Flexing Facilitation Muscles at UBCO
I’ve been spending time the last couple of months reading and watching videos about facilitation online and face-to-face, and discussing the possibilities of different techniques with colleagues and FLO (Facilitating Learning Online) workshop participants. But I have had limited opportunities to really test out new approaches with other experienced facilitators, so I was thrilled to have the chance to “flex some facilitator muscle” with Sylvia Currie and Beth Cougler Blom during several face-to-face events hosted at Kelowna’s amazing UBCO campus.
1. May 31 – FLO Enthusiasts gathering
BCcampus manager, Sylvia Currie, organized a one day gathering of FLO-FDO enthusiasts (Facilitating Learning Online and Facilitator Development Online workshops) at UBC’s beautiful Okanagan campus. The session objectives and intentions were diverse and emergent and our audience was knowledgeable and open to sharing and exploring. What a great environment to try a range of facilitation practices!
SylviaC started us off by “setting the scene” for participants with less knowledge of the development of FLO workshops.
Beth got us rolling by introducing the Purpose to Practice structure (a Liberating Structures technique) that we planned to use to keep us on track and support the varied facilitation techniques we were going to explore.
We created a wall chart of the structure to allow us to refocus throughout the day and to collect the outcomes of different explorations. At the end of each activity, coloured notes (Post-its) containing the essential findings/suggestions were posted to the relevant “petal”.
I took the opportunity to try a new approach (new to me!) to warm up the group – a Low Tech Social Network game from Gamestorming. As the “enthusiasts” didn’t all know each other, it was a creative way to have them share something about themselves, what FLO meant to them and to take a few minutes to see what they had in common with others. The integration of simple drawings and having to post their avatars on the wall seemed to be really effective. We also used the “network” wall later in the day to brainstorm the additional people we would have liked to have at our session.
Beth tried another Gamestorming technique “Cover Story” that challenges participants “think big” by creating a magazine cover that “tells the story” of what things would look like several years in the future. Our challenge was: “What would the widespread adoption of FLO look like by 2020?”
The activity generated a lot of concentrated work and some bursts of laughter. The storytelling by each group was rich and diverse. I had wondered whether the need to make the story visual would slow down the creative sharing but it didn’t – and allowing them to speak about the cover story made it more meaningful for everyone.
We switched back to Liberating Structures to identify our “rules” or Principles (from the Purpose to Practice chart). I started them with Min Specs and asked them to think about “must dos and must not dos” to help us achieve our purpose. My estimate of time was way off as people began generating a list of maximum specifications and then consolidating the items and voting on the most important (what couldn’t we do without) “rules”.
We had planned to follow Min Specs with 25/10 Crowdsourcing (moving from listing ideas to thinking “big picture” again) but we consulted during their group work (the joy of working with two experienced facilitators is the flexibility and imaginative problem-solving that becomes possible!).
We rejigged and simplified the remainder of the afternoon to ensure that everyone had a chance to share.
We drew them back to the Low Tech Social Network wall to collect ideas about the additional people (Participants) they thought would be important to achieving our Purpose – we had people write the titles or people or organizations (not specific names) and post them around the perimeter of the network wall.
Beth refocused the group on thinking about Structures and Practices how each person thought we could re-organize to distribute control (Structures) and to identify next steps (Practices).
SylviaC pulled the day together by facilitating an open sharing and storytelling circle (a very loose circle) to allow each person to share their final thoughts about what we’d accomplished and what lay ahead.
By the end of the day we had learned a lot about what worked and what didn’t about the facilitation techniques we’d chosen and we had a very useful collection of ideas and artifacts that we’re still distilling to guide us further.
2. Jun 1, 2 – ETUG’s Spring Jam Workshop
During our planning for the May 31st session, we talked about putting in a proposal for ETUG’s spring workshop. Somewhere along the way (I blame Beth), we ended up putting in three proposals and all three were accepted.
One of the sessions was fairly straightforward – we wanted to engage participants in our “wicked question” – how to spread FLO. We discussed different facilitation strategies and came up with a plan.
But the real challenge was designing our two “linked” sessions to explore two phases of Human Centered Design Thinking. How could we make that work in under two hours without knowing whether the participants from the first session would continue on into the 2nd session? How could we develop useful ideas with so little time and with participants that we couldn’t study or whose experiences we couldn’t share directly? I wouldn’t have tried this alone but, I decided that it was definitely possible with Beth leading the way as she’d applied different aspects of this approach in her co-teaching and previous facilitation work.
Quick note: We used the Human-centered Design Thinking approaches developed by IDEO (an internationally recognized design firm) – you can explore the resources on their Design Kit site
The basic outline of our plan – thanks to @BarbaraBerry pic.twitter.com/QuSNVcebwV
Session 1: Inspiration
- Introduce our Wicked Challenge:
How might BC higher educational institutions effectively share quality teaching and learning resources with each other?
- Analogous Inspiration method: provide different examples of sharing systems that participants might know. Ask them to work in groups and gather their thoughts about “behaviours” “activities” “emotions” they had experienced or might anticipate
- Expert Interviews method: provide participants with a guiding question sheet. Have them work in pairs (an interviewer to pose questions; a recorder to record the answers). Participants could choose to divide into threes and interview each other OR a pair could go out into the hallways and find people to interview.
- Core insights and key learnings: participants were given time to reflect and record their key learnings from each activity. What insights and thoughts had they had that might suggest a potential solution to our challenge?
Key learnings sheets were collected to be shared during the next session.
Session 2: Ideation
- Introduce(remind participants) of our Wicked Challenge
- Distribute the Key Learnings sheets
- Bundle Ideas method: we allowed time for participants to work together to understand the items on the sheets and to consolidate them to develop one list of ideas (grouping ideas that seemed very similar). We hoped to have the group review the top ideas from each small group and to use a dotmocracy approach to identify the top ideas that we might prototype. We decided, because of time constraints, to try to get the group to identify one idea to develop.
- Concept development methods – Frameworks and Map the Journey I intended to ask participants to identify the elements of a system (suggested by their top idea) that might provide a prototype of a solution we could design. The 2nd step would have been to draw a map of what a user would experience as they utilized the system and moved between the parts or structures of the framework.
We adapted the concept development approach to ask people to draw a representation of their solution to the one potential solution that the group had identified. Groups were given a chance to quickly explain their drawing and solution.
Although the time limits made this very challenging, we did get some creative thinking happening and some thoughtful suggestions about practical steps to develop the idea maps further. During the Ideation session, I think we would have benefited from allowing the groups to identify different “top” ideas and develop their idea in any way they chose (drawing, oral description, storyboards, lists).
My overall learning about these sessions – good practice for guiding people through complex thinking tasks but the real value of “human centered” design thinking isn’t really possible to explore in such a limited timeframe.
I came away from our facilitation “workouts” with a renewed appreciation of the importance of humour, understanding and patience to support new learning. It would have been impossible to become a stronger facilitator without those elements – from my co-facilitators and our participants.
- IDEO.org Design Kit: Methods and Case Studies
- “Gamestorming: A Playbook for Innovators, Rulebreakers, and Changemakers“
- Liberating Structures: Including and Unleashing Everyone