Power to the People, and the power of facilitation and communications in partnership

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In my last post I blogged on Power to the People – why I am excited to be attending #EuroComm 2015, the April 12-14 Europe MENA conference of the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) in London. Here I’d like to share a few of my reflections on that event, and something of the potential that I see for mutual learning and collaboration between facilitators and communicators, and for partnership between IAF and IABC.

I was struck at the event, as I was in browsing the agenda in advance, by the emphasis on the changing role of the communications profession, ‘from cascade to conversation’ (Katie MacAulay) and ‘from crafting and controlling messages to facilitator, coach and guide’ (Barbara Gibson). Highlights for me among the presentations were stories of large-scale staff engagement at HSBC Exchange from Ulrike Felber and on the Art of Participatory Leadership at the European Commisison  from Ian Andersen, and on ‘bringing values alive’ at Newsweaver from Andrew O’Shaughnessy.  There was a lot valuable experience evident of engaging people at scale in change processes, from which I think facilitators could learn a great deal – particularly when it comes to engaging all those stakeholders who, for one reason or another, will never be ‘in the room’ to participate directly in a facilitated process.

I was also struck, however, that there seemed less awareness of the body of knowledge and experience that the facilitation profession has accumulated – in particular, the value of designing and leading a group through a structured series of questions and activities to achieve a particular purpose. Mention was made of using workshops to engage people, but (with the exception of the Art of Participatory Leadership) I gained little sense of their methodology or process design. While it was made clear that communications today must involve listening, and no longer just talking, I reflected that a third element that is key to making conversation productive as well as engaging is to ask purposeful questions. It seems to me that this is an area where communications professional may be able to learn from facilitators.

In spite of the emphasis in the content of the conference on communications as dialogue rather than broadcast, in terms of process I found the sessions mostly structured as presentations with dialogue limited to questions from the floor – between the stage and the tiered seating of a lecture theatre. I dare say that IAF facilitators could have learned a thing or two about making presentations engaging, but certainly I find that IAF conferences enable a greater depth and breadth of conversation.

It was partly for this reason that another highlight for me was the session on the future of the communications profession, which was held in a large classroom rather than a lecture theatre and facilitated as a number of parallel small table conversations. This session also highlighted for me the potential for the two professions and the two associations to learn from each other’s experience of common issues and challenges, such as upholding and raising professional standards and mobilising and managing volunteers and chapters.

I was impressed (as you might hope) by the use of social media at EuroComm, including vox pop videos on facebook and especially the very cool Whova mobile app for conference networking – also by the speed and number of conference reviews published online, for example by Daniel Munslow and by the AB team, and by IABC on storify. So imagine my surprise when, as #EuroComm twitter statistics were projected at the closing session, it turned out that the most prolific tweeter with the widest reach was… me, the facilitator at a conference of communicators!

Already IAF and IABC members are able to enjoy reciprocal discounts at each others’ conferences, at least in Europe. I want to encourage members of both associations to take advantage of that, and connect with each other to further explore the potential for mutual learning and collaboration, and for partnership. The door is open – step through and see what you find!

IAF members, attend the IABC World Conference, 14-17 June in San Francisco, or check the IABC global calendar for an event near you or online.

IABC members, attend the IAF North America Conference, 14-16 May in Banff; or the IAF Asia Conference, 20-22 August in Mumbai – or join me at the IAF Europe MENA Conference, 16-18 October in Stockholm

Chapters of both IAF and IABC, connect with each other locally and see what opportunities emerge!

Getting started as a facilitator, a social entrepeneur and a freelancer

This interview was conducted by iGenius as part of their Getting Started interview series, and it is republished today to mark National Freelancers Day 2014. See also My first 416 days as a freelance facilitator, published this day last year.


As a facilitator, trainer and consultant, Martin Gilbraith help groups, teams and partnerships work more effectively together to bring about lasting change. What drives Martin is his passion and commitment to make a positive difference in the world, and to support and enable others to do so as well. Through his freelance work, Martin Gilbraith believes that facilitation and facilitative leadership will be key to achieving a just and sustainable world for all. The great reward of his work today is to see people awaken to their own power to make a difference, and to their capacity to join and align with others to achieve common goals for the greater good – to awaken to the power of their participation and their leadership. We spoke with i-genius member Martin Gilbraith to find out more.

i-genius: Why did you decide to go freelance?
Martin Gilbraith: I had been working with clients for years in my previous employed role, so when I stepped down from that I thought I’d carry on with whatever client work came to me while I considered my next move.  I pretty soon decided that I had found my next move, so I registered my own company and never looked back.  After years in management roles, it is a treat to be responsible for and accountable only to myself.

i-genius: What a good ingredient for a freelance consultant?
Martin: A friend and fellow freelancer once suggested to me that anyone who could be comfortable without a regular pay cheque every month could do no better than be their own boss and work freelance, and I think she has a point.

i-genius: Who’s/what’s been your continued source of inspiration?
Martin: For my whole career I have been involved in various ways with the Institute of Cultural Affairs (ICA), a global community of non-profit organisations and groups ‘advancing human development worldwide’. Many of the people I have met and worked with through ICA have been a source of inspiration for me, but most of all the practical methods ICA has pioneered by which ordinary people can and do change the world

i-genius: In what way is the work you do related to social enterprise?
Martin: Just as when I was employed as a charity Chief Executive, my income from client work enables me to volunteer and offer reduced rates and pro bono services to those causes that can’t pay higher rates. My most substantial volunteer commitment is as President of ICA International, supporting member ICAs in around 40 countries to support each other in their work. Many ICAs operate primarily through social enterprise, and most are actively seeking to to expand their social enterprise work.

i-genius: What difficulties did you experience setting up your freelance work?

Martin: I think I had it relatively easy because I had worked freelance before, and because I came back to freelance work after 15+ years working with clients and building my networks through that and various volunteer roles.  So I had my first freelance contract within weeks, and I was able to hit the ground running. The hardest part was stepping down from my previous role after so many years!

i-genius: What are the most crucial things you have done to grow your client list?
Martin: I have relied primarily on social media, especially LinkedIn to stay in touch with people I know and meet and twitter to reach out to new people. WordPress has been great for a simple but effective website and blog.

i-genius: Whilst freelancing do you find it hard to balance free time?
Martin: Yes, but it helps that my partner has a regular job so when he gets home I know it is time to stop work! Scheduling and booking holidays can be tricky, especially if clients are proving slow to commit to dates

i-genius: How does facilitating play an important role in today’s society?
Martin: People increasingly expect and demand to have a say and an influence in matters that affect them, and increasingly organisations are expected to engage with people to enable that – and increasingly they recognise the value of doing so for themselves and their own goals.  Fortunately, facilitation skills and tools are available and can be learned, and the facilitation community is growing to help people to participate effectively and to enable others do so as well.  I can’t think of any more important work to be involved in, than to support and enable others to bring about positive change

i-genius: What is your favourite motto in life?
Martin: “The past is approved, the future is open and the present is a gift”

For more on my work, and what others have to say about it, please see how I workwho I work with and recommendations & case studies – or view my profile and connect with me on LinkedIn.

You can connect with me also by joining my free facilitation webinars online, and IAF England & Wales’ free facilitation meetups in London and elsewhere.

IAF launches the International Facilitators’ Hall of Fame

IAF Hall of FameIt is an honour indeed to find myself among such distinguished company inducted today, during International Facilitation Week, into the IAFInternational Facilitators’ Hall of Fame”. There are certainly many other facilitators around the world who are equally or more deserving of such an accolade, so I thank IAF for this wonderful recognition and I thank all of them as well for their own contributions to our profession and to our association. I am proud to contribute what I can to both.

The full text of the IAF press release is below, and here to download in pdf – IAF Hall of Fame Press Release.

International Association of Facilitators

Date: October 22, 2014

The International Association of Facilitators is pleased to announce the induction of the following people into the International Facilitators’ Hall of Fame:

  • Nadine Bell (USA)
  • Gilbert Brenson-Lazan (Latin Am & Caribbean)
  • Ann Epps (Asia)
  • Martin Gilbraith (Europe, Middle East & North Africa)
  • Jo Nelson (Canada)
  • Theresa Ratnam-Thong (Asia)
  • Keith Ryall (Oceania)
  • Dr. Sandor Schuman (USA)
  • Bill Staples (Canada)
  • Dr. Tom Schwarz (Oceania)

The Hall of Fame recognizes individuals who: have contributed to our field of practice; have made ‘significant contributions’ to the field of facilitation through publication, promotion, etc.; and who have shown a high level of dedication and service to the international professional association. The individuals named above have been nominated and received unanimous agreement from the IAF Board of Directors as being worthy of this, our Association’s, highest distinction. The bios for each of this year’s inductees are attached.

The International Association of Facilitators is a professional association that sets internationally accepted industry standards, provides accreditation, supports a community of practice, advocates and educates on the power of facilitation and embraces the diversity of facilitators and methods of facilitation around the world. It’s mission is to grow the community of practice for all those who facilitate, establish internationally accepted professional standards, build credibility and promote the value of facilitation around the world.

IAF 20 year celebrationThis is the IAF’s 20th anniversary providing internationally recognized professional certification, professional development, peer networking and advancement of the art and science of facilitation. IAF members are committed to the IAF values and code of ethics providing impartial facilitation so that all voices and ideas are heard and considered.

Contact: Julie Larsen, Director of Communications, communications@iaf-world.org or: Kimberly Bain, Chair, chair@iaf-world.org.


Nadine Bell CPF (US)

Nadine (Plavnick) BellNadine Bell, CPF, is a founding member of IAF, a past Board member and an assessor. Nadine has served on the Board of Directors as Chair elect in 1997; as Chair in 1998; as Past Chair in 1999; as Co-Chair of Professional Development in 2000; and, as Co-chair of the IAF Conference in Texas in 2002. Nadine also contributed to the IAF Handbook as an author. Nadine has been an important and driving figure in the US Region for many years. Nadine has attended almost all North American IAF conferences as well as many IAF conferences in Europe and Southeast Asia. Nadine is an experienced facilitator, trained mediator and mentor trainer of the Technology of Participation Group Facilitation Methods, Nadine is the only facilitator to hold the Certified Professional Facilitator, Certified Master Facilitator and Certified ToP Facilitator designations and she has assessed facilitator candidates for all three certifications globally..

Gilbert Brenson-Lazan (LAC)

Gilbert Brenson-LazanGilbert Brenson-Lazan, has been a driving force in the Latin American and Caribbean facilitation community for many years. Gilbert has served on the Board of Directors as both Regional Director and Vice-Chair International, hosts an important facilitation blog in Latin America and was Co-Chair of the first IAF Conference in Latin America with over 600 attendees from 19 countries. Gilbert is a Founding Member, Past President and Member of the Advisory Board of the Global Facilitator Service Corp (GFSC) and developed and applied the basic model used for psychosocial intervention in disasters recognized around the world.

Ann Epps CPF (Asia)

Ann (Stanley) Epps, MA, IAF CPFAnn Epps, CPF, is a founding member of IAF, served on the Board of Directors as the Director of Conferences and is a CPF assessor. Having served on the planning committee for ten of the early IAF Asia conferences, Ann has also attended many IAFNA and Europe conferences and most of the IAF Asia conferences. Ann is a mentor trainer in the Technology of the Participation methods and divides her time training and
facilitating between Southeast Asia and the US. Ann and her husband John are regular presenters at conferences and are tireless supporters of IAF.

Martin Gilbraith CPF (Europe MENA)

Martin GilbraithMartin Gilbraith, CPF, is the most recent past Chair of IAF. Previously he served on the Board as IAF Vice Chair and as IAF Europe Director. Martin has served IAF in many ways, he hosts Facilitation Daily and a widely subscribed facilitation blog, and he manages the @FacWeek twitter account and co-hosts the IAF Twitter Chats during IFW. Martin is an independent facilitator, trainer and consultant based in London, UK. He currently serves as President of the Institute of Cultural Affairs International (ICAI) and is an Associate and former Chief Executive of ICA:UK. He has been facilitating and training, specialising in ICA’s ToP facilitation methodology, since 1986.

Jo Nelson CPF (Canada)

Jo NelsonJo Nelson, CPF, CTF, is a founding member of IAF, a sustaining member and a past Board member who has served as both Secretary and Chair of the Board. Jo has served on numerous committees including the Professional Development Task Force and most recently chaired the working group that developed the training endorsement strategy and program. Jo also facilitated the development of the IAF competencies. Jo has attended every IAFNA conference since their inception and continues to promote IAF in everything she does. Jo has published many particles and one book on facilitation. Jo also is recipient of a Gold Facilitation Impact Award.

Theresa Ratnam Thong CPF (Asia)

Theresa Ratnam ThongTheresa Ratnam Thong, is the first Malaysian Certified Professional Facilitator and is an Assessor and a past Board member, serving as Vice-Chair International from 2007 – 2008 and again from 2001 – 2003. Theresa has organized IAF conferences in the Asia Region and has been an important member of the Asian facilitation community. Theresa has been active in the Local Government of her locality and was Lead Facilitator for the Women@Work Summit, the Malaysia Water Forum under the auspices of the Global Water Partnership. She was also selected to be part of the Facilitation Team consisting of 25 Global Facilitators to facilitate at the World Summit on Sustainable development held in South Africa and was also invited to be part of the Generative Dialogue Project, a global initiative in New York.

Keith Ryall CPF (Oceania)

Keith RyallKeith Ryall, CPF, is an assessor, a past Board member (Regional Director for Oceania) and a sustaining member. Keith worked very hard to increase IAF’s Oceania and much of the growth there today is based on the solid foundations set up by Keith over the years. Since 2009, Keith has been heavily involved with introducing the magic of Process Facilitation to Rotary International and specifically to Strategic Planning Workshops for Australian Rotary Clubs and other Not for Profits. Keith is a regular presence at IAF conferences around the world and a great promoter of IAF and our profession.

Dr. Sandor Schuman (US)

Sandor SchumanSandy Schuman is a sustaining member. He edited the IAF Journal, Group Facilitation (1997–2007) and IAF Handbook Series (2003-2011), co-founded and moderated the IAF email discussion list, grp-facl (1994-2008), and co-chaired the Ethics and Values Think Tank, which created the Statement of Values and Code of Ethics for Group Facilitators (2000-2004). He was a member of the Research and Publications Task Force (1996-2001),the Board of Directors (2000-2001) and was the primary researcher of the 1996-1997 Survey of Group Facilitators. Sandy has worked hard to promote the profession through mainstream and academic literature. He continues to present professional development workshops at IAF conferences and regional meetings. His most recent blog post, You know you’re a group facilitator if …, is his most popular.

Bill Staples CPF (Canada)

Bill StaplesBill Staples, CPF, is a founding member and has been the publisher of the IAF Journal since 2001. Bill was chair of the IAF 2000 Conference Toronto with 1100 participants. He was on the Association Coordinating Team from 1999 to 2005 and was the IAF Global Conference Team chair from 2002-05. Bill is also a Certified ToP Facilitator and has published articles and books on facilitation, working hard to increase the profile of the association and the profession.

Dr. Tom Schwarz CPF (Oceania)

Tom Schwarz CPFTom Schwarz, CPF, if a past member of the Board of Directors, was Director of Oceania Region and is a CPF Assessor. Tom was the first facilitator in the Oceania Region to be awarded the CPF designation. Tom has been a fixture at IAF conferences around the world and often presents at PD events in Asia and Oceania. Tom has published articles on the power of facilitation and regularly advocates for and promotes our profession.

Reviewing the past to prepare for the future: #FacHistory in Copenhagen

Facilitating #FacHistory workshop - photo @jppoupardThank you to everyone who joined my session Reviewing the past to prepare for the future on Friday, at the IAF Europe conference in Copenhagen Facilitation Reloaded.  Here I am sharing links to the resources and case studies that I mentioned during the session – both on our topic, which was the history of facilitation, and on the process we used, which was the ICA ‘ToP’ Historical Scan method.

FacHistory Historical ScanFor more on the history of facilitation, and the events and links shared online and at various IAF conferences this year, cick to enlarge the photos here of our own session and of the IAF travelling timeline, andIAF travelling timeline see also:

On ICA’s ToP Historical Scan method, see:

For case studies of real-life applications of the method in different contexts, see:

To join me and other faciliators worldwide in reflecting together on the past and future development of facilitation and our profession, please join our #FacWeekChat twitter chats, October 22 & 23 during International Facilitation Week 2014., or do also share any comments on the post, here below. Thank you!

Facilitation case study: Building a future together – broadening ownership in corporate planning

This piece ‘from the archive‘ is the story of a 12 month programme of facilitation training and capacity building support with a cadre of 80 managers, engaging over 1,000 stakeholders in developing a new 5-year corporate plan for Bron Afon Community Housing in South Wales. I led the contracting and co-design process and managed the project for ICA:UK as Chief Executive, and I supported ICA:UK colleagues Jonathan Dudding and Ann Lukens in delivering the programme.

The article was authored by Jonathan and Ann, and is posted here with their permission. It was first published by AMED in a special edition of its journal e-O&P, in a partnership I brokered for IAF to mark the 2011 IAF Europe conference in Istanbul. Extracts are reprinted below, and to read the full article please click on the image or go to Building a future together – broadening ownership in corporate planning.

A Visioning workshop, with over 80 people working individually, together and at tables, supported by Bron Afon facilitators

How do you develop a new plan for organisational growth and success and, at the same time, design a process which provides the opportunity for full involvement of the organisation’s members, staff, and partners? This article describes how we worked with a housing organisation on their year-long journey as they sought to develop a new corporate plan, build up an internal team of facilitators, and strengthen the members’ ownership of their future direction.

Involving all staff and client members in full corporate planning processes may seem to stretch the ‘need for consultation’ to its limits. However, in 2010, a community based housing organisation in Wales that is widely recognised for its community engagement strategy did exactly that. Bron Afon Community Housing wanted a corporate plan that was developed with maximum community, member and staff involvement; that enhanced the organisation’s capacity continually to design and facilitate participatory events; and that broke down the barriers between departments to provide more cohesive and integrated services to tenants. This is the story of how we co-designed and facilitated that project.

Penny Jeffreys, Bron Afon Learning and Development Manager, wrote:

“One of our aims in undertaking the project was to build capacity which we could use in the future and this has already been a proven positive outcome: the facilitation skills and techniques learnt and developed during the project have already been used in a number of other areas in the organisation. For example a workshop was held to identify and prioritise the support needs of our tenants to inform the future direction of this service using the trained facilitators and the process learnt which yielded really useful and comprehensive results.”

Shelley Hier, one of the Community support team facilitators,

“The process came at just the right time – we had a year’s worth of data and using what we had learned, we were able to make sense of it all with our members group – coming up with an outcome that was clear, concise and (in the end) easy. The members really felt they owned it and in fact they said  it was the best thing we‘ve ever done at Bron Afon. They could see actions and ways forward – the result of us having better processes and understanding how to apply them in different situations.”

Jonathan Dudding is Director of International Programmes at ICA:UK. Jonathan has an MSc in Social Development Planning and Management from the University of Wales (Swansea) and a background in international development work in India, Zambia and Kenya. Jonathan specialises in the Technology of Participation, facilitating and training both in the UK and internationally; working with local partners to bring about change in Africa; and researching and developing new approaches to participation and partnership.

Ann Lukens, GroupWorks, is a facilitator, mediator, conflict practitioner and trainer. She has an MSc in Conflict Resolution and Mediation from Birkbeck (London), and has worked with and facilitated groups of all shapes and sizes to find ways to meet their needs and move forward in both exciting and difficult times. She has experience in Solutions Focus coaching and training, trains Mediators, Conflict Practitioners, and Facilitators and uses ICA ToP methods as a cornerstone of that work.