Sharing and learning are social and emotional. As organizers and facilitators of learning initiatives we can set the right conditions to allow for true and deep learning: We open the space, we invite for a journey and we offer a learning experience.

WS framework

Information is circulating at high speed around the globe, accessible to anybody with Internet connection. You simply have to make the effort to look for it. Yet, many questions many of us are facing in the social domain and in the development and cooperation sector are not easily answered, and rarely solved by expert input or information alone. We have to train our gut feeling (thanks Marcus Jenal). It’s often our common sense, our inner knowing that keeps us acting. Through continuous learning, we can train our intuition.

And still, too many workshop agendas are overfilled with too many overloaded and unexciting inputs followed by superficial Q&A that don’t really deepen our understanding. These kinds of meetings bear the risk that we become Meeting Trolls (check Seth Godin’s fabulous post on meeting trolls as well as Nancy White’s post on the lovely anti-trolls).

In workshops the last what I expect (as a participant and as a facilitator) is information. Honestly, I prefer to read it on the train to work. In workshops I want conversation. It’s the joint reasoning and deliberating that brings us further and allows us to search for a possible way forward.

The best learning often happens when you try to explain things to other people, or ask questions, or exchange points of view. In fact, when you have conversations.

In organizational and networked initiatives it’s not the delivery of information but the transforming conversations that make the difference: informal, lively, engaging and stimulating. As organizers and facilitators we care for the best possible environment, conditions and containers for learning. The following are three essential offers we can make as facilitators and organizers to participants:

1. Opening time and space

Organizing a workshop means first of all offering open space and time for participants to engage, to listen, to deliberate and to reason. With open space I mean unstructured time that participants are invited to occupy with their questions and challenges. It’s the 1/3 principle we have to promote and defend: 1/3 input, 1/3 exchange, 1/3 open space for networking.

As it seems, a successful f2f is not as much a matter of participatory processes but of a sound balance between input, interaction and exchange. (…) 1/3 inputs, 1/3 exchange, 1/3 open space  – a concept worth verifying on the way to a good practice in f2f.

2. Inviting for a joint journey

Wide-open space is not enough; it needs an invitation (Nancy White) to connect to the people attending, the purpose and the learning questions.

And it needs framing. Framing means shaping, means setting the boundaries, attractors and rules. Jane Hurt calls it “instructional scaffolding”. We define a collaborative space that is comfortable, sociable and yet inspiring and challenging. We invite people in to take part and to engage, to formulate and enquire their questions. There are great and proven methods to do so: Open Space, World Café, Knowledge Café, and Dynamic Facilitation.

3. Offering a learning experience

We learn from experience. Garr Reynold asks rightly: If we learn by doing, why is there so little doing?

As a young professional I made my first steps with Pestalozzi’s “head, heart and hand” in mind. It never left me because it still makes a lot of sense.  Learning happens when we are truly motivated, interested, committed; and when the conditions are right. Next to joint reasoning it’s the doing, the walking, the positioning, the being quiet and listening, the trying out, the joint drawing and doodling.  Prototyping brings about discovery and insights. Field visits organized as discovery tours can be eye and heart openers. Emotions play a key role. Learning is emotional. Learners need experience.

It’s emotion that makes them tick.

Terry Heick

What is your story? What is your experience as facilitator so set the right conditions?

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