In last month's newsletter we asked if any of you had come across specific problems whilst engaging or consulting with stakeholders. We received the following response;
We ran a workshop designed to engage a range of stakeholders. The facilitator was an expert in the field and there was a good mixture of presentations and discussion after them, and we expected the day to produce some really useful feedback. But when we really studied it, there was nothing much we did not already know and very little we could use. Where did we go wrong?
[Name and organisation withheld]
I fear this is a not unusual experience. There are three points worth making based on the limited information you supplied.
1. It sounds as if what you ran was a seminar or a conference more than a workshop. A workshop should be, as the name implies, an event during which the participants do some work. If you have presentations you create the expectation that their role is passive - receiving information and reacting to it rather than being proactive - and of course you are reducing the time available for them to work.
2. A facilitator expert in the field can be very useful, especially if the issues are technically complex. The problem with using experts to run the process though is that they are exactly that - content not process experts. The primary expertise a facilitator needs is in facilitating. If content expertise is also important, use an expert to work with the facilitator, or send the expert on a facilitation course. The problem with the latter, however, is that it is very difficult for any expert to achieve the detachment from the content that a facilitator needs.
3. Thirdly, the role of the facilitator does not begin and end with running a meeting. A professional facilitator will help you identify exactly what your meeting needs to achieve and then work with you to devise a process that will achieve it. My guess is that you were unclear about what your meeting was really intended to achieve. Sometimes a good discussion is an end in itself, but if you want to end up with something more than that then you need a process designed to create it. As in any aspect of life, if you do not know where you are going it is very hard to get there.
We are keen to hear more of your experiences, if you would like a problem featured in subsequent newsletters send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A look under the surface of a public consultation: Part 5/5 - Publication
By Remco van der Stoep
FEATURED CASE STUDY
A two-year project testing ways to cut emissions at the community level.
Dialogue Designer is a free tool which offers guidance in choosing the best engagement process for any given task.