The Art of Facilitation
A symbol similar to that used during the Facilitation Workshop
On Sunday 9th July, 2017 Paula Sgherza welcomed us to her course on 'The Art of Facilitation’. Thirteen Marists from around Australia, including members of the Mission and Life Formation Team (MLF), gathered at The Hermitage, Mittagong south of Sydney to undertake this six day program.
The Course focused on Process Facilitation. Our Course Handbook described facilitation as ‘a way to provide leadership without taking the reins’ (Bens (2012) in Sgherza, 2017, p.4). The workshop utilised adult learning theory to explore how methods, content and processes used by a facilitator can influence the outcomes of group work.
Paula adopted a variety of these methods as she facilitated our discussions. Consequently her goals for us were:
- To learn a set of skills needed to facilitate experiential learning,
- To become increasingly competent in the use of these skills and
- To grow in confidence in one’s ability to apply these skills (Sgherza, 2017, p.3).
The first objective nominated for the Course was to understand adult learning theory and to learn its practical application. Paula chose the theory developed by American educational theorist David Kolb (1984) in which adult learning is seen as a recurring problem solving process in a four stage cycle as outlined in the diagram displayed on the left (Sgherza, 2017, p.24)
The second Course objective asked us to become familiar with all aspects of an effective facilitation design. Consequently, as part of our work, we set out to design our own facilitation process for a selected topic (no better way to learn than to do it yourself!). The focus here was on the practical.
Paula stressed the need for us, as facilitators, to spend adequate time assessing the needs of those in the group we are facilitating. Feedback is obviously key to obtaining this understanding. She reminded us also of the importance of being able to ask good questions.
Given these learnings, we set about designing our own facilitation process. We were invited to prepare the following five stages for our facilitation workshop:
- A Welcome
- An Overview - providing goals and objectives for the session, setting a context for what is about to take place
- A 'transfer in' process through which participants become more of a total group
- Activities which help achieve the goal of the workshop. These should assist the learner identify related experiences, provide new information and explore meaning and information
- Conclusions which give participants a sense of closure whether through ritual, summary, forecast or proposals for application and then evaluation and farewells.
All workshop participants worked in groups of 3 or 4 to prepare a session on the common theme of 'hope'. As you can imagine, a great variety of approaches were taken. Each group led a workshop of 90 mins. I learnt so much from both preparing the workshop in which I was involved and from watching and helping to evaluate others.
Now that the Facilitation Workshop has concluded, I would like to outline some of my learnings:
- Presentations are better thought of as workshops
- Ideally the leader or facilitator needs to have a good understanding of the background and current feelings of each participant
- The goals of the workshop need to be clearly spelt out at the commencement of the workshop
- Ways in which participants learn need to be considered in the planning of the workshop
- Content shared needs to be of a high quality and well referenced and
- The pace of the workshop must be steady but not rushed.
I am very grateful to Paula Sgherza (firstname.lastname@example.org) for her expert facilitation and to Tony Clarke, Director of our MLF team, for his invitation to participate. I invite you to leave a comment at the end of this post or continue the conversation on Twitter at #MittagongFacilitation.
Bens, I. (2012). Facilitating with Ease! San Francisco, Jossey-Bass.
Kolb, D. (1984). Experiential Learning: experience as the source of learning and development. from Prentice Hall http://www2.le.ac.uk/departments/gradschool/training/eresources/teaching/theories/kolb
Sgherza, P. (2017). The Art of Skilled Facilitation. A Workshop on Process Facilitation: Mittagong, 2017.