I attended the Convergent Facilitation Workshops with Lisa and Roxy.
I teach postcolonial literature and literature by diasporic and migrant authors in a department of General Education at a college, among predominantly US-American born colleagues and students.
I recently started a co-leadership role in my department. Since then, I have reflected on the best way of leading my colleagues to review our curriculum and our overall program, a task that is due at the end of this current academic year.
I wanted to implement a set of ground rules for discussion that would secure a fair and inclusive process, especially in case one or two voices would take over the space. I asked Lisa if she had any recommendations for CF-inspired ground rules. To my surprise, and joy, Lisa recommended that the group converged on the qualities that everyone wished to embed in the work ahead. This secured more good will and everyone’s accountability to live in the agreed upon qualities/values, rather than ground rules, which, in Lisa’s words “have a tendency to squelch healthy dissent”, which is something the co-leader and I wanted.
The energy of the discussion shifted from a ‘deficit’ state in which one person will either incite or prevent dissent/ impose or resist each other’s values or perspectives, to a collective accountability system where everyone was responsible for the qualities and values that we eventually agreed upon, and, in turns, for the effective unfolding of the work ahead.
The other useful aspect of CF “qualities” is that they are specific, not abstract. I asked my colleagues to list 1-2 qualities and their rationale, as well as one or two examples of how these qualities will manifest themselves. Here is my example:
Focus & Rest: The review process honors our individual and collective needs for rest and focus, because we are more present to our tasks when we work in an environment that supports rest and is distraction-free.
Examples: The review process is mindful of participants’ Zoom fatigue and thus considers which tasks require a Zoom meeting and which tasks can be done off-Zoom, for example by contributing to a shared google document. The process considers the participants’ existing skill set (and thus real capacity for time & new learning).
The process does not require anyone to learn a new skill (for example, a tech skill), but rather leverages the individual and collective skills that are already present in the group. Process also considers individuals’ unique skill sets, when relevant to the review, and when participants volunteer their unique skills for the process.
During the next meeting, I ‘translated’ these qualities into their CF non controversial essence, and it became clear that most qualities were stated already in a non-controversial essence language because people had reflected on the collective nature of the work. : )
I read the list to the group, asking for any additional quality or any edits to the list itself. Importantly, while reading the list, I kept asking folks if the values reflected their qualities of choice, and if they were expressed in a language upon which everyone could agree upon.
I feel that the success of this task was a result of everyone feeling that they had a voice and a stake into the framing of the work ahead, and of the agency folks felt they had in translating their own experience and personal history into a public setting, in a way that was both safe (which I value as super important in any work of self-reflection to implement social change) and productive.
The Convergent Facilitation framework is a great tool for creating productive and empathetic spaces. Thanks to CF, we no longer need to prioritize one over the other. In fact, thinking about transparency and common purpose is much more necessary than holding up solely the value of ‘fairness’. When groups recognize that they share an important purpose across their differences of identities and perspectives, and the facilitator is transparent about the stakes, the process, and his/her role in it, decision making is achieved more easily and with less ‘top-down’ measures.