In 2011 UNESCO declared that the key aspects of working interculturally are:
- Self awareness
- Self Reflection
- Flexibility & adaptability
- Relationship building
- Cultural humility
Of all the places in the world where we should be seeking to model intercultural approaches into our being, Australia is that place!
As I walk my path through work and life there are contant lessons about these values and there application in working with diverse communities. My colleague Melissa Greenwood talks about 'shifting our lens' to see through the eyes of another. I'm so excited to be working with Melissa to develop approaches that will help individuals to understand their own lens, create space for others and see the potential in moving forwards together. We look forward to offering our workshops in "Building Intercultural Capacity" later this year.
So here is something to thing about in the meantime "What are my cultural values, beliefs. attitudes and connections?" and "What are my cultural blindspots?"
As collaborations turns 21 I am reminded of the hard bargaining that used to occur to enable any kind of budget for community processes as part of a planning or design project. The fallback model was a community meeting, ‘Town Hall style’ for interest groups and councillors to outdo each other in emotive debate, whilst the silent majority walked away disenfranchised and unheard. In those days my interest was communities, planners and designers working alongside each other as collaborators, where possible, to share knowledge and respond to local conditions.
Now every major project needs a ‘coms’ strategy and an ‘stakeholder engagement’ strategy which read like a Christmas shopping list:
1 project website
2 stakeholder forums
3 social media platforms
4 community open house sessions
5 vox pop interview booths
6 targetted focus groups
7 temporary art installations
8 key informant interviews
9 language translations
10 street survey locations
11 graphic renderings
12 community representatives
The range of techniques and approachs can read like the Tantric Book of Community Engagement. Often the Christmas list is heavily weighted towards the obligatory trend of the consultation season – social media, direct democracy. At the same time community sentiment seems to swing between feeling ‘over consulted’ to ”we’ve been asked all of this before and nothing happened’ back to ‘what’s the point they have already made up their minds’ and across to ‘I didn’t even know there was a ‘have your say’ website until it was all over.” The energy and inventiveness of coms staff and community engagement practioners is commendable, but the question still needs to be asked has all the colour and movement led to an improved decision or outcome? How well informed are communities about their ability to influence a decision and the consequences of their choices? Does community enegagement become window dressing for lack of leadership and vision? Does the eagerness to communicate a positive message drown out diversity in debate? How does fear of conflict and change serve our responsibility to future generations?
The most powerful process that I have been part of have some simple things in common:
- Being realistic about what people can influence, what the options are and what is at stake.
- Supporting the potential of face-to-face dialogue to build new relationships and broaden understanding.
- Acknowledging and embracing conflict with the respect is deserves as a cataylst for innovation and change.
- Understanding that power is a constant player and the diverse interests in any community can only be heard if power relationships are managed to support inclusive decision making.
These are not sexy ideas, they are prickly and difficult to grapple with, but I fear that if community engagement continues to believe it’s own press that we are best serving communities by giving them a take-away menu of techniques to choose from, then we will continue to confront community cyncism. Our most important tool is authentic dialogue and our key currency is trust. Both need to be nurtured with care and skill because if trust and dialogue breakdown a participatory process exists in name only.
Ahh! The steam and ferment that is Singapore. Global melting pot, food mecca and playground for Asia.
I have just returned from facilitating professional development workshops with my peers from across Asia and Oceania – what a wonderful experience. to explore and test ideas with others who work in different contexts and bring diverse cultural perspectives to their understanding of how groups work. The workshops provided the opportunity to explore and reflect on the aspects of our selves that we draw on when we work with groups. This kind of reflection requires courage and discipline to dive beneath the surface where the water can get murky and often we can’t even see in front of our face. But the rewards are there if you can sit with the discomfort of not always knowing the answers immediately and grappling with both the familiar and the less-familiar aspects of yourself. For many participants by the end of the session there was a sense of satisfaction that they had ‘come home’ to them selves. For some this was identifying and accepting their unique style and approach, for others the opportunity to take the next step in developing confidence in their facilitation and for some greater clarity about their own values and strengths as a facilitator.
My own learnings relate to the importance of on-going self-reflection to continue to check and re-calibrate our work against our values. I really saw the value of this in a group of people who were willing to ask challenging questions of themselves and each other and use their own knowledge and experience to strengthen their capacity. What is your own process for self-reflection? What peer networks support you in your professional growth?
Tao Ching #33
Knowing others is intelligence;
Knowing yourself is true wisdom.
Mastering others is strength;
Mastering your self is true power.
I really enjoy the opportunities provided by international conferences such as the International Association of Facilitators Asia conference to share with and learn from others around the world. This year I’m looking forward to hosting a full day workshop in Singapore titled “The Authentic Facilitator”. Together we will explore our unique strengths and vulnerabilities to move beyond skillful techniques, towards a mastery of our ‘presence’. When we are stripped bare of techniques and tools, what is it that we access to create and hold a safe and productive space for groups to do the work that they need to do together? It is a great opportunity for reflection and close examination of the role that empathy and intuation play in our work. What better place to tap into these riches than the cultural melting pot that is Singapore!
This is an open invitation to take advantage of cheap flights and dive into an unforgettable professional development experience this August. For more information checkout the website www.iafasiaconference.iaf.sg – See you in Singapore!
Each year we gather as a network of peers, all with an interest in working with groups. There is such a generous spirit as people share their learnings and experience with each other. This year the Australasian Facilitators Network will meet for the first time in Alice Springs from 11-12th September. There is a real sense of excitement about going to the heart of Australia to get to the heart of what really matters in facilitation!
The theme for this year’s conference is ‘The Heart of Facilitation‘. Our Vision is to provide: A memorable and dynamic conference that connects our AFN community and deepens our work including how we work interculturally as facilitators.
The cost of the conference is deliberately kept as affordable as possible and this year’s AFN Conference will provide the great value and great experiences!
To honour a popular AFN tradition there will be a number of cultural activities with opportunities to eat, dance and tell stories. This is included in the cost of attending the conference!
I invite you to check out the website as details emerge and plan to pay a visit to Alice Springs www.afnconference.org.au
Join us at the Kent Hotel on Monday April 28th from 6.00pm as Henry Fowkes brings all his energy and enthusiam to busting open some of the myths about working with young people. How do we deal with issues such as power, empathy and respect? What can you learn from your 16 year old self?
The VFN is a great peer learning network and welcomes all who work with groups to share and develop their facilitation skills and understanding.
No RSVP required – retro dress if you feel so inclined! A actually still fit my crochet tank top circa 1975 – not sure if that is a good or a bad thing.
Warm air and the Autumn rain worked magic with the fertile contents of the chook shed outside our meeting room door at Ceres. The trust and goodwill of the workshop participants created exactly the right conditions for magic to happen inside the room! A diverse collection of people working in justice, Indigenous health, youth work, community organisations, corporate sector, coaching and training. We unpicked and rewove the key threads of our selves and related these qualities to our work as facilitators. As one participant said, “I expected the formula for being a good facilitator, ‘one open ended question followed by a closed question equals good facilitation! Now I know that is not what’s important”. The courage to really know and be ourselves with a group was central to the conversation. “I’ve always been an objectives and outcome focussed, I think I need to get out of my head and into my heart!” was one insight offered.
This is slow and challenging work to sift through all those layers of who we think we are and should be, to identify the things that really matter the gifts that we alone bring to our facilitation. The work is on-going and the group expressed an interest in continue the conversation about authenticity andhow energising to work in a way that is true to our values and strengths. “It seems to me that each of us belongs to the world in a very particular way, and that we learn slowly to live out that way of belonging as a faith that can be stronger than any religious dogma. I do not think this is a selfish road; I believe that this is the only authentic way we can give of our self and our gifts to others. This is how we learn to be generous. And it is also how we learn the magnificence and difficulty of living a corageous life.” David Whyte
Our professional gatherings just keep getting juicier! Come and join us at the renovated George Hotel (opposite South Melbourne Market) on $10 burger night as Anneli Blundell supports us to explore our 'below consiousness drivers'.
"People behave differently. As facilitators we know that only too well. The more we can understand about what drives us to behave the way we do, the better equipped we are to understand and serve the groups we work with. Join us for an interactive session to explore how our below conscious drivers can sometimes create a wedge between what we think we’re doing and how others actually experience what we’re doing and of course, what to do about it." (Anneli Blundell)
Thursday 27th March 2014
9.30am– 4.30pm CERES Van Raay Centre
(CERES Community Environment Park, Brunswick East)
“The question we most commonly ask is the ‘what’ question – what shall I do? When the conversation goes a bit deeper and we ask the ‘how’ questions – what skills do I need to accomplish my task or goal? Occasionally we go a bit deeper and ask the ‘why’ question – for what purpose and to what ends do I seek to accomplish this goal? But seldom, if ever, do we ask the ‘who’ question – who is the self that I bring to this work? How does the quality of my selfhood form – or deform – the way I relate to my work, my colleagues, my world?” (adapted from Parker J Palmer)
Do you bring the best of yourself to your work with groups? Facilitation is more than a set of techniques and skills it is our presence and our ‘being’ that defines who we are as facilitators. So what is it that we consistently bring to our work with groups? What aspects of our selves to we call on to be the ‘best that we can be’ in diverse and difficult circumstances?
This workshop is for people who work with groups and want to reflect more deeply on their facilitation practice. Our day together will involve a series of contemplative exercises, discussions and creative activities to explore the unique qualities and attributes we bring to our work as facilitators. The workshop program aims to focus your understanding of how you work best as a facilitator and enrich your approach to working effectively with groups. Come and join other facilitators in a process of reflection and peer learning. Cost for this workshop$220 (incl GST) includes lunch & morning tea.
For more information or to register email us via the contact page.
I grew up in 1960’s Tasmania where the myth had been populated that Indigeous Tasmanian culture had died with the passing of Truganini. This falsehood impoverished Tasmanians growing up as I did without knowledge or experience of the efforts to keep cultural konwledge and practices alive.
More recently I have been privileged to connect with some Indigenous Tasmanian artists and craftspeople who are reinvigorating and sharing their cultural practices in local communities and beyond. One of these women is Lola Greeno who has been nominated by her peers as a Craft Australia Living Treasure. Lola is not only the second Tasmanian and third female recipient of this honour, but is also the first Indigenous craftsperson to be recognised through this program. Collaborations is proud to be supporting a touring exhibition of Lola’s work in 2014.
My connection with Lola and other programs such as the luna tunapri shell project , through the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, have provided me with the opportunity to support the profile of Indigenous culture and it’s contribution to our identity, particularly as Tasmanians. For me this is such an important part of our maturing as a nation, that we have an informed understanding of the full history of this place and celebrate the role of contemporary Indigenous culture in shaping who we all are and what connects us.
I invite you to build your own connections, to look at who you are and where you have come from with fresh eyes. Identity is a complex thing as that great philosopher Shrek acknowledged, “Onions have layers, Ogres have layers!” – we all do.
There is extraordinary potential for our understanding of ourselves and each other if we can integrate and facilitate reconciliation at a personal level in our lives.
Look our for Lola’s exhibition this year at a gallery near you.