Exploring feminist facilitation

Photo by Red Dot on Unsplash

What does feminism bring to facilitation, and what does feminist facilitation look like? How can I ensure that my own practice as a professional facilitator is more effectively and explicitly feminist, anti-racist and anti-oppressive?

This longer-read post tells the story of why and how I have been exploring feminist, anti-racist and anti-oppressive facilitation this past year and more, what I have learned and how I am starting to apply it.

Are you practicing or exploring feminist facilitation yourself, or are you interested to do so? Please share any reflections, questions or links in a comment below, below, or contact me.


Why and how I have been exploring feminist facilitation

I wrote last September in Reflecting on a year of freelance facilitation online, and looking ahead:

I have been challenged by the Black Lives Matter movement and other recent manifestations and responses to systemic injustice and oppression, and by clients who have been similarly challenged, to reflect on how I might ensure that my own practice is more effectively and explicitly anti-racist, feminist and anti-oppressive, and to commit to working on that.

One of the clients I was referring to was Amnesty International, with whom I have facilitated several regional and global governance events since 2020, including last year’s 2021 Europe & Central Asia Regional Forum and Global Assembly – see Who I work with and Recommendations & case studies.  Discussions of anti-racism and feminist leadership have featured prominently in these events, and we sought to model an explicitly feminist and anti-racist approach to their design and facilitation.

In Reflecting on Amnesty International’s Global Assembly 2021, international member representative and youth activist Dumiso Gatsha of Botswana wrote powerfully of her vision of “the kind of Amnesty I want to continue to be a part of; one that lives and advocates what it truly means to be born of dignity through solidarity and action for those who don’t have the power”, and of the “feminist leadership approach to which our movement committed” at that Assembly.

In preparing for the Europe & Central Asia Regional Forum earlier that year, I had searched online for references to feminist facilitation and resources that I might draw on as we sought to uphold that commitment to feminist leadership and anti-racism in our design and facilitation. I did not find much, but what I found on twitter (to my surprise, above) led me back to an earlier exchange in which Leila Billing of We Are Feminist Leaders had asked me in 2019 if I could share any such references and resources with her! We had met a few years before that when I had provided ToP facilitation training to Girls Not Brides.

I concluded that I might need to do more to find what I was looking for than just a quick online search, but also that there were others out there who I might learn from and with – even if none of them had yet shared an easy-to-find online beginners guide to feminist facilitation…

Those that I have learned with and from since then include all those with whom I have worked at Amnesty International during this period, including my co-facilitators for those contracts – most notably and repeatedly Orla Cronin and Marie Dubost.  They also include several other clients and prospective clients during this period, my IAF mentees and the young social justice activists who have accepted my offer of free facilitation coaching. They include IAF colleagues of the Social Inclusion Facilitators Special Interest Group, ICA colleagues of the US ToP Network in particular and fellow facilitators of the Involve Practitioners Network. They also include a number of authors and podcasters that I have discovered along the way, not least adrienne maree brown and other black feminist contributors to Holding Change: The Way of Emergent Strategy Facilitation and Mediation.

What has been most helpful for me, however, has been participating this year in the 12-week online feminist leadership development programme of We Are Feminist Leaders, led by Leila Billing and Natalie Brook. This has provided me with a comprehensive framework by which to understand what feminism brings to leadership, and thus to facilitation, and also a powerful demonstration of what feminist, anti-racist and anti-oppressive facilitation can look like in practice. I am grateful to Leila and Natalie, and especially to the cohort of mostly young feminist leaders with whom I shared the programme from whom I learned much too.

What I have learned

A comprehensive framework by which to understand what feminism brings to leadership, and thus to facilitation

What I learned in those 12 weeks can be summed up in large part by Leila in her earlier tweet summarizing what she had found herself, that “basically power analysis is key“.

The programme covers key concepts and principles behind feminist leadership, with particular emphasis on intersectionality and different dimensions of power and privilege, and key practical aspects including power sharing and self & collective care.  Much of the power analysis was familiar to me from my work in international development and human rights, although I was struck by how far the theory has progressed since my own development studies MA of 25 years ago now. Much of the practice would be familiar to any good professional facilitator, however what I found most interesting and valuable was what I found to be largely absent or at best implicit in much professional facilitation – namely power, and politics & purpose.

Feminist Leadership DiamondIn Feminist Leadership for Social Transformation: Clearing the Conceptual Cloud, Srilatha Batliwala identifies four essential components of feminist leadership which she presents in the Feminist Leadership “Diamond” (right).

Batliwala describes values as ‘the ethical norms that guide behaviour’ and principles as ‘norms that guide action’. These are thus broadly analogous to the IAF Statement of Values & Code of Ethics for facilitators, described by IAF as the ‘values and ethical principles that guide our actions’.  She describes practices as being ‘about ways of doing and enabling a myriad of things’. These are therefore broadly analogous to the IAF Core Competencies, ‘the basic set of skills, knowledge, and behaviours that facilitators must have in order to be successful facilitating in a wide variety of environments’.

So, what do we notice when we compare Batliwala’s framework for understanding feminist leadership with the IAF’s framework for guiding and certifying professional facilitation?

What I think the two frameworks clearly share at these levels of principles & values and practices are a belief in ‘the inherent value of the individual’ (IAF) and in the value of ‘consultative, collective, transparent and accountable decision-making’ (SB), and ‘Respect, Safety, Equity, and Trust’ recognising ‘the culture, rights, and autonomy of the group’ and seeking to ‘promote equitable relationships’ and ‘honour and recognise diversity, ensuring inclusiveness’ (IAF). Like the feminist leadership framework, the IAF framework recognises diversity and difference, the potential for conflict and risks to welfare and dignity and the importance of ‘a safe environment for conflict to surface’.

What I think feminist leadership brings to facilitation, that the IAF framework lacks, is a clear recognition of the structural and systemic sources of inequity of power and privilege in wider society, how these may be reflected in groups and how they must be addressed in order to achieve broader goals of human rights, peace and a healthy planet – even just to achieve an inclusive participatory meeting or process. This broader social context features prominently even in the principles & values and practices quadrants of Batliwala’s Diamond of feminist leadership, and warrants a further quadrant each for power and for politics & purpose. I did not find the words power, privilege, politics or purpose in the IAF Statement of Values & Code of Ethics or the IAF Core Competencies, except purpose in relation to the aims of a meeting and privilege in relation to conflict of interest.

A key emphasis of the IAF framework that is absent from that of feminist leadership is the ‘impartial’ role that facilitators are called upon to fill ‘in service to our clients… [including] the groups we facilitate’, involving ‘stewardship of process and impartiality toward content’.  I argued in my last post Facilitator neutrality in the context of war and oppression in March that facilitation is not a neutral practice or profession at all, and that as professional facilitators we must stand up against systems and structures of power, discrimination and oppression, violence and war. I think that the missing feminist leadership quadrants of power and politics & purpose provide clues to how we might do that.

Power

“Leadership is first and foremost about power – it is about holding power, exercising power, and changing the distribution and relations of power…  Feminist leadership means functioning with a greater consciousness not only of others’ but also of one’s own power” – Srilatha Batliwala, Feminist Leadership for Social Transformation: Clearing the Conceptual Cloud

During the programme we drew in particular on a power analysis outlined by Lisa VeneKlasen and Valerie Miller in A New Weave of Power, People & Politics: The Action Guide for Advocacy and Citizen Participation. This identifies four ‘expressions’ of power (familiar to me from Naila Kabeer’s 1994 Reversed Realities), namely Power Over, Power With, Power To and Power Within; three ‘realms’ in which power is expressed, namely Public, Private and Intimate; and three ‘levels’ of political power, namely Visible, Hidden and Invisible. We looked also at the notion of ‘deep structures’ in organisations, “the hidden sites and processes of power and influence… where the culture of the organisation is embedded and reproduced“, a locus of Invisible power and where Power Under is often expressed (Batliwala).

Suffice to say here that the analysis suggests that power is available to everyone to a greater or a lesser degree, determined in large part by the nature and degree of each individual’s intersecting privilege, and that power can be exercised in such a way as to enhance or diminish the power and privilege of others – and so to respect their rights or to violate them. Batliwala argues that “Feminist leadership will strive to make the practice of power visible, democratic, legitimate and accountable, at all levels and in both private and public realms.”

To explore intersectionality, the way that people’s identities and privilege intersect, and so their sources of power and inequality, we drew in particular on the CRIAW-ICREF Intersectionality Wheel (right).

If we are to meaningfully “recognise barriers to participation and ways to address them” in order to “honour and recognise diversity, ensuring inclusiveness“, as  the IAF Core Competencies (C2) expect of professional facilitators, then this is where  such “power analysis is key“.

Politics & purpose

“I define feminist leadership as a process of transforming ourselves, our communities, and the larger world, to embrace a feminist vision of social justice. It’s the process of working to make the feminist vision of a non-violent, non-discriminatory world, a reality (…) It’s about mobilizing others around this vision of change” – Srilatha Batliwala, The Feminist Leadership project: a series celebrating feminist leaders

Batliwala defines feminist leadership here in terms of its feminist political purpose, rather than in terms of its principles & values or its practices. It is perhaps appropriate that the purpose of a professional association can be seen to be non-political, as I think the IAF Vision and Mission can. Perhaps also then it is appropriate for IAF, in contrast, to define professional facilitation in terms of its principles and practices in the IAF Statement of Values & Code of Ethics and IAF Core Competencies.

Clarity of desired outcomes is central to the professional facilitators’ task, however, as made clear in the IAF Core Competencies (D) ‘Guide Group to Appropriate and Useful Outcomes’. In a world that is inescapably political, I would argue that professional facilitators have both a right and a responsibility to be transparent and accountable to their own political purpose of their professional facilitation practice, as well as to the desired outcomes of each particular facilitated process. Many facilitators already are, not least those who apply facilitation in their practice of feminist leadership, anti-racism and social inclusion, and in social justice movements more broadly.

“Enabling people to bring about positive change in their organisations and communities through facilitation… [toward] a just and sustainable world for all” – ICA:UK Misson & Vision

IAF was founded in 1994 by a global network of 70 ICA ToP facilitators, and the practice and provision of training in ICA’s Technology of Participation facilitation methodology remains central to the work of ICAs around the world. For ICA and for ToP facilitators, facilitation is seen as a tool of transformational change – toward a mission and vision described by ICA:UK as “enabling people to bring about positive change in their organisations and communities through facilitation” toward “a just and sustainable world for all“.

I have continued to regard that as my own purpose as a professional facilitator since I helped to articulate it more than 20 years ago as part of a 2001 online Focused Conversation on ICA:UK values.  I recognise it as a political purpose, and therefore that ‘power analysis is key‘.

A powerful demonstration of what feminist, anti-racist and anti-oppressive facilitation can look like in practice

Many if not most of the IAF Core Competencies were in evidence in the design and facilitation of the We Are Feminist Leaders programme. Notable exceptions were D3. ‘Guide the group to consensus’ and F3. “Model neutrality”, as consensus and content neutrality were not really relevant or necessary in such a facilitated group process of individual learning and leadership development. What I found particularly noticeable was how attention to power and privilege helped to ‘honour and recognise diversity, ensuring inclusiveness’ (IAF Core Competence C2); and how practical aspects of feminist leadership such as power sharing and self & collective care were demonstrated.

Applying the concepts and tools of feminist leadership together to our own and each other’s lived experience helped to ‘create a climate of trust and safety’ and ‘recognise barriers to participation and ways to address them’. Power sharing was demonstrated by means of effective co-facilitation by the programme leaders, and by means of the very participatory process by which members of the group themselves exercised leadership together throughout the programme.

Self & collective care was demonstrated by diligent application of the ’10 principles of a feminist classroom’ that were shared at the outset and referred to throughout. These included the importance of mutual learning and building a learning community; attention to lived experience, to feelings as much as thoughts, and to our own and each other’s power and privilege and how they affect our positions and perspectives; courage and compassion in sharing and challenging in safety, and in taking action on what we learn in pursuit of social justice beyond the classroom. Perhaps most important, that “the feminist classroom will not be perfect, because we are not perfect”.

Even as an older white man among a diverse group of mostly younger women, I felt entirely welcome and included myself – although I had felt some trepidation before about signing up for a programme ‘for emerging leaders’. I think I can credit my own experience of inclusion to the very welcoming and inclusive space that was created, as well as to my own ‘unique circumstances of power, privilege and identity’ (CRIAW) that can make it relatively easy for me to feel welcome and included.

The privilege of my own unique circumstances was brought home to me most powerfully when we reflected on how we can care for our own and each other’s well-being in the face of the trauma that can be experienced by those resisting systemic oppression or inequality, and struggling to make a non-violent, non-discriminatory world a reality.  I do not feel traumatized by my own work toward a just and sustainable world for all, and generally I do not struggle with caring for myself and others – because generally I can expect to be cared for by society, and it is not violence and discrimination against me that is standing in my way.

How I am starting to apply it

I seek to take a feminist and anti-racist approach to my work, informed by an understanding of the way people’s intersecting identities (age, race, sexuality, gender, class, ability etc.) impact the ways that they have power and privilege, and the ways they face marginalization and discrimination. Mindful of such inequalities, I strive to create an safe environment that is inclusive of diverse lived experience, and ensure that even the most excluded have an equal voice and opportunity to contribute.

I recognize that my own intersecting identities as an older, anglophone, white British gay man (middle class and able-bodied) may position me to be better able to achieve those goals with some groups than with others. With clients and groups for whom I may not be best positioned to facilitate myself, I recommend others and/or offer to partner or co-facilitate with others as appropriate.

I have included the above text on my web page How I work, and I now use or adapt it as appropriate in proposals to clients and in contracting and design conversations with clients and groups. I have recommended clients to others, and partnered and co-facilitated with others, where I have realised that I was not best positioned to facilitate with a particular group myself.

I have started to offer free facilitation coaching to young people using facilitation in their work for peace, climate justice, gender equity or anti-racism, or otherwise in response to systemic injustice and oppression or toward achieving a just and sustainable world for all – in order to support and share power with them, and to be inspired and learn from their experience; and also to further diversify the network of colleagues who I am able to recommend to clients and/or offer to partner or co-facilitate with.

ECA Regional Forum 2022 - Invitation to guide behaviour in sessionsI have started to draw on principles and practices of feminist leadership and anti-racism in how I contract with groups and invite them to contract with each other. This invitation to guide behaviour in sessions, for example, was first developed for Amnesty’s ECA Regional Forum in 2021, and then adapted for use at their 2021 Global Assembly and 2022 ECA Regional Forum as well.  It drew on insights of a capacity building session led by my co-facilitator Orla Cronin, which itself drew on ActionAid’s Ten Principles of Feminist Leadership.

I shall continue this exploration in professional development with colleagues and in my professional practice with clients and groups.  Among an abundance of professional development opportunities, I am particularly looking forward to joining an Action Learning Set with other ’emerging’ feminist leaders who have completed the 12-week We Are Feminist Leaders programme. I am looking forward to learning also in my volunteer role with the (predominately older, white, gay male) Gay Outdoor Club as it works to implement a new Inclusion and Diversity Policy – toward a more diverse and inclusive GOC, “for everyone in the LGBTQI+ community who wants to enjoy outdoor activities”.

As I continue to educate myself, I hope to be better able to help to educate my clients and groups as well – on how we must all be prepared to invest time and budget, as well as creativity, courage and compassion, to address power and privilege as we must if we truly mean to ‘recognise barriers to participation and ways to address them’ in order to ‘honour and recognise diversity, ensuring inclusiveness’.

Are you practicing or exploring feminist facilitation yourself, or are you interested to do so? Please share any reflections, questions or links in a comment below, below, or contact me.


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

Reflections on 5 years of chapter leadership with IAF England & Wales

IAF England & Wales 2020 Annual Meeting

Hosting the 2020 online Annual Meeting of IAF England & Wales last month was one of my last acts as chapter Chair before completing my 2 year term at the end of December. I am sharing here the zoom recording of the meeting, and also the 2020 Board report (pdf) that we presented as a Board and Leadership Team.

It is also now just over 5 years since I took over as organiser of the IAF London meetup group, and it will very soon be time this month for the new England & Wales Board (and separately also this month the IAF global Board) to meet again to make plans for the year ahead.

So I thought I would share a little of the story of these 5 years, and a few reflections from my own experience of what I think has worked for us.


In a small way I had supported Julia Goga-Cooke and Martin Farrell in their hosting of the first meetups of IAF England & Wales, in London from November 2013. We met monthly on Thursday evenings in a meeting room near Charing Cross for 2 hours of informal networking and learning exchange. We had groups of up to around 8 or 10, sometimes only one or two (even none!). Nevertheless we attracted a small but loyal band of regular attenders, who came to appreciate our little community greatly.

Join IAF facilitators & friends for regular facilitation meetups in London and elsewhere

When I took over as host in November 2015, I sought to grow the community at first by diversifying the meetups. I continued the London networking and learning meetups in a meeting room every other month, as afternoon sessions of 3-4 hours to encourage and enable people to travel further to attend. I alternated those with bi-monthly evening social meetups in a pub, and added monthly morning networking meetups in a coffee shop.

I found that my meetup.com organiser fee entitled me to 3 meetup groups for the price of one. So I launched new regional groups for the North of England and South West, and invited others to host monthly local coffee meetups near them and to share in hosting of regional networking & learning meetups on a quarterly basis.

Join us in Birmingham for International Facilitation Week, and where you are! #FacWeek

We held our first all-day, all-England & Wales meetup for International Facilitation Week in Birmingham in October 2016, with I think 16 participants.

We made extensive use of twitter and other social media to reach out to others, using the hashtag #IAFmeetup and sharing selfies of every meetup – at least when joined by others!

IAF England & Wales Leadership Team plans the year ahead

As the network grew, I invited meetup hosts and attendees to join me in forming a Leadership Team, and six of us first met for an afternoon of action planning in London in May 2017.

In 2018 we launched the Midlands & East of England group, and six of us stood for election by the chapter membership to form a new chapter Board.

We asked some of our regulars what they have appreciated most about IAF E&W Meetups and why should others be interested, and listed some of their replies on our web page.

Join our monthly facilitation networking & learning meetups, now throughout England & Wales and online!

In 2019 we invited all of our growing community of meetup hosts around the country to form an expanded Leadership Team of around 30, with an online home in Basecamp. In that year’s election we expanded the Board from six to nine. We also launched the Wales meetup group, supported sister groups to launch in Scotland and Ireland, and launched the monthly UK & Ireland online coffee meetup.

The Power and Practice of Facilitation – annual conference programme

For International Facilitation Week in 2019 our national event in Birmingham became a two-day Annual Conference, attended by around 100. We also launched the #IAFpodcast Facilitation Stories that week – an initiative sparked by a conversation at a London meetup earlier that year.

Early 2020 saw a dozen or so attend our first overnight Leadership Team meeting in Birmingham in January, and the launch of IAF England & Wales Hubs to support IAF facilitators and friends to pursue a shared interest together – the first being the Climate Hub. Then of course we took all of our meetups online, and then our October 2020 Annual Conference as well…

The 2020 Board report shared here illustrates something of the experience and outcomes of IAF England & Wales this past year in text and images, and the Annual Meeting recording illustrates the experience and outcomes of many of those involved in their own stories and from their perspectives.


I am enormously proud of what we have become as a community – and not least how that community has innovated and transformed itself, and enabled those involved to innovate and transform their own facilitation practice and businesses, this past year.

I am enormously gratified, also, to be able to step down from my own leadership role with great confidence in the strong, distributed and very facilitative leadership that remains in place. I mean my successor as Chair Helene Jewell, and the newly (re-)elected chapter Board of nine and wider Leadership Team, and also the IAF England & Wales community as a whole as well.

Our IAF England & Wales 2020 plan, like those of previous years, includes a few simple principles that we have developed over the years to capture how we have sought to work together as chapter. For me these reflect much of what has worked for us in terms of chapter leadership over the past 5 years.

  • IAF England & Wales is a not-for-profit unincorporated association, constituted as a Chapter of IAF according to Chapter Bylaws approved by the IAF Board in 2011 and governed by an elected Board of local IAF members

As a chapter of IAF we are guided by the Vision, Mission and Values of IAF and we engage actively with other chapters, and with the Association as a whole, both to learn and to contribute. Our Bylaws are adapted from those of IAF as a whole and our Board structure and roles are adapted from those of the global IAF Board. This has helped us to build alignment.

  • IAF facilitators & friends, our wider network, welcomes everyone with an interest in facilitation in E&W, IAF members and non-members alike. Non-IAF members from among the wider network may be appointed by the E&W Board to the wider IAF E&W Leadership Team.

The greatest value that an Association like IAF can offer its members, in my experience, is the opportunity to exercise leadership in service to others and to the world at large. Thus we have not sought to provide a service to members so much as to build an open community to support members and others to serve each other and the wider world. We have used social media and online platforms as well as face-to-face and virtual meetups to broaden and deepen our connections. This has enabled us to build engagement.

We are a community of facilitators, after all, with a mission to promote and advance the highest professional standards among all those with an interest in facilitation. This has helped us to build credibility.

  • We seek to reflect and also broaden the diversity of the facilitation community

This is perhaps the principle that we have had least success in living up to, as yet, and so perhaps it is the one that is most deserving of greater attention. I believe that such attention is demanded by our Values and Ethics as facilitators and by our Values as an Association, so I am encouraged by the Board’s ongoing committed to this. This will increasingly help us to build our impact.

  • We follow our passion & energy, and those of our community. We lead to inspire more leadership, rather than to gain followers – so we encourage, challenge & support others to lead sessions, to host meetups and to lead in other ways

As facilitators we make it easy for groups to achieve amazing results, so in other leadership roles we make it easy for ourselves and each other to do so as well. Perhaps my greatest source of pride in my leadership of IAF England & Wales is to have had my name taken as short-hand for the experience of finding oneself to have volunteered for a leadership role – in other words, to have been ‘Gilbraithed’! I am prouder still to hear talk among my fellow chapter leaders of doing the same to each other and to others in future, taking their own and each others’ names as short-hand. This has helped us to build our leadership.

  • We manage our finances on a low-cost, low-risk, break-even basis.

In order to make it easy on ourselves and each other as leaders, and to make our community as widely accessible as possible. This has helped us to build our resilience.


This story of IAF England & Wales is a story of IAF as a whole as much as it is a story of the chapter. I believe that the chapter has had some influence on the story of IAF as a whole over these 5 years, but I am quite certain that the reverse is true.

I am proud and gratified also that IAF and its global and regional leadership has provided such an enabling and empowering environment for such a story to unfold in England & Wales, and in a rapidly growing number of other IAF chapters and groups around the world. I think it was well deserved that IAF won the AAE Award for Best Membership Engagement in 2019.

I am excited that the IAF global Board this month will be reviewing a new ‘IAF Scale of Participation’, developed by Marketing Director Jeffer London with inspiration from New Power. This could help to build a global journey of leadership development, in conjunction with the IAF Professional Development Pathway.

IAF Worldwide

Join us in promoting the power of facilitation worldwide!

Everyone with an interest in facilitation is welcome and, while our meetups are largely all online, there will always be an #IAFmeetup near you!


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 also for my regularly scheduled ToP facilitation training sessions, now all online.

How to Facilitate LEGO Serious Play Online – #FacWeek Foreword

How to Facilitate LEGO® Serious Play® Online

Welcome to International Facilitation Week 2020, starting today! #FacWeek

This year I am pleased to join with Sean Blair CPF in launching his new book, for which I am pleased to have contributed the Foreword, below.

Join Sean and me if you can at this year’s online IAF England & Wales Annual Conference, in which he will be leading a session The story of how LEGO® Serious Play®, a face-to-face method went #Online and I shall be co-hosting this month’s UK & Ireland facilitators virtual coffee meetup #IAFmeetup – all welcome!

Also this week, on Thursday I shall be leading Facilitation Competencies for Agilists with fellow ICA:UK ToP trainer Megan Evans part of Agile Tour London 2020.  And of course I shall be tweeting @FacWeek!

How will you celebrate and promote the power of facilitation this year? Check out the global schedule of events at www.facweek.org, and you will not be left short of ideas!


I started out as a facilitator in 1986, with my first training in the ICA ‘Technology of Participation’ (ToP) methodology that has been my facilitation speciality ever since.

I have been providing facilitation and facilitation training professionally to a wide range of clients since 1997, became a Certified™ Professional Facilitator (CPF) of the International Association of Facilitators in 2008 and was inducted into the IAF Hall of Fame in 2014, then became CPF | Master this year in 2020.

All of this time I have worked remotely, in and with geographically distributed groups, as well as face-to-face. I have been using online technology in this work for as long as it has been available.

I have never sought to make online facilitation a particular speciality, however – until now, of course. I have not made LEGO® Serious Play® a speciality either, in spite of having enjoyed a long and distinguished early childhood career in LEGO®!

I believe that a facilitator is first a facilitator, and only second an online facilitator or a LEGO Serious Play facilitator. I believe that the keys to mastering facilitation lie in the values and the stance of the facilitator, the competencies and the disciplines, rather than the space or the platform, the methods or the tools.

Nevertheless, I am excited to commend to you this book ‘How To Facilitate Meetings & Workshops Using The LEGO® Serious Play® Method Online’. Here are three reasons why.

I know Sean, and that he is a competent, experienced and accomplished facilitator. Questions are the primary tool of every facilitator, and I know that he asks good questions and that he asks them well. In an early meetup of IAF England & Wales, in London in perhaps 2013, he posed the question: “Is there such a thing as a universal principle of facilitation?”

It didn’t take me long to think and respond that, in my own facilitation at least, there is certainly something approaching that – the ‘ORID’ model underlies of the ToP Focused Conversation method and the ToP methodology as a whole.

I know that Sean has since integrated this approach in his practice, and in his previous book ‘Mastering The LEGO Serious Play Method’. I was sufficiently inspired by the metaphor of ORID as a universal principle that I blogged about it then and have used it in my training ever since.

Many facilitators have rapidly developed a speciality in working online this year, as Sean and I have as well. Some have done so more quickly and easily than others, and some with greater enthusiasm. Most, in my experience, have had reservations about some of the very real limitations of online facilitation. Only recently I think more of us are becoming belatedly more aware of some equally real limitations of face-to-face, and some real advantages of working online.

So, it is not only LEGO Serious Play practitioners that might take heart and find inspiration in the many innovations that Sean shares in this book. There is much here for all of us to learn from – not least, the rigour and creativity with which he has designed ‘a digital process that uses bricks’ [substitute your preferred tool or method here] ‘rather than an analogue process poorly rendered online’.

I’ve heard it said that, in online facilitation, every participant brings their share of the meeting room with them. This is a challenge for LEGO Serious Play practitioners perhaps more than most, and one to which this book rises admirably.

As Sean makes clear in his Guiding Principles, success in achieving outcomes rather than just engagement through facilitation comes largely from the planning and preparation, and from the capacity to divert nimbly from the plan when the moment requires improvisation.

All of this can be considerably more complex and difficult online than face-to-face. So, if this is what can be done with LEGO Serious Play, think what else can be possible online!

Finally, we are in the midst of a climate emergency, as well as a public health emergency. I believe that the two are not unrelated, and that they demand new ways of connecting, communicating and collaborating that are less carbon intensive as well as more COVID-19 secure, and that are more creative, compassionate and empowering as well. I believe that facilitation has a central role to play on the latter, with bricks as well as without, and that designing and delivering facilitation well online must play a part on the former.

I have witnessed an extraordinary flourishing of creativity and innovation among facilitators in response to the pandemic and lockdown of recent months, and an extraordinary generosity of sharing of it as well – largely, of course, online.

I am delighted to see this valuable and timely new book enter the fray, and just in time for International Facilitation Week! I am proud to be able to welcome you to it, and grateful to Sean for sharing it.

Buy the book, online of course, from Serious Work.


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

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

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.

From the Archive: a 2001 online Focused Conversation on ICA:UK values

ICA:UK AGM, December 2000 at Wick Court Centre

This piece ‘From the Archive’ is reprinted from ICA:UK Network News #15, November 2001 (p18). Around 30 ICA:UK members participated in this early application of the ToP Focused Conversation method to the emerging practice of online facilitation.

The conversation took place asynchronously over several weeks in November 2001. Also reprinted below are the questions used and a summary of responses. Members attending the annual Network Gathering in Ludlow in December 2001 drew on these responses to articulate a values statement that was approved by the ICA:UK Board in January 2002. That statement has stood the test of time, and remains current today – see About ICA:UK.

The new 2020 ICA:UK Online Focused Conversation Series offers a series of taster sessions led by different ToP facilitation trainers, examining and exploring different topics and also demonstrating the application of the ToP Focused Conversation Method online. See my own May session Taking your event online: what could possibly go wrong?, and register now for my June session How engaging can your online session be?

ICA’s Focused Conversation method began life as the Artform Method of the Ecumenical Institute in the 1960s. Historical documents are now available in the Facilitation Methods Collection of the ICA Social Research Center, newly unveiled this week by the ICA USA Global Archives project.

See also the importance of values in facilitation – #IAFpodcast FS7.


On-line conversation: ICA:UK values

Duncan Holmes in Toronto & Martin Gilbraith in Manchester

As a member of ICA:UK, you are being invited to participate in an online participatory process to discuss the values ICA:UK needs to hold as it moves into the future. This discussion has been initiated by the Board of ICA:UK. We will be using the ToP-on-line tools developed by ICA Canada. This will be an opportunity to explore these tools as well as discuss an important topic. We hope the on-line tools will promote discussion between members during times when we are not meeting face to face.

Duncan Holmes of ICA Associates Inc. in Canada is facilitating the online process. ICA Associates Inc. has a suite of tools to use. The process we will be using this time, asks you to go to the ToP-on-line web site and answer the questions that are there. You can go to the site as often as you want. You can add answers any time you want – either because you have thought of new ideas or you want to respond to something that has been said by another person.

Context for the Discussion

ICA:UK was incorporated last year. As ICA:UK becomes an employer and prepares itself for further growth and development, there has been a concern expressed on a number of occasions that we articulate what values we hold as ICA:UK, in order that these may guide our growth and development and so we may be careful to stay true to them.

In deciding to become an employer, the Board expressed a concern that new employees recruited from beyond the membership be expected to share and adhere to ICA:UK’s values. At the recent ToP programme strategic planning event, ToP Associates identified an ‘ethic of participation’ as distinguishing ICA:UK from other proponents of participatory methods, but felt that this was poorly understood or appreciated within ICA:UK, and especially among clients & partners. On both occasions it was felt that ICA:UK has values that are distinctive and important, and that it is time to articulate them for our own benefit, and for that of ICA:UK and its development.

The rational aim of this discussion is to elicit perspectives of ICA:UK network members on what values they discern and appreciate in ICA and its work; ultimately, to articulate a values statement to guide ICA:UK’s organizational & programme development, and against which to be held accountable. In participating in this conversation you may find yourself considering your relationship to ICA and to each other at a deeper level than programme or even policy. We hope to plumb the depths of what ICA means to members and what it stands for.


What values do we hold as ICA:UK?

Summary of responses, November 23rd 2001

1. What first attracted you to become involved with ICA or to become re-involved if your interest lapsed?

Most members were first attracted to ICA by the opportunity to volunteer overseas in a grassroots community development project. Others were attracted by the participatory facilitation skills or referred by someone they knew well. Members stayed involved because of the emphasis on Civil Society, Participatory Values and the global mission and spirit dimension of ICA. The quality of the training, the opportunity to stay connected with like minded people, and the opportunity to learn about life are also contributing factors to members continued involvement.

2. What have been some most meaningful events or experiences for you, in your involvement with ICA?

The most meaningful events and experiences have been Volunteer Training events and the international volunteer experience; visiting other ICAs and attending global ICA events that broadened one’s understanding of ICA; taking facilitation courses and being able to immediately use the tools; being part of an ICA training team; being welcomed at other ICA UK network events and being involved in a network/team of people who are making a difference in many different ways. Members also appreciated events that have grounded their understanding of ICA and its role.

3. When have you felt ICA addressing something of great importance to you? Describe it briefly.

Members felt ICA was addressing something of real importance during programmes that challenged their life direction or reminded them that they individually and collectively could make a difference; during ICA training and facilitated events where people realize the value of their own wisdom and potential; and when talking about real life issues and the ICA approach to those issues.

4. When have you discerned a fundamental characteristic of ICA that distinguishes it from other organizations or networks that you have known?

The fundamental characteristic of ICA that distinguishes it from other organizations or networks are: the consistent focus on Process and Participation; ICA’s focus on the personal responsibility and the development of the individual; and the belief that each individual has a valid contribution to make. There is a movemental feel to the organization. The values and beliefs are aligned in every aspect of the organization. The spirit dimension and understanding allows the organization to focus on asking the right questions and not just on having the right answers

5. When have you felt a fundamental tension or mismatch between you & ICA?

A fundamental tension or mismatch was felt between the members & ICA around ICA’s language, the cost of the VFC; and when we spend time on policies and procedures. There is also a tension when we consider working in areas that appear to be in conflict with our values and when I feel out of alignment with the values I know ICA holds. As a new person on the journey of development, a member experienced tension.

6. What is there fundamental about ICA that it is important not to lose?

As ICA UK goes forward it is important not to lose the fundamentals of: Value based methods and approaches that provide people with effective ways of working together; individual and personal responsibility within the larger collective whole; recognition of the uniqueness of each individual; maintaining a global & historic perspective as a context for our actions at the local and international level; the valuing of individual and organizational honesty and trust;the engagement of the spirit dimension in life; and the sense of belonging to a team.

7. What are other key words or phrases that describe the uniqueness of ICA:UK and you would like to see included in a statement of values?

Other key words and phrases to describe the uniqueness of ICA:UK are: Participation Concerned with the human factor in development Local and international network Addressing the spirit of people Learning, sharing, questioning A commitment to tackling injustice and inequality in a way that values and welcomes diversity The individual and collective responsibility, within the group and in life.


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 also for my regularly scheduled ToP facilitation training courses in London and Brussels, and now also online.