Tag Archives: facilitator

Networking in nature

In the Participation Cymru team we love spending time outdoors and the opportunity of holding a network in the open air is an idea we’ve thrown around for a while.

So, just after the early May Bank Holiday weekend we held our first ever practitioner network event that took place in nature with the help of Tom Moses from Pembrokeshire Coast National Park. Here is a summary what happened:

Firstly, the weather was absolutely glorious!

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Not even a hint of rain

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Tom started the fire earlier that morning, so hot tea and coffee was served upon arrival.

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Jill Simpson, from Pembrokeshire Coast National Park showed us this beautiful, tactile piece of community made woodland furniture (it’s so much more than just a bench) that was designed and created by local young people.

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Matt, a volunteer for Pembrokeshire Coast took us for a walk along a bridleway where we learned map reading and basic orienteering skills.

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Along the way we met some inquisitive young cattle who were very keen to say hello

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It’s possible to make tea from various plants, roots and fungi found in the woodland (but never eat anything you’ve picked in the wild unless you’re absolutely sure that it’s safe!)

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Our mid-morning snack: warm bread fresh from a Dutch oven with freshly picked wild garlic.

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We used a participatory voting method – ‘pebble voting’ to decide which of the teas tasted the best (dandelion seemed to be the most popular).

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It wasn’t just tea-testing, cows and pretty walks however; the topic of the networking meeting was behaviour change. Participation Cymru posed the question for organisations who are implementing the National Principles for Public Engagement in Wales: what behaviour change has to take place within an organisation? Answers on a magnetic whiteboard…

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We recently published a checklist of implementation for the National Principles with questions relating to each principle. Has your organisation had to change its behaviour when engaging? Have you had to try to influence the behaviour of others in order to make improvements? Join the conversation but leaving a comment below.

Finally…leave (almost) no trace

This water soluble air-drying clay is an excellent way for people to ‘leave their mark’ in nature without causing any damage to the environment. We took all of our rubbish with us.

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Many thanks to Tom, Jill and Matt from Pembrokeshire Park National Park Authority who helped make this event a success.

Are you thinking of holding a community event or meeting outdoors in Wales? If you are, please tell us so we can help you promote it.

Keep checking our website for details of future network events.

Our ‘All Wales Network event’ entitled ‘Engaging with diverse communities’ is taking place in Llandrindod Wells on 14th July it’s FREE to attend!

Sarah

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Why we love Open Space Technology

If you’ve never come across the concept of Open Space Technology before and you’re familiar with a formal style of hosting meetings, it can seem quite daunting to have to facilitate or even participate in a session that uses Open Space.

This style of facilitating fits our ethos

Our ethos is that ‘We work with people and organisations and not for them’.

Open Space Technology is a style of facilitation that allows a group of individuals to be completely self-organised in reaching goals. This is achieved with barely any input from the facilitator, who will do little more than outline the guiding principles of Open Space Technology, introduce the over-arching topic/theme/purpose of the meeting and then let the group get on with it. This technique has been used around the world in meetings of 5 to 2000 people.

There is no formal agenda and no ground rules, except for the Law of Two Feet, that is: “If at any time during our time together you find yourself in any situation where you are neither learning nor contributing, use your two feet, go someplace else.”  (Harrison Owen)

Owen’s Tedx Talk Dancing with Shiva (or Sandy, or Katrina)’  is a great starting point for any facilitator or practitioner interested in this method.

We’ve used this technique at several network events

We’ve used this technique several times including at our All Wales Residential Network in 2012, during a session at WCVA’s annual staff day and most recently at our Regional Participation Networks in October.

This technique is excellent because it really allows anyone who attends a session to speak about what they want. Open Space gives people a platform to do this without a facilitator poking their nose in (as it may be perceived) if a conversation goes off-topic or a discussion changes course, therefore shifting the power away from one person and sharing it amongst a group.

We’ve always had success using Open Space, at our most recent participation network events there was a wide variety of topics that people brought to the meetings that we held in Rhyl, Barry and Carmarthen this October:

  • How can we work more creatively – changing work structures
  • Fair treatment for Women in Wales – recognition of rights
  • Social housing has years of experience of engagement
  • Autism support for adults who don’t qualify for help
  • Getting information to the right people in the right way
  • Making our work newsworthy
  • How to engage young people as volunteers
  • Community initiatives – engaging with a poor community
  • Home or hospital – what is better for patients and staff?

The online community

There is a huge online community for facilitators and practitioners who use or are interested in Open Space Technology, which includes a very active e-mail discussion list and a Google Group – no organisation or individual owns or controls this collective information and it truly is an ever-expanding knowledge-base. I’ve been part of the e-mail discussion list for just over a month and although I haven’t contributed anything, during my time spend ‘lurking’ I have learnt so much about situations where Open Space has been used successfully. Anyone can read the archives from this list, which date back almost 20 years so there is a huge amount of user-generated information there!

It’s fun

OpenSpace1As a facilitator, it’s great to look around the room and observe meaningful, organic and productive discussions which are taking place.

As a participant, it’s wonderful to have the opportunity to talk about things in an informal environment. Even with careful facilitation with lots of open questions asked it can still be difficult to get your point across if other participants have a louder voice than you. In an open space environment, participants can use the law of two feet to move away from unproductive discussions.

Have you ever used Open Space Technology in your engagement work? Have you ever attended a session? Please share your experiences in the comments section below.

 – Sarah

Method of the month

Every month we feature a participatory method/tool in our newsletter and I am always thrilled to have such positive feedback and am frequently told by readers that they really look forward to see what the ‘Method of the month’ will be!  As a result we thought it would be a nice idea to turn this feature into a monthly blog post in order to (hopefully) reach more people.

We always welcome suggestions and photographs of participatory methods that other organisations have been using, so please get in touch if you have a technique you’d like to share!

An archive of past newsletters is available on our website.

Last month’s featured method is…

Evaluation thermometer

This is a visual, participatory evaluation technique that could be used to evaluate a meeting, event or focus group. Participation Cymru recently used this tool to evaluate the regional participation networks that took place this month.

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Tools needed: Flipchart paper, coloured marker pens and sticky dots.

Preparation: Draw a large thermometer onto the flipchart paper. The top should represent heat (excellent/great), the middle should be lukewarm (reasonable/OK) and bottom should be cold (disappointment/dislike).

Choose what you’d like people to rate, e.g. overall impression, how participative the event was etc.

Give sticky dots to participants and ask them to stick them where they feel they should go on the thermometer and take photos of the results.

– Sarah

Making Action Learning Work!

Re-blogged from WCVA

Action Learning

In addition to training and bespoke support the Communities First Support Service is offering an increasing number of people in the CF workforce the opportunity to learn from each other via our Outcome Learning Groups (OLGAs). These are based on the methodology of Action Learning. Here, Jane Lewes from The Learning Consultancy, who is working with the CF Support Service to develop the framework for this peer learning, explains the ‘rules’ of Action Learning.

Action Learning is being used increasingly frequently as a tool to help community groups to work through some of the issues they have to tackle on a daily basis. The kinds of issues or “knotty problems” may cover just about anything; they can be irritating, frustrating and even the source of genuine distress. Whatever the nature of the problem, one characteristic they all share is that others will almost certainly have experienced the same, or a similar, problem.

So, how does Action Learning help to unblock problems and break through barriers?

The technique of Action Learning is a remarkably simple and effective way of supporting an individual to work through a real and current problem, leading to new insights and, ultimately, solutions. The technique is simple because all it requires is a group of people (round about 6-8) who agree to follow the “rules” which are few but essential for success. These are:

Trust: When a group of colleagues agree to meet as an Action Learning Set (ALS), there needs to be a strong basis of trust – trust in one another and trust in the process. One of the cornerstones of trust is the commitment to confidentiality. An absence of trust will almost certainly cause the ALS to implode and could lead to further damage.

Clarity of role: There are 3 roles in the Action Learning scenario:

  • The Presenter – the individual who shares her/his issue or problem
  • The Supporters – the other members of the Set whose job is to listen intently and ask insightful and powerful questions about aspects of the issue
  • The Facilitator – the individual who acts as a “benign referee”, ensuring the entire Set keeps to the rules of the process

The Process: A typical Action Learning Set will run something like this:

  • The Set meets in a venue where they will be assured of privacy;
  • The Facilitator reminds the Set about the “rules of engagement”, management of time, commitment to confidentiality, the requirement to listen with empathy, suspend judgement and give total focus to the Presenter;
  • The Supporters listen – listen, not to reply, but to understand;
  • The Presenter speaks for about 6-10 minutes;
  • The Facilitator opens the floor for the Supporters to pose questions to the Presenter, but NOT to give advice or provide possible solutions!
  • When the questions have dried up, the Presenter sums up the situation, identifying any new insights and actions they will take before the next session;
  • The session ends with the Facilitator running an evaluation about the session’s overall effectiveness;
  • The length of the session will vary, depending on agreement among the Set

Quality of the questions: The ability to ask powerful questions is essential for an ALS to work. Questions should be designed to help the Presenter identify some new aspect or angle – something that hadn’t previously occurred to them. Questions should be open and focus on the positive, with the tacit assumption that there IS a solution to the problem. The quality of Supporter questions is the key ingredient for effective Action Learning.

Outcomes: The aim of Action Learning is to help individuals identify actions they could take to solve a problem or resolve an issue. Each session should begin with an update from the previous Presenter, sharing what has happened as a result of the actions to which they committed at the last Session. It provides a real boost to the dynamic of the Set to hear about positive outcomes.

Motivation: When a Learning Set first assembles, members agree to commit to a defined process – regular attendance, adherence to the process, total engagement, confidentiality and so on. As time goes on, if individuals ignore these commitments the level of motivation will diminish and the Set will lose its effectiveness. Motivation to participate is essential as it acts as a spark that ignites energy to “fire and inspire” the work of the Set.

Here is what a couple of OLGA members have said about their initial experiences of Action Learning:

“It was very thought provoking and made me take a good look at myself and the other Cluster Managers. It also made me feel worried about all of us – I suppose a bit scary. It was a bit like a light bulb moment and realising we have the same issues and problems to deal with. This is something we can now work on to achieve and support each other with.”
“What I brought back from the session is to look for the positives in any situation as you can nearly also find something to positive to build on.”

“I thought the whole afternoon was brilliant. Not knowing what to expect, my first experience of a learning set under the facilitator’s guidance was really worthwhile and the issues it raised have stayed with me since and I’ve actually spent some time addressing these. I have found myself reflecting on the whole experience in the weeks that have already passed and am looking forward to the next one.”

If you would like to learn more about how Action Learning could be of use in your role as a member of an OLGA, please contact the CF Support Service on help@wcva.org.uk or 0800 587 8898.

Participation Cymru offers a facilitation service for action learning sets that helps to set up a set and facilitate initial meetings as well as monitor and evaluate Action Learning. Would you like to enhance your learning by being able to reflect with colleagues on current work issues? Visit our website for more information.

Networking at breakfast!!!

The mere notion of meeting and influencing new people at breakfast time sends me into a cold sweat but this is exactly what I was asked to facilitate at the WCVA Conference, ‘Engage! Collaborative Working’ in the Liberty Stadium, Swansea this week.

About 20 people from a variety of third sector organisations in Wales turned up especially early to attend the breakfast networking session run by Participation Cymru.

Networking

As the facilitator for this session, it challenged me to ask the question, ‘How good am I at networking myself’?

It is after all more than just saying hello to someone else in the room. It is a deliberate activity, a practiced art and there are natural networkers and then those like myself who have to work quite hard at it. Put me in front of a room of participants for a training session or ask me to facilitate or chair a meeting and I am well within my comfort zone. Put me, without a role to play, in a group of people I don’t know and I find that much more difficult.

Networking is an important competence for many a job these days. Partnerships and collaborative working depend on it. Making the most of meeting new people with a view to them being potential new colleagues or partners is something we all need to be good at.

So this meeting over breakfast offered the opportunity for a seemingly random set of people to start getting to know each other better, to share knowledge, experience and opportunities. To go away with a new contact, a fresh piece of thinking or the germ of a collaborative opportunity.

Time was limited before the opening plenary session of the conference started so I facilitated a speed networking process that allowed people to identity someone in the room they didn’t know and to spend 5 minutes in each other’s company using the following as prompts and then another person and so on:

  • Tell each other who you are, where you’re from and what you do.
  • Identify what you and your organisation can offer to others.
  • Identify what you and your organisation can gain from others.

After all ‘Networking is marketing. Marketing yourself, marketing your uniqueness, marketing what you stand for.’ (Christine Comaford-Lynch).

But it also worth remembering that. ’You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you’. (Dale Carnegie).

Networking is a skill that can be learnt. It is an attitude that says, ‘I am open to new encounters and opportunities’.

Thank you to those eager people who took up the opportunity to network at breakfast this week and I hope that the conversations over coffee and croissants was worth the early start.

Mandy