Our second aim is to remind you also that our blog posts and the rest of this site amplify the starting point provided by the guide, so do use the search box to find useful tips and ideas to help you and your work.
I found much wisdom in a blog post that reported a conversation between two early members of Rhizome, Emily Hodgkinson and Matthew Herbert. It ends with a challenge which may resonate with any facilitator, be they ever-so-new or oh-so-experienced.
Emily: [There is a] tenet of Process Work* that I find invaluable: that as a facilitator you are not an objective observer but a co-creator of what is going on. You are involved. If you are feeling or thinking something, this is information that belongs to the group; chances are someone else is thinking or feeling it too. Any personal difficulty you have with a group is partly your issue and partly theirs, and they deserve to have access to that information. Not only that but as facilitator you experience some things more strongly because of the way you are focused on the needs of the whole.
Of course you have to learn to remain involved while also detached in order to recognise these things and make them useful to the group. I’m thinking of a recent experience where I really felt an outsider in the culture of the group I was working with – I thought this was just my issue and not important. But I couldn’t shrug off the feeling and it got in the way of my being an effective facilitator. It turned out that one of the biggest problems that group had was how to deal with outsiders who complain about being excluded. Maybe if I had briefly named my problem or recognised that it was about the group, I would have been free-er to do my job and the group might have learned more about their dynamics and been able to work them out with me.
Emily: Creating safety is an important aim as a facilitator but when working with an ongoing group a more sustainable aim would be to help the group recognise that the space is not safe for everybody and so that they can start to take responsibility for it and to grow. For example, as someone who identifies as queer, there’s no mainstream space I would say is ever really ‘safe’ for me and you as facilitator can’t really make it safe unless you can bring heterosexist attitudes to the surface and get them transformed.
Matthew: And that very realisation – that not everyone is safe – creates a huge challenge for the group which may in turn make their space feel a lot less safe. So we need to be clear that we’re creating spaces in which it’s safe to be challenged and to be uncomfortable at times. For the mainstream of a group this is a really powerful experience even if it’s not pleasant – getting to experience a little of the discomfort that is an everyday occurrence for the margins.
And for us facilitators there’s also a challenge. This issue is the difference between creating a safe space, and building a strong container.
* Process Work is an approach with a set of principles and tools developed by Amy and Arnold Mindell, and Process Workers from around the world. Its application to group and societal issues is called ‘World Work’. Key concepts, that inform Rhizome’s work, include the existence of a mainstream and margins, and the different kinds of rank that individuals hold. Read more about it in our blog post to be published soon.
See also our original blog post, Sticking your Hand up to Oppression, which also covers the dangers behind the use of hand‑signals in meetings, facilitation tips and techniques, the role of the facilitator, what facilitation is and more.