With effect from 1st January 2022, I am no longer carrying out general facilitation assignments, but have left the content of this page live as it contains information those seeking a facilitative approach might find of interest.

I have over 30 years’ experience of helping groups make decisions as a group leader, a chair, and a facilitator. Since 2002, as a freelance facilitator I have worked with a broad range of strategic partnerships, local authorities, voluntary and community groups, NHS bodies, regeneration partnerships and government departments. Whilst the context of the issues and the size of the groups vary considerably, the principles I employ and the values that inform them are the same.

So when would you use an independent facilitator? In short, in situations where a group of people have to reach consensus on a matter of some importance where all the participants have a stake in the outcome. This could be at a planning workshop, a board retreat, a public consultation conference or a partnership ‘away day’. The facilitator does not have a stake in the outcome or have any power in the decision making process. A facilitator would not be used when the outcome of a meeting is pre-determined or to steer a group towards a particular solution. The value of the independent facilitator is her or his impartiality and ability to concentrate on the process of collaborative working rather than the outcome itself.

Why consensus? The parliamentary way of reaching a group decision is to debate the arguments for and against a proposal and seek a vote to establish the majority view. The debate is managed by a Chair, usually structured around a set of rules or “standing orders” culminating in a vote. This type of decision making has its place, but in situations where everyone has a stake in the outcome (the minority as well as the majority), it is flawed. The process tends to be adversarial and polarises the discussion into being “right” or “wrong” (“for” or “against”) with little room for manoeuvre in the middle ground. It is necessary to strive towards a better quality decision. Consensus decision making is based on the principle that everyone owns part of the truth. Through a process that enables everyone to contribute their part of the truth in the most appropriate way there is greater ownership for the final decision and, most importantly, a greater will to carry it out.

But why have an independent facilitator? Reaching consensus in a group can be a time consuming and frustrating process. It can be characterised by confusion and misunderstanding. Some participants are more articulate and confident than others: some struggle to express themselves and can be easily intimidated. Discussion can go off at a tangent and focus lost. Old agendas can surface and conflicts occur. These are the normal dynamics groups experience when trying to be inclusive in solving a difficult problem. It can be uncomfortable, awkward and demoralising. Yet it is the diversity of opinions and the introduction of new thoughts and ideas that stimulates creative solutions to challenging issues. What is often seen as destructive behaviour in groups can, if managed well, be harnessed into constructive outcomes.

What is the facilitator’s Role? My role as the facilitator is to provide structure from which to make sense of this chaos and shine a light through the fog to navigate the group towards shared agreement and practical solutions. Using intuition born of experience, an understanding of group dynamics and some proven tools and techniques, my role is to maximise the potential of the group by enabling participants to engage in their own way and at their own pace. In short, to enable groups achieve their best thinking.


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