Community consultation and co-design is a super exciting process to be a part of. When the energy in the room reaches that point where people with previously separate agendas are applauding each other’s ideas and everyone is talking over each other out of enthusiasm you begin to believe in a new and better future.
But good community consultation is also completely exhausting to facilitate. Twice this week I have gone to bed early nursing a very sore head after spending the day being hyper-conscious of every person in the group (How are people responding? Where is the energy being sucked from this convo? Who needs to be drawn in?)
Because the key to the facilitation of good community consultation is: observe observe observe!
The other reason community consultation is so draining is that the topics we are looking at are rarely simple but generally broad, complex societal concerns. This week for example we looked at community connectedness and domestic violence… hardly small topics!
I was lucky this week to do some of this consulting alongside someone I admire greatly in this work; Dr Richard Harmer of the Holos Group. I always learn so much when I spend time with Richard who really is a master of this work.
So what did I learn this week?
The benefit of facilitating a process in which people can lay down assumptions, articulate concerns and download questions.
This is one of the most significant works that we can do in community consultation.
We need to allow time at the front end of our work to allow our participants to down load. Guiding a process in which we can:
- air our current, habitual behaviours
- articulate our assumptions about a subject in a safe way
- take record of previous efforts to address a concern and appreciate the intent and energy that they efforts took
- mine for “elephants in the room” (those topics we are collectively ignoring or frightened of)
This process will give us, as a collective, the capacity to learn what we need to from past experience, while recognising that continuing to operate in the same way will only end in the same results.
In one conversation this week I felt a tangible change in the energy and openness of the group when members of a service club felt safe enough to articulate their hesitations around being a part of a work being lead by a faith group (Church).
In another conversation there was a great deal of defensiveness until we were able to get at the fact that we were speaking from different understandings of the meaning of “violence” and “abuse”.
This might seem obvious but it is really tempting to skip this; or doing it superficially in our haste to “get to the real work”. However, if a group can come to a point where it is able to articulate its assumptions about a topic and feel safe enough to seek out and name those questions it is scared to ask then we can see those blind spots which had hindered our work (and likely other’s work also) before.
It must be the intentional work of the facilitator to hold a group in this space until this work is done. Participants will also be tempted to try to skip this work and “get to the reason we’re here”.
Proper time spent at the beginning in healthy downloading, dialogue and debate will make the 2nd half of our work (collective creativity and prototyping) happen amazingly quickly and with lots of energy.
That is to say that properly remembering, honouring and articulating our individual pasts allows us the space to imagine a new collective future together.
If you would like to be a part of this kind of process why not come along to our next Faith in Action gathering?
Notes from our Faith in Action conversation this week around:
“A fullness of life “theology’ for enabling communities to feel empowered to address domestic violence”
can be found on the Faith in Action site here.
A particularly useful resource on the theory behind this work is: Theory U by Otto Scharmer