Last week I completed a 2 day Technology of Participation Facilitator training. Developed by the Institute of Cultural Affairs, the Technology of Participation is a series of practices and principles for leading groups through inclusive and participatory dialogues and planning. The training was led by Nancy Jackson and Ruth-Ann Rasbold, who were excellent.

One of my first questions in the training was the ethical/political dimension to leading participatory methods (after an early morning drive to New Hampshire, I was feeling punchy). Here are the circumstances when participation doesn’t work (from the facilitator handbook):

  • there is no intention of using the information gathered, the plans made, or the excitement generated when people become involved.
  • people are attached to a particular outcome.
  • truth telling is not an accepted norm in an organization.
  • people are so busy, they are unwilling to set aside the time needed to engage in participatory processes or follow through on their collective decisions.
  • there is no apparent need to do things differently
  • the leader does not champion participation
  • people want a quick fix to a deep problem
  • participation is performed around a non-issue or merely a surface issue—that is, when the focus is to “straighten something out.”

from Participation Works: Business Cases from Around the World, James P. Troxel (ed.) with the Institute of Cultural Affairs, Alexandria,Virginia, Miles River Press, 1993, p. 28.

I participated in the facilitator training both because of my enjoyment in facilitating small groups—and my desire to improve my methods and confidence for facilitating larger groups—and that my boss is also trained in the Technology of Participation and I’ve quite enjoyed being a participant in the use of these methods.