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.

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

The importance of values in facilitation – #IAFpodcast FS7

#iafpodcast

Welcome to Facilitation Stories, where we discover how facilitators ended up in the profession, and how facilitation methods, principles and techniques are used more widely.

One of the most exciting developments for IAF England & Wales in 2019, in my view, has been the launch of the new IAF E&W podcast Facilitation Stories during International Facilitation Week in October – not only for the insightful stories that are shared, and the personal connections that are made and strengthened, but also as an early indication of what a small, self-organising team of ‘IAF facilitators & friends’ can achieve by collaborating together to pursue a shared interest. I hope we will see more many more such initiatives in 2020, and a wide variety of practical projects.

I am grateful to podcast co-hosts @PilarOrti and @HeleneJewell for the opportunity to join them as a guest for today’s new 30-minute episode, and share a few stories and examples of my own – on the importance of values in facilitation.

Listen now, or see the show notes below first for what to expect – and do check out the previous six episodes and subscribe for the next at Facilitation Stories – or on Spotify or Apple Podcasts!


Helene Jewell writes in the FS7 show notes…

Martin Gilbraith is a facilitator, trainer and consultant, and Chair of the IAF England & Wales Board. He started hosting IAF meetups about 5 years ago, and has been facilitating since 1986.

He is an IAF Certified Professional Facilitator (CPF),  an ICA Certified ToP Facilitator (CTF) and an experienced lead trainer and licensed provider of ICA’s ‘ToP’ facilitation training and a Certified Scrum Master (CSM).

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, 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 the ethics of taking decisions not to do work that conflicted with his values, mostly around contracting with the client.

We discussed the set up for sessions and how to deal with it if it is not what you want, particularly thinking about hybrid (online & face-to-face) meetings. Sometimes even if the result is not perfect there are reasons why you might want to take a piece of work; in this example where the team was used to working in a distributed way on line and the group is used to the constraints and the client is known to the facilitator.

Client contracts always come with constraints and it is the facilitators responsibility to work within these constraints. Sometimes the parameters are really complex and you just have to do the best you can.

Sometimes things that’s people do unconsciously turn out to be core values.

Martin talked about his involvement in the ICA:UK and how the values were developed. One of the ways this was done was through using the ORID methodology to ask questions to members and stakeholders followed by a consensus building process at a workshop.

Facilitators often facilitate sessions to help organisations come up with their own values.

It’s important to start with real life experiences and something that is important and meaningful to people to help them define their values.

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

Martin explains a bit further what ORID is and how it is his universal principle of facilitator.

He finally shared a quote from Groucho Marx: “These are my principles, and if you don’t like them….well, I have others!

Please let us know your thoughts – email us at podcast@iaf-englandwales.org and go mad on Twitter! @IAFenglandwales, @Fac_stories, #IAFPodcast, #IAFmeetup.


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.

Facilitation ethics and values – where do you draw a line?

no go zoneMembers of the International Association of Facilitators commit to upholding the IAF Code of Ethics. The code was the result of a 4 year collaborative development process of the IAF Ethics & Values Think Tank, and was adopted in 2004.

I find the code a helpful tool to support me in reflecting on my own practice and values as a facilitator, and I have been referring to it again as I have been preparing my portfolio for ICA’s Certified ToP Facilitator (CTF) assessment – see also Evidencing facilitation competencies: reflecting on lessons learned. However, it does not provide an easy blueprint for what you should and should not do as a facilitator. It is not as simple as that – there are sometimes ethical dilemmas to negotitate.

Where do you draw a line, based on your own ethics and values, beyond which you are not prepared to go as a facilitator?  Perhaps more problematically, how do you negotiate the drawing of such a line with your client and group, especially when a contract or a facilitated process is already underway?  There are no right  or easy answers, but as IAF Chair Kimberly Bain writes in her new Reflective Ethical Facilitator’s Guide:

“As facilitators we are architects of trust. We owe it to our clients to act with an informed appreciation of the ethical issues and competencies needed to help groups build consensus and produce meaningful outcomes”.

One precaution I take is to try to communicate my professional boundaries clearly well in advance, just as many facilitators aim to establish ground rules at the start of a session. I have found an easy and helpful way to do that is to include in my proposals a simple and positive statement (with hyperlinks included) to the effect that: “As a Certified Professional Facilitator, my clients are assured that I uphold the IAF Code of Ethics in my work, and that I demonstrate the full range of core Facilitator Competencies. Nevertheless I can recall occasions in which I have had to draw a line.

In one case, it took a series of contracting meetings with increasingly senior officers in a local authority before I was able to understand what was the unspoken aim driving the event that I was being invited to design and facilitate. Ostensibly the event was for a variety of stakeholders to share and learn from experiences of what was working in tackling a particularly intractable social issue in the borough, and to plan next steps for collaborative action. The covert aim, however, as it was eventually disclosed to me in hushed tones, was to convince and reassure senior officers and elected members that the Council’s approach was working just fine and was not in need of review. The 80 delegates had been invited to participate in order to be guided to this pre-determined conclusion.

I responded, in hushed tones myself and as tactifully as I could, that that was not something that I would be able to help with as a facilitator. As the code makes clear, “As group facilitators, we practice stewardship of process and impartiality toward content”. I explained what I could offer instead, and drafted and submitted a proposal on that basis. My cover note stressed: “How I can help is to design and facilitate an event that enables poeple to share their views and perspectives in such a way that they feel heard and understood, and that they have contributed meaningfully to something that will make a difference; but I will not be seeking to ensure that they reach any particular conclusion”.  My proposal was not accepted, but privately I was thanked for having helped to surface an issue that had been concerning officers involved.

In another case, my proposal had won a competitive bidding process and I had had been awarded a contract for a team to design and facilitate an extensive community consultation process over several months. At our first team meeting with the client to plan for delivery of the contract, the client insisted on a more extensive process than we had proposed, and in a shorter timeframe. When I suggested that it might not be possible for us to deliver an appropriate quality of service under such constraints, I was advised that we were committed under the terms of the bidding process to deliver and that these would be the constraints.

Following a long and late discussion among the team that evening after the meeting, I wrote to the client the next morning to advise that with regret we were withdrawing our proposal. As the code makes clear, “It is our responsibility to ensure that we are competent to handle the intervention”. The client was unhappy, to say the least, and felt that we had reneged on a contract and left them in the lurch at the last minute. We learned later that they had said as much to another of our clients.  On balance, however, we felt that we had done the best thing that we could have done in the circumstances.

Where do you draw a line, and how do you negotiate such a dilemma?


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