Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Facilitate … using a freehand Wordle

You have likely created Wordles online!  Now, use a freehand version as a fun and meaningful facilitation technique. Recently, I facilitated a one-hour session with a healthy community coalition to gain input about social, cultural, economic, and leisure aspects of a community. I asked them to identify the successes and challenges in their community related to these aspects. They did so; by moving to two flipchart stations and writing and talking and listening about the various ideas. I then facilitated a discussion with the entire group, asking them to say what comments and ideas stood out for them, what they were pleased to hear and read, and what concerned them.

Next, I asked participants to think about an upcoming workshop about community resiliency which they were all attending. I asked them to identify the one or two key aspects from the first activity that they would “take with them” into the workshop. What would they concentrate upon? What would they think about during the workshop? Then, I asked them to create their answers as a freehand Wordle.

Wordle is “a toy for generating “word clouds” from text that you provide. The clouds give greater prominence to words that appear more frequently in the source text.http://www.wordle.net/ A Wordle is a visual representation for text data, typically used to depict the most prominent terms and ideas. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tag_cloud

I asked participants to draw a Wordle, making their main idea as the biggest word and then writing other ideas in other sizes and directions. They had fun and also focussed on their main ideas.

The freehand Wordle allowed a different way of thinking, incorporated visual and kinesthetic learning modes, and added fun to the discussion. It’s a  quick and good way to adapt technology as a facilitation tool.

Here are two pictures: one of a Wordle related to community development and one of my freehand community topics from the session.
Computer-generated Wordle

Freehand Wordle

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Facilitation ... makes proposal writing easier!

I recently completed a proposal for a consulting and facilitation contract regarding community sustainability.  Fortunately, I gain most of my work through word of mouth and repeat requests from clients.  However, I also write proposals in response to requests for proposals (RFP).  I always find that these take a tremendous amount of thought, energy, and time.  I do not use, and cannot use, a “cookie cutter” approach to writing proposals.  I find that each one needs to be individualized to best suit the request of the potential client.

Yes, each proposal has common sections; that is, experience and relevant work, education, references, process approach and methodology, timeline and budget. However, as I finished the recent proposal, I confirmed that I applied my facilitation principles and methods to writing it.

 How do I do this?  

·         I think what the people in the organization who put out the RFP, need and want (respect, understanding, start with client’s needs). 

·         I carefully consider what I can best give to the potential client based on my experience, expertise and skills (start with where the client is).

·         I think about which of my previous work contracts best fit with the RFP (competency, effectiveness).

·         I think about which people that I am honoured to use as references would be able to, and feel comfortable, answering questions regarding the RFP (honesty, openness, transparency). 

·         I state my understanding of the specific project in the RFP and what I can best bring to the process and the client (professionalism, individualized approach).

·         I think about how I can best help them clarify their outcomes. 

·         I think carefully about the core questions that they want answered through the project.

·         I think about the ways we can work collaboratively throughout the process. 

·         I think about the design of each section of the project and suggest beneficial ways to achieve the outcomes; not taking a standard design and fitting the project outcomes into it.

 It may take longer to prepare a proposal using an individualized and principled approach; yet I know that I am happier, more confident, and satisfied that I have written the best proposal I can to help the client achieve the desired outcomes.
My facilitation blog question is:  how do you use facilitation principles and methods when writing proposals for work?






Thursday, July 3, 2014

Facilitate … during the lazy, hazy days of summer!

Living in the four-season climate of Canada, I really love and appreciate the hot summer weather! Life takes on a different pace; relaxation comes more naturally. As my community of Calgary, Alberta enjoys a temperature of +30C today, I started thinking about how my facilitation design subtly changes during the summer. I also find that participants often suggest different approaches.  Here are a few ideas for facilitating during the lazy, hazy days of summer!

 Place and space:  It’s not -25C! Go outdoors for extended time. While I have taken groups on winter “walks and talks”, they are not as long or as relaxed as a summer conversation outdoors. Deliberately choose an outdoor venue. Hold the entire session outside. Use picnic tables as walls and flipchart stands. Plan a picnic to hold a discussion and decision session. Everyone gets a slice of watermelon when they reach a decision. Leave laptops, tablets, and cellphones inside.

 Five Senses: Go outside and lead participants through a Five Senses exercise about a topic.

·         Listen to sounds and pick one that creates optimism about the discussion topic.  Does hearing a birdsong make you think happy thoughts? Why?

·         Smell and talk about the different aromas and how each one invites different ideas about the topic.  Is there a sweet smell? A sour smell? What positive and negative aspects about the topic do they help us identify?

·         Touch nature – different leaves, trees, grasses and use them as an analogy for actions, e.g. this grass is shaded by a tree; therefore, what shades our thoughts and plans?

·         Taste berries, herbs, any other non-poisonous plants you have never tasted.  Make a dandelion salad. Talk about whether you feel brave and adventurous when you taste new food.  Talk about how you may need to be brave and adventurous when making decisions and plans.

·         See the big wide world and the tiny elements of nature.  Contrast the smallest part of nature you see at your feet with the view stretching out to the horizon. Lift your eyes up to the hills. Talk about both the small details and the big glorious vision related to your topic.
The Artist:
Hike to a beautiful location. Set up an easel for each participant. Give them paint or coloured chalk or markers and encourage them to draw the scenery.  Then draw how the scenery relates to the topic under discussion. Share the paintings. Have the group create one large painting, incorporating their different perspectives of the scenery and the topic.
Quick Nature Breaks:
If the session requires an indoor setting, encourage small outdoor breaks.  Take a 30 minute walk and talk as a group. Talk 10 minute individual walks. Have each participant pick a flower and create a bouquet of beauty.

Physical Activities Outdoor:
Play games. Use a parachute. Hold three-legged races. Run an obstacle course.  Hold a fun Olympics. Hold sack races.  Do these as a small energizing break during the session.
Remember sunscreen and water!!!

My facilitation blog question: How do you facilitate during different weather seasons or patterns?

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Facilitate … with landscapes

Our work, our thinking, our lives, our culture and social activities are shaped by the influences of the country in which we reside. (Forrest Shreve, researcher, author, teach at dedication of Desert Botanical Gardens 1938 in Scottsdale Arizona) On a recent trip to these Gardens in Scottsdale, I read these great words on a sign in the park. I love them!  I have always believed that each person has a landscape within her or him. This landscape may be the geography from the place of birth or from a place that one visits or from the inherent yearning for a specific type of location. This landscape is where you naturally fit, where you feel the most comfortable, where you feel refreshed and rejuvenated as well as calm, where you feel at home. My landscape is the parkland terrain of rolling hills, open fields, and clumps of trees – the countryside in which I lived as a child. I love mountains, I love oceans; I love open prairies; yet I am naturally drawn to the parkland of my youth. I know that while I love visiting islands, I cannot live on them permanently because of a claustrophobic feeling. I enjoy living in a big urban centre, yet balance this with daily walks in a wooded ravine and weekly trips into the countryside. I need my nature landscape!
I incorporate the idea of landscapes into facilitation. Ask participants to identify their landscape. Take them through a visualization exercise to help them understand the physical setting in they feel most at home. Start with stories and images of where they grew up and ask how they feel about those physical and natural environments. Ask them to think about trips to different environments and how they felt about them. Use the landscapes as an analogy for participants’ involvement with work teams, community teams, with conflict, with personality types, with leadership, with strategic planning, and many other topics. For example,
·         The landscape in which they are most comfortable can be the skills and situation in which they do their best work or it can be the place that they need to travel away from for a while to gain new perspectives.

·         The landscape in which they are slightly uncomfortable (like my islands) may be the place they need to go to in order to step outside their comfort zone and challenge themselves.

·         The landscape which they fear may be the issue they need to address and they may need to take friends along. I met a woman at a conference who was deathly afraid of nature.  She had only lived in large cities and could not comprehend how anyone felt comfortable without buildings around them. She challenged herself to start taking short walks with a friend in an urban park to overcome the fear.  We talked about how she could use the same approach to work situations.

Sometimes, I use the landscape analogy as an introductory activity; sometimes as the foundation throughout a discussion; sometimes as a fun energizer.
My facilitation blog questions are:  What is your preferred landscape?  How could you use the landscape analogy in your facilitation work?

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Facilitate … with inspiration from the Girls!

After the 2014 Olympics women’s hockey gold medal game (won by Canada – Yeah!), a cute cartoon surfaced.  A hockey coach is telling the Canadian men’s hockey team “to play like girls”. 

I laughed and then I thought of the message that this cartoon sends about gender and sport stereotypes.  Then I thought about the messages for facilitation. 

 The Canadian women’s hockey team were down 2-0 with less than four minutes left in the game.  It looked all over but then, the Canadian team scored two goals and then won in overtime.  What perseverance!  What belief in each other, in their team and in never giving up!

How can this perseverance apply to facilitation?  I think of the groups of people who cope with difficult, challenging, and at times, threatening, discussions about contentious topics.  Often, people will want to give up; to believe that failure is inevitable.  When we, as facilitators, work with people who have reached this stage, we need to “play like girls” and persevere.  We need to believe and need to help the participants believe that success is possible; that the conversation can continue; and that understanding and agreement can be achieved.

To help with these difficult discussions, I often refer to Sam Kaner’s “Facilitator’s Gide to Participatory Decision-Making” book, (http://www.communityatwork.com/index.html) and particularly, the Dynamics of Group Decision-Making model.  I explain the Divergent Zone, the Groan Zone, and the Convergent Zone to participants to let them know that it is possible to continue through the disagreements, to “groan”, and then to come together with mutual understanding. 
Now, I will use the Canadian women’s gold medal win to show how perseverance works – in hockey, in facilitation, and in conversations.

 My facilitation question is:  What lessons did you take from the 2014 Olympics to help with your facilitation skills?


Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Facilitate ... with an Olympic focus!

Where have all the athletes gone? (with respect to Pete Seeger).  It seems like it was yesterday when I was cheering loudly, proudly, and patriotically for Canadian athletes at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver.  Here we are again – four years later!  Cheering Canadian and world athletes as they display their amazing physical and mental prowess at the 2014 Olympics in Sochi.  Four years ago, I wrote a bog about using Olympic medals as symbols of success in organizations, communities, and individuals.  Here it is again with a few additional discussion activities using an Olympic theme.  Have fun with it and use the Olympics experience to enhance participants’ discussions.

ü  Medals of Success:  I bought Hershey chocolate candies wrapped in gold, silver, and bronze shiny paper. At various sessions, workshops, and meetings, I spread the candies on the table and told participants that they were gold, silver, and bronze medals. I asked participants to select a candy and describe the success it represented in their community, group, initiative or organization. What fun and focus! People responded extremely well because most of us are interested in the Olympics. The success focus came through quickly and profoundly. Participants would laugh and then seriously think about successes. We had many gold medals yet also silver and bronze as participants explained what efforts they still wanted to do to enhance a success.

ü  Bobsleigh Teamwork:  In pairs or foursomes, have participants use a bobsleigh analogy to develop teamwork.  To solve a problem facing the group, ask the bobsleigh teams to act out racing down the track.  Use chairs as the sleigh.  Who will steer?  Who will brake?  Who will push off?  How do all team members contribute for the fastest and safest result?  After the fun of the race, ask the teams to apply the race experience to the problem.
ü  Olympic Energizers:  Lots of Olympic ideas to encourage participants to move, to stretch, to refresh!  Lead them through exercises simulating skiing, bobsleigh, skeleton, curling (hurry hard!), ice hockey, etc.  Sit in chairs or stand and make the moves!  Pair up and have a goalie and a hockey player shooting at them.  Laughter will be the score!!
ü  Imagine the Olympic Experience to face Challenges:  Ask participants that may be facing a challenge or tough time in their organizations to talk about what they think Olympic athletes experience as they go to a new country, new facilities, new accommodations, and new food and carry extremely high expectations.  Then, ask participants to develop the ways that they think the atheists prepare and cope with these changes.  Invite participants to apply their ideas about the athletes to their organizational challenges.

Ride the Olympic bandwagon (or bobsleigh) and use as a theme in your facilitation. 

My facilitation question is:  How could you or have you used the Olympics to inspire your facilitation approaches?