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Distinctive Facilitation

Continuing Indaba is a journey where relationships are developed on the way. Skillful facilitation is essential in the creating and holding of safe space and to ensure all voices are heard.

Facilitation is a vital part of Continuing Indaba whether the Indaba experience includes encounters, is at a standalone event such as a conference, or is part of governance.

This guide is to:

  • Assist convenors and planning groups in the recruitment of appropriate trained and experienced facilitators.
  • Enable skilled facilitators to understand some of the particular dynamics of facilitating a Continuing Indaba.

What distinguishes Continuing Indaba facilitation?

It is the purpose and context of facilitation that is distinctive in Continuing Indaba facilitation. The ideal is for co-facilitation. This enables facilitators from different backgrounds, with different skills and tool-kits, to enable honest conversation on a Continuing Indaba journey. The following summary attempts to describe the context that shape Continuing Indaba facilitation and flexible enough to accommodate differences in group size, constituency, ethnic and cultural context.

Continuing Indaba Facilitators

1. A journey of honest conversation

Facilitators need to be comfortable guiding a process that is best described as a journey of conversation. As a journey, where the aims are to develop relationships and build understanding by encouraging genuine conversation across difference for the sake of energising local and global mission, outcomes and conclusions are discovered along the way.  This can challenge a more western style of process facilitation where success is measured by tangible, practical outcomes that can become the basis of an action plan.

A Continuing Indaba facilitated conversation is not afraid of conflict and seeks to enable relationship to flourish through the conflict, not to solve the conflict with a forced consensus.

2. Planning and Adaptation

Continuing Indaba is best described as a journey. While there will be a carefully planned entrance into the process, facilitators must often create the path as they are travelling on it. They must be prepared to completely redesign the process at any (even many) points along the way. The role is that of a guide whose responsibility is to help all the participants have a successful journey.

3. Self-aware

Awareness of the role as facilitator must at all times be clear and never conflated with that of a participant. However in a Continuing Indaba another degree of awareness is needed. The facilitator will need to consider:

How does who you are and where you are from affect how you are perceived by participants and how they respond to you?

Who you are and where you are from shape what you observe and hear, what gets privileged, rewarded, discouraged, or missed. For example, depending on the culture, silence can mean assent or disagreement. If not examined, these can lead to both unconscious and unintentional projections.

 4. Appreciation and experience of being “the other”

Facilitators who have experience of being “the other” within a social or cultural context (language, ethnicity, status, etc.) are often good Continuing Indaba facilitators as their experience gives them a greater appreciation and awareness of the dynamics involved in genuine dialogue across difference.  They also are more likely to understand the complex dynamics involving those who have felt marginalized in relationship to the whole group.

5. Have the ability to manage status

Facilitators need to have the ability manage status differences within a group. Status based on title, age, gender or dominant race/ethnicity may be easily identified. Sometimes status is less obvious and will only become evident through observation of the group.

6. Stamina and resilience

Continuing Indaba facilitation requires a lot of concentrated energy. Make sure your facilitators have the energy for the job.

Co-facilitation in Continuing Indaba

Continuing Indabas are co-facilitated with two people from different backgrounds and different skills share responsibility for planning and guiding of process.  Co-facilitation offers mutuality, a wider breadth of tools, reduces the problems of projection, and models difference.

1. Co-facilitators offer Mutual Support

Continuing Indaba facilitators take on a great responsibility that requires careful attention to group dynamics and to the content of the dialogue.  This type of facilitation takes a lot of energy. Two facilitators are able to support each other in what can be a long and intense process.

There is immeasurable value in having two facilitators observing and listening to the group together.  They will observe and hear things differently, noticing more of the group dynamics and being more aware of the nuances in the content of the dialogue.

Two facilitators can provide more support to the small groups.

2. Co-facilitators Offer a Greater Breadth of Tools

Co-facilitation increases the range of methods and processes available to the group. Working together a facilitator pair will maximize their skills and strengths to the benefit of the dialogue.

3. Co-facilitators Guard against Projection

Participants will often project onto a facilitator. When the projection is negative, the participant  may withdraw from engaging with the group. When the projection is positive, they may seek to please the facilitator and co-opt them to their ‘side.’ Two facilitators can manage the projections so that all participants stay engaged in the dialogue.

4. Co-facilitators model difference

Continuing Indabas should be facilitated by co-facilitators who are different in some aspect that is also present within the group they will be facilitating (e.g. ethnic, cultural, gender, status).  By finding ways to work together for the benefit of the group, the facilitator-pair will be a model for the group in its work. Much of what has been discussed in the section on co-facilitation will be enriched and made more effective as the facilitator pair develops a genuine working relationship across difference.

Marks of Facilitated Conversations within Continuing Indaba

1. Joining a journey

Facilitators may enter into a journey that for the participants has already resulted in the developing of relationships. This will have been in the shared encounters of a designed Indaba journey, in the familiarity of regular conference attendees, or the history of being adversaries and allies within governance structures. Facilitators will need to respect the relationships and hear the history while being ready to guide process.

Facilitators will need to understand how who they are and where they come from changes the dynamics of the group, manage status and enable all to speak and listen. They will need to understand that some processes will favour some groups over others and so they will need to use diversity, even when powerful voices seek to impose one process over others.

2. Small groups & plenaries

Continuing Indaba relies on relationships and so work in pairs, trios, and small constituency groups can be more effective than plenary discussions. Smaller groups enable all voices to be heard, overcoming diverse cultural and gender issues as well as giving voice to extroverts and introverts.

Small groups give time for people to frame their thoughts (especially important when working in a second or third language), share their stories, and talk about concrete interests and concerns. Pairs or trios provide a conversation set-up where there is no option but to engage in mutual listening.  Dialogue may happen in a variety of small groupings before a plenary is called.

Plenary sessions are important as they are likely to reveal the next topic, question or story to be discussed in small groups.

This can challenge a more western style of small group – plenary interactions, where success of facilitation is seen as having moved participants in plenary to outcomes or conclusions after work in small groups.

Constituency groups can be particularly effective. Here participants can speak across difference while also sharing something in common (e.g. all women, youth, diocesan officials, lay people, priests, etc).  They can also help shift impasses in dialogue that are caused by differences in status (perceived or real).

The relationship between small groups and plenary sessions can be complex. There may be a direct link between the small group conversations and what is shared in plenary, but this is not always the case. There also will be conversations that arise spontaneously during breaks, meals, and social time. These can serve to spread rumours. The facilitator will need to find ways to bridge these public-private discrepancies, bringing to the surface what can be surfaced into the common Indaba whatever participants are willing to contribute.

3. Slow it down: timing & speed of conversation

Continuing Indaba dialogues can deal with difficult, nuanced and complex issues. Many emotions can be involved. These conversations need time to unfold. People will need time to process what they are hearing, and what they would like to share.  The pace will be slower than other facilitated processes.

When participants are working in their second or third language it is important to ask the group to speak slowly. They will need to be reminded of this from time to time throughout the process.

4. Tension

There will be times of high tension during the conversations. Notice how the participants are projecting their anxiety onto others in the group and direct and redirect these projections.

 5. Note-taking

Recording conversations, by a recorder in small groups, or on flip chart paper in plenary, identifies some potential cultural differences.

In some cultures, having the key points noted visibly and summarized by the facilitator values their contribution. Having a written record of the dialogue proves to others the value of the process.   In other cultures, the act of reporting comments or group outcomes for a facilitator to write up means that the comments or outcomes become the responsibility of others (usually the facilitator or meeting organizer) to own and act on.

Taking notes is a judgment call on the part of the facilitator team.  Asking participants to take notes, or submit questions or comments on paper will privilege those who are working in their first language. Some may want to take their own notes while others will prefer to commit to memory what they agree will be reported to plenary.

6. Norms

Much care is taken in setting norms with a Continuing Indaba group. They should include a norm for note-taking, for the speed of speech, and for dialogues outside of set processes (meal and break conversations, rumors). Norms should be posted for all to see, and reviewed regularly throughout the process.

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