Facilitation and Communication to lead ‘The Big Conversation’: Digital Transformation

This article, co-authored with Mike Pounsford of Couravel and IABC UK, is reprinted with permission from the IAF Global Flipchart #9, September 2017.

If you’re a facilitator or communicator who wants to help organisations engage people at all levels to align behind a common strategy, read on – this article’s for you.

Common challenges you’ve probably noticed

Digital development is demanding change in the way businesses are run and how they interact with their audiences and their employees. No matter what sector you’re in, you’re likely to be facing at least one of these challenges:

  • Teams have less face-time as people share, work and interact more remotely.
  • Employees and customers are enjoying new relationships with employers and brands as we move to self-serving models: this creates the need to rethink communication and engagement with employees and how we structure customer service roles.
  • Employees want more opportunities to work with their employers to give back to society and the communities they serve.
  • Organisations want more agile approaches with empowered employees who understand both company strategy and customer needs.

A solution starts with a conversation

Solving these issues requires processes that connect leaders, managers, project teams and front-line staff.

The traditional top down approach is hopelessly inadequate, especially in large organisations. A cascade approach is too slow when there are multiple levels of management and a complex organisational structure. “Top down” also contradicts the message that organisations need to empower their people to take more responsibility for the delivery of satisfaction and productivity.

Achieving that kind of collaboration across an organisation puts a premium on the need for quality conversations – conversations that help people work out how they can support strategic direction. The kind of conversation that encourages people to challenge, work out what they need to do to support change, and feel a high degree of ownership of the outcomes of the conversation.

Exploring the visualisation of strategy

Couravel has been using Big Pictures to help leaders define strategy and then to help teams engage with strategy. The power of visual representation of strategic and market issues is well proven. It was first written about in the Sears case study in the Harvard Business Review which introduced the Service-Profit Chain. At Sears, groups came to a better understanding of the marketplace and what they needed to do to support competitiveness by addressing questions posed by a visual representation of the High Street.

To explore its relevance today we asked 15 leaders from different businesses how developments in technology would affect their business in the next five years. Using ICA’s Technology of Participation (ToP) Consensus Workshop approach, they grouped their answers into seven main themes:

  • Collaborative working
  • Liberating structures
  • Empowered customers
  • Dynamic skill sets
  • Disruptive markets
  • New world of risks
  • Big data.

Transformation challenges to address

We then invited them to draw these themes and use their insights and imagination to create a synthesis picture in real time.

The textual list below presents information related to transformational challenges, while the picture conveys the same information visually.


  • Always on and changing working patterns – timing and geography no longer blockages
  • Feedback is instant and we have to respond instantly
  • Enable paradigm shift in service design and operation – focus on understanding and improvement
  • Creating new skills to cope with technology change
  • Using data to inform decisions
  • Defining and mitigating new risks caused by over-reliance on technology
  • Identifying and responding to new competitive challenges


What this gives the organisation is a visual representation of Digital Transformation and what it needs to do to navigate change.

To involve people in a conversation about how to respond to these challenges, the visual route represents an engaging starting point because it:

  • Invites people to interpret what is going on
  • Is easier to access (you do not need to understand jargon like “paradigm shift”)
  • Provides information more quickly
  • Leads to a less critical and more curious audience (lists invite a more critical, sceptical response).

Conversations around the visual

What is more important than the visual are the conversations around it; and they must be well facilitated. The visual becomes the focus for a conversation whereas questions draw people out.

For example, questions we used following the ORID framework of ICA’s ToP Focussed Conversation method include:

  • What can you see in the picture? What else? (Objective)
  • How do you feel about what you can see? Anything surprising, confusing? (Reflective)
  • Where do you see yourself fitting?  (Reflective)
  • What could this picture mean for how we work with each other and our colleagues in other teams? (Interpretative)
  • What risks do you think technology creates for us? (Interpretative)
  • How might we be able to mitigate these risks? (Interpretative)
  • How could we use new capabilities to provide better services for our customers? (Interpretative)
  • What does that mean we need to do differently? (Decisional)

In the meeting in which we developed this image, we asked the people in the room:

  • What strikes you (remember they had just co-authored this picture)? (Objective/Reflective)
  • Can you see yourselves in the picture? (Objective/Reflective)
  • What does this mean for how you work in future?  (Interpretive)
  • How does this affect your relationships with others in your business?  Outside your business? (Interpretive)
  • How will this affect how you manage change in the business? (Decisional)

Using pictures to lead the conversation around Digital Transformation

This led to some penny-dropping moments for people involved in the leadership of change. For example:

  • It is increasingly difficult to define and think in terms of “visions” as these rapidly become outdated in the face of global and disruptive competition.
  • Consultants working with clients are experiencing their own journey of change through the digital landscape and the relationship between client and consultant needs to shift from the expert to the consultative model (i.e. where facilitators operate most effectively)
  • This is also true of the relationship between customers and suppliers generally, but the changes are complex.  In some respects, the relationship becomes more transactional and customers interface with technology to get what they want.  This scenario sees people losing jobs as machines and robots take them over.  But in other respects, the roles become more demanding and complex as the relationship becomes more akin to partnering: when customers want help it is because the technology cannot address more complex challenges (notice the bridge between suppliers and clients that is itself on wheels and constantly changing)
  • The value of tangible, visual outcomes that can engage people more because they are visual, different and not prescriptive and that can convey some of the nuances and challenges of change (notice the trolls waiting to sabotage change work)
  • The widespread application for approaches like this (see below).

Rethinking how we think about change

We need to rethink the process of change. If we want people to let go of past practices we have to pay more attention to the way individuals respond to change. To encourage people to collaborate to define new practices, here are a few “must haves”:

  • Fun
  • Novelty
  • Laughter
  • Celebration of past achievements
  • Reflection time
  • Generating our own ideas
  • Feeling valued and connected

Using the Technology of Participation facilitation approach and visual thinking tools such as Big Pictures, we can create the kind of approach to collaboration needed to support transformation.

This approach is valuable in most change situations including:

  • Introduction of new technology
  • Mergers and acquisitions
  • New strategy
  • New strategy communication
  • Brand evolution or launch/relaunch
  • Design of new organisational processes
  • Defining cultures, behaviours and values

Michael Pounsford CPF (author) is the founder of Couravel, which works with clients to clarify and communicate purpose, vision and strategy, to design and deliver engagement programmes, and to develop the communication capabilities of leaders and managers. He is accredited under the NTL International Organisation Development programme and is the President of the UK Chapter of the International Association of Business Communicators IABC (2017 – 2018). He is also an IAF Certified™ Professional Facilitator.

Martin Gilbraith CPF (co-author) is an independent facilitator, trainer and consultant based in London. He is a Certified Professional Facilitator of the International Association of Facilitators, an IAF ‘Hall of Famer’ and former IAF Chair and IAF Europe Director. He is a former President of the Institute of Cultural Affairs International (ICAI), and an Associate and former Chief Executive of ICA:UK, the participation and development charity. He has been facilitating and training, specialising in ICA’s ToP facilitation methodology, since 1986.

Michael and Martin will be running a session on the power of visuals and ToP facilitation to encourage open communication at the IAF EMENA Paris conference on Saturday 14 October – see Leading the Big Conversation at #IAFEMENA17 in Paris and register now to join us!

They are also planning a session for members of the IABC and the IAF to learn from each other and gain reduced cost entry to each other’s events. See also When communicators become facilitators at IABC EMENA.

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

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

Four hands on the steering wheel? Co-facilitation in action

Thank you to all who attended yesterdays’ facilitation webinar for IAF India, and especially to Preetha Raghav and the IAF India team for their invitation and support and to my co-hosts Martin Farrell of get2thepoint and Sunny Walker of the Virtual Facilitation Collaborative. It was a rich and engaging session for us, so I hope also for others. Thanks also to those who live tweeted on the #FacInd hashtag – a couple of their tweets are below.

Martin Farrell wrote “As we see some world leaders promoting division and hatred, facilitators’ skills of collaboration are ever more essential. Yes we practice listening deeply to our client’s needs, and engaging participants. To challenge ourselves, let’s also take our skills to the next level by practicing co-facilitation. There are great benefits and also great dangers.”

This highly interactive 90-minute session was hosted in Adobe Connect to offer an experience of co-facilitation in a virtual environment. We offered a framework and some tips and tools for co-facilitation, illustrated by a case study.

Session materials & additional resources shared include:

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.

A view from the Board – from the new Chair of a renewed IAF Board

the International Association of FacilitatorsThis article ‘from the archive’ was first published IAF’s monthly newsletter the Global Flipchart, January 2011. See also Reflections on a term as IAF Chair, first published in the Global Flipchart, January 2013.

Happy New Year, and welcome to this New Year issue of the Global Flipchart, from the new Chair of a renewed IAF Board. I feel proud and privileged to have the opportunity to serve our Association and our profession as Chair of the IAF Board for 2011 & 2012, and I would like to take this opportunity to introduce the new Board and myself, and to share something of how I am viewing my role as Chair.

First, let me thank my predecessor as Chair, Gary Rush, and those other members who have just retired from the Board as of the end of December – Mark Edmead, Tony Nash, David Spann & Michael Spivey. They have all contributed greatly to IAF and its development during their terms on the Board. Their volunteer commitment to take this responsibility and devote their time and energy over recent years is much appreciated.

I would also like to thank, and welcome to the Board, those members who have been prepared to make such a new commitment, and who have been newly elected to the Board as of the beginning of January – Daphne Cant, Jerry Mings, Cynthia Pace, Ephraim Osunde, Bill Reid, Sheryl Smail and Linda Starodub. Thanks are also due to those Board members who are continuing to serves their terms (Sharon Almerigi, Kimberly Bain, Jackie Chang & Carol Sherriff) and those who stood and were re-elected to second terms (Pamela Lupton-Bowers, Rhonda Tranks & Simon Wilson).

I thank also Chair Julie Larsen and the other members of the Board Nominations & Elections committee, who led us through the recent election process that has enabled us to start the New Year with every one of the 15 Board positions now filled, and with renewed clarity and commitment of Board members to their roles. Thank you also to you, the members, for turning out to vote – and to the many members who volunteer their time and expertise for IAF in so many ways, year round. For details of the IAF Board, its members and their roles, please visit the ‘About IAF’ pages at www.iaf-world.org.

I have been a member of IAF since 2007, but have attended I think 10 IAF conferences (in Europe and North America to date) since my first in London in 1997. In 2008 I earned the IAF Certified Professional Facilitator designation, and also in 2008 I was appointed to the IAF Board. I served first as Regional Representative for Europe, and then was appointed as Vice Chair for 2010.

My background in facilitation is in the international community & organisational development work of the Institute of Cultural Affairs (ICA) – a global network of autonomous non-profit organisations in 30 countries, out of which IAF itself originated in the early 1990s.   I was first trained in ICA’s ToP facilitation methods (the Technology of Participation) as part of my international volunteer induction training with ICA in 1986. Following a year volunteering with ICA India, and then six years working with ICA in Egypt, I have worked with ICA:UK since 1997 – supporting the grassroots community development work of our sister and partner organisations in Africa and elsewhere, training & orientating international volunteers, and applying ICA’s participatory approach to the youth work sector and to local public service delivery in the UK – see www.ica-uk.org.uk. As Chief Executive, the focus of my day job is the management and governance of ICA:UK as a charity and a social enterprise. A good deal of my time is also spent delivering services, however, which in this case means providing facilitation, training and consulting to develop capacity for participation and partnership working, largely with public and voluntary sector clients nationally in the UK.

I think of my professional interests and goals in terms of facilitative leadership, where facilitation, management and governance intersect – so I have sought volunteer roles as well that have allowed me to explore and develop in that area. These have included serving as Board member and Treasurer of ICA International from 1998-2006, more recently as Trustee of UK youth development charity FOCUS and committee member of the UK Quaker Congo Partnership, and now most recently as a member of the Board of IAF.

I am viewing my role as Chair primarily as providing facilitative leadership to the Board – in order that we may best, collectively, provide facilitative leadership to the Association as a whole, and in order that IAF may best provide facilitative leadership to our profession and indeed to the world at large. With reference to IAF’s six Core Facilitation Competencies, I would describe this facilitative leadership role in terms of:

Developing and promoting collaborative relationships through clarity, transparency and accountability – within the Board, within the IAF as a whole, and between IAF and its external partners and stakeholders

  1. Adopting, communicating and applying appropriate group processes, notably IAF policies and procedures, and also structures
  2. Sustaining and enhancing a participatory environment that is inclusive of diversity, encourages creativity and innovation, and manages conflict
  3. Ensuring appropriate and useful outcomes through development and implementation of effective strategy
  4. Building and maintaining professional knowledge, around association management and governance as well as facilitation
  5. Modelling a professional, facilitative leadership approach at all levels

I am excited to be starting my term as Chair with a strong and committed new team of Board members to work with, and to see them energetically acquainting themselves with their new roles, with the active support of their predecessors and of continuing Board members. I am keen to enable the new Board to form, and indeed to perform, as quickly as possible; so I am delighted that we will be meeting face-to-face this year in January, in London to minimise costs, rather than in conjunction with a conference later in the year as has been recent practice. I do however look forward to attending IAF conferences as well, as we all will, in my case starting with the North America conference in Denver in April.

At our January Board meeting we will articulate our work plan and budget for the year ahead, and during the year we will use the Global Flipchart and other means to communicate and engage with you, the members of IAF, on progress, challenges and opportunities for involvement. I expect key challenges and priorities for the Board to include (in no particular order, and very much inter-related): membership retention and growth, chapter development, successful delivery of annual conferences in the regions, strengthened financial management and financial security, the upcoming new website and our online presence, and the development and growth of the certification programme. I think that one key to success, in all of these, will be articulating, communicating and delivering the demonstrable value that IAF can add to its members, to the profession and to the wider world. I think that another key to success will be applying our own expertise as facilitators to do all of this collaboratively, together.

Please get in touch with me, or any of your Board members, to share your questions, feedback or suggestions; now and throughout the year. You can email me at iafchair@iaf-world.org, skype me at martingilbraith, and connect with me at http://uk.linkedin.com/in/martingilbraith. You can find contact details for all IAF Board members at www.iaf-world.org.

Two books and three methods for facilitating social transformation

This post was written for the IAF newsletter the Global Flipchart, June 2013.

Transformational Strategy   Transformative Scenario Planning

Transformational Strategy: facilitation of ToP Participatory Strategic Planning – Bill Staples, iUniverse 2013
Transformative Scenario Planning: working together to change the future – Adam Kahane, Berrett-Koehler 2012
The Kumi method for Social Transformation in Conflict – Transform e.V. in partnership with ARIA, IICP, ICA & others

An advantage of stepping down recently as Chair of IAF and as Chief Executive of ICA:UK, and now working freelance instead, is that I am finding more time for reading, writing and ideas.  Of the many books that I have enjoyed and found stimulating in recent months, I want to recommend these two in particular to readers of the Global Flipchart – for the inspirational stories and insights that they offer, and for their wealth of concepts, tools and tips with immediate application to our facilitation practice. Both focus on the transformative potential of group process for positive social change, but each takes a somewhat different approach.  In reviewing the two books I found myself led to review the third, hybrid approach to social transformation as well, as will become clear.

I have known Bill Staples of ICA Associates in Canada for many years as a colleague within the ICA (the Institute of Cultural Affairs) and also as an active member of the IAF (International Association of Facilitators).  Bill is publisher of the IAF Journal, and chaired the IAF Toronto conference in 2000 that attracted over 1100 participants.  His book Transformational Strategy details the theory and practice of the Participatory Strategic Planning process of ICA’s Technology of Participation (ToP) methodology, an approach in which I have been a practitioner and a trainer for many years myself.  So this book covers ground that is very familiar to me, although I found it no less insightful for that. Bill previewed the book at the ICA International Global Conference on Human Development in Kathmandu last October, and elements of the approach were embedded in the design of the conference.

I came across Adam Kahane of Reos Partners through his 2004 book “Solving Tough Problems: an open way of talking, listening, and creating new realities”.  He was head of Scenarios for Royal Dutch Shell in London during the early 1990s, and facilitated the Mont Fleur Scenario Exercise in which a diverse group of South Africans worked together to effect that country’s transition to democracy following apartheid.  That exercise, and subsequent attempts at working with leaders to ‘get unstuck’ some of the world’s toughest problems, helped to generate the reflections and refinements to the Transformative Scenario Planning methodology that he describes in his subsequent book “Power and Love: a theory and practice of social change” and now this one as well.  So this is an approach with which I am somewhat familiar in theory, although its insights resonate with my own experience in many respects.  Kahane previewed this book at a lecture I attended at the RSA in London, also last October, ‘How to Change the Future’.

Transformational Strategy is structured in four parts over 270 pages. Part I outlines the global and historical role of participation in transformative social change, and the history and evolution of the ToP approach.  Part II introduces the spiral image as a metaphor for the thought process of planning, and to describe the underlying dynamics of the ToP Participatory Strategic Planning process and the values that underpin it.  It places the spiral planning process in a wider framework that includes the preparation and research that precedes the planning and the implementation that follows it, and introduces a number of particular ToP tools and techniques to support each stage.  Part III has a chapter of in-depth theory and practical tips on the application of each of the four key stages of the spiral process that will be most familiar to ToP facilitation trainees and practitioners – articulating the practical vision, discerning the underlying contradictions, forging breakthrough strategies and action planning for implementation.  Part IV outlines some possible variations in the approach for different groups and groups sizes, and additional follow-on steps to inspire commitment through implementation. The book is richly illustrated throughout by practical examples and longer case studies from ToP practitioners working in a range of different settings around the world, from corporate board rooms and government departments to local communities and voluntary groups.  Example worksheets and planning documentation charts are included in the appendix.

Transformative Scenario Planning takes a more narrative approach, through nine chapters over an altogether lighter 120 pages. First Kahane tells the story of the Mont Fleur Scenario exercise, and how it helped a diverse group of South African leaders from across the many divisions of that society to talk through what was happening, what could happen and what needed to happen in their country – and then to act on what they had learned, so contributing to some peaceful forward progress in a situation that had seemed violently stuck.  Drawing on another 20 years of subsequent practice with scenarios, Kahane goes on to outline his conclusions on when and how such planning works best – namely, in situations seen to be unacceptable or unsustainable, that cannot be transformed directly or by people working only with those close to them, and by means of a five stage process detailed in subsequent chapters. The five stages are framed as a creative application of the U-process described by Peter Senge et al in Presence (2008) and Otto Scharmer in Theory U (2009). This involves firstly convening a team from across the whole system (‘coinitiating’), observing what is happening and constructing stories about what could happen (‘cosensing’), discovering together what can and must be done (‘copresencing’), and finally acting to transform the system (‘cocreating’ and ‘coevolving’).  Through this process actors gradually transform their understandings, relationships and intentions, and thereby their actions and their larger social system.  This book too is richly illustrated with examples and stories, from exercises seeking to transform often profoundly conflicted societies including Zimbabwe, Guatemala, Quebec, Colombia and Sudan.

Kahane adopts a more personal and reflective style than Staples, sharing something of his frustrations and setbacks in his practice of Transformative Scenario Planning and what he has learned along the way.  Staples in contrast provides a brief overview of the evolution of the method, through research and development involving many hundreds of practitioners over 50 years, and focuses more on where and how the method has been successful and (in some detail) on how to apply it.  While Staples provides an entire chapter of case studies and an appendix filled with related materials, Kahane takes a deeper and longer view on the outcome and impact of the examples he offers. He relates a memorable story of a return visit to Colombia in 2012, 16 years after a scenario project began and some eight years after it had appeared to have failed, to hear the then President announce ‘that it had always been alive and was now the leitmotif of the policies of his new government’.  He quotes the Bhagavad Gita, in a wry comment on the uncertainty of outcome inherent in any facilitative leadership:  “The work is yours, but not the fruits thereof”.

Both books emphasise that collaboration and a comprehensive approach are key to achieving social transformation, and that an inner transformation of those involved is both an outcome of and a pre-requisite for social transformation.  Both books also emphasise the role and power of stories, metaphors and images, in achieving both internal and external transformation.

Where the two approaches appear to differ most substantially is perhaps in the type of (en)visioning that is employed, and its role relative to reflection on and analysis of current reality. In ToP Participatory Strategic Planning it is a compelling and practical vision of a desired future, held in creative tension with a searching and in-depth analysis of present blocks or ‘contradictions’ to that vision, that drives transformation through implementation.  In Transformative Scenario Planning it is not one desired future but several possible futures that are envisioned, and these future scenarios emerge from a deep and broad reflection on current reality rather than themselves focusing the analysis of that current reality from which strategies and tactics are developed.  Where the two approaches appear to be in agreement, however, is in the transformative power of that creative tension between clearly articulated future(s) and honestly and profoundly explored present. Also they concur in the paradox, as Kahane describes it, that “we move forward by stepping back: we get unstuck not by pushing but instead by pausing”.  As Staples writes, “naming the contradiction bursts illusions about the current situation and blows the door to the future wide open”.

Both approaches are described as fractal processes, in that each stage contains within it a micro version of the whole process and each process can itself be expanded to serve as a stage in a larger whole.  From this point of view it matters less, in theory, whether articulation of the future should precede exploration of the present or vice versa.  What matters more, in practice, is what particular (micro or macro) process will help a particular group achieve a particular goal in a particular context – the key question at the heart of any facilitation process design, and any in-the-moment facilitation intervention.  It is at this point that the skilled and experienced facilitator will draw from her extensive toolkit to adapt and apply what methods and tools she has available, to tailor a process for the particular needs of the occasion.

I wonder whether the apparent difference in the two approaches in fact to some extent simply reflects a difference in emphasis in how they are described, and a difference in the contexts in which they are illustrated.  As the book titles suggest, Kahane focuses primarily on the role of scenarios in transformation, and Staples primarily on the role of strategy. From this broader perspective, Participatory Strategic Planning could be seen as a tool to apply in order to move from stages 4 to 5 of the Transformative Scenario Planning process (from ‘discover what can and must be done’ to ‘act to transform the system’), and stages 1 to 4 of Transformative Scenario Planning could be seen as elements of the preparation and research that is required to precede a particular Participatory Strategic Planning process.  Kahane draws his examples largely from situations of conflict, and frames his approach as a means to ‘get unstuck’ in the face of tough economic, social and environmental problems.  In contrast, Staples’ examples are largely not drawn from conflict situations, and he frames the ToP approach not as a means of problem-solving but as a means to empower people ‘to see fresh opportunities, to step onto the stage of history, and take an active part in directing it the way they want their world to go’.

I am not clear to what extent Transformative Scenario Planning has been applied in situations other than conflict, but Jonathan Dudding of ICA:UK has written about the application and the limitations of ToP in situations of conflict in the 2012 ICA Nepal book ‘Changing Lives Changing Societies: ICA’s experience in Nepal and the World’.  Dudding has been a key contributor also to the multi-disciplinary, collaborative research process that has developed the new Kumi method for social transformation in conflict.

The Kumi project was initiated in 2003 by conflict analysts Ahmed Badawi and Ofer Zalzberg. Badawi is an experienced ToP practitioner (he & I worked together with ICA Egypt in the early 1990s) and Zalzberg worked with Kahane on his Jewish-Israeli Journey scenario project of 2008. The project brought together ToP practitioners and experts in identity-based conflict and conflict analysis to develop a hybrid approach drawing on the three traditions, informed by a series of pilot events involving Israelis, Palestinians and Europeans seeking to address the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  An international network of around 35 Kumi practitioners is now experimenting with broader applications of the method.  An early learning of ToP practitioners in this process was that conflicted parties in such a context may need to do considerable work to address the conflict, and their relationships to it and each other, before they are able to embark on a participatory planning process that requires the group to speak and plan as ‘we’.  The resulting method is a five stage process that moves from (1) initial contact, exploration and design through (2) stage setting, group building and articulating the issue and conflicts to (3) deep conflict engagement and analysis, (4) ToP participatory strategic planning and (5) supporting implementation.

Like Transformative Scenario Planning the Kumi method may be understood as an application of Senge and Scharmer’s U-process, it uses story-telling as a key tool for exploration and discovery and it is designed to help a group to ‘get unstuck’ in order to find a creative way forward together.   Kumi does not make use of multiple scenarios, but does make use of the contradictional analysis that lies at the heart of ToP Participatory Strategic Planning.  I hope that one day we might see a book on the Kumi method, to help us better understand how it’s evolution and applications relate to those of Transformational Scenario Planning and ToP Participatory Strategic Planning – to help facilitators learn from the experience of all three approaches, to better design and lead processes that empower people in all contexts to transform their situations together for the better.

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.

Reflections on a term as IAF Chair

the International Association of FacilitatorsThis post was first published in the IAF newsletter the Global Flipchart, January 2013.

After a little over four years on the IAF Board and a two year term as Chair, my term is now over.  I have had a tremendous time – I have learned a lot, and I have very much enjoyed working closely with many talented and dedicated colleagues among our membership. I am delighted to have passed on the baton to our very capable new Chair Kimberly Bain, along with the symbol that was passed on to me by my predecessor Gary Rush two years ago – a beautiful glass globe engraved with the IAF logo.

I would like to share some of things I find myself proud of and sorry about, as I reflect on my term and on the accomplishments of the Board, and of IAF as a whole, relative to the Board’s strategic priorities for these last two years.  These were:

  1. Marketing & Communications ( branding, online and regional) to position IAF as ‘the International Association’ for professional facilitators and all those who have an interest in facilitation
  2. Increased member retention and membership growth, particularly through chapter development & support and transformation of affiliation to new partnership relationships
  3. Diversification of income sources for financial strength & sustainability
  4. Growth & diversification of certification programmes, to strengthen global pathways to CPF
  5. Good governance & management, including succession planning and role definition

I am proud that we have the new Board role of Marketing & Partnerships Director to bring a new emphasis to this priority area, and that the new Board is embarking on this New Year with that post filled and with marketing as a central and cross-cutting theme in its business planning.  I am sorry that the role remained vacant for most of last year, and that we have not been able to invest as much energy in repositioning IAF as we had planned.

I am proud of the much improved visitor experience of the new IAF website introduced two years ago.  I am sorry that the functionality of the membership database behind the new website has proven inadequate to our needs, and that this has been an obstacle to serving our members as well and as easily as we would like.

I am proud that total membership has increased slightly over the past two years, in spite of severe economic recession in parts of the world where many of our members are located – we have 1,269 members today as compared with 1,210 at the end of 2010.  I am sorry that we have yet to attract back or replace many former members – the total was 1,453 when I joined the Board in October 2008.

I am proud that IAF chapters have seen such growth these past two years, after development of the model had taken such great investment of Board time and attention the previous two.  Since the first IAF chapter was established in 2010 the Board has approved 18 new chapters around the world and many more are in development, and local activity and membership are growing in many places as a direct result.  I am sorry that we are still not yet as clear as we would like on the principles and the practicalities of how local chapters and regional teams should expect to relate with each other and with IAF at the global level.

I am proud that IAF’s financial strength and sustainability are much improved, to the point that the Board is increasingly concerned by how to spend money wisely rather than how to conserve it.  I am sorry that income sources are not yet significantly diversified (they are still mainly membership dues, certification fees and to some extent conference surpluses), and that membership dues remain the only significant source of finance for membership services.

I am proud of the fantastic learning communities that IAF conferences continue to provide, and of the many successful and increasingly innovative conferences that have been held the past few years – not least the two that I attended myself last year in Halifax and in Geneva.  I am sorry that I did not manage to attend any IAF conferences as Chair in regions other than Europe and North America.

I am proud that the Certified Professional Facilitator (CPF) programme has grown to over 100 candidates assessed worldwide in 2012, as compared to 69 in 2009, and that the new recertification programme has now become well established these past two years.  I am proud that a model for accreditation of facilitation training programmes is now out for consultation among members and training providers.  I am sorry that certification is still available only in English and Dutch, and that the cost of such a rigorous assessment process continues to be an obstacle for many.

In terms of governance, I am proud that IAF has completed its third year of online Board elections and now its first online Annual General Meeting, accessible to all members.  I am proud that the Board has been ready invest in a substantial face-to-face Board planning meeting early each year, and of the impact I think that has had on the culture and performance of the Board.  I am sorry that participation in this year’s election was so much reduced compared to the last two years – most likely I think as a result of problems with our email blast not reaching some members.

Most of all I am proud of the extraordinary talent and energy that is volunteered by so many of our fellow members every year in so many ways, for the advancement of our global profession and its social impact worldwide as well as for the learning and growth of ourselves and each other.  I thank you all.

In some ways I am sorry that my time on the Board is at an end.  I am looking forward to remaining an active member in other ways, however, and I am enjoying a major fall in my daily email traffic since transferring the IAF Chair’s account to Kimberly!

Also I am already enjoying many opportunities to apply learnings from my time on the IAF Board in my new volunteer role as President of ICA International, and as a newly independent CPF Facilitator, Trainer and Consultant as well. You can now find me at www.martingilbraith.com, and I look forward to staying in touch with fellow members online and I hope occasionally face to face.

I would welcome any reflections from you on changes that you’ve noticed in IAF in recent years, for better or for worse – you can reach me now at martin@martingilbraith.com.  I expect Kimberly and the Board will also welcome input and suggestions for their 2013 business planning meeting, taking place the week of 21 January in Tokyo – you can now reach Kimberly at my old address chair@iaf-world.org.  I wish them all the very best, with my support and confidence.