Beyond Content: Intentional Facilitation

As I was preparing to lead an upcoming workshop, I spent a lot of time doing deep thinking about content. What did I want people to leave the room with? What information did I want to be available and shared?

After making some major headway down my content rabbit hole, arranging and rearranging my agenda, I had a flashback. I was transported back to a lecture hall in Detroit, attending an anti-oppressive facilitation workshop at June’s Allied Media Conference. In between witty banter and amazing impromptu singing, I heard the voices of Autumn Brown (AORTA) and Maryse Mitchell-Brody (The Icarus Project) reminding me that the key to successful meetings goes beyond content. Powerful meetings are rooted in intentional, anti-oppressive facilitation practices.

Back to reality, I realized I was only focusing on half the picture as I prepped for my workshop. I set aside my overworked agenda, realizing I wanted to create a space rooted in the reality of the ways privilege and power manifest in our society. How did I want people to feel in the room? How did I want people to hear and listen in the room?

I stopped adjusting timing, five minutes here, three minutes there, and instead began to envision how the workshop could look and feel. I pictured some attendees smiling with the rare satisfaction of having their voices heard, others with pained expressions as they flexed the neglected muscle controlling their ability to refrain from monologues. That room, in that moment in my imagination, was modeling an alternate universe of fair and equitable meetings. I let myself dance around in this world for a moment — in the reverie of this new world, I deleted my extensive library of gifs related to the frustrations of meeting dynamics and stopped crossing my fingers for technology malfunctions to rescue me. This was the kind of world I’d always dreamed of. After snapping back to reality, I wondered how to take a few first steps toward this utopia?

The good folks at AORTA have begun to answer that question with one of the most thoughtful and poignant facilitation guides I’ve ever experienced. I’ll highlight a few of their most compelling strategies from their workshop and guide:

  • Rooting all meetings in community agreements. How can you engage appropriately if you don’t know the rules of engagement?
  • Weighted stack. Use the method of stack so that folks are able to speak in order, but give historically marginalized voices more airspace.
  • Ask questions that support self-inquiry. “What makes you say that? Can you tell me more about that?”
  • Acknowledge the difference between intent and impact. Our intent and the impact of our actions are two different things. If we harm others or support values of systemic power, we must be willing to take responsibility for any negative impact we have rather than explaining our intent.

I hope, like me, you’ll take the wise words and tools of these amazing facilitators and join me in a new wave of facilitation, one that gets us one step closer to that utopic alternate universe I was lucky enough to experience for a few fleeting moments.