Last week I attended a workshop run by Sam Kaner at the Australasian Facilitators Network conference at Nelson in New Zealand.  The 2 day workshop was entitled Designing and Facilitating Complex Multi-Stakeholder Collaboration.  As I have a well-thumbed copy of The Facilitator’s Guide to Participatory Decision-Making, I was excited to explore the theory (and the practice) more.

Facilitator's Guide to Participatory Decision-Making - Sam Kaner

I was not disappointed.  Of all of the material, knowledge and wisdom shared with and among the 30 people in the room, here’s what I’m thinking about most right now.

1.  Every group is diverse.  Each person in a group has a piece of the truth.  The moment people come into a space and are asked to collaborate and think together it sets up a dilemma.  Collaboration leads to contradiction.  It is not an easy co-existence.

2.  Working with diversity creates an underlying tension.  The tension is around finding a balance between an outcome or output that a client may expect and the quality of thinking that could create something deeper such as a sustainable transformation.  Whichever side you err on as a facilitator, the need for the other will not go away.

3. “Fast thinkers in an oral tradition carry the load for the group”.  This statement really struck a chord.  It goes to the equality of participation, making time for all thinking to emerge, for dialogue about hard stuff and for gently drawing out perspectives and positions held.

4. “It depends”.  The answer to many questions in the workshop began with this sentence.  I loved that it did.  Remember the diversity thing?  There are many elements to take into consideration.  No group and no group gathering is ever the same.  There are no right or absolute answers.

  • Below is my representation of Sam’s model of divergent and convergent thinking.  There is much more to learn by delving deeper into its complexities.  The model includes a Groan Zone – the bit that often comes after divergent thinking of a group and before group thoughts converge (or not).  I feel a future post coming on.  One about navigating slowly through the Groan Zone.

Sam Kaner divergent convergent model

Lynn Walsh – workshop and meeting facilitator – Sydney

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