The latest issue of the Knowledge Management for Development Journal (May 2015) is dedicated to: “Facilitation for development. Concepts, practices and approaches to share, learn and improve outcomes for societal development, based in the experience of knowledge management for development practitioners.”

In the case study ‘Group facilitation: Experiences and lessons from international agricultural research organizations’, Simone Staiger-Rivas, Ewen Le Borgne, Michael Victor, Juergen Hagmann, Cristina Sette and Petr Kosina put their collective experience as well as results from a survey and follow-up interviews into an overview of group facilitation at CGIAR over a 10-year period, thereby reflecting on how the practice of event facilitation has evolved as to spread onto much wider processes of engagement.

Download the case study here:

Key elements of the case study

CGIAR’s interest in facilitation has resulted from three major trends described below.

1. Increased development focus
2. Increased impact focus
3. Growing desire for better knowledge sharing

Facilitation can profoundly change the way people think, work, and make decisions together.

The survey, interviews with facilitators and scientists, as well as the authors’ experience all underline a growing demand for “effective’ meetings”. Based on those enquiries, the authors suggest that new expectations can be met if the meeting organizer and facilitator can deliver on six imperatives: (1) being equipped with theory and tools, (2) co-designing a coherent process that leads to the desired outcomes, (3) finding common ground, (4) facilitating online, (5) creating and maintaining stakeholder bonds, and (6) accelerating change by facilitating wider and deeper (social learning) processes.

The tendency in CGIAR toward increased facilitation in meetings and events is likely to continue, as the CGIAR research agenda becomes steadily more complex and multi-stakeholder consultations multiply at every level, from the grassroots to global arenas. The meetings will involve more and more diverse people, and will create new demands for external and in-house facilitators, while also requiring other professionals to acquire expertise in facilitation basics.

It becomes therefore essential to move towards facilitation that supports longer term processes. The efforts to bring “process literacy” to the next level will help maximize the skills we have built over time and they will help us get away from patchy results to institutionalizing facilitation.

How to position facilitation strategically?

Some facilitators would like to see more capacity development, knowledge exchange, and learning among facilitators, so they can learn new techniques (such as the use of body language and graphic facilitation) and gain incentives to grow professionally. No CGIAR network of facilitators exists to provide such opportunities for individual and collective efforts to organize information, share knowledge, promote learning, with the aim of moving facilitation beyond random events. According to the survey, most in-house facilitators do not have this activity in their terms of reference, which helps explain why facilitation is often seen as a well-liked add-on instead of a strategic tool for achieving sensible and participatory decision-making.

A senior consultant-facilitator expresses his concern about the slow progress in positioning facilitation strategically in CGIAR. “As much as CGIAR has been talking about partnership, he says, it is striking how little is happening on the ground around facilitation skills. While CGIAR staff understand the rhetoric of collaboration much more clearly today– they know that if you don’t involve farmers in the technology, there’s no point for the technology—it is surprising how little is invested in the skills that are required for successful collaboration. How can it be that it’s not part of their job description?”

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