Saturday, 24 March 2012

i-Facilitation or Open Source? Why facilitators should give learning away

At a recent gathering of facilitators organized by AMED and the IAF I found myself thinking comparatively deeply. The cause of this creative thinking was a question:

“What are the challenges of building learning capacity in our clients teams and organizations for our profession (facilitators)?”

It took me a little while to understand the question. The challenge seemed to be whether or not facilitators should make themselves redundant by helping their clients to become more effective.

Facilitation to what end?
Idealist that I am, my immediate reaction was to blurt out that people who facilitate learning teams have a duty to develop people, teams and organisations. This line of thinking led me to more questions. What are my principles and values as a facilitator? Why do I facilitate? To what end?

Sustainability or dependency
My work as a facilitator is mainly about building leadership capacity in the context of sustainable development and climate change. If I believe that people are the key to creating a more equitable and sustainable world, then I must be happy when people learn how to do things without me. My approach to learning and leadership is best summed up by a quote from Lao Tse.

“A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves.”

When I am working with groups I want them to take stuff away and to feel confident enough to use whatever they have found useful. When someone tells me they have used a tool that I taught them and it worked I am delighted. My aim is to get myself out of the way so that people can get on and change the world. Do I want to encourage dependency? Certainly not.

i-Facilitation or open source?
I remember years ago when I worked as a trainer for a charity, quite often our participants would ask for copies of training exercises. This caused a certain amount of angst in the office where I worked. Should we be giving away materials that had been developed for the charity? Were we doing ourselves out of a job?

The discussion at the AMED / IAF workshop made me think about different business models. Something I had read in a biography of Steve Jobs seemed relevant. Steve Jobs had vision of a walled garden where people bought products curated by Apple. Eventually this became i-tunes. What kind of garden do we want to have as facilitators? Closed or open source? Is it realistic to think that we can stop people from using our tools and models unless they pay a subscription to access to our (metaphorical) platform?

 What goes around comes around
I strongly believe that the more you give away, the more you will get back. If someone asks me for a concept or a training tool I am happy to share it. First of all I am pleased to be asked. Probably this means that they found it useful. Secondly, they most likely see an opportunity to use my materials to help their work with another group.  

The fact is most trainers and facilitators use concepts and models that have been developed by someone else. Few of us are so creative that we ‘own’ all our materials. If we want to build a more equitable society, the answer to the question posed at the workshop is a no-brainer. Give it away!