Facilitation Shindig – Design Reflections

The second part of the London Facilitation Shindig season ran on Thursday 17th May. Each Shindig is themed, to give us an opportunity to run a “deep dive” into an area – to hold focus for a day around a particular part of our practice. (see more here for background) This time round, we looked at design.

The Design theme is the one I think I worry about most – firstly, because the topic is vast – Facilitation Design… where do you begin? With content? With aesthetics? With Presence? Should we focus on establishing clear outcomes? Structure vs emergence?

Secondly, the topic has the potential to be “heady” – we have learned or been taught an approach, which we carry on and carry out – start/middle/end, models, experiences etc – there are rules and methodologies…we know stuff, we are experienced.. we have tried and failed and refined……. what I always wanted for Shindig Participants is that we get under some of that “already known” stuff and reach to continue the stretch.

How you facilitate is pretty much a reflection of who you are – you are unavoidable in your own design process – that’s the stuff I want the gang to get to – recognition of who are you and what is important for you, where that is working and where that’s holding you back… and then what else?

And so it is I kick them off, days before, with some pre-work thinking:

  1. What’s important to you when you design (events or sessions)?
  2. What’s your “signature” design (The things you always use. How I would recognise it’s your design… mine, for instance, pretty much involves flipcharts & not much tech)
  3. What do you never use? ( this causes some discussion – how do I know what I don’t know. If I never use a thing, am I aware of that?)
  4. What’s your design process?

The Shindig is participant-focussed. I bring the theme & some ideas about how to populate it or work with it… but within that, the “learner track” is theirs. What they take away or choose to work with beyond the session is deeply personal…. I always assume they will work with something… I sometimes get nervous about that assumption… am I doing enough? Should I structure it more? But they are smart and willing folk – I know they have signed up to sign up – I have to take my own medicine and trust the process.

I find that a difficult line to navigate, at times – how much do I intervene or sit back and just let folk take what they take? The Shindig feels personal to me, but I want it to be others’ too. If I’m not “giving” people lessons or learning, if I trust they will work with where they are at and move forward at their own pace and path, am I doing my job properly? Delivering the intention set? I don’t have the answers… I have to ask the people who take part.

What it throws up is the quandary where I want to be able to say: Come to the Shindig and leave with X Y Z … I’m sure that would give people comfort… it would sure as hell make it easier to talk about…. But it’s not designed that way – it’s made to be an open process, a place to explore and find out from others. It means stuff I never knew or intended to bring in comes to the surface as significant –for instance, an emerging mantra from London of “connection over content” which was layered in through the deeply wonderful Gary Austin on the first Shindig. There is something quite delicious about the richness that comes.

Yet when we get to 11:15am and themes in the room range from:

  • What Design Principles do we have?
  • How to build safety,
  • The role of space (physical and time) on design
  • creation of emotional experience
  • Inclusion
  • Anxiety
  • Role of the Facilitator

I find myself fearful I have encouraged scatter-gun learning, which is more likely to confuse than inform. It’s meant to be about working with a few things deeply. Am I holding myself to that principle? Then I intervene, capture the themes, pause for a few moments, move into activities which might help deepen or clarify…I am so often as in their hands as they are in mine.

I hold to the belief that there is enough in the room to feed the learning and stretch of participants, that it’s OK to expect a lot from them, that they are up for it and very able… and so far that seems true.

It’s not for everyone. Structure Junkies and those who like a Learning Outcome might be eating their hands in frustration right now. I get that. Equally, It might not be the most efficient process either – exploration and experimentation over didactic explanation – the intention is for it to be a place for practitioners to work on their own stuff, in their own way, at their own pace, supported by others….I kind of stick to that.

Whichever way, through our non-linear explorations, we bump into all kinds of good stuff and things to think about and work with… Resource on the Slack channel this time has included things which both indirectly and directly affect our design:

Frank J Barrett – on Jazz Improv

Selective attention test https://youtu.be/vJG698U2Mvo

Emptiness and form – To Structure or not to Structure – Blog by Steve Chapman https://t.co/JSoCsOJlaf

Nesta’s Playbook on innovation and learning: http://www.nesta.org.uk/sites/default/files/nesta_playbook_for_innovation_learning.pdf

So I’m interested…when you think about your own design style for facilitation, how would you describe it?


The facilitationShindig season continues in London on July 12th at Amnetsy International Offices, Old Street. To find out more, follow @Shindiggery1 on twitter or go to www.facilitationShindig.com Tickets are available here:

Or contact hello@facilitationShindig.com if you want to chat to us.

We are working with Manchester University to bring some dates for a 2018 Manchester Season soon… Contact us to reserve your space.

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