“Folks in this group wear a lot of hats—community leaders, community organizers, parents, pastors. When you come into those different roles you bring different skills and focuses and things that you’re trying to do with a group, and facilitation is no different,” said ICA staffer Samantha Sainsbury to a group of organizers leading efforts to expand clean energy opportunities to Illinoisans.
Funded by a grant through the Energy Foundation and Illinois Environmental Council, ICA partnered with the Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition (ICJC) to offer a training series in our Technology of Participation (ToP) facilitation methods to fellow grantees engaged in the Listen. Lead. Share. (LLS) campaign.
Throughout June, our program team led four virtual sessions meant to strengthen the facilitation and event design skills of the cohort. Each session focused on a different ToP method, building from the foundational focused conversation to more comprehensive tools for shaping messages and planning participatory events.
The first session examined the role of the facilitator, which is distinct from roles it often intersects with, such as community organizer or educator. ICA staffer Caitlin Sarro explained how facilitators focus on process rather than outcomes, have a knowledge of group dynamics, and adopt a style of flexibility, with the aim of helping groups get tasks done more easily.
One way ToP facilitators help groups succeed is through effective conversations that move participants through the steps of sharing information, responding to it, and making judgements before moving to making decisions. That four-step approach is known as ORID, an acronym for Objective, Reflective, Interpretive, and Decisional. The ORID framework is a method for structuring a focused conversation.
Another key step in facilitating any group interaction is to identify the rational aim and experiential aim ahead of time. As the names suggest, rational aim identifies the goals of the meeting—what participants should accomplish—while experiential aim refers to the effect of the meeting on the group itself—what participants should experience.
“This is really useful whether you’re facilitating a meeting or a training or any other kind of conversation where you have the opportunity to make some decisions about what your aim is before going into the conversation,” remarked Carol Hays, founder of The Strategic Collaboration Group and Campaign Coordinator and lead designer of the Listen. Lead. Share. campaign in Illinois.
In the second session, participants shared their experiences of practicing the method: “It was harder than I thought, a lot more involved and more strategic. I was really thinking about making my questions meaningful. Samantha gave me really good feedback on how to leave things more open-ended, and how not to just spring things on people in a conversation because I want to them to move to a certain point, but to connect dots and let them get there through asking different questions,” shared Tiauna Webb of Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference.
Tiauna volunteered to lead another practice conversation with the cohort on a short video on the connections between COVID-19 and climate change. Later, Brian Urbaszewski of Respiratory Health Association and Vee Likes of Samuel DeWitt co-facilitated a conversation on difficult behaviors people experience in meetings.
After each practice conversation, facilitators reflected on the experience of using the methods. Other participants in the group then gave them additional feedback.
The third session introduced the image shift theory, which states that everyone operates out of “images” that shape how they receive messages and ultimately how they behave. The implication is that for someone’s behavior to change, their fundamental image must be changed through a series of influential messages. The catch is that messages are filtered by values, meaning that strongly-held images are resistant to change. When a deeply-rooted image does change, it is often a profound, transformational shift within someone’s values and beliefs.
“As facilitators we have the power—the possibility—to shift peoples’ images depending on the messages that we share, or support, or frame, and how the process itself can play a role in that,” Carol summarized.
Image shift is a central part of ICA’s theory of change, and deeply embedded in our programs. Samantha shared example where ICA applied image shift to community education on smart grid energy technology through the Preparing for Rainy Days (未雨綢繆) project in 2015 and 2016. ICA partnered with the Centers for New Horizons, Chinese American Service League, Sacred Keepers Sustainability Lab, and Neighborhood Housing Services to help each organization conduct an image shift assessment. The assessment starts with an analysis of the current image governing the behavior of a group and the messages and values that support that image. The facilitator, organizer, or group can then identify an aspirational new image and the shift in messages and values needed to bring it about.
Participants from the LLS cohort began working on completing similar assessments for their constituent communities. “It was challenging to think about all of the aspects of the image theory, but I can see how it will really be beneficial to our team as we structure our events. I think it will really be useful when you’re dealing with adversity,” said Angela Morrison of Chicago Jobs Council.
The fourth and final session integrated elements of each of the earlier sessions through the symphony chart tool for designing participatory events. A symphony chart acts like a blueprint for an event, and begins by identifying the rational and experiential aims, the image to be shaped, and other logistics like expected audience and outcomes. It then divides the content into five “movements”: Attention, Motivation, Message, Exercise, and Reflection. The movements each have a unique focus and work together to bring participants through a process that deepens their understanding and ownership of the topic.
Caitlin presented a symphony chart that ICA used to organize an LLS event last year with Chicago Sustainability Leaders Network member Alvyn Walker and Windsor Park Lutheran Church in South Shore.
Afterwards, participants practiced completing charts for upcoming events they’re planning around LLS or other clean energy concerns. Brian designed a virtual conversation with senior citizens on air quality and pollution. Angela worked on meeting with partner organizations on the workforce development components of the Clean Energy Jobs Act (CEJA). Rebecca Cook of the Chicago Westside Branch NAACP designed a virtual community event to share information about the clean energy opportunities associated with CEJA.
In addition to the training series, we’ll be working with the cohort to provide additional consultation and support as they apply ToP methods to their LLS campaign activities.