Trusting the 'facilitation mind' and not freezing to death

Recently I helped a UK NGO with their decision-making process to choose between five campaign options they’d prepared and consulted their wider network and allies on.

It was interesting to try to get the balance right between giving space to hear summaries of options and feedback and ask questions about both, and getting to the ‘real point’ of the meeting – decision crunch time. More space had been requested of me beforehand for the first stage than I’d initially allowed.

I’m not sure whether we got the balance right in the end. It’s important that everyone in the room has had enough time to think, ask and try to understand, even when others were already there, ready to gallop off into the sunset. The horses were getting frisky in the meantime, chomping at the bit.

It was hard to help the group move from the understanding/clarifying stage, to the analysing/deciding stage. At this point it felt like an uphill struggle to get people to trust in my skills and the process; the same was evident in the moments before some of the warm-ups and methods I had planned. This raised doubts even in my ‘facilitation mind’, though I knew how and why these were a necessary part of the process of taking a decision. Despite these slight moments of turbulence, the group went with the process, and finished the day ahead of time.

Laying the groundwork is key however, and that seemed to pay off later in the day, when to the surprise of many, we reached a decision that everyone was happy with. Concerns had been explored, and either addressed or will be by the group.

There is always a tension between making the right decision, and choosing a way forwards – being able to put the wider organisation needs first without trampling our individual positions. Hopefully the Position-Needs-Interest onion – which we tried to unpeel throughout the day – helped.

I was reminded of the film Touching the Void, which has been useful in some hairy direct action situations in the past. Sometimes it doesn’t really matter which direction you choose, as long as you make a decision. The wrong decision is often to not take a decision – even if we’re not up such a huge mountain as in the film, about to freeze to death!