The Value of a Good Chart Writer, Part II: PWS

Earlier this term, I wrote about the value of a good chart writer in regards to having Lauren’s assistance at the Church Women’s United retreat, now the tables have turned and I can speak to it from the chart writer’s perspective. Although I took a lead in case development and agenda design, I specifically requested to not take a lead with facilitation as I wanted the opportunity to both observe someone else’s style and to be in the assistant role, something I’ve done surprisingly little of given my jump into the deep end of facilitating and teaching solo.

Well chart writing is thus what I signed-up for, and chart writing is what I did! Over the course of seven hours, I chart wrote 35 sheets, which when transcribed equated to more than 10 pages single-space, size 11 font. I’m taking it as a mark of honor that I not only went through an entire pad of chart paper, but that I also wore out the four main colors from a brand new set of Mr Sketch markers. At one point in time, I was tracking no less than four different topics—adding notes and symbols to charts lining the walls, easel and even some on the floor. Honestly, being able to track and record a complex dialogue of 40+ people is in the top three facilitation experiences of my young career.

There are a number of reasons that chart writing is so important. First and foremost, it is a visual and physical way for people to know that they have been heard. This is why it is so important to use bits and pieces of people’s own language when recording their thoughts. To quickly reference back to ye olde brain science, seeing your own words up in writing helps to calm the sympathetic nervous system which cues our “fight and flight” responses, with that system calmed our parasympathetic nervous system can rise to the service and let us “rest and digest.” Whether helping a group to heal or to make decisions (or both), participants are much more likely to find common ground if they can tune into their parasympathetic nervous system. Of course, if you misunderstand their intention, they also see that lack of understanding in big, fat permanent marker too.

Over the course of the process, I saw both of these responses take place. First, I had multiple people come up to me during the breaks and tell me not only how impressive it was to watch me speed writing, but more that they didn’t realize how important what they had to say was until they saw it written before everyone else. This was especially true for two different contingencies around the narrative of “having to do it”: seeing that narrative written so explicitly provided opportunity for the sense of trauma to be recognized, while also opening the door to question if this is the type of organizational culture and spirit that they want to now perpetuate. I also saw someone who got more flustered with her words on the paper. In capturing one of the thoughts she voiced to the group, I jotted down: “we need to not be afraid of asking tough questions.” Which received wide agreement among the group. This frustrated her and she eventually sent me up a hand-written note that said: “Not being willing to ask certain questions and give the space to really look at these.” I’m ashamed to say that I still don’t know what the difference was for her, my only guess is that her emphasis was on the second part of the comment. Regardless of my ignorance, as soon as I wrote this exact sentence on the observations sheet, her entire presence shifted to one of openness and engagement with the process—she, at last, felt heard.

         

Finally, the second major value of chart writing is the creation of a group memory that outlasts the individual event. As previously mentioned, when transcribed my charts became over 10 pages of notes which formed the backbone of a report we created memorializing the event. Even with 40+ people in the space, there was at least a dozen others who really should have been there. Being able to provide a detailed and organized report with the voices of the participants provided the school with a way to help “bring along” those who were not present in body, as well as a launching pad to move forward generated ideas.

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PWS Agenda Design, Part II: ORID by Accident

During our late night planning session, we set out our meeting objectives first like any professional facilitator, but we didn’t intentionally apply any particular overarching strategy aside from  to come forward (outside of a combination of circle and non-circle work), yet to both our surprises we ended up doing a process that mapped quite well to the ORID process. ORID is an acronym for a facilitation framework that comes from The Art of Focused Conversations by R. Brian Stanfield; it stands for: Objective, Reflective, Interpretative, and Decisional. It also happens to be one of the topics that Lysbeth teaches, but that I had never learned before as Nellie does not teach it, at least not in her introductory course.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Objective is all about facts and what is observable data, some authors reference this as the “WHAT” part of a facilitation. This is valuable because we all observe, interpret, and remember data differently (thank you ladder of inference!), and thus we can’t assume that we are all working from the same page of facts. For the Pasadena facilitation, based on our case development interviews, we knew that we needed to spend the most time constructively looking at the facts since different understandings and interpretations was at the heart of their disagreements.

Without it intentionally being the objective section, we created two activities to bring out “the facts” in a constructive, safe space. First, we asked “What one question do you most need answered in order to move forward?” Clumping these into theme gave specific direction for our time, highlighted what people were stuck on despite leader’s efforts, and gave us something to evaluate our time at the end and create next steps (by asking which questions still need more information or discussion to be satisfactorily answered). (By the way, this activity comes straight from Sam Kaner, so thank you San Francisco!). The second way we brought in an objective lens was to have the participants create nearly 60’ long timeline on the walls in the room. With the use of sticky notes, people were able to add key events, which provided perspective and a launching pad to have conversations around what happened when and why. Using the timeline also provided us with the ability to split up the day in past, present, and future: looking at where they’ve been, where they are, and how they want to move forward.

             

The Reflective section of ORID then provides space for the reactions, hurt, heart, feelings, and overall emotional responses associated with “the facts,” and is considered the “GUT” or “HEART” part for some facilitators. We moved into this space with a two-part “powerful moment” or “blank paper photograph” activity. For the first part of the activity participants were asked to get into pairs with someone of a different perspective than themselves (teachers with board members, etc). Each pair was given a blank sheet of paper and asked to remember a powerful moment that crystallized the impacts on you or others about how the events at the school have unfolded; if someone had snapped a photo right then, describe to your partner what that photo would look like and what that moment means to you. This was done as an active listening exercise, listeners were asked to not interrupt or ask questions until after the storyteller was done, and were told they might be invited to reflect or paraphrase what they heard in the larger group. This second part, which brought everyone together, did invite people to share how they themselves or another was affected in the situation. Intended to build empathy and give space for tough emotions, there certainly were a fair number of tears shed during this section.

We then moved into the Interpretive, “SO WHAT,” section which invites participants to make sense of both the facts and their emotional reactions. Our interpretative section was a back-and-forth between pairs and the full circle, asking simple questions around “what are the lessons we can learn from today?” To say the least, there were a lot of lessons learned as evidenced by the nearly 10 charts I wrote on lessons learned. Finally, we spent the last little bit of the day in the Decisional, or “NOW WHAT” space helping the group to brainstorm and decide on next steps after this meeting. We did a fine job of helping them to articulate areas of action, but there is no doubt that everyone was tired at this point and that we probably could have developed more fleshed out action plans if we all had the luxury of coming back together a few days or a week later, but alas we had a plane to catch just a couple hours later.

The Value of a Good Chart Writer: CWU Retreat

Mar_8_(1) IMG_20170408_110145This past weekend I facilitated a three-hour retreat for the Church Women United (CWU), which is an inter-faith group of women who represent numerous churches in the Eugene/Springfield area. The group has been facing issues of leadership burn-out and difficulty with membership recruitment, especially engaging younger women of faith. To help them with these issues, I designed a retreat that would encourage the members to openly confront these issues that they had been avoiding. Specifically, we developed four objectives for the retreat: 1. Revitalize energy within the group, 2. Explore individual member’s motivations for involvement, 3. Identify current strengths & challenges of CWU activities, and 4. Develop strategies for membership & leadership capacity.

Although I am now used to facilitating solo, this time I was able to bring in one of the current CRES students in the facilitation course, Lauren Asher, who already has a strong background in facilitation. It was wonderful to have the assistance throughout the day. While we all want a chart writer that is an extension of our brain, that only comes with lots of working together. Nevertheless, she had a good sense of what to record and knew chart writing best practices to ensure it was easily readable (especially important for a group with an average age of 70). Having these charts to transcribe and bring back to the group, and having them created without losing my flow of facilitation, was super valuable. However, where she really shown was in her willingness to jump in and assist with small group facilitation. As always happens when dividing a large group into small groups, some of them will naturally “get” the assignment talking about the cues and writing them down as instructed, while others, well, they don’t follow instructions as well. Lauren jumped into one of that latter groups to help draw out their thoughts, and perhaps even more importantly, write them down on the flip-chart worksheets that would become part of the organization’s action plan for the year.

Mar_8(22) carla buckner, anne o'brien, lauren (l to r)IMG_20170408_110705

Lauren working with a small group to develop ways to improve their organization.

One of the hardest and most important elements I have discovered with facilitation is ensuring the creation of group memory.  You can facilitate the most transformative, participatory experience, but if there is no record of it then the likelihood of anything coming from it is pretty limited (which is why facilitation can have a bad reputation as wasted money with many parties). As a solo facilitator this is especially difficult as in-the-moment chart writing can really get in the way of doing my best, most active listening, re-framing, and caring that is needed for high-level participation, but at the end of the day it is those charts that will make or break the long-term success of the work. Having Lauren as a competent, pro-active assistant really helped me to ensure that no ideas were missed that day and that the organization had everything it needed to move forward after that day.