Dynamic Facilitation has been used as a specific tool within group deliberations with the intent of encouraging participants to engage creatively with differing perspectives.
Problems and Purpose
Dynamic Facilitation, aka the "choice-creating process" is a specific form of working with groups that helps participants engage creatively with divergent perspectives.
Some of its hallmarks include:
- Welcoming "initial solutions" as prototypes
- Working with multiple divergent problem definitions for an extended period of time
- Intensive use of active listening and "we-flection" with each participant
- Creating a safe space for both creative and critical thinking to occur simultaneously, by having participants direct critical comments to the facilitator, where they are reframed as 'concerns'
- Close mapping of each participant's contribution using four charts: solutions, concerns, data, and problem-statements
Within the realm of public participation, Dynamic Facilitation has been used within group deliberations on challenging public policy issues. Dynamic Facilitation is most suited to public engagements which seek to give community members a deeper appreciation of as issue's complexity, to engage in creative thinking about the issue, and to experience the heightened sense of agency, meaning, and possibility that arise from authentic discourse. Outside of public participation projects, Dynamic Facilitation is seen as an effective way to support the evolution of organizational culture when used in the corporate context of worker-to-worker and/or owner-to-worker meetings.
Origins and Development
Jim Rough originally developed Dynamic Facilitation to address challenging workplace issues with shop floor employees in paper mills and lumber mills in the Pacific Northwest. He then developed the Wisdom (microcosm) Council as a large-group application of this method, and used it successfully within several large organizations. Its first use in a public participation context was the Rogue Valley Wisdom Council, where a number of community members were chosen by lot and invited to participate in a facilitated day and a half, with the very open-ended topic of the general well-being of their larger community. At the conclusion of their extended conversation, the Wisdom Council presented their findings to a larger public gathering to which the whole community was invited.
This initial experiment resulted in a great deal of enthusiasm among both the participants of the Council as well as those who attended the public meeting afterwards. One of the attendees to the larger public gathering was Joseph McCormick, who was inspired by it to engage in further transpartisan work.
Since that time, the format of "Dynamic Facilitation + public microcosm" has been used most extensively in the state of Vorarlberg in Austria, where the Office of Future-Related Issues has found this to be a highly effective approach for for public participation projects. They have conducted 20+ such projects in the six years between 2006 and 2013.
Outside of public participation projects, Dynamic Facilitation is also being used within organizational contexts in German-speaking countries, and the telecommunications company Swisscom has held a number of Wisdom Councils internally as an effective way to support the evolution of their organizational culture.
How it Works
The three primary public-policy applications of Dynamic Facilitation use different processes of participant recruitment and selection:
Community consultations for the open-ended exploration of what would be of benefit to the larger whole. Such initiatives often contain both public meetings open to all and small-group dialogues open to randomly-selected participants (eg. Wisdom Councils).
Policy forums for the exploration of solutions to specific policy issues. These initiatives often use randomized sampling to return a demographically-representative group of participants (eg. Creative Insight Councils).
Stakeholder meetings for the consultation and/or collaborative decision-making with affected parties. These events can be open to the public or they may restrict access to members of official organizations, government officials, or business representatives.
The participants in a dynamically-facilitated Choice-Creating Process engage in a creative exploration of an issue. Divergent and challenging perspectives are welcome but are directed toward the facilitator. This reduces the confrontational nature of the exchange so participants feel safe to consider and share new or divergent perspectives. Some have called this a "creative deliberation", as the conversation generates a full and in-depth exploration of the issue at hand, yet in a non-linear manner.
The process evokes shared understandings and breakthroughs, rather than decisions among a fixed set of possibilities. A "meeting of the minds" (and hearts) is a typical outcome, although of course one cannot predict the particular area on which the group will arrive at their spontaneous convergence.
In the public policy applications, the microcosm group will explore the issue in a sequestered process, much like a jury but aided by an expert facilitator. At the conclusion of their work, participants share their findings at a large public gathering. Usually the gathering is run as a World Cafe, to allow for public response, and in-depth questioning and consideration on the group's findings.
Analysis and Lessons Learned
By design, Community Wisdom Councils and Creative Insight Councils are meant to influence the political process through their recommendations. Their findings do not have any formal authority. Nonetheless, they have some degree of moral authority based on their reflecting the thoughtful input of a random sample of the public at large, rather than the particular advocacy of an interest group.
In Austria, Switzerland, and Germany, where these processes have been used most extensively to date, the organizers generally obtain the agreement of the political and administrative sponsors, to respond explicitly to the recommendations in some way. Given the impossibility of foreseeing the outcomes of the process, the sponsors cannot guarantee that they will implement the recommendations. However, they can commit to either implementing the suggestions or else offering a documented response as to why they decided to not do so.
At the public meeting, a volunteer task-force comprised is formed, comprised of members from various sectors, to meets monthly to monitor this implementation-and-response process.
To date, the effects have been largely favorable. Public officials and administrators have been positively impressed by the high quality of the input they receive, as well as by the microcosm participants' appreciation of the complexity of the issues involved, and their civic-minded enthusiasm. In turn, participants have repeatedly expressed a high degree of satisfaction with the experience, and often recommend that it be made more widely available.
In the State of Vorarlberg, where this approach has been used most widely, there has recently been a Constitutional Amendment on public participation. The implementation guidelines for this amendment provide for Wisdom Councils to take place on a yearly basis. In addition, for any public issue that gathers 1,500 signatures, the State will host a Creative Insight Council on that topic.
Vorarlberg's Office for Future-Related Issues (Büro für Zukunftsfragen) commisioned a qualitative research study to evaluate the outcomes of the "BürgerInnenRäte". The evaluation was conducted by the European Institute of Public Participation.
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Rough, Jim. Society’s Breakthrough: Releasing Essential Wisdom and Virtue in all the People. 1stBooks Library. http://1stbooks.com, 2002.
Zubizarreta, Rosa. From Conflict to Creative Collaboration: A user's guide to Dynamic Facilitation. Minneapolis: Two Harbors Press, 2014. http://www.conflict2creativity.com/
Zubizarreta, Rosa. “Co-creative dialogue for meeting practical challenges: New approaches.” OD Practitioner, 45:1, 2013, 47–53. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/313475725_Co-Creative_Dialogue_for_Meeting_Practical_Challenges