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!

Power to the People – why I am excited to be attending #EuroComm 2015

This was first published as a guest post on the IABC UK blog of the International Association of Business Communicators.

Eurocomm15Maybe I was just hooked by the title, “Power to the people”. What’s not exciting about that for a professional facilitator – especially one “passionate about participation and leadership”?  But why would I attend a conference of the communications profession – isn’t that all just about clever marketing copy?

Well, according to the copy, this year’s IABC Europe MENA conference is about about “the two most challenging aspects of communication today – people’s opportunity to be heard (encouraging ideas, innovation, etc.), and best practice to create practical action”. Which does sound quite a lot like facilitation to me. Besides, as a freelancer, I do have a use for marketing copy – and for extending my networks.

If that were not enough for me, this year’s regional IABC conference will be held just a couple of miles from where I live in London. Also, as a result of a new reciprocal partnership, members of the International Association of Facilitators like me are entitled to the discounted IABC member rate. Having perhaps played some small role in brokering that partnership, I felt it would be churlish not to take advantage…

I began to learn of IABC, and the value of facilitation to communications professionals, through meeting and working with Michael Ambjorn, now IABC Vice Chair. He and I worked together, on behalf of the RSA and ICA:UK respectively, to apply ICA’s Technology of Participation facilitation approach to help the RSA to engage with and mobilise its 27,000 Fellows worldwide. We developed what we called the RSA Small Groups methodolgy, to enable the RSA to increase it’s social impact and achieve its ambition of being ‘the best place to have an idea’. We worked together again, this time also with IABC members Jo Anstey and Bent Sorensen, on #ETF20 – a facilitated process designed to creatively engage a diverse, international staff team of around 120, both face-to-face and online, to reflect, learn and bond together in celebrating 20 years of collective achievement.

So I am keen to learn at EuroComm about how others in the communications profession are, or could be, applying facilitation to their address their challenges.  I am particularly attracted by session titles such as “The Power of Participation”, “Engaging in conversations that matter” and “Listening can change a whole organization”; and session leaders from organisations such as Oxfam and the European Commission, in the sectors that I typically work in myself, as well as those from Royal Dutch Shell, Mars and other corporates that are somewhat familiar to me through the work of facilitation colleagues.

I have also been reflecting on the value of communications to facilitation professionals, and am looking forward to exploring that further at EuroComm. When I am contracted as a facilitator to design and lead learning, consultation, engagement or change processes, especially in large organisations or systems and whether face-to-face or online, the effectiveness and impact of my own role is often dependant to some degree on my the broader communications of my client or partner.  Will participants arrive with clear and helpful expectations of the process, and will non-participants receive clear and helpful messages on the aims, outcomes and next steps?

A good example of where my own facilitation role was dependent to a large degree on wider communications processes in which I was largely not involved is Building a future together – broadening ownership in corporate planning, a 12 month programme engaging over 1,000 stakeholders in developing a new 5-year corporate plan for Bron Afon Community Housing in South Wales. In a 60-day contract spread over a year, the facilitation and training role played by my two colleagues and I could only ever represent a very small (if hopefully significant) fraction of a much wider change process in which broader communications were key.

Of course the EuroComm sessions on social media will be of particular interest to me as well, not least because of how much I rely on and enjoy using digitial channels for my own professional networking and for marketing communications.

I think it was a year or two year ago, soon after I had completed my term as IAF Chair and Michael had begun his Board role with IABC, that we first spoke of the potential of some sort of partnership between IAF and IABC, to support mutual learning and collaboration between facilitation and communications professionals. Now that such a partnership is in place, I am excited to take advantage and urge others to do likewise.

IAF members, join me if you can at EuroComm in London this month, and otherwise consider the IABC World Conference in San Francisco in June or check the IABC global calendar for an event near you or online.

IABC members, join me at the IAF Europe MENA conference in Stockholm in October or, before that, check the IAF world calendar for the North America conference in Banff in May or the Asia conference in Mumbai in August.

IABC Londoners, join our monthly IAF London facilitation meet-up, every second Thursday from 6-8pm near Trafalgar Square.

Members or not, wherever you are, do at least follow and engage with me and others at #EuroComm on twitter – see you there!

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.

My facilitation stories, tips and advice on Meeting Tips Radio

Meeting Tips RadioMeeting Tips Radio is an online podcast that pledges “to share stories, tips and advice from the best meeting facilitators in the world, so you can improve your meetings, improve your career, and improve your life“.

The site is published by Meeting Tips Radio host and interviewer Reine Kassulker, based in Minneapolis USA. Many of the world-class facilitators he has interviewed before me are among those who developed ICA’s Technology of Participation facilitation methodology in the 1970-80s, and who founded the International Association of Facilitators in the early 1990s. So I feel honoured indeed to be included now in this distinguished company, and to be the first guest interviewed outside of North America as well.

To hear my own stories, tips and advice, click on the image above and then click play – or download to listen later. In the 43 minute interview, I share something of my experience of the recent ICA Ukraine PEACE Summit in Kiev, some of the challenges I have experienced in virtual facilitation, my own ‘universal principle facilitation‘ ORID, my approach to meeting preparation, and how I use social media in my facilitation and in my facilitation business. I also share some tips and advice for fellow facilitators just starting out in social media, and for people just starting out as faciliators. Also, not least, I share how to get in touch if you are ready to offer me a six-figure facilitation contract…

Do also check out the archive of fascinating previous interviews at Meeting Tips Radio – listen to Marilyn Oyler on the invention of the sticky wall, Sunny Walker on virtual facilitation, Catherine Tornbom on conflict resolution, Mirja Hanson on lessons from her book Clues to Achieving Consensus, Nathaniel Cadwell on Agile meetings and innovation games, Rebecca Gilgen on ‘stealth facilitation’, Deb Burnight on strategic planning, Irina Fursman on her work in Ukraine, Linda Alton on the origins of ORID and the ToP Focused Conversation method – and much more!

And on that six-figure contract… just contact me!