Saturday 5 November 2016

Table d'hôte, A la carte or Open Space?

I am considering the merits of different approaches to training workshops in different contexts. Some of my workshops are table d'hote: I run a workshop according to an agenda that works, with input, exercises, discussions etc in a pre-determined order to meet defined learning objectives. Workshops on specific skills, such as my Influencing and Negotiating Skills workshop are very much in that mould.

Other programmes are more à la carte: we offer learners a choice of topics, speakers, and approaches at the start of the programme, and construct the programme according to their expressed needs. The programmes I run for Professors at various universities follow this model. The idea is that they are better placed to decide what they would value discussing than I am. And that approach, of course, also ensures a high degree of relevance and ownership

And I am also a fan of Open Space approaches, where the participants generate the agenda. I have blogged about Open Space before (eg here, and see the tag Open Space for other posts). This approach seems to work particularly well when the topic is large, and the agenda is about exploring possibilities, sharing expertise, and generating ideas for collective action, rather than learning pre-identified knowledge or skills.

All of which reminds me of John Heron's model of facilitation, where he identifies three decision-making styles (Hierarchical, co-operative and autonomous). Here I have applied them, I realise, to what Heron calls the Planning dimension of facilitating an event: who decides what is going to happen.

He also identifies five other key dimensions, and any one of those three styles can be used in any of the five dimensions.  The five are: meaning, confronting, feeling, structuring and valuing. The six dimensions (these five, plus planning, as mentioned previously) address six key questions:

  • How shall the group acquire its objectives and programme?
  • How shall meaning be given to and found in the experiences and actions of the group?
  • How shall the group's consciousness be raised about resistance and avoidance?
  • How shall the life of feeling within the group be handled?
  • How shall the the group's learning experiences be structured?
  • How shall a climate of personal value, integrity and respect be created?
All of which makes me reflect that whilst I am aware of making conscious decisions about the table d'hôte, à la carte or Open Space options, I am more likely to act out of habit in some of the other dimensions.

So a memo to myself: re-read Heron's book, and deliberately experiment with some different combinations of style and dimension...

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