Global Flipchart #20
My Epiphany in Virtual Facilitation
I was recently reminded of the meaning of epiphany - a coming to a new understanding that has within it a message of inclusiveness and acceptance, sharing a revelation with the whole universe.
In reviewing 2020 – epiphany for me describes the experience I have had with virtual facilitation over the past 8 months. It has been a marvelous, enriching journey of learning, inclusiveness, and skill development.
From being an occasional user of zoom for meetings or updates led by others in early 2020, I became a regular user attending sessions and designing workshops and events for groups of up to 100 persons, as in my last event held on 2 January 2021. Apart from skill development, it was a journey of confidence building and sensing of what was required by the target group I was addressing.
In my involvement with civil society and community building, this sensing had to do with work in the inter-faith arena and civil issues – how open would members of different interest groups be in a zoom encounter and what topics of mutual interest would be safe to bring into open discussion. This would open the space for public discourse of what was deemed to be “sensitive matters” by political groups who use the terminology to maintain distance and separations between groups to support their politicization of differences.
With a small team of dedicated Malaysians who believe in an inclusive Malaysia, we moved into the arena of spreading information on our Federal Constitution and the universal tenets of peace and mutual respect in all religious traditions – using our platform of a dialogue series to invite all Malaysians of every faith, ethnicity, and persuasion – to share their views and perspectives in the safe spaces of a virtual zoom encounter.
Between the months of August to Jan 2021 we have held 4 sessions, 2 related to the practice of a National Code of Ethics linked to our Federal Constitution and 2 sessions related to inter-faith activities, the first on the different faith communities’ response to Covid 19 and the next – on the Infancy Narratives of Jesus in the Muslim and Christian traditions. For all sessions, we had between 50 – 90 registrants indicating a high level of interest and engagement in such dialogue from a public known to be cautious and self-censoring. We also offered a content session on Key Articles of the Federal Constitution in August – through the services of a legal professional – with a mission to inform Malaysians of their standing within the context of the Federal Constitution.
Especially for the Inter-faith sessions, we learnt how to balance invitation with guiding prompts – maneuvering a narrow path between what might be confrontational to what would be a sharing of perspectives and views with dialogue partners from differing interest groups. We learnt how to support the speakers as well as, ourselves in the team – who came from different perspectives ourselves, with different purposes and preferences. It has been a revelation of how to manage and share a current standing point – yet maintaining a sense of safety and confidence in each other.
Inclusiveness has become a watch word in 2020 – taking new life from movements like Black Lives Matter, (BLM), the response to the death of George Floyd and various other events. As the impact of the pandemic traverses the globe, social distancing and public health concerns battle with the call to be more open to the other and receptive to difference.
What does this mean for inclusiveness and virtual facilitation?
Virtual facilitation – in whatever portal – assumes a certain common entry point and equality for all participants who sign on. This was one of the first things I realized. There is some equality of entry point when we are all viewed in the postage stamp portrait of a zoom video panel. And the fact that a person may choose exactly how much or how little they will reveal of themselves in their name tag and in group discussions in break-out rooms allows the opportunity for inclusion. It is an invitation to the participant to be inclusive and share as much as they feel comfortable to share and enable others to feel safe to share as well.
The facilitator’s role in creating this inclusive space is crucial as she/ he sets the tone of how the group will function. Will it be fun or formal? Will the exchanges be delightful and in-depth or staid and boring? Will the group be exploring new ground in their discussions or hashing up old formulae and predictable actions. The facilitator models and supports inclusive behaviors and from her store of resources– creates a process that suits the group and where it is at that point in time. She will hold the group in space – and, as prescribed for virtual encounters, will work with a session producer or colleague who will support the process and the technology to ensure that people are in synch despite whatever glitches may occur – whether material or virtual.
I have participated in sessions like these facilitated masterfully by Martin Gilbraith and the team from ICA UK as well as, in the open free flowing sessions led by budding virtual groups like SiniKini, an Indonesian venture led by Puri Lestari who brought together global facilitators to share views with the Indonesian facilitator community. The pandemic has opened the doorway to such ventures from every region – it is no more a practice dominated by a few entities in selected countries.
Similarly, I have learnt so much from involvement with the IAF Social Inclusion Group which has introduced me to a whole new region of facilitation practitioners in the Africa region and we have had an engaging time getting to know each other and how we use facilitation in our various projects.
Finally, this has been a year of skill development both in the Technology of Participation suite of facilitation programmes and learning how to operate virtually as a lead facilitator as well as, a technical support and co -facilitator. These are the skills I know, that will carry me through the next phase of my life as a facilitator, as we move on into uncharted territories coping with a pandemic and the explosion of virtual interfaces for working, training, and networking.
Participatory techniques (ToP2), and virtual facilitation have a complementary interface. Virtual facilitation works best when the facilitator enables participation from those attending by using technology to create and manage the space. The use of applications like Miro, Mural, and others, offer facilitators a virtual sticky wall to enable working virtually using very similar processes as we do face to face. The difference would be replicating the group rapport and commitment to the process which is best done face-to-face. The virtual interfaces are often more intensive, complex, and demanding for the facilitator to maintain group engagement.
In the past 8 months, I have had over 300 hours of virtual facilitation practice leading or participating in events online. Working with a team of facilitators I honed my Technology of Participation skills as well as, my virtual practice. I am grateful to the pandemic for giving me the time and opportunity to move to a higher level of functioning and readiness for the future.
The year 2020 has been an epiphany of how to function differently and yet be effective. It has given me a fresh look at myself and my areas of interest. The re-set button has been activated. The future beckons.
Patricia Nunis, CPF, 7 January 2021
Patricia is committed to using facilitation and dialogue in her venture into community building as she reaches out to people in community in multi-ethnic, multi-cultural Malaysia.