Reflection on facilitation of a meeting for community of practice missing the direction

After quite a while, once again I have participated in a facilitated meeting as a participant instead of facilitating it. It was AgNIC (Agriculture Network Information Center) annual meeting, and the facilitator was Jerinyl Veldorf from Library Organization and Development, University of Minnesota.  I liked her approach and decided to write a summary that can be of use in the future.

AgNIC is in a changing point of its history and needs to redefine where to focus in the future. There were many new faces in the meeting, different interests, different level of knowledge and level of engagement.

Facilitator started with SWOT analysis in a World Cafe arrangement – about 50 people in the room split into eight groups (practically running SWOT twice in parallel). Instead of moving the groups around, we have moved the flip charts, and it worked pretty well. In the end, each group that started a topic summarized notes from the flip chart (in some cases more than one) and one person from the group presented the key points in the plenary.

The next task (after a coffee break) was to define possible new mission and key outputs for AgNIC. We all ‘brainstormed’ our brains and presented the ideas to the group around the table (again groups of 6-7 people). The challenge was to come to a mutual agreement/consensus, so if even one person didn’t agree with what somebody else proposed, it wasn’t included in the report flip chart. Then the two parallel groups merged (coming from eight to four groups) and compared their ideas (flip charts) trying to reach consensus as in the previous activity. Final four reports were sticked on the wall, and each participant voted with five dots for the most attractive mission statement and outcomes for AgNIC (DotVoting).

Finally came the time to propose concrete action steps. Jerinyl used Card collection & sorting: each of us got a number of PostIts to write down specific action points/steps, keeping in mind earlier defined mission and key tasks for AgNIC. Again we were eight groups separately sticking the PostIts on the wall, grouping them and defining commonalities for each group in two words – verb & noun. In the end, each group presented the outputs – usually two words describing specific activity – example: ‘setting standards’. Two people were capturing all these outputs in parallel in two flip charts, filtering duplicates and linking similar action points. In this way, we have arrived in about 20 quite tangible action points.

Unfortunately, this was the end of the process, and the next steps will happen through email or online communication, which makes me bit skeptical.  Personally I think it would have been better if we had 1/2 or 1 more day is available. Selected group of people would work overnight on those 20 action points – including some more details/ideas from the PostIts. And in the following day small groups would work on very specific small projects, assigning responsibilities, tasks, timelines, priorities …. However, I have to say, I was impressed by smooth progress and tangible results of the process setup by Jerinyl.  I have very much enjoyed the day and got inspiration for my future facilitation adventures.


Reflection on my first solo-facilitating

I have just finished my first solo facilitator’s job of important, 3-day meeting. It was a planning meeting/retreat of CIMMYT’s Global wheat program. Preparation was quick, however quite detailed and interestingly enough during the meeting itself were just minor adjustments of the agenda. Participants (in average 20 people) were practically only  CIMMYT scientists (meaning I wasn’t a stranger to the group). The only person who used the powerpoint (and only for introductory session) was program director.

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Sorting the cards

Following the  introductory presentation, the first session was in a format of BS – brainstorming (by some called BullShitting). It worked very well till the moment when my sticky cloth with about 100 cards felt down from the wall where it was placed. Luckily enough at that moment the cards were already sorted and issues defined. Three different colours of cards were used for issues of different importrance, however not all participants really paid attention and we got little bit of color mess. Next time I have to be more careful when formulating the instructions.

The world cafe
The world cafe

Next session was in the form of The world cafe. Although … little bit modified. Four groups were circulating around the tables/discussion themes, but there was one person permanently sitting in each table, who didn’t circulate, presented to each new group what previous group(s) discussed, ensured that everybody in each group has some space to talk, took notes and at the end presented all discussed issues of the theme in the plenary.  Overall it worked very well, although the whole session was nearly 2 hours long. Everybody had a chance to say something to each of the themes, however obviously in each group there were some more tolkative people.

Sorting the cards
Sorting the cards

Following day we have started morning with lengthy plenary discussions (luck of invention from my side), but participants felt comfortable as this is the way they are most used to present their ideas and opinions. It was interactive and we also had some fun. We used ‘talking stick’ (only person holding stick can talk). However I didn’t have any stick, so we were using spray bottle instead. Funily enough, most of the participants started to use the spray bottle as a microphone, placing it in front of the mouth. Many pictures were taken ;o). And even more incredible was, that next day during another plenary session some participants themselves asked to use the the spray bottle again.

Afternoon session was in the way of Samoan circle (modified fishbowl). It worked very well with just one strange point – several people entered the inner circle just to raise the question or quickly comment on something that was said, but immediatelly after left the circle again… so during the excercise it happened few times that in the inner circle were just 2 people (all together 4 chairs). Bit overall the discussion was going very well and several interesting issues appreared and further unfold.

Very brief afteraction reviews in the day one and two were done through the way of modified dotmocracy. Not surprisingly to me, the only method that got negative points was the classical discussion in the plenary – it was lenghty, sometimes slow and quite a large number of participants didn’t contribute to the discussion at all (although there were opportunities). The final evaluation however was anonymous and in written form as that was the wish of the director.

Evaluation of facilitation methods of day 1
Evaluation of facilitation methods of day 1
Evaluation of facilitation methods - day 2
Evaluation of facilitation methods – day 2

Overall I am satisfied as from my point of view the meeting went very well, without any significant hickups and even the reactions of the participants at the end were very positive. Some lessons learned from my side – I need to write down the list of all common stationary items that one may need (I was missing masking tape and scisors). Lentghy planning might not necessary lead to more succesful meeting, but to be well prepared is essential – it gave me feeling of confidence when standing in front of the group. Few times I have enetered the discussion with my contribution  (stepping out of the facilitators role), but retrospectivelly I think my contribution wasn’t really essential and so next time I need little bit more of self-control.

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