Citizen Solutions Forum from a Facilitator’s Perspective
Editor’s Note: We’ve shared much about last month’s Citizen Solutions Forums, In-person Gatherings InCommons helped coordinate in three communities to bring residents of all political backgrounds together to share ideas for solving the state’s ongoing budget issues. They continue as Virtual Gatherings. Today, we offer a unique perspective on the Forums from Jerry Nagel, President of Meadowlark Institute and part of InCommons’ growing, trained team of gathering facilitators.
The recent Citizen Solutions gatherings sponsored by InCommons and the Bush Foundation provided a great opportunity for InCommons facilitators to contribute their skills to dialogues and to Minnesota. The dialogues also offered all of us that participated a great learning opportunity as facilitators/hosts.
The idea was to hold three events in three Minnesota cities to invite Minnesotans to talk about the budget situation and demonstrate that Minnesotans could have a civil and productive dialogue about the budget. InCommons facilitators contributed to the design of the dialogues, served as site co-hosts and table hosts. Dialogue design started on June 27th and was finalized July 18th, the day before the first event in Grand Rapids.
The InCommons hosting colleagues were truly amazing. The night before the first event they finally received a schedule of how the event would flow and their roles in it. At each event they arrived before hand for a very quick 30 minute briefing on what was expected of them as hosts and then they stepped into the fire. This was not easy. In fact it was quite challenging and yet everyone met the challenge and did it with grace and a true spirit of service.
At each event we invited people to sit at their selected table. We had a check-in question and then a values survey process as another way for people to get to know each other. Following dinner, a presentation on the current state of Minnesota fiscal affairs was made. We discussed budget data agreed to by conservative and liberal organizations. Following the presentation, each participant had worksheets to use to develop their individual solutions – they had a choice of borrowing, temporary revenue increase, permanent revenue increase or spending cuts or any combination of the choices. Participants worked together for 90 minutes.
What did we learn? We learned that even skilled, experienced facilitators can design as they go and that is OK; that improvisation is part of being a good facilitator; that it is important to hold a balance between planning and letting things unfold; that hosting techniques can be used for planning as well as in events themselves; how much it takes to clarify purpose when things are moving fast; that sometimes clarity of outcomes are emergent from the work; and don’t converge to early in any design process. And much more.
The bottom line for InCommons facilitators: We started from scratch as a team and put together and held the events within four weeks including all logistics, invitations and selection, budget materials, facilitators and harvest. The results were great.