There are many different techniques and orientations within the field of professional facilitation. Some are codified with trademarked names. Others are used more like open source software. Each approach contributes something to the field, equipping facilitators with an increasing variety of tools to help groups.
Many approaches, however, share a lot of common ground. The basics of good communication, participatory dialogue, and collective decision making provide a common thread. Below are some of the modalities I have found most useful for fostering truly dynamic, engaging collaboration:
Open Space Technology
Developed by Harrison Owen and a host of collaborators, Open Space Technology has proved to be an amazingly simple way to facilitate large groups of people in dialogue. The process is "participant driven" and allows everyone in attendance the chance to convene a discussion on whatever topic they feel passionate about. Participants are free to attend the sessions they choose. The proceedings are documented and compiled in a comprehensive report.
Open Space is a format that is particularly suited for groups with a high level of diversity or conflict. And the process works great for highly complex topics and multi-stakeholder collaboration. It is primarily a dialogue tool, allowing a dynamic way to share knowledge, wisdom and experience. It can be pared with deliberation techniques that allow the discussion to move toward decision and action plans.
Developed by David Cooperider at Case Western Reserve University, Appreciative Inquiry is a powerful and uplifting approach to strategic planning and organizational review. The method focuses primarily on what is going "right" within a group, rather than what is going "wrong". By eliciting discussion of the most successful aspects of an organization and the most valuable contributions of each participant, Appreciative Inquiry helps identify the path to improved outcomes.
Appreciative Inquiry is both fun and insightful. There is no need to dread strategic planning. It does not have to be an arduous accounting of problems and failures. By helping each participant identify the contribution they are inspired to make and the conditions that allow them to excel, this method guides groups to a clear understanding of how to successsfully proceed as a group.
Jim Rough brought the powerful inquiry techniques of Humanistic Psychology's Carl Rogers to the field of group facilitation. In this dialogue technique, a skillful facilitator elicits the clearest possible thinking of the group. With focused reflective listening, participants can reach profound newlevels of mutual understanding. Group members do not need to be skilled communicators because the facilitator carefully directs the dialogue.
As each participant has the chance to be fully heard, the underlying dynamics of the topic emerge clearly. Everyone becomes aware of the needs and perspectives of all parties. Often, the mutual understanding engendered helps the group move quickly through a subsequent decision making process.
Consensus-Oriented Decision Making (CODM)
CODM is a step-wise model that allows groups to efficiently make decisions with a high degree of collaboration. The process can be used in any group, regardless of how decisions are finalized. CODM allows the benefits of a highly participatory group process to be enjoyed by organizations that use majority voting, unanimous consent, or have a leader who ultimately renders decisions.
The detailed steps of the CODM process can help facilitators confidently guide groups to true collaboration. The clear structure leads participants efficiently toward a decision. Meetings become enjoyable as well as productive.The results include:
- Better proposals,
- Stronger group cohesion, and
- More cooperative implentation of the resulting decisions.