Tuesday, September 1, 2020

FAQ Flashback - 15 travellers, 4 sailors, one facilitation quest!

I have always drawn immense energy every time I connect with young people around facilitation -
the way their bodies shift from a state of formality to ease, the way their questions and sharing deepens with every activity, the way the silence holds the space for their feelings and thoughts to take shape, the way their eyes open wide with wonder at what all is possible when a space is held in a life nurturing way…..This began with the course I taught in Jamia Milia’s Development Communications Department and in the past couple of years the energetic bunch at India Fellows has been a wonderful community to work with. India Fellows go on a 13-month long journey of discovering their own leadership potential. It includes training, mentor-ship, reflections and hands-on work experience with a grassroots organisation working on social issues. 

Every year, a few people write back, some immediately, some after a few months (and even years) at how deeply they experienced the space and were touched by the spark nurtured by a facilitated space. I have seen these individuals evolve and grow in their own facilitation journeys in such unique ways. 

This year from a day long training, we had decided to host a 1.5 day training on facilitation for the current batch of fellows - to allow for more time for them to work on their designs as a practical application of what they learn. Covid happened. Maybe I was yearning for joy and grounding (both of which I find whenever I hold spaces) and I nudged the IF team to consider offering a multi-modular facilitation training ONLINE! Now I had offered some circles before this - but those were not training - more listening circles. I was curious to experience the design process for a training online and I was luckily matched with a group that was willing to experiment and explore what this new platform might unfold. 

For FAQ, We had 14 fellows working across the country and across various projects in social organisations - education, gender, livelihoods, health.  

This whole experience was so life affirming for me professionally and personally. I am in awe of our collective wisdom - 

Jaiti’s creativity on paper and in person, her quest to always bring us back to the purpose/ relevance of whatever we were designing, her intense engagement alongside a full time job...

Aditi’s positive energy, insightful questions and depth of notes….. 

Simran’s innovativeness, initiative, courage and grace in holding spaces....

Overall their humility to trust the whole process and work together with respect and authenticity! 

Here is our collective story! 


A lovely poem by Simran about our whole journey! We all read this together in our final module! 

Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much. - Hellen Keller

The first right decision we took early on was to build a bigger team - we brought on three alum of IF across the years - lovers of facilitation who had already been in contact with me. Without batting an eye, Jaiti, SImran and Aditi came on board and an unforgettable journey in all our lives began! 

Conversation is a meeting of minds with different memories and habits. When minds meet, they don't just exchange facts: they transform them, reshape them, draw different implications from them, engage in new trains of thought. Conversation doesn't just reshuffle the cards: it creates new cards. -Theodore Zeldin

The first task was to connect within the four of us and the sponsor - the program representative at IF to together answer the big picture questions - Why are we doing this? What values are important? How do we see the success of this lab? What would be the key design elements of this lab? How can we create an engaging, impactful and life nurturing learning space online? How can we tap the body/ mind/ spirit/ emotions in an online environment?

The result of this late night conversation (most of our planning calls were between 10-12 am as that was the golden hours all were available!) were two fold - a solid realisation that this was a much needed experience for the fellows and a strong alignment on the purpose, values and vision. Our ground was ready - we could now start building the foundation. 

This meeting with the sponsor definitely reaffirmed that beauty lies in the eyes of be holder. The observations and the suggestions from the sponsor were a really value add and it gave us a feeling that we were sailing in a same boat.

It all starts with an idea, you just have to make it alive


The internal work began - we culled out what could possibly go into a 3 module facilitation lab. The team added their ideas/ thoughts/ comments - and what was most beautiful was that they brought in the perspective of the target group - as they had been fellows themselves! 

(Mana - This was so important for me as I needed that perspective time and again to balance what I thought was important to be said/ experienced.) 

Key design elements that made the whole experience super exciting and successful -

1. Before the actual sessions started we mapped out the structure that would support the whole experience, some of this of course evolved as we went along, though it helped to have these elements already be in place in some form

- The information we needed from / about fellows to better understand their context and how they are most likely to apply the learning from the Lab

- The pre and post work we would need to do before after each module - this would allow fellows to take their time to internalise the learning and also do some work to apply it step by step 

- The formats in which the design/ the deck would be created 

- How the documentation would be done and shared 

- How the feedback would be taken from fellows 

- How we would note our own observations about the fellows - we formed buddies so each of us chose 3-4 fellows whom we observed more closely and also stayed in touch with to check in frequently about their experience of the lab 

- How would we note our feedback on the lab itself

The google docs were set up and this process enabled self responsibility - once a session was done everyone knew what they each had to do. This really helped us pull through a seamless experience and made our lives much easier (though it was a lot of hard work toooooo!).  

2. We began with an orientation to build readiness and connection with the fellows - my favourite part of this was the whole guided visualisation we did on their hopes and fears from the analogy of knocking on a door! What beautiful images emerged and with so much detail……We specifically ask about “fears” as each one has their own fear and it takes courage to express. Their fear gave us hope that we have created a safe space to take the journey ahead. It also helped make them mindful of what they can do to be more fully present for the lab. 

In the “knock-knock” exercise below, we sat together, visualized a circle space and knocked at the door of the lab in our own minds individually. Some of the fellows came with a colourful excitement to learn new tools, and some came with worries about facilitating difficult conversations.

This worked out as a test run for the four of us also and we could feel more comfortable and ready for the actual modules to begin.

3. We gave a lot of thought to the email invitations that went before every session - added pictures, quotes - gave it really the feel of an “invitation” that felt welcoming and warm. Though these were long and irrelevant for some, it is a resource that they can go back to re-enter the space and get day-wise summaries of the sessions! 

4. We wove in a lot of creativity to bring in the whole person and address various learning styles - from the art work on the slides, to using poetry, puppets, live guitaring, acting, games, visualisations, drawings! We used small groups, individual exercises, large group work to shift energy during the sessions. 

How we feel affects how we learn!  (thanks Vishwas Parachur for this wonderful punchline). We tried as best as we could to make people “feel” excited/ inspired/ motivated…..to ignite the “will” to learn!  

5. We added an element of “live sessions” which fellows had to take between the third and fourth module. This took some time to take off - in our third module we invited everyone to pitch their ideas to the whole group and oh my the energy! The topics chosen were so amazing - so many around self care, well being, connecting together as a commune, building empathy and finding space for conversations.... They each left inspired. 8/14 folks conducted their live sessions before the final module - and each one with such beauty, authenticity and humility. We still keep getting updates from some who are still conducting their sessions:) This opportunity to apply learning in the real context with a strong support system in place was for us the most crucial part of this lab - that made it a lab! Many fellows were participants of these live sessions.


6. We took detailed notes and photos of the sessions - more so for us so we have a visual memory of what we actually did and also for participants to have a nice walk down memory lane. These slide decks with notes and pictures helped participants get reconnected with what had happened before arriving at the current module. Aditi's notes were super detailed and gave such a lovely sense of what people shared and Jaiti added beauty to it with her visual notes! 

7. We integrated various ways of collecting feedback and using that to make changes as we moved along. We asked for feedback through a survey after every module, we checked in with our buddies, we held two internal feedback circles one mid way and one at the end (both these were with the sponsor). 

8. We tried to live what we shared - our own internal planning meetings were real circles - started with a check in, went through a guided flow with beautiful slide decks, brought in the “whole person” …. This kept building our muscle to do this together! And what joy these circles were….the best was when the sponsor asked when our next planning meet was as she really needed energy that day! We used the design formats ourselves that we were teaching the group. We reviewed the experience on the same matrix that we shared with the fellows. We took care of our own “whole beings” as best as we could before each session. We began with a grounding exercise just between the four of us before we opened the space for participants. And this made us feel every single time the value that facilitation has brought even to each of us individually. While for some it was a space to do real authentic work, for another it was a place to learn so much and experiment. We all came from different places in our own facilitation journeys, shared the bounty of all our skills and passion, and left with so much more. Something that will keep unwrapping for a long time to come.

Above are glimpses from our own internal planning/ review meets - which were beautiful spaces in themselves with a check in, visuals, rounds of sharing and a check out.

In our final debrief call with the sponsor towards the end she actually suggested “let’s create an open facilitation course online!” Yay! 

Our “grow” areas - we walked away with a lot of learning 

Pace out the content more evenly throughout modules - offer optional support additionally to those who need 

Creating a balance between listening and sharing so participants have more space to pause, reflect and share 

Getting our hands dirty more everyone in the team can take on more active facilitation and got more practice; do internal practice sessions and help each other notice what works, what could be better 

Hone our questioning skills as facilitators so we can ask more than tell to support participants to discover on their own 

Discover more ways to bring in the "whole person' - especially body, emotions and spirit 

Whatever happens, happens - reflect on what happened, celebrate your courage for making it happen,  consider feedback as a gift, and  embrace the learning joyfully

It is just the beginning 

At the end, we were left with a lot of “should haves” as well - we could have done many things better. And yet this whole experience was as much a healing journey as it was a learning journey. The laughter, the sadness, the frustration, the anger, the tiredness….the energy….all surfaced and made space for other feelings to emerge. We worked together with trust, with admiration for each other, with the most intense empathy I have ever experienced. 

We are on different stages of our facilitation journeys and our common belief in the value of facilitation brings us together. Some of us are seeker, some explorer or some may be practitioner. In our journey together, we are life long learners and there is much left to experiment , experience and create .

Source - Barbara Mckay, North Star Facilitators 

This was a long post and if you have reached the end, thank you so much for being a witness to our wonderful adventure! 

The IF Facilitation Quest Team - Aditi, Jaiti, Mana & Simran

Thank you Swati for being a wonderful and engaged sponsor! 

A big shout out to all our mentors, teachers, facilitators across the world who have been a part of our facilitation journey! 

A special mention to the Genuine Contact TM program whose tools, frameworks and principles have been the guiding light throughout the journey!