The art of facilitation

Next week I will participate in an exciting project, which I am personally committed to. There will be an international conference in Budapest that will function as the public discourse of the European Union’s ambitious new strategy to boost renovation, called “A Renovation Wave for Europe – Greening our buildings, creating jobs, improving lives”. To be more sustainable and reach carbon neutrality by 2050, this strategy aims to double annual energy renovation rates in the next 10 years. In Hungary, where most families do not possess enough savings to finance the necessary investments (NES 2020), this will be a challenging task. Gathering relevant political actors, representatives of citizens and industrial interest groups into one room to talk about the benefits and possible pitfalls is definitely a good idea, mainly, that the program will contain practical workshops too in connection with innovation, state-of-the-art technologies, assistance and financial solutions. This event will pave the way to a greener Europe, and I am happy to be part of it.

My role will be to facilitate the morning policy panel which will bring the European Commission’s climate goals closer to the Hungarian citizens and property owners. The goal is to empower and engage participants and raise awareness. It is also an important intent of the event to gather feedback from the stakeholders who are crucial partners to make change happen.

Besides preparing with getting a deeper understanding of the topic, I am also preparing consciously with facilitation techniques to generate a dynamic conversation, a lively and informative debate and involve the audience too, as much as possible.

Here are some key concepts that I am planning to apply next week:

  1. I will arrive with a designed agenda and will be prepared to guide the whole process. Asking good questions will be a critical success factor, but the job will be more than that. I will be the timekeeper and the energizer.
  2. I will help the audience to get their needs met during the session. I have to ensure, that everyone understands the point, and will intervene immediately if the discussion does not contribute to the overall objective anymore.
  3. Facilitating a panel is not teaching or lecturing, not even a group interview. This format requires a different style. I plan to have the role of an instigator. Knowing what the issues are in this field, I will make sure, that the panelists’ different points of view will evolve. Fortunately, in order to do so, I don’t have to be an expert on the topic, which I am not. Once, more, I will be opened to learn and this might contribute to the learning process of the audience too.
  4. Confronting opinions or ideas doesn’t mean, that we have to use ‘but’ and ‘or’ all the time. I will keep in mind, that by adding to someone’s reality rather than negating it, we can often learn much more about a perspective than any “no” could ever bring us.

One might think, that the life of a researcher is data-oriented, and we are sitting in front of a statistic software all-day-long working with numbers, coefficients and model fitting indicators, however, this is not true. We spend a lot of time around people and keep talking with them. This is the way how we gather information, engage people or teach students. We have to be masters of asking questions and listening to others. Let me close this post with a quote from my favorite book about facilitation:

‘To read a group, the first step is to listen more and talk less. There aren’t many laws when it comes to groups of human beings, but there is one that has never failed us: if you don’t talk, someone else will.

Recommended reading:
Killerman, S., Bolger, M. (2016): Unlocking the Magic of Facilitation: 11 Key Concepts You Didn’t Know You Didn’t Know