Dynamic Facilitation and Wisdom Councils

dynamic_facilitation_figure_1In my last couple of blogs, I’ve talked about Convergent Facilitation and how it panned out in Minnesota. In this one, I’m going to talk about an approach I’ve never met in person, called Dynamic Facilitation, devised by an American called Jim Rough. I missed my chance when Andrea Gewessler of Change That Matters brought Jim over to the UK a few years ago. I’d love to hear if anyone out there has tried, or even experienced, this method.

I’ll start with a description of Dynamic Facilitation, from a website called Wise Democracy. It “is a way of facilitating people to address and solve difficult issues, even those that seem impossible to solve. The DF’er [Dynamic Facilitator] helps people address issues they really care about and then helps them to be creative in addressing them. Rather than asking participants to be rational, hold back their emotions, stay on the agenda, abide by guidelines, or follow a step-by-step process, the DF’er encourages people to say what they think. At the same time he or she keeps everyone safe from judgment by reflecting what they are saying and holding a space where all comments fit together. Four basic charts are used: Solutions, Concerns, Data, and Problem-statements. These charts help the DF’er to frame the conversation as a creative quest to solve an issue that people care about. This context allows people to appreciate what they and others are saying.
Using the charts the DF’er establishes a “zone of thinking and talking” that is ‘choice-creating’, where shifts and breakthroughs are normal and where unanimous conclusions emerge. The process relies more on the skills and consciousness of the DF’er than on participant self-management. In this way, ordinary, untrained people can speak their minds and hearts yet shifts and breakthroughs build exceptional group conclusions.”

wcprocessThe Wisdom Council is an application of Dynamic Facilitation. Twelve to fifteen randomly selected persons from a community, town, region or other entity, work intensely together for one to two days. Usually, the issue is one they choose: it is not prescribed beforehand. At the end of a Wisdom Council the group produces a statement which is then presented to the community, perhaps using a World Café format.

Wisdom Councils have been taken up most in Vorarlberg, the westernmost state of Austria. An evaluation that I found covered five such councils over a six month period in 2010/2011. I understand that their use has now been embedded in the constitution of Vorarlberg, but I have no details.

My impression of Dynamic Facilitation and Wisdom Councils is this. I can imagine that the safe space created by the facilitator does encourage great creativity. It is notable that Jim Rough argues that, “Dynamic Facilitation orients people towards creating not deciding.” The flipside of that is the great demand made upon the facilitator. So it would not be easy for this approach to be spread wide.

I haven’t found a comprehensive case study of Dynamic facilitation, so I’ll end with this short but appealing vignette. With one group, Jim Rough offered to run a 30 minute session on any contentious issue that the group cared to choose. They chose abortion. First, the usual pro-life and pro-choice positions were asserted. Then there was silence, broken by someone asking, “How frequent are abortions anyway?” The group started to wonder if abortions could be eliminated. At the end of the half hour, they had all agreed on a question: “How can we achieve a society where all children are conceived and born into families that want and love them?”