Thursday, March 23, 2023

so long, northern facilitators... (the end has come, but the moment has been prepared for)

4 years ago, I accidentally found myself starting to host an monthly gathering of people who shared professional interest and roles in facilitation, and as facilitators.

It was only supposed to be for fellow facilitators in the Manchester area, and it was only supposed to be for a year or two.

But somehow, 4 years on, I only find myself only now 'signing out' of this role for the last time, having brokered links between facilitators around the world...

(maybe some background at this point would be helpful): 

I've been aware of, and involved with, the International Association of Facilitators for many years - and am part of the leadership team for the England and Wales 'chapter' of this body.

4 years ago, I asked the question "how can I find out if there are any fellow facilitators in my area, to swap stories with, and for a bit of mutual peer support and encouragement?" and learnt of the informal practice of #iafmeetup: you simply pick a venue, a day and a time, and then put an announcement out to see who turns up: not just IAF members, but anyone who feels that they may be a part of/interested in becoming more involved in, a community of facilitators.

At that point (2019) they'd been popping up all over the country, and always with the same format - an informal drop in for anyone in the neighbourhood who was free for about an hour, to chew over current things we were thinking about.

Now, most people will know that I like to try out new things, and challenge accepted norms where I can: so I introduced some changes to the format when we ran it in Manchester: 

  • we starting running the drop-ins for 90 mins - in recognition that travel time for people to get to a venue in Manchester wasn't always quick or easy, so the time they would get from being part of the conversation needed to be meaningful enough to help them justify the travel time.
  • we moved out of cafes, and into a library (the Portico), to reduce distractions to our conversations, and also increase the chances of having comfy seats.
  • we introduced the idea of alternate meetups having a specific focus: to offer a space for more structured learning and development of our skills.

And it started to go well - word got out, more people starting coming along, and the library were keen to keep hosting us (they have a kitchen on site with a great range of cakes!)   

And then someone on the other side of the world sneezed and our lives contracted to the size of our laptop screens.

I recognised how important these meetups would be for facilitators in my area, in allowing us ways to maintain contact and encouragement in the face of turbulence and uncertainty. All my fellow #iafmeetup hosts around the country were coming to the same conclusion, so we all moved out of our libraries and cafes, and into zoom rooms.

For various reasons, I found myself being quickly approached by other #iafmeetup hosts across the North of England, asking if they could 'merge' with us - possibly largely in recognition that I'd been using zoom a bit in previous years, so seemed to have some idea of how to make this format best work for people. And then equally as quickly, I found myself the 'last host standing' out of all of us in the North - but, in recognising how valuable people who were clicking in were finding the calls, persevered in continuing to offer my time to set up the calls and facilitate them in way of showing solidarity.

And looking back over this early pandemic period, I realise just how forward thinking we were being as a body of practitioners - in our first on-line gathering, we were already considering what the long term impacts of the pandemic might be in transforming the norms of facilitation practice:

Over this period, you may have seen various social media posts where I've shared some of the more unusual and entertaining topics we've discussed and shared stories around. We've also continued the habit of having specific themes to explore together - most of which I've written up notes from, and shared on my blog and elsewhere:

  • how to facilitate people who don't want to be in the room (2019)
  • how different physical spaces affects facilitation (2020)
  • facilitation vs training (2020)
  • northern facilitators vs UK facilitators - what the research shows (2020)
  • getting ready for hybrid facilitation (2021)
  • winning clients (2022)
  • the impact of faith in/on facilitation (2022)

And over this period, as we've been meeting on-line, we've also been joined by facilitators from the North of other countries around the world too, as word about the Northern facilitators of England has spread...  

This period has also been an age of the group 'selfie with props' - a tradition that people have seemed to increasingly look forward to as one of the highlights of the experience:


But now it's over. Today is the last 'Northern #iafmeetup' that I'll host.

I've not stopped hosting this group because I've had enough of my fellow facilitators, but rather because as IAF England and Wales, we've been re-thinking what we do, how, and why - and as part of this we feel it would be prudent to rationalise the on-line meetups to a monthly event (as it was before 2020). This will also see a wider group of people facilitating these calls to widen experiences and opportunities. Which means that I may be making guest hosting appearances in the future...!

If you were ever part of a Manchester/Northern #iafmeetup call over the last 4 years - thank you for turning up and sharing your time (and props!). I hope you took things from the conversations that were by turn encouraging, constructive, and challenging; in helping to enhance your skills and confidence both as a facilitator, and a fellow human being.

Hopefully I'll see you all again at some point in the future #iafmeetup calls (you can check out the dates and booking links over on eventbrite) - so while this is an end of sorts, the moment has been prepared for, so that there'll be a continuation of them in a new form...

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