In the stages of facilitation, one of the key preparation stages is “Education”. In this stage the facilitator gets to field questions, give background information, descriptions, share anecdotes and generally help the partner with their learning about any aspect of the facilitated event or environment.
Sometimes partners precipitate the Education stage conversations – because perhaps you are suggesting some activity or format with which they are not familiar. Or you might have to launch into this stage yourself because you perceive in the consultations that there is some misunderstanding or apprehension about your designs or tools based on lack of experience with them.
This happened to me recently. I went to Belgium last week to work with a team for one day on the design of an upcoming European-wide event. We could have possibly had the design discussion on skype or the telephone, but the need for longer discussions exploring the pros and cons of different methodologies meant, for that team, that it was more the Education piece that they wanted to explore. Therefore a face-to-face discussion with the facilitator – about how it would all work, what different techniques could produce, and how to frame new methods for a more traditional group – was going to be much more effective than a shorter, virtual interaction.
In fact, I find that for most groups the newer the methodology, technique or overall format is to a group, the more the Education piece becomes critically important to successful design (that is, a design that makes it through the gauntlet of consultations before you can deliver it). Definitely using a format without the partner being in full understanding of what is being proposed can be a risk for a group that has not yet adopted more interactive discussion techniques overall in their meetings.
Working in the sustainability field, we often have the pleasure to work with smaller associations for whom framing discussions and dialogue events in more than the most familiar board table discussion or conference style presentation and Q&A is unusual. Even for many larger organizations, convening meetings or dialogues differently to reach their goals is taking a risk at some level. However, what intrigues them most about more interactive methodologies, is the promise of optimizing time, achieving fuller and more developed outputs and above all ensuring some of the softer outcomes – like engagement, buy-in, enthusiasm for follow-up, etc.
My lesson here was not to try to push conference and skype calls all the time; these communication tools can be extremely productive. But in the Education stage, especially, it might be more important to be there, live and in person, and to create an environment where the partner can ask all their possible questions about your subject and process – even, if need be, over and over again.