Fifty or so local people participated in a Facilitation Training workshop starting off the “From the Ground Up” series of local community-building activities.

The workshop was delivered and facilitated by Tree Bressen, of the Fellowship for Intentional Community (web site: www.ic.org). Bressen explained the need for a facilitation workshop: “Most people’s associations with meetings are that they’re long and boring and frustrating and they waste time. I think that comes out of people not handling meetings in a skilful and effective way … as you learn how to facilitate better and how to participate better … groups can have meetings that are productive, that are upbeat, that are great, fun, and make decisions together well and come out of the meetings feeling energized and not … drained.

“But we don’t grow up learning these skills, so a lot of us actually need to learn from a workshop or a book or practice or something, because a lot of us don’t grow up in institutions that really encourage this way of relating to each other.”

Two primary areas to focus on are: 1) to help each person feel heard; 2) to find the common ground in what different people are saying, and reflect this common ground back to the group.

Workshop participants were actively involved in activities and discussion. To start the day off, everyone had to introduce themselves to the group, with some sort of gesture or movement. Right after lunch, a non-elimination form of musical chairs was played: ‘Big Wind Blows.’ The day ended with an intuition circle that left participants on a high.

This effectively illustrates one of the principles being taught on the day, that of working with the energy of the group and planning the agenda with that in mind. Another principle was the use of “choice creation” or “dynamic facilitation”, which is about going deeper and exploring one person’s passion to bring out creative, radical and positive ideas that might otherwise not be voiced. Some questions offered as examples to help draw out people’s passions are, “What’s the best-case outcome – what do things look like?”; “What would be the first step?”; “If you were in charge, what would you do?”; and “I guarantee you success, so what is it you want to do?”

The concept of consensus was covered. Consensus is a search for unity, not a vote, and is based on a common purpose, openness, democracy, fairness, honesty, simplicity, love and time.

Participants came to build together, and left with a greater understanding of facilitation and communication, and a positive charge of energy. Colan Schwartz commented, “I came here because I’m really interested in facilitation and I think that communication is really important – it’s something that as a society we need to work on a little bit more. Working collectively really helps to get problems solved much faster.” He also noted the value to “summarize what’s happened and also reword things that people have said in such a way that the group will understand and it will help work toward achieving the goal.”

Tanya Williams observed how it was important to have “those questions that will allow people to think, envision beyond getting caught up in ‘I can’t do that’ and the barriers that are in the way… try and get a sense from them of what is really important to them.”

Cory Kobbert noted, “[The workshop] gave a good framework for intuitiveness and to address people’s concerns, to understand the exceptions of people who may have opposition to you in a group. I think it is a very crucial aspect of gathering together a community … to address their special concerns if they’re in agreement with the direction that the group is going, or if they’re in disagreement, regardless. That can be met with the group … the power structure is decentralized among the group, and an individual can really have an impact.”

The Fellowship for Intentional Communities is “a non-profit that promotes cooperative living …We’re a resource organization to help people find communities, and help communities find people, and give the media accurate information about communities instead of them getting portrayed in sensationalistic ways, and we serve the academic researchers, so we’re trying to serve a pretty wide set of constituencies and we’re an umbrella organization: any group doing any kind of communal living, from co-housing to eco-villages to communes to anything is totally welcome to associate with us and get involved as long as they don’t participate in violence or coerce members to stay who want to go.”