Focused-Conversation Method of Facilitation
I've been looking to build on what I've been learning about participatory learning from Dialogue Education with some additional techniques for process facilitation and group decision-making.
So two weeks ago, I took part in a great, two-day Group Facilitation Methods Workshop with the Institute for Cultural Affairs (ICA) in Toronto.
The workshop was facilitated by Duncan Holmes, a "Technology of Participation" (TOP) Facilitator at ICA, who brings many years of experience in working with all kinds of groups around the world.
Day One provided an opportunity to explore TOP's Focused Conversation Method, which provides a nice series of questions for guiding a group discussions that I think could work nicely in a Dialogue Education designed workshop. The questions fall into 4 groups:
Observation: After reviewing agreed-upon empirical data (e.g. last quarter's financial numbers, the findings of a survey, a recent event), the facilitator invites the participants to review the facts of what happened: What did you see? What happened during the case study? This helps to ensure that everyone is on the same page.
Reflection: This next set of questions focuses on people's reactions to the data: What surprised you? What did you find encouraging? What did you find discouraging? It is still looking backwards, but provides a chance to process people's experience of the data or event.
Interpretation: These questions provide an opportunity to dig deeper into the underlying reasons, contextual factors or implications of the data: What does this say about how we work together? What might be the largest contributing factor to this outcome? What challenges might this situation pose for us in the future? They dig deeper into the situation with an eye to the future.
Decision: This set of questions is more forward-looking, and invites the participants to consider next steps: What will we do differently next time? What do you want to continue doing in light of the data? What shall we do now? This is the action-planning, "away" phase of the series.
Getting Everyone on the Same Page
Duncan pointed out that in a group discussion, different people typically tend to gravitate to one of these types of discussions. In any group, it not unusual that some people are ready to make a decision while others are not sure of the facts or need to deal with their emotional reactions before they can move on. As such, using the ORID sequence provides a framework to go back and work through the steps so that everyone is on the same page and they don't rush to a conclusion.
It was great to see this in action. Once he outlined the steps, I could see that Duncan modelled it consistently in every conversation -- although he was so skillful at it you didn't notice at first. But I was also struck by how he used the different types of questions to elicit our responses, but he deliberately didn't try to weave our answers together or try to guide us to any kind of conclusion or consensus.
But I'm still a bit unsure if whether going through the steps would necessarily stop people from reverting to their predetermined position in the final Step D. I could see a situation where someone might have made their mind up at the start and will simply wait out the first three steps and re-introduce their ideas at the end, without really gaining anything from the earlier conversations. But I'm willing to withhold judgement for now until I try it out some more.
A final observation from the workshop was that this process was done exclusively in a plenary discussion and was heavily Auditory. That may have been just how he chose to model it in this workshop but I think the ORID approach might lend itself to small group work and more written documentation.
A Useful Alternative Cycle
In an earlier post, I created a Prezi that compared Dr. Jane Vella's 4A Cycle with the Kolb Experiential Learning Cycle. I think that the ORID approach could provide another nice framework for structuring a Learning Task.
For example, here is how I might adapt it into a Dialogue Education learning task on Cycling and Health using a variety of group sizes and learning styles:
Learning Task 1: Cycling and Health
A. Watch this presentation on the health benefits of cycling. Make notes on the key points on the handout provided. (Observation)
B. In groups of 4, discuss the following questions:
- What surprised you about the connection between cycling and health?
- What doesn't match your own experience?
We'll hear a sample of your answers in the large group after 10 minutes. (Reflection)
C. In new groups of 8, consider the following question:
- What might be the most convincing arguments to make to the city council?
List your ideas on a flip chart. Take a gallery walk and review the other groups' ideas. We'll review all. (Interpretation)
D. As a large group, draft a plan to present these arguments to the City Council next month. (Decision)
What has been your experience with ORID or similar structured conversations?
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