By Tom Atlee on March 31, 2014
Dynamic Facilitation generates a remarkably effective creative group process whose nonlinearity makes it seem very peculiar indeed.
This unusual facilitation approach – often dubbed “DF” – is built around a few deceptively simple practices like fully hearing each person, reframing conflicts as concerns, being truly open to every perspective and to the range of human emotions, and always inviting the best solutions from each and every person. I say “deceptively simple” because – like the deceptive simplicity of “following your breath” while meditating – the power of these practices comes from their persistent and courageous application. So it’s good to have a skilled Dynamic Facilitator around.
When these practices ARE applied persistently and courageously – and with empathy and faith – they produce the miracles for which Dynamic Facilitation is becoming increasingly valued. These practices transform difficult and conflicted people into creative collaborators, and thorny resistant problems and disputes into breakthrough insights and effective new directions.
The seeming magic of Dynamic Facilitation is, like all magic, impressive because it does things we don’t believe are possible with actions that could not possibly produce those results. The nonlinear power of DF defies logical understanding – at least if you haven’t read Rosa Zubizarreta’s excellent book on the subject, From Conflict to Creative Collaboration.
Zubizarreta makes it clear what’s going on and why, and how to perform these miracles ourselves. She also makes it clear that, while all the magician’s secrets are here and some people – the “naturals”, we might say – can perform them right out of the book, for most people it takes practice. Practice… and authentic respect for people – genuine curiosity about what people think and feel and a faith in their ability to find their way together in groups when they’re given the right support. These are the qualities of the master Dynamic Facilitator in whose hands this discipline is a very great gift indeed – exactly the kind of support needed by groups struggling with life and each other.
I’ve known about DF for fifteen years and I’ve never seen it described as clearly and compellingly as in this book. DF is filled with nuances and extraordinary phenomena and assumptions, all of which become vividly obvious to us in the gentle flow of Zubizarreta’s prose. The subject unfolds in foreshadowed layers: She gives us a good glimpse of a vista and then takes us down for a more detailed examination of the landscape which, in turn, has its own smaller vistas and finer-grained details. Layer upon layer she guides and invites us. At each step of the way, she grounds us both in the simple overriding mechanics of the process and the underlying spirit of the whole thing. We learn about chart pads for people’s Problem Statements, Solutions, Concerns, and Data; reflecting back to each person their meaning and caring; asking for solutions and concerns; and many other techniques. We also learn that what we’re doing at every stage is making a space safe enough for the perspectives and problem-solving impulses of diverse individuals to evolve quite naturally into collective big picture insights, innovations and transcendence.
Zubizarreta wrote this book especially for existing and prospective facilitators and for people seeking help with group work. Since many group workers are familiar with other practices and may get DF confused with them, Zubizarreta offers a section clarifying the important differences. If you aren’t familiar with practices like Open Space Technology, Focusing, and brainstorming, you can either skip that section or look up these methods online to familiarize yourself. In any case, that one specialized section is quite unnecessary for the lay public and, happily, the rest of the book is nearly jargon-free. Zubizarreta says it like it is in ways that will allow most readers to gain a wholesome, satisfying understanding of this remarkable topic.
From the history of Dynamic Facilitation to its technical details, from its unfolding stages to its proper application, this book covers the ground and covers it well. It ranks among the best books I’ve seen on group process and human – in this case collective – potential. It becomes obvious that widespread use of this book could make a big difference in the nonlinear and often troubling trajectory of our civilization. In the simplest terms, it could help us co-create our future with greater wisdom and effectiveness together than most of us have thought possible.
This curious magic is now at our fingertips.