Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Facilitate … Huh?

I see the blank look come into people’s eyes when I try to explain what I do as a facilitator.  Their reactions are funny and frustrating!  Over the years, I have tried to explain what facilitation is; have pondered what facilitation is; and laughed and snarled at the strange definitions given to facilitation.  In fact, my family still struggles to describe my work!

Here are some of the various weird and wonderful definitions I have heard or read:
  • Facilitating is like teaching kindergarten – trying to get all the noise and running going in the same direction.
  • Facilitation is helping a group nail the jelly to the wall!

The strangest definition I had heard was during an appointment with a new dentist many years ago.  He asked what I did for work and I replied that I was a facilitator.  He got a funny look on his face and asked me to tell him more.  After I explained my work, he laughed and shared this story.  One of his clients told him that she was a professional escort; however, since that profession is illegal, she always reported on her annual income tax statement that she was a facilitator!  Not quite the work that I do!

I have developed an elevator speech to explain facilitation which goes something like this:
  • I help people in groups to effectively talk about important topics, to reach beneficial decisions and to work together more effectively.
However, I have discovered that the best way to describe facilitation to others is to give them examples of discussions and conversations I have facilitated and hosted.  Then, I ask them about group discussions in which they participate at work, in community, as a volunteer.  Often, the conversation turns to situations in which they could have used a facilitator.  Their personal experiences help them understand what I do.

Here are a few definitions of facilitation that I like. 
  • Facilitation’s is generally considered to be a process in which a neutral person helps a group work together more effectively.
  • A facilitator's job is to support everyone to do their best thinking and practice. (Kaner, S. with Lind, L., Toldi, C., Fisk, S. and Berger, D. Facilitator's Guide to Participatory Decision-Making, (2007) Jossey-Bass)
  • At heart, facilitation is about the process of helping people to explore, learn and change. (Smith, Mark K. (2001; 2009) 'Facilitating learning and change in groups', www.infed.org/biblio/b-facil.htm)
  • The facilitator’s main task is to help the group increase effectiveness by improving its process and structure. (Schwarz, Roger M. (2002) The Skilled Facilitator: A Comprehensive Resource for Consultants, Facilitators, Managers, Trainers and Coaches. 2e. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.)

My facilitation blog questions are:  How do you define facilitation? What is the funniest or strangest definition you have heard?

Friday, July 6, 2012

A facilitator ... says thanks to ACE!

For the past month, I have been searching for the words to express my appreciation to my amazing friends and colleagues with the Active Creative Engaged Communities (ACE).  ACE Communities is an initiative of Alberta Recreation and Parks Association (ARPA) that over the past five years used a community building approach to strengthen leadership in rural Alberta communities.  Talented and passionate leaders in 34 communities were involved with ACE Communities, working to enhance the quality of life in their community through recreation, parks, arts, culture and heritage.  Check out ACE Communities at http://acecommunities.arpaonline.ca/

 One part of ACE Communities has come to an “official” end; although, I think that the saying “It is the end of the beginning” really applies here!  ACE’s legacy continues through the leaders and initiatives in communities throughout Alberta.  I gained so much personally and professionally from ACE. Therefore, I want to pause and say thanks to the very special people I have met through the ACE experience.  I made new friends and deepened existing friendships.  You are my mentors, my inspiration, and my go-to people when I need ideas, innovation, creativity and feedback.  So, a special SHOUT OUT to these fantastic people! 

To Brenda Herchmer – thanks for being a living, walking, talking, believing role model showing how one person’s passionate belief in community can make a difference!  Your passion and commitment led you across Canada, and Alberta is richer with you being here.  Thanks for inviting me to share in an incredible journey.  And I gained a “sista”!

To Carol Petersen – You help so many people to understand and appreciate that leisure is an essential part of every life, every family, and every community.  You help Albertans become “more active, more often”.  Thanks for dreaming big, inviting me to be part of making the dream a reality through ACE, and connecting me with fabulous people.  I rediscovered a “sista”!

To Rose Carmichael – Who knew imagination and organization can go so well together in one person!  Your ability to create a “silk purse out of a sow’s ear” is evident in everything you do.  Thanks for reminding me to breathe and that anything can be solved calmly. 

To Karen Driedger – you show me all the time that life is about meaning, movement, enthusiasm and fun!  My facilitation and my life are significantly better from working and playing with you.  You constantly turn things on their heads and shake our thinking.  And you make us smile!  Here’s to many more Mustang road trips together!

To Janet Naclia – thanks for blowing the stereotype of the artistic temperament out of the ballpark (or football field).  You combine your cultural and creative side with amazing logic and organizational ability (and athletic prowess).  You find the best side of everything; bringing a can-do attitude to all you do.  Thanks for being so consistently cheerful.

To the rest of my ACE colleagues – From you I learned and re-learned that community development IS always about the people in the community (thanks Susan Roberts), that a quiet and gentle leadership style is incredibly effective (thanks Angie Dedrick), that appreciation to others brightens a day and is fundamental for community building (thanks Cathi Groves for the cards), that community building occurs when a person follows her heart, steps up to the plate, and does what is needed (thanks Carol Ohler), that meditation and yoga are great to incorporate into facilitation (thanks Susan Simo), that seeking to understand is a leadership strength (thanks Wanda Hogg), that letting events and conversations flow naturally is a fabulous attitude and approach (thanks Letty McFall), that evaluation is a fascinating and people-focussed undertaking (thanks Tammy Horne), that attentive listening and thoughtful planning are core facilitation skills (thanks Barb and Lindsay Stroh), that kindness and generosity are essential behaviours in facilitation and in life (thanks Carolyn Mead), that a great sense of humour makes work so much fun and that technology is my friend (thanks Byron Walker), that striving to learn and improve is so important (thanks Heather O’Hearn), that a youthful perspective adds wisdom (thanks Cameron Sault), that thinking far ahead is challenging yet rewarding (Dianne Clark), that pitching in to help makes such a difference (thanks Lois Byers), and that the Art of Hosting philosophy and approaches aligns with my facilitation beliefs and style (thanks Beth Sanders).

To the leaders in the ACE communities – my utmost admiration and awe!  Every community I visited was the best!  Every person I met is a champion of his/her community.  You completely reaffirmed my belief that individuals make strong communities and strong communities are the foundation of strong families and businesses.

In my professional capacity with ACE, I facilitated many leadership training retreats and community engagement sessions, researched community engagement approaches from around the world, and coached community leaders.  All of these experiences enhanced my skills as a facilitator and trainer and deepened my beliefs about community and the power of people.
Thanks ACE!