Reflecting on facilitation

I enjoyed listening to Andrew Rixon’s chat with Sandy Schuman. You can listen to the mp3 here. This part of the reflective practice on the language of facilitation. He’s organising with my improv buddy, Viv McWaters. (I’m a participant myself). I found myself nodding to most of what Sandy said, especially on the parallels between improvisation and facilitation.

He put an emphasis on saying facilitative things, rather than emphasising facilitation as a role. This struck a chord with me even though I am paid to play that part. I think this is about not placing yourself somehow above the other participants, and recognising that anyone can play a part in supporting effective participation. He had some good examples of small ways in which facilitators can subtly open up or close off diverse viewpoints.

He told an interesting story of someone who was a top rated trainer who really struggled with facilitation. I do think there’s an important distinction between training and facilitation; I’ve found most trainers are actually do a mixture of both but one or two really struggle with letting go of knowing the answers. For me, the difference is like the difference between standup comedy and improv. I think I’ve blogged on this before but anyway here’s the idea: when a comic talls a great joke, he delivers the punchline and everyone in the audience is surprised. But he’s not surprised, cos of course he know what was coming. In improv, the most satisfying moments are when an actor is inadverently funny – and this time, when the audience laughs, everyone is part of the surprise, including him. Training might be about surprising your audience, faciliation is about joining in being surprised.

Sandy also suggested that facilitation is more about memory than creativity, if I understood him right. I found this harder to digest as I’m quite attached to the notion of being creative. I also find that interventions that have worked in the past are not sure-fire successes the next time round; I believe each facilitation is an opportunity for everyone to be surprised and uncover something new. I don’t suppose Sandy would disagree and this may just be linguistic deckchairs.

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