a focus group of around 25. At the Council Meeting of 140 we used a series of ‘World Café’ style table conversations in changing small groups to discern learnings and implications from the strategy development process, following a few short presentations from those involved and drawing on documentation. In the afternoon we used a ‘super-sized’ Consensus Workshop process to answer the Focus Question ‘“What are key elements of the mission and purpose of ‘ICUU 2.0’, for the next 20 years?”.

At the end of the day volunteers were invited to join a working group to discern and articulate the emerging consensus concisely in a revised mission statement for approval by vote of the formal Council Meeting at the end of the week. The final statement was strengthened further by some minor revisions suggested during the formal Council Meeting. Once approved, the new mission statement was verbally translated as it was read aloud in all of the 25 or so languages spoken by those present, to symbolise global consensus and commitment: “The Mission of the ICUU is to empower existing and emerging member groups to sustain and grow our global faith community”.

Osama Saeed Bhutta, Director of Communications at Amnesty International wrote in February 2018: “I attended a meeting facilitated by Martin and was so impressed that I had him do the same for my directorate’s annual retreat. He has a singular ability to get people talking and dreaming freely, but to then to pull it together for a focused action-oriented conclusion. The meeting he held for us yielded a bonded team and a new comms strategy, a legacy that will live on for a long time to come.”

Jana Hainsworth, Secretary General at Eurochild wrote in September 2017: “Great that we had structure, but also great that we could think on our feet to adjust the planning according to what we were hearing from members. All in all we got a huge amount of raw material for development of the strategic plan. The methodology clearly helped.”

E. Build and Maintain Professional Knowledge

ICA’s Technology of Participation (ToP) methodology continues to serve me well as the basis of my practice – I wrote in 2014 that I regard the ORID framework of ToP as something of a universal principle of facilitation. However, I continue to explore and apply other methodologies and approaches as well. In addition to the Interview Matrix and Mentimeter mentioned above in (B), other examples include Liberating Structures and Agile.

I discovered Liberating Structures by buying the book and downloading the app, and explored the toolkit further by hosting demo sessions at IAF England & Wales meetups and by attending the London LS Users Group. I applied and adapted 1-2-4-All structure (with ORID questions) as co-facilitator for one of 4 table groups in a workshop of 60 senior leadership of an international tech company in 2019.

After meeting many agilists through IAF E&W meetups and attending the IAF EME conference on Agile & facilitation in Milan, my interest was piqued further when I facilitated a 2-day team retreat for a partnership of eight agile coaches. Subsequently I took Certified Scrum Master training. While I learned that I have no interest in working as a scrum master, I gained valuable insight into how & where facilitation is so widely used in such approaches; and how the CSM certification process works and how very much it differs from the IAF process.

With ICA Associates Inc of Canada in 2017, I attended and trained as a trainer in each of the new IAF-endorsed ToP Facilitation Essentials courses, Facilitating Client Collaboration and Meetings That Work. Since 2018 I have been offering this series of courses in Europe, including also ToP Group Facilitation Methods – see Join me for ToP facilitation training in London, Brussels & elsewhere in 2020!

I have continued to tweet, blog and host free facilitation webinars, and to host and attend IAF and other meetups and conferences – particularly as chapter lead and now Board Chair of IAF England & Wales. In that capacity I have been excited to support the launch of a new IAF E&W podcast in 2019, Facilitation Stories.

E. Model Positive Professional Attitude

#iafpodcast

For the January 2020 episode of that new IAF E&W podcast I was interviewed on The Importance of Values in Facilitation. Helene Jewell wrote in the show notes:

Martin talks about the importance of values – both personal and IAF values, which talk about the collective wisdom of the group. He says that what you believe has an enormous impact on the group. Martin talks about defining values and how the IAF values resonate with him and his involvement with developing the ICA UK values. Values are what is important to people and what drives them, and are important to be able to define what is meaningful and important to them.

He told us about taking decisions not to do work that conflicted with his values, mostly around contracting with the client.

Martin started working with ICA as a volunteer and his first workshop involved creating a personal timeline as a personal reflection tool. He talked about a book by John and Maureen Jenkins (founder members of IAF) – 9 disciplines of a facilitator – leading groups by transforming yourself. All about understanding your own values. A phrase from Maureen that resonated with Martin “however good a facilitator you are […] your most powerful tool as a facilitator is your own interior condition”.


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 regularly scheduled ToP facilitation training courses in London and Brussels.

The Power of Facilitation and Communication in partnership – your insights!

Free facilitation webinar - the Power of Facilitation and Communication in partnership #FacPower #ETF20Thank you again to everyone who participated in this week’s free facilitation webinar The Power of Facilitation and Communication in partnership – here below you will find the session recording, presentation slides and other resources shared.

If you did not attend, and even if you did, please do share something of your own experience and insights in a comment below:

  • Where & how have you used facilitation & communication skills and tools in partnership with each other?
  • What stories, examples or references can you share to illustrate how facilitation and communications competencies (and facilitators and communicators themselves) can support and add value to each each other?

All those who registered for the session will receive the final draft of our book chapter by email next month with an invitation to share any further feedback or input before publication – please contact me to let me know if you would like to be added to that list, or removed from it.  Of course, we will be please to credit you for any contribution that we use in the chapter – thank you!


In this session we explored the intersect between communication and facilitation, and the power of applying the professional skills and tools of facilitation and communication in partnership with each other.

I was joined for this session by Michael Ambjorn of AlignYourOrg; and again by Sunny Walker of the Virtual Facilitation Collaborative.

Michael and I are currently working on this theme to draft a chapter for a forthcoming book that aims to showcase the power of facilitation in various fields and contexts. The shorthand for the book project is #FacPower, and chapters are being authored and illustrated by a global team of expert facilitators and visual practitioners from all around the world.

We have been exploring this intersect between facilitation and communication, and working to build bridges and promote learning & collaboration between the two professions and their professional associations, since around 2013 – when I had just completed a term as Chair of the International Association of Facilitators (IAF) and Michael was just embarking on a term as Chair of the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC). We were joined by members of both associations and both professions, and others.

We shared insights and stories from our own experience and others, from both professions, on how facilitation and communications competencies (and facilitators and communicators themselves) can support and add value to each each other. Just one such example that we drew on (which won awards from both IABC and IAF) is #ETF20.

We invited you to share your own reflections, insights and stories as well – for you to learn from each other during the session, and perhaps also (with permission and attribution) to contribute to the chapter and help to bring it to life.

We also sought to demonstrate what we are talking about, through co-creating with you a highly engaging and interactive online session – the power of facilitation and communication in partnership!

The session, like the chapter, drew on IABC’s Global Standard of the Communications Profession and IAF’s Core Facilitation Competencies.

Session materials & additional resources shared include:


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.