It’s interesting how I’ve found myself drawn into discussion lately around the difficulties of facilitating engineers and scientists. If facilitating engineers and scientists is difficult, imagine then, the challenge of how to educate, train and inform engineers and scientists on ‘how to be more facilitative’. With many organisations now developing communities of practice to meet strategic knowledge management objectives such demands on scientific and engineering staff may be more common than you think. Given that ‘being facilitative’ is one of the requirements for successfully nurturing and developing communities of practice, how does one go about about being facilitative?
Of course, nothing is impossible. Scientists and engineers are at a disadvantage though. The big disadvantage I see is that scientists and engineers often live in fear of (publicly) asking stupid questions. When you have spent most of your life training to be ‘a problem solver’ or to ‘have the answer’ some light is shed on the problem of being facilitative. Being facilitative requires one to often ask what appears to be stupid questions, maybe even naive questions. At least I think so. If you’ve spent alot of your time, training and effort, being the one to answer questions, how hard is it going to be for you to ask “what do others think?”.
I think that being facilitative requires one to be happy with not knowing and yet maintain the desire to know. For group sensemaking this is a critical insight. If the facilitator is willing to live with the uncertainty of not knowing, which by the way is where you will find yourself spending alot of time as a facilitator, the group will find itself getting to better outcomes. Being happy with not knowing yet maintaining the desire to know sets up a great precondition for sensemaking. Dissonance. For a scientist and engineer who might presume to know, the possibility for group sensemaking immediately starts to close down.
As we have been finding from our reflective practice on language in facilitation, language is something which emerges from a mindset and there definitely appears to be a mindset which goes along with ‘being facilitative’. I’ve blogged before about what I think are foundational elements for facilitation, many of these reflect this mindset element.
Facilitation is more than just finding some great processes like you might at the citizen science toolbox and applying them. Though this is a great place to start. Facilitation is something you have to get your hands dirty with to learn. Action learning if you will. Once you start you will soon learn the power of empathy, asking stupid questions and laughing at yourself along the way.
About Andrew Rixon
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