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June 2017
| Issue #8

Practice makes perfect

By Monique Walsh

I had the pleasure of attending a facilitated session as a participant a few months ago. The facilitator completely impressed me with his grace and skill. So when I saw this quarter’s theme on the Craft of Facilitation I knew who I wanted to interview.

Brian Evoy works for isBrite Consulting and has been facilitating since 1997. His background is in child and youth work and social work. As Evoy reminds me “working with youth is a surefire way to learn fast. They can smell bullshit from a mile away and they can be quick to actively engage in system and social change efforts.”

What’s the one skill you think every facilitator needs to apply?

Every event agenda needs to ensure that all participants can actively participate in the event – that it’s meaningful to them. Check in and make sure participants support the proposed direction. Be clear about all rules of engagement including their level of expected influence over any decisions being made. Be aware of your own biases and actively ensure that all participants feel safe and free to participate at the level of their choosing.

Tell me about your most challenging moment as a facilitator

The most challenging moment for me was working with community members who didn’t want a youth social services centre located in their neighborhood. It was super important to make sure that their issues were heard and addressed to increase the chances that youth would have access to the sorts of services they wanted and needed closer to home. Anger and fear were the biggest obstacles the group had to overcome. Active listening skills helped to go a long way with these issues.

I learned that it’s important to limit the number of government and community agency leaders who are supportive of the proposed changes. In this case, they wanted to be supportive, but it had the effect of looking like the supportive people were trying to influence the decision too much by ‘stacking the deck’.

What drew you to this line of work and what keeps you practicing?

A passion for community development and engagement and a desire to promote deliberative dialogue and consensus building.

What would you want to share about the craft of facilitation to someone just starting out?

  • Watch others facilitate.
  • Ask yourself what you liked about the style and outcome of the facilitation.
  • Draw up a mental list of the attributes of what you liked and things that you didn’t like.
  • If you are in awe of how someone handled a tough situation or how they moved the group to a good ending, seek them out and learn from them about how they did it.
  • Practice, practice, practice.

As a recent participant in Evoy’s facilitated session, I am going to practice his advice above and reflect a little on my own craft. The attributes I most appreciated in this session were Evoy’s continual subtle reminder (sometimes not so subtle) that the group was proceeding through a tough discussion by choice. If they didn’t want to go there on the agenda, if they didn’t want to be in the room, then they didn’t have to. It is very freeing as a participant to feel in control of that choice. Also, I really appreciated his skill in working hard to make sure everyone was able to participate in a way that was meaningful to them. I encourage you to share your thoughts on your own craft of facilitation with us as well. What facilitator has inspired you? What attributes are you reflecting on?

More about Brian Evoy and isBrite Consulting