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.

When is online better than face to face? Free facilitation webinar recording & outputs

Thank you again to the hundred or so people that attended today’s free facilitation webinar, in all or in part, and especially to IAF Oceania for the invitation and to Stephen Berkeley and Anna Carr for co-hosting with me.  Here below you will find the session recording and other outputs.

This session was scheduled in partnership with IAF Oceania and the IAF Oceania meetup group, adapting the format of the ICA:UK Online Focused Conversation Series: Taking time to connect, learn and reflect. This is a series of taster sessions around different topics – both to examine and explore the topic, and to demonstrate the use of ICA’s ToP Focused Conversation Method.

In this session the method was adapted to accommodate the number attending, using only the basic tools within the Zoom platform – audio, video, text chat, break-out rooms, screen sharing and polling.

For more on ICA’s Technology of Participation and facilitation online, register now for these further upcoming training & learning sessions:

  • Group Facilitation Methods OnlineIntroducing the foundations of the ToP approach, two powerful techniques for structuring effective conversations and building group consensus – a series of 6 x2 hour sessions, next from 22 June to 2 July (NEXT WEEK!)
  • Introduction to Facilitation OnlineIntroducing the role of the facilitator and the ToP approach, plus some key tips & tools, 2.5 hours, next on 8 July & 8 September
  • Facilitating Virtual Events OnlineLearn about and practice ways to make online events participatory, engaging and productive – a series of 7 x2 hour sessions, next from 15 September to 8 October

We all know that online is just not the same as face-to-face, right? And that for some things, maybe, it will never be as good. But when, or for what, can online be better?

“We ran a conference in Teams (and it was better than the “real” thing)” wrote Dr Robert O’Toole NTF of the University of Warwick this week.

“Technology facilitated a more inclusive meeting than is usually possible in person. Best facilitation ever, more equal interaction than at any other meeting, no flights (climate thanks us). Virtuality rules!” wrote particpants in a 3-day online event of over 100 delegates that I facilitated myself recently.

The recording, slides and chat transcript follow here. Thanks also to Heather Collins for her LinkedIn post and Carolyn Xie for another beautiful sketchnote!

When is online better than face-to-face? sketchnote

 


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.

How engaging can your online session be? Free facilitation webinar recording & outputs

How engaging can your online event be

Thank you again to the 250 or so people in total that attended today’s free facilitation webinar, in all or in part, and especially to my fellow trainers of the ICA:UK Facilitating Virtual Events course Megan, Dawn, Orla, Alan, Nileen & Ester Mae for co-hosting with me – see our profiles.  Here below you will find the session recording and other outputs.

This was the second of two sessions scheduled in partnership with ICA:UK as part of its new Online Focused Conversation Series: Taking time to connect, learn and reflect.

The aim of all these sessions is for participants to connect, share and learn with others sharing their interest the topic, while experiencing ICA’s ToP Focused Conversation method.

In this session the method was adapted to accommodate the number attending, using only the basic tools within the Zoom platform – audio, video, text chat, break-out rooms, screen sharing and polling.

For more on ICA’s Technology of Participation and facilitation online, register now for these further upcoming training & learning sessions:

  • Free facilitation webinars – next up “When is online better than face-to-face?”, next week on 17 June
  • Introduction to Facilitation OnlineIntroducing the role of the facilitator and the ToP approach, plus some key tips & tools, 2.5 hours, next on 8 July & 8 September
  • Group Facilitation Methods OnlineIntroducing the foundations of the ToP approach, two powerful techniques for structuring effective conversations and building group consensus – a series of 6 x2 hour sessions, next from 22 June to 2 July
  • Facilitating Virtual Events OnlineLearn about and practice ways to make online events participatory, engaging and productive – a series of 7 x2 hour sessions, next from 15 September to 8 October

For details of remaining sessions of this series with other ICA:UK lead ToP trainers, and to register for those, please see the ICA:UK Online Focused Conversation Series.


Our meetings, workshops and events, our world, are increasingly moving online – now more than ever! So as leaders and facilitators we must be prepared to move with them. Virtual sessions can have advantages over face-to-face, but disadvantages too – not least, shorter attention spans and greater potential for distractions. How can we keep people engaged and focused when meeting online?

The recording, slides and chat transcript follow here. Thanks also to Carolyn Xie for her beautiful sketchnote and to Archana Pingle & Susanne Dunne for their tweets and Michelle Deacon for her LinkedIn post.

How engaging can your online session be?- Carolyn Xie sketchnote


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.

Exploring Facilitation Competencies with IAF Romania – free facilitation webinar

What skills, knowledge, and behaviours must facilitators have in order to be successful facilitating in a wide variety of environments? To what extent do these vary, if at all, when working online rather than face-to-face? What can we do, individually and together as peers, to develop our own facilitation competence?

Thank you again to IAF Romania for the invitation to lead yesterday’s online session Facilitation Competencies, to Bogdan Grigore in particular for also co-facilitating with me and of course to all those who attended and participated.

Here below you will find the session recording and other outputs.

The session was adapted from the format of the new ICA:UK Online Focused Conversation Series: Taking time to connect, learn and reflect.

The aim of all these sessions is for participants to connect, share and learn with others sharing their interest the topic, while experiencing ICA’s ToP Focused Conversation method. Each 60-minute session in Zoom consists of a facilitated conversation followed by a brief introduction to the method used.

In this session we used break-out groups and JamBoard to get acquainted with the IAF Core Facilitation Competencies and share experience of their application, both online and face-to-face. In plenary we reflected on the extent to which these competencies vary when working online rather than face-to-face, if at all. Participants also reflected on what they could do, individually and together as peers, to develop their own facilitation competence.

For more on ICA’s Technology of Participation and facilitation online, register now for these further upcoming training & learning sessions:

  • Free facilitation webinars – next up “How engaging can your online session be?” and “When is online better than face-to-face?”, both in June
  • Introduction to Facilitation OnlineIntroducing the role of the facilitator and the ToP approach, plus some key tips & tools, 2.5 hours, starting in June & July
  • Facilitating Virtual Events I Online – Learn and practice ways to make online events participatory, engaging and productive – a series of 6-7 x2 hour sessions, online
  • Group Facilitation Methods OnlineIntroducing the foundations of the ToP approach, two powerful techniques for structuring effective conversations and building group consensus – a series of 6 x2 hour sessions in June/July.

See also Brian Stanfield’s ‘Art of Focused Conversation: 100 Ways to Access Group Wisdom in the Workplace and Jo Nelson’s ‘The Art of Focused Conversation for Schools: Over 100 Ways to Guide Clear Thinking and Promote Learning‘.

For details of additional sessions with other ICA:UK lead ToP trainers, and to register for those, please see the ICA:UK Online Focused Conversation Series.



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.

Promoting inclusion in online facilitation – free facilitation webinar recording & outputs

Thank you again to everyone who participated in yesterday’s free facilitation webinar, and especially to Judy Rees for inviting me to co-facilitate with her and to Bhavana Nissima for inspiring the topic – and to Bhavana for her gratifying feedback on the session, below.  Here below also you will find the session recording and other outputs.

We took a slightly different approach to my previous free facilitation webinars this time – not least in that this free, 90-minute, interactive online session offered an experience of virtual facilitation in Zoom rather than in Adobe Connect.

Our approach was largely inspired by a 3-day online European Regional Forum of Amnesty International, originally conceived as a 3-day hybrid event in Brussels, that Judy, Orla Cronin & I had just designed and prepared in three fast-moving weeks and facilitated together this past weekend. It involved over 100 delegates from around 25 member organisations across Europe, asynchronous collaboration over 10 days in Basecamp, and five Zoom sessions of around 2 hours each in which we also used Mentimeter, Googlesheets and Jamboards. That experience merits a post of its own – see Judy’s Online Events: Preparation That Drives Participation – suffice to say here that participant feedback included:

  • “The tech and facilitators were amazing, it felt super inclusive”
  • “Technology facilitated a more inclusive meeting than is usually possible in person.”
  • “Technology! Great to have breakout sessions with so many different people. It makes everything very inclusive.”
  • “Great facilitation. Great diversity and inclusion.”
  • “Best facilitation ever (thanks Martin, Orla, Judy), more equal interaction than at any other meeting, no flights (climate thanks us). Virtuality rules!”

“Promoting inclusion should be the business of all facilitators” write the IAF Social Inclusion Facilitators. But how does that work online? In these circumstances our groups are often more diverse than in-the-room gatherings. Power differentials abound, but they may be less apparent.

Online meetings are shaped by the technologies in use, which place constraints on how we can recognise diversity and promote inclusion:

  • With audio-only groups, non-native speakers of the call’s language are at an automatic disadvantage.
  • When we encourage the use of video to build personal connection, we reveal differences in skin colour, clothing and calling location.
  • With most conferencing systems, online breakout groups can’t easily be seen or overheard by the facilitator: what difference will that make?
  • Text chat perhaps gives away the least about who is making each comment – which brings its own challenges.

All of these technologies have advantages and disadvantages for facilitators seeking to promote inclusion.

In these environments, how might we challenge or learn from prejudice and intolerance as appropriate? As experienced online facilitators we have our own tried and tested tactics – but we know we still have lots to learn. This event brought together a wide range of perspectives to develop our practice.

The recording and other outputs follow, from Mentimeter & Jamboard in Slideshare and the Zoom chat in pdf. Thanks also to Noel Warnell for the sketchnote!

Promoting inclusion in online facilitation - sketchnote


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.

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

I Declare A Climate Emergency

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

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

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

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

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

WHAT CAN I DO, TO CALM THE CLIMATE?

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

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

What does that leave?

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

sustainable facilitation easy hacks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What (more) shall I do?

I am declaring a climate emergency.

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

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

In particular, I shall seek to:

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

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

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


See also about me, how I work, who I work with and recommendations & case studies, and please contact me about how we might work together. Please do not delay before contacting me – the earlier I hear from you, the more chance that I will be able to help and the more helpful I may be able to be.

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