How facilitation can lead to exclusion

I was totally thrilled to go to the first Liberating Structures Global Gathering in Seattle last month, to play with my facilitation superheros. Liberating Structures are a set of facilitation tools, gathered and curated based on a strong philosophy. Their aim is to allow anyone (whether trained as facilitator or not) to facilitate better meetings, with just the right amount of structure (not too chaotic and not too rigid) and giving everyone equal opportunity to contribute. If you don’t know them yet, I recommend diving into their website…

But in this post I am not going to talk about my love for Liberating Structures but my struggle with them – because of the productive friction that comes from struggling with what you love and because I think it is important to continue adding new perspectives and shining light on blind spots. The reason I want to share this with you goes beyond Liberating Structures, because a lot of my observations below also apply to other facilitation tools, approaches and habits.

When I entered the room in Seattle I was faced with 300 people who looked like me (kinda) – mostly privileged, highly educated, fast speaking, left leaning white people. Which made me wonder: Where are the others?

Once I started asking this, I couldn’t let go of the question, so I used the three days to discuss it with friends and strangers and together we started down a messy road of exploring privilege and unintentional exclusion, and how the ways we facilitate can reinforce patterns that we intend to break.

For me this conversation isn’t done yet, though the meeting is over. Here are some initial paths that our conversations explored:

  • Time: One characteristic of most Liberating Structures is the fast paced rotation. “Spend 2 minutes to discuss with one person… then pick a new partner…” This empowers those who can think quickly on their feet and are comfortable expressing their thoughts and needs in the moment, without preparation.
  • Low Context: In these fast rotations and different group constellations, we expect that participants dive into the content immediately. In the 2 or 5 minutes you have with your new partner, you won’t have time to inquire into who they are and where their family is from, and also get the work done. This empowers those from cultures where it is appropriate to start the work without knowing the person (e.g. Germans over Ghanaians).
  • Language and Education: Many Liberating Structures aim at unearthing a group opinion and putting it in words. They rely on participants’ ability to grasp instructions quickly and put their needs/thoughts in words that engage others. This will often be easier for those people who feel comfortable of their command of the language used and of their education, with the risk of intimidating those that need some time to search for words.
  • Above the Shoulder: The majority of Liberating Structures engage primarily with the head (rational mind), ignoring heart and body. This means they lose out on possible sources of inspiration and privilege those who are more rational mind oriented.
  • Extrovert Friendly: A typical Liberating Structures event consists of a string of fast paced interactions with rotating partners or groups, rooms buzzing with conversation: invigorating extroverts and leaving introverts overwhelmed and possibly checked out at the end.
  • The Face of Facilitation: If among 300 global meeting participants there are about 10-15 people of color, none with discernible disability. few without excellent mastery of the English language, it makes me assume that in most settings the facilitator will probably be a white, able-bodied, eloquent person, sending an initial signal of: This is what the person who speaks in this room looks / sounds like.

As I said above, I love and constantly use Liberating Structures. At the same time I am really concerned about how easily we overlook the people who are not in the room and don’t hear the voices of those that remain silent. I’d love to hear your thoughts, experiences, discomforts and strategies.

 

Who influences the EU’s green infrastructure strategy?

It’s not just about information flow and regulations: Social pressure considerably influences biodiversity governance in Europe.

It is my pleasure to share more Net-Map work done by capable colleagues. Jennifer Hauck, Jenny Schmidt and Anja Werner analyzed the key actors that influence the implementation of the European Commission’s green infrastructure strategy.

Using social network analysis to identify key stakeholders in agricultural biodiversity governance and related land-use decisions at regional and local level

Ecology and Society
Vol. 21, No. 2 (Jun 2016) (16 pages)

ABSTRACT:

” In 2013 the European Commission launched its new green infrastructure strategy to make another attempt to stop and possibly reverse the loss of biodiversity until 2020, by connecting habitats in the wider landscape. This means that conservation would go beyond current practices to include landscapes that are dominated by conventional agriculture, where biodiversity conservation plays a minor role at best. The green infrastructure strategy aims at bottom-up rather than top-down implementation, and suggests including local and regional stakeholders. Therefore, it is important to know which stakeholders influence land-use decisions concerning green infrastructure at the local and regional level. The research presented in this paper served to select stakeholders in preparation for a participatory scenario development process to analyze consequences of different implementation options of the European green infrastructure strategy. We used a mix of qualitative and quantitative social network analysis (SNA) methods to combine actors’ attributes, especially concerning their perceived influence, with structural and relational measures. Further, our analysis provides information on institutional backgrounds and governance settings for green infrastructure and agricultural policy. The investigation started with key informant interviews at the regional level in administrative units responsible for relevant policies and procedures such as regional planners, representatives of federal ministries, and continued at the local level with farmers and other members of the community. The analysis revealed the importance of information flows and regulations but also of social pressure, considerably influencing biodiversity governance with respect to green infrastructure and biodiversity.”

Guest post: Networks for Mangrove Protection in Costa Rica

(by Barbara Schroeter)

mangroves

Costa Rica is one of the world´s biodiversity hotspots. In the southern Pacific Cost of the country, the Golfo Dulce region contributes to a rich biodiversity thanks to mangrove and other wetland ecosystems. Mangroves are important for carbon storage, as they store up to five times more carbon than tropical forests which makes them important for combatting climate change. But mangroves also prevent soil erosion, protect the shorelines against storms, offer habitat for birds, mammals and sea animals and can be used by humans for recreation. In Costa Rica, mangroves are public property, but without clear guidelines how to be preserved and far from being valued as important by everyone.

To engage in mangrove conservation the Civil-Society Organisation (CSO) Fundación Neotrópica set up a Community Blue Carbon Project. Together with the local communities, mainly the fishermen, they promote conservation activities in wetlands. They recollect mangrove seeds and create nurseries, reforest the mangroves, monitor the survival rate and teach environmental education at schools and try to rise awareness in the communities to sensitize to the importance of mangroves and wetlands in general. This project is financed by national donor companies which stimulate voluntary compensations for carbon production of their respective clients.

We used Net-Map to investigate the network of this project. Particularly, we wanted to find out about the role of the CSO in the whole network. The results revealed about the CSO´s position and function that it is a multi-level boundary spanner, bringing together actors from the local, regional, national and international level to make the project work. The CSO is also a guarantor of power balance between the national and the local level supporting negotiations, communication and knowledge exchange between them. Finally, the CSO is a permanently engaged intermediary, as it is interested in a long term development and empowerment of the local people.

These findings may help similar CSOs to reflect their organization structure and activities. If you want to find out more, check here:

Publication:

Schröter, B., et al. (2018): More than just linking the nodes: civil society actors as intermediaries in the design and implementation of payments for ecosystem services–the case of a blue carbon project in Costa Rica, Local Environment. https://doi.org/10.1080/13549839.2018.1460808

 

Foto: Mangrove nursery in Osa, Barbara Schroeter

 

Net-Map training in DC, November 15-16th, 2018.

I am excited to invite you to our next Net-Map training in DC on the November 15-16, 2018. For me, the Net-Map certification training is a highlight of my year: A diverse group of passionate professionals gets together to learn and play and develop concrete plans to use Net-Map in their work or research context. What I love about the trainings is that everyone steps out of their normal work environment, so there is a freedom to commit yourself to deep experiential learning – without the stress of hierarchy or constant emails and interruption.

What you can expect: Two days of learning, in very practical ways, how to use Net-Map and the new DataMuse app, how to apply it to a question you bring to the course from your own work or personal life, intense peer-learning, and the opportunity to develop a Net-Map implementation plan, have it vetted by your peers and teachers and be ready, as you step out of the door, to start Net-Mapping.

And to make the course as diverse and accessible as possible, we have some options for for reduced fees for those of you who are students or have been out of work for a while. Check it out here-
netmap.wordpress.com/2018/07/20/net-map-training-in-dc-november-15-16th-2018/

Hope to see you there.

How to use Net-Map in Monitoring and Evaluation

Image result for images project evaluation international development cartoon

Are you planning or implementing complex projects, that aim at social change? Are you wondering how innovations spread through a given social system? Or maybe connecting people to opportunities or strengthening the networks of the people you work with is an explicit goal of your work?

In all of these cases, Net-Map may be a useful tool to establish a baseline and keep track of the social and network changes that happen, as you do your work. I have recently been asked by a number of colleagues about the use of Net-Map in M&E and my advice to them may be useful for you too.

  • Be intentional and get a baseline at the beginning. This might sound rather basic, but I have interacted with a lot of teams who were very excited to Net-Map the impact of their interventions but had nothing to compare it to. If you don’t know how the networks looked before you started, how much can you learn from a snapshot, just one point in time?
  • Put hard work into finding the right big question: “Who influences XY?” This is where most mediocre Net-Map studies start, with a question that is not quite on target, often too big (sometimes too small), two or three questions in one or using language that is easy to misunderstand. Pre-test and see if it works. Often at the beginning of a project you may need to start with a broad general landscape question, just to know where you are. Follow it up with a second session that asks a specific question closely linked to your project, so that it will be valid as a baseline.
  • Engage a broad enough range of participants, that they will show you your blind spots and give a balanced picture. Don’t just hang out with your friends and group-think. As you do more than one Net-Map over time, for M&E, will you be able to re-assemble the same group or at least a group of similar constellation?
  • Don’t just Net-Map. This is a tool that is great for telling you about the HOW and WHY, especially if you have a good interviewer who will dig deep into the qualitative discussion of the map and take good notes of it. However, for the most part Net-Map is not a tool to tell you a lot about the WHAT, to answer whether you have achieved your goals. Ensure to combine it with a solid methodology to evaluate the results achieved. Also, I rarely use Net-Map in a large, quantitative approach – but having it either inform a quantitative evaluation or be informed by it, can enrich both.
  • Use Net-Map as a tool for learning, not just for proving. As your project engages with local stakeholders, having a Net-Map landscape in mind can help you be more strategic and flexible and be less surprised by the way they react.

I know a lot of practitioners out there have used Net-Map in M&E context and would love to hear from your examples. Either in the comments or as a guest post.

How your landscape expands if you talk about conflict…

295_Conflict_4

Let me start by saying: I don’t like conflict. I am actually pretty good at diffusing unnecessary conflict and running away from necessary conflict.  (except sometimes, when I turn around in mid-running, and explode, but that is a different story).

I don’t even like talking about conflict. So why have I started insisting that most of the groups that I draw network maps with, add a link of “conflict” to their picture? Even if they don’t approach me with the question: “How can we solve our conflicts better?” Even if they don’t mention a single conflict when we plan the Net-Map session. But rather, their question might be: How can we be more successful in project implementation? How can I achieve my personal career goals? Or: How can we change the world?

I stumbled over the importance of talking about conflict when talking about networks rather unintentionally. When I included the link “conflict” in some of the maps I drew, I realized a pattern: Often the groups had agreed on the actors that play a role for the question, put them all on the map, linked them with friendly or neutral links, such as collaboration, hierarchy or money flows.

Then we moved to the question: Who has a conflict with whom? And all of a sudden new actors came out of the woodworks, quiet participants became agitated and the group explained the world to me in a way that had much more depth (dark and deep holes too) than the good weather picture we had seen before.

While I learned a lot about the personal differences, conflicts of interest and beliefs, I also learned about the history of the system, because most conflicts reach into the past. I started understanding where people were coming from, both in terms of their thinking and their family, loyalty and tribal relations. And by mapping out the conflict flows and how they are embedded in the rest of the social network, we could detect patterns and reasons that go beyond individual .

One agency or actor might be at the center of all conflicts in the network: Is that because they are mean and always looking for trouble? Or because they are standing up for what is right, in a corrupt system? Or is it because their formal role is to control others (e.g. evaluation function) so conflict is inherent in their role and will remain a productive force in the system?

There might be actors who have conflicts with our opponents – can we build coalitions, even if their area of interest is different from ours?

Drawing the lines of conflict is like adding the shallows to a nautical navigation map. Instead of just seeing where the ocean starts and ends, you now know which rocks and sandbanks you need to avoid on your perilous journey of change. And, in case you are nervous to ask about conflict when you are drawing network maps, in my experience, putting the conflict on paper by drawing colorful lines together seems to be enough of a diffusion that the sessions don’t normally end in a yelling match but rather turn into a collaborative exploration of how the conflict works.

Strategic engagement – with snakes, elephants, baboons, mosquitos and meercats

smiling-baboonI am just back from work in Southern Africa. And while I was in a specific country with it’s specifically difficult political context, the question that keept us awake at night was rather universal: How can we influence without much formal authority? How can we achieve the greater good (as we define it, anyway), when doing so will cut off streams of illicit benefits for many people in high position?

Then I found a simple solution, fixed the situation and all is well, world saved.

No, not quite. Rather, I led my participants deeper into the complexity of their challenge (identifying who the actors are, how they are connected, what their influence and goals are, a.k.a. drawing a Net-Map stakeholder map). Then I provided them with guidance to prioritize and strategize for most effectively engaging with their stakeholders.

We divided the stakeholders in

  • Elephants: high influence, positive
  • Meercats: low influence, positive
  • Snakes: high influence, negative
  • Mosquitos: low influence, negative, and
  • Baboons on the fence: high influence, undecided

And for each, there are a number of strategies to explore:

Elephants: High influence, positive toward your goals

elephants

  • Give them credit, let them lead
  • Frame the issue for them, share information
  • Engage consistently, regularly
  • Manage possible power struggle between positive high influencers
  • Build diverse coalitions:
    • Diverse power sources,
    • diverse motivations,
    • shared goals.

Meercats: Low influence, positive toward your goals

meercats

  • Can you increase their influence?
  • They can be connectors and information gatherers
  • They might have helpful friends
  • Build coalitions – strength in numbers
  • Remember: “A leader without followers is just someone taking a walk”

And, don’t underestimate them: threat or belief can activate unexpected strength -see below, together they can kill a snake…

meercats-and-snake

Snakes: High influence, negative toward your goal

snake.png

  • Watch your back – protect yourself
  • Avoid – focus on other issues for now
  • Seek unexpected common ground
  • Explore their networks: Who do they listen to? Who commands them?
  • Explore win-win and trade-offs
  • Undermine their narratives
  • Weaken their coalitions

 

 

Mosquitos: Low influence, negative toward your goal

mosquito

  • What do they care about? Can you entice them to your side?
  • Are you sure they are weak?
  • Watch out for influence increase over time
  • Interfere with their coalition building
  • Can you safely ignore them for now?

 

 

Baboons on the fence: High influence, undecided about your goal

baboon-on-a-fence

  • What do they care about? Can you entice them to your side?
  • Are you sure they are weak?
  • Watch out for influence increase over time
  • Interfere with their coalition building
  • Can you safely ignore them for now?

 

 

By grouping our stakeholders according to their influence and their relationship to our goal, we became much more specific when developing engagement strategies. And calling our important stakeholders baboons or meercats also added a level of levity to the discussion that made us breathe more freely under the weight of our near impossible task. What are your strategies for engaging elephants, empowering meercats, swaying baboons, neutralizing snakes and protecting yourselves from mosquito bites? I am sure the above isn’t complete yet, so I am curious to hear from you.