A new approach to deciding difficult issues: Convergent Facilitation

CF-logoLast month, I went to the idyllic Abbey, in Sutton Courtenay in Oxfordshire, to attend a training on Convergent Facilitation, led by the woman who devised this method, Miki Kashtan. Her background is in Non-Violent Communication (NVC), and many of the forty-plus people there also had an NVC background. They came from at least a dozen countries, including Japan, Nigeria and Brazil. Two-thirds were women.

I decided to go because the invitation included a terrific case study from Minnesota. I’ll describe what happened there in my next blog.

The method has three phases. I’ll illustrate each one from the example that we used for practice. This was about an activist network in the USA that had members on the East and West coasts. We had to decide where its next annual conference would be held.

Phase I: gathering people’s needs, principles and considerations

PIN-mediationThis is by far the hardest bit. It involves identifying what Miki calls the ‘Non-controversial essence’. It is a bit like the PIN diagram in mediation. People usually start with their positions (P), where there is often no overlap between people, but in a good dialogue will find their way deeper into their interests (I) and their needs (N), where there is increasing overlap, because we all have much the same needs. But it is not altogether like the PIN diagram. That is because if you go too deep, you will probably get to a need or value that is so universal that it is not useful in coming to a decision.

Here’s an example that came out on the day:

  • “Mum should go into a care home” is controversial
  • “Mum should be loved” is non-controversial but not useful in deciding what to do
  • “She should be treated with dignity” or “Any solution should be within the capacity of those who care for Mum” are both non-controversial and useful. Miki pointed out that what that capacity might be could well be controversial, but not the statement itself.

And here’s an example from the activists network case. Someone said that they thought the conference should be on the West Coast because it was their turn and that was fair. Miki said that in her experience it was almost impossible for ‘fair’ to be non-controversial. So various participants made suggestions to the person who made the remark, in order to try and elicit the ‘Non-controversial essence’:

  • “Is it about balance…?”. No, said the person, that wasn’t the essence of it.
  • “Is it about ease of travel?” No, that wasn’t it either.
  • “Is it about rotating the location to maximise attendance?” “Yes!” – though Miki said that “rotating…” should be omitted as that’s the ‘how’

So we added ‘maximising attendance’ to our list of considerations. We ended up with ten, which also included:

  • Make it possible for people with limited financial resources to come
  • Distribute power between the two coasts



Phase 2: Developing proposals

We divided into small groups to do this. What we did was conventional, so I’ll say no more about it.



Phase 3: Reaching a decision

We were short of time, so Miki used a speeded-up approach, which worked like this:

  • She asked how many proposals there were – the answer was (I think) 7
  • She asked in how many cases were the group confident that all the criteria had been met – 5
  • She asked on a scale of 1 – 10, how confident were groups about that – two proposals had the highest score of 8

Miki asked someone to summarise each of these two proposals for where the conference should be, and then asked how many people had ‘medium to high’ concerns about each one. Here’s what happened (I’ve condensed the summaries to a single line):

  1. Half-way between East and West, with a strong on-line element – 14 people had concerns
  2. On the West coast, but using the experience of those on the East – 6

We concentrated on the second proposal, as the number of people with concerns was much fewer. We started with concerns that were troubling people, then moved on to concerns about things that were missing.

One troubling concern was that it appeared that speakers were not being paid. This dissolved when it was explained that that sessions whose leaders were not paid would be additional to the speaker sessions, and would involve a simple Q and A. Another concern about something missing was also cleared up by further explanation. What was missing, someone said, was a bursary fund for those from the East without much money. The proponents of the proposal said that the crowdfunding included in their proposal would cover this.

After dealing with the bursary point, there were no further concerns. Miki announced that the decision had been made. Because of a misunderstanding, there was half an hour for this final session, instead of the anticipated hour and a half. We made the decision in exactly half an hour!