Wednesday, September 21, 2011

What is the relation between African masks and facilitation?

A lesson about the significance of masks and its meaning in the African context.  This was one of the practicals which was done during the training 'Facilitation methods',  held on the 12th and 16th September, 2011.  The training organised by the Hendrik Kraemer Institute and conducted by Simon Koolwijk was focused on acquiring methods and skills on how to activate and strengthen groups.
Nowadays facilitation is one of the key skills professionals need in engaging people for building effective teamwork and stimulating a fruitful knowledge exchange.  Learning embeds better if people have already thought about the topic, before receiving additional information about the theoretical principles.
The lesson about the masks was facilitated by two professional lecturers who will teach religion and ethical topics at an university in Africa. Teaching is an interactive process, focused on asking questions, discovering and exchanging.  'The one who is doing the talking, is the one who is doing the learning!' is a worldwide shared wisdom.   All these principles are embedded in the Kolb-learning cycle for adult learning.
Facilitation as 2nd profession
For organisational development advisors, managers, group leaders and people in a leadership positions capacity to facilitate and asking questions is an important prĂ©-condition for getting better results from individuals and groups.  Therefore,  for most professionals in a leadership, training, coaching and guiding position facilitation is a 2nd profession.  On the 23rd September, 2011 the International Association of Facilitators (IAF) will address this issue at the conference 'Facilitation as a 2nd Profession'.   There professionals have an opportunity to get acquainted with the different types of facilitation and methods, that can be applied for activating and engaging groups.

Resources and literature
If you like to orientate yourself, on how it is to have the role of facilitator as a second profession, read the publication 'Advising as a 2nd profession'.    If you like to know the meaning of African masks read the article >>>  African Masks History and Meaning.  

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Co-creation through creative writing!

'One day a freelance consultant sat behind the computer......'    This was one of the starting sentences in writing a creative story on how to use social media as a tool for learning. With the assistance of a  creative writing facilitator from Loesje,  Faciliteeronline.nl (Joitske Hulsebosch, Sibrenne Wagenaar and Simon Koolwijk)  organised a co-creation workshop in developing slogans for the training course 'Social Media for facilitating learning processes in organisations'.  The purpose of the workshop was to identify the most important issues for this training course by going through a creative writing process.

Creative writing exercises
Based on the starting sentence 'one day.....'  each participant continued the story by adding a new sentence, following the previous sentence.  Each round the Loesje facilitator added a word, which was integrated in each sentence. The stories which were produced visualised some hilarious stories, creating fun and laughter.

The second exercise we were asked to think about five words that came up in our minds, when we woke up in the morning.  Hereafter we were asked to write down a problem, that was keeping ourselves occupied in our today's lives.  For each problem the facilitator provided us with a word symbolizing a physical office tool; for example a stapler or a paperclip.  As a following step we passed our written statements to our neighbour participant, who was asked to give a creative solution for our problem by using three of the five words applying the physical office tool.
Imagine......  
Problem:  Help I can not create time to sit and practise with social media!
Answer:   Give yourself a day off, stay the whole day at home, treat yourself with coffee and a fresh shower, use your paperclip to write a tweet at your i-pad.  So why bother, if you can create your own opportunities!

See video for impressions:


Co-creation of slogans
Finally we formulated the most important questions, which online facilitators have to deal with when they are engaging and activating people for learning and sharing through social media;
  • How to deal with security issues?
  • What to do if people in the organisation feel blocked by their surrounding system to communicate through social media?
  • How to create time for using social media?
  • How to get people open minded for social media?

For each question we were asked to respond by using creative answers providing the solution. So how about:
  • Lock your colleagues for three days in an office with people who do not interest him, and give this person a laptop with internet connection;
  • Rain, storm and wind, it is time to tweet a twitter to Saint Nicolaes!
  • Tweets are like gingerbread cookies, you can spread as many as you like!

At the end of the workshop,  topics were identified for the training course 'Social Media for facilitating learning processes in organisations'.   Participants expressed that the workshop had helped them to think creatively in language.   Playing with language is fun!,  expressed on of the participants.  One of the participants wrote an article at her blogpost  read >>> Co-creation.

Back at home I played with creating a sentence using the Capital Letter 'T'  as much as possible:
Twitter Tweets are tasting tea together in the Toronto Teagarden, telling that is takes two to tango and three text messages to tweet a  #tweet to  twenty two thousand tweeter fans thanking @twitter.    Indeed playing with language, as a tool for co-creation is fun!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Twelve factors for successful online facilitation

Last week  the Magazine  'E-Organisations and People'  published an article about the 'Art of online facilitation: sustaining the process'  in their edition Vol 18, No 3, August 2011.  This article I wrote with support from Jet Proost,  Bob MacKenzie and Rosemary Cairns.  In the process of writing this article I compared two successful and one unsuccessful case about virtual exchange in my 5 years experience as an online facilitator.  Out of this process of comparing, I concluded that 'twelve factors' are needed  for having a successful online exchange.  I argue that the presence of an online facilitator is essential to get most out of the group and to keep the process going.  Online facilitation requires a different approach from face-to-face facilitation in activating groups. 

Twelve factors for successful online facilitation
1.       People have an urgent matter to be solved or a question which keeps them awake at night
2.       Leaders or managers have an interest in social media and feel ownership of the process, so that they feel responsible for involving others.  A preparatory meeting with the key leaders and their involvement in discussions is essential.  This is one of the conditions a facilitator should set when preparing and starting the process with the client.
3.       The facilitator has the technical knowledge on how to apply social media for facilitation events, and is able to train others in the course of the process
4.       One of the members of the facilitation team (facilitator, co-facilitator or client) already has a personal relationship through previous face to face contacts with at least 25% of the participants.  These personal connections are essential in helping passive participants to become active in a later stage of the online event.
5.       People see the benefit of participation as being worth the investment of their time.  A reward at the end is stimulating.  For example participation in a face-to-face conference, a publication in an important journal, an expanded network, new knowledge, tips or tricks for work etc.
6.       The problem does not lend itself to being solved face-to-face, since distance, time and budget constraints are a hindering factor
7.       People feel isolated and are looking for equals or peer colleagues with whom they would feel comfortable in sharing thoughts and feelings.
8.       The social media tools are easily accessible and user friendly.  Media such as mailing groups, Skype, Facebook and LinkedIn seem to match the habits of participants more effectively than wikis or heavy loaded platforms that a critical number of participants see as being too complicated.  It is essential that more than 80 to 90% of the participants feel comfortable with the e-tools that are being applied.
9.       Regular moments of evaluation are built into the process.  Participants can indicate what they like and provide crucial information about what can be improved in the process.
10.   The timing is right and makes sense.  An online event nine months prior to a face-to-face event does not generate high participation. Creating an online platform discussion two to four weeks in advance of an event is more likely to be successful in generating momentum.
11.   It takes into consideration the previous experience with social media of the client (organisation) and target group.  When the client does not have experience with social media and is open to learning about their use, take a step by step approach and introduce the 'online event' as a discovery or experiment.
12.   The group is guided by a competent online facilitator, who keeps the process going.

Blended learning
Online discussion processes combined with face-to-face (f2f) meetings work best as a kind of ‘blended communication’ process.  This is called 'blended learning'.  When people meet each other face-to-face, they get a feeling for somebody else and they build relationships in addressing each other when group tasks need to be accomplished.  Therefore a f2f component is preferred in building an effective group through online interchange.  However, online interchange adds a new dimension.  People have different f2f conversations (more in-depth and meaningful) with each other after they have exchanged experiences online and vice versa after they have met f2f.  It also addresses people's contemporary needs for flexibility and mobility.

The role  of the online facilitator
The presence of an online facilitator (sometimes called a ‘moderator’) is essential to get the most out of the group and keep the process going.  The facilitator is the one who keeps the group leaders and participants alert. In case a discussion is coming to a standstill, or if one of the key participants is not responding, the facilitator plays the role of 'informal investigator', checking what keeps the participant(s) silent.  Usually this is done by an e-mail or an informal telephone call or chat.  Relationship building is an essential competence of the online facilitator.  The facilitator also stimulates participants to respond to discussions, by addressing people on their areas of expertise.   Experience in sensing group dynamics and observing patterns of interaction also is essential. 
Summarising discussions and acknowledging people's sentiments and linking that with the main objectives of the online event is another key task for the online facilitator.   This is helpful input to keep participants on track and is excellent resource material.  Capacity and know-how of the online facilitator is essential in setting up the discussion process.  Affection and enthusiasm for social media, and knowledge about the 'advantages' and 'pitfalls' of the e-tools, are key in getting participants involved.      

Conclusion
Online facilitation is not easy.  Not only are specific competencies of a face-to-face facilitator required,  but also virtual facilitation skills are a new requirement of the 'modern facilitator'.   Their toolbox also includes social and technical skills, as well as the ability to convince and engage the group on a virtual journey.  An online facilitator excels in multi-tasking.  Online facilitation is indeed a complex Art.

In my article I make reference to the publication 'En nu online' -  Authors  Joitske Hulsebosch and Sibrenne Wagenaar.    Joitske, Sibrenne and I deliver courses about online facilitation through Faciliteeronline.nl   Consult  Faciliteeronline.nl  - Leergang.
The complete article 'The Art of online facilitation - sustaining the process' you can read in the Magazine  'E-Organisations and People'  - Vol 18, No 3, August 2011.  This magazine has 12 other interesting articles about (online) facilitation.  The magazine is a pre-event publication as introduction to the IAF-Europe Conference on Facilitation - Building Bridges through Facilitation'  which is held 14 - 16 October, 2011 in Istanbul,  Turkey.   Together with my colleagues Joitske Hulsebosch and Sibrenne Wagenaar, we rewrote the article in Dutch having 7 factors for having succesfull online exchange. Read article: 'Zeven factoren voor een succesvolle online uitwisseling'.  

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Twitter! A great tool for networking and expanding your knowledge base!

Recently I have been reading the publication #Twitter works! - author Fiona Stoop (@werkcoach). In this Dutch written publication Fiona Stoop shares some hintful tips on how to use Twitter successfully for your work.

Have a goal and a strategy
Are you looking for a job? Do you want to promote your company?  Recruit participants for an event? Do you want to profile yourself as an expert in your domain?  Are you communicating a campaign message?  or are you looking for support and get some complex questions answered?  Fiona Stoop is stressing in her publication '#Twitter works!' that it is important to have a well defined goal and a clear strategy when using twitter.
Fiona comments:  'Developing a strategy can take time.  Reading and checking tweets from other professionals can be very helpful in discovering your own strategy.  Just applying and using your account regularly, will help you what attracts and disattracts people'.   According to Fiona an active tweeter is using twitter at least twice a week communicating around 10 - 40 tweets a month.

Hints for becoming an effective tweeter
For triggering and catching people's interest Fiona Stoop recommends to have;
  • A photo of yourself which attracts people
  • A bio, which describes your expertise in one line
  • A number of followers, who show that they have a relation with your expertise.  Quantity and quality of your followers are a criteria for people to read and follow your tweets
  • 20 % or less communication about your private affairs and focus more than 80 % of your tweets on your expertise and relations
  • Twitter is a medium of giving and taking. Do not focus on promoting yourself and your services, but try to be service oriented in helping people with sharing resources, answering questions and retweeting their messages.


Tips for tweeting
To make twitter work for you, Fiona gives some useful tips.
  1. If you want people to follow a certain topic or an event use the code #.  For example, I use the code #IAFNL11  for addressing the Conference 'Facilitation as a {2nd} profession.
  2. If people decide to become a follower of your account, make them feel welcome by sending them a Direct Tweet or thanking them by saying thanks @koolwijk for following my twitter account.
  3. To get people retweet your messages, retweet messages of others. One day you might get followers, who will retweet your messages having more than 1,000 followers.  Twitter has tremendous possibilities for spreading interesting messages. So start retweeting messages gradually.
  4. Be careful and cautious in spreading messages promoting your services and products. Focus on helping others! People will get interested in you, if they gradually start to know you and have a feeling of trust in you. '' You also don't start to sell your services at a birthday party, when you introduce yourself and get to know new people'.  'People will become interested if you have some interesting stories to share at the party.'
  5. Don't overtweet, but be creative in keeping your messages worthwhile reading in 140 characters.  You can use bit.ly for making links to websites, which you can embed in your twitter message.


Benefits of using twitter
 I have been using twitter since January 2011. Sofar twitter has provided me a number of benefits;
  • Through twitter I have been able to read publications and seen video's, which are updating and enriching my expertise. These articles I would have never encountered without twitter.
  • I got to know interesting people, who I would not have met through f2f interaction.
  • The number of visitors at my weblog increased from 200 per month in January 2011 up to 1,000 visitors per month in August 2011. In my f2f meetings colleagues refer to some of my publications at my blog. The twitter messages got them connected to my blog.
  • Many times I refer in my f2f meetings with colleagues to their twitter messages. The medium is complementary and deepening our f2f conversations.
Twitter works!  from Fiona Stoop (@werkcoach)  is a publication worthwhile reading!