Monday 7 July 2014

Invisible facilitation (again)

I posted a while back about what I called Invisible Facilitation. I was reminded of this just recently, when I ran another awayday, this one for the teaching staff of a University department.

On the day, I did very little: I introduced the discussions, which had very simple questions to address.  I organised small working groups and re-convened them for plenary feedback sessions. I kept them to time, and I ensured that dissonant voices were heard and actions were agreed at the end of the day.  But by and large, I let them get on with it, and kept a fairly low profile.

However, my most important contribution may well have been made beforehand. The client's proposed agenda for the day read something like this (I have changed some detail in the interests on not identifying the client):

Introductions and welcome 

Working Sessions One and Two: Curriculum Design
Participants work in small groups on particular modules with in the curriculum, addressing the following questions (Different modules in first and second sessions)
·      Do we want to carry out major restructuring, make some substantive changes within the existing overall structure, or carry on more or less as we are (with only gradual changes)?
·      Should most modules have 10 credits as now, should most haves  more than 10, or is a mixture appropriate? 
·      What should the content be?
·      Which parts ought to be offered to all students and which should be specific to a degree programme or subset of degree programmes?
·      Which parts should be compulsory and which optional?
·      How many modules?
·      How many credits in total?
·      How do we plan for appropriate skills development across the three stages?
·      How do we develop appropriate Projects for final-year students? 

Plenary feedback and discussion 

Working Session Three: Curriculum Delivery
In your group, discuss how we could deliver the curriculum within each module: numbers of lectures, practicals, and other delivery modes, timing etc 

Plenary feedback and discussion 

Working Session Four: Assessment
In your group, address the module(s) you have selected, and discuss how we assess, both formatively and summatively. In particular, How can we reduce the amount of assessment (especially summative), and how can we increase the consistency of assessment among modules? 

Plenary feedback and discussion 

Action planning 

After some discussion, what we actually went with was:
Small group working session one: Where Are We Now?
Feedback in plenary, discussion (and likewise after each working group)
Small group working session two: Where Do We Want to Be?
Small group working session three: Generating Ideas for Action
Small group working session four: Action Planning
I was interested that on the day, the head of the department (who was not my client for this event) commented on how it took a lot of experience to run a day with so light an agenda.

The day certainly went well, and the client's feedback afterwards was 'I am very impressed and encouraged by what we achieved with your help. I am confident it will lead to substantive and beneficial change.'

We will never know, of course, if we would have done better with the original agenda; but my belief is that we would not have.  The way we approached it was much less prescriptive, which resulted in high levels of engagement and commitment.  All the issues the client wanted to address were in fact addressed; and so were some unforeseen - and strategically important ones.

But, of course, the participants on the day will have been wholly unaware of the contribution I had made to shaping the agenda - which is why I return again to the idea of invisible facilitation; and in particular I maintain that the invisible contributions we make as facilitators are often the most valuable ones.

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