A Facilitation Bull’s-Eye: Deep Engagement and Ideas That Inform Strategy

Thursday, October 30th, 2014

I recently returned from the American Evaluation Association’s annual conference in Denver, where I co-facilitated a World Café conversation with my colleagues Rita Fierro and Dawn Hanson Smart. The theme of this year’s conference was visionary evaluation for a sustainable, equitable future. To help unpack this theme and give voice to the myriad of ideas, opinions, and experiences present at the conference, we designed a community conversation with two rounds of questions:

1. What does a sustainable, equitable world look like to you?

2. How can evaluation support that vision?

The conversation within each small group was lively and passionate. Participants weighed in on the importance of evaluators going beyond a traditionally conceptualized role of impartial outsider to being advocates and storytellers with and for the communities they are a part of or represent. This theme of evaluation as community-based intervention was echoed throughout various other sessions during the conference, as well.

In true evaluator fashion, we also conducted a quick pre-test, post-test survey. We asked just one open-ended question to get a sense of how participants had benefited from talking with one another.  Prior to engaging in conversation, most participants looked forward to exploring the conference’s theme and gaining inspiration and insight. Some respondents expressed interest in understanding more about the World Cafe process itself. Following the conversation, participants responded with more detail about what they had gained, notably a broader conceptualization of the role of evaluators as community-serving storytellers and change makers.

Interestingly, no participants mentioned they had learned more about the World Café process.  As I reflected on this, I wondered if it meant that everyone was so engaged with the topic being discussed that they lost sight of their original primary interest in learning more about the methods used to elicit that participation. There’s no way of knowing this, of course, but I certainly noted the high level of involvement around each table, with participants leaning in, taking notes together, nodding heads, and developing a collective vision.

It’s a Facilitation Bull’s-Eye.  The ideas generated during the World Café have legs, as well, as they informed a final session at the conference and will continue to be drawn upon, moving forward. Deep engagement with the topic at hand. Ideas that inform strategy. These seem to me to be some of the best outcomes one can hope for when you go to the trouble of bringing your group together.

What if you need help in getting your group or organization to move forward?

Talk to me. I can help you to…

  • Articulate the underlying goals for your group,
  • Identify who should be included at every step of the design process,
  • Develop questions that will help surface the complexity underlying your issues and drive you towards solutions,
  • Design and customize inclusive conversational structures and strategy processes,
  • Provide a warm and welcoming presence, and
  • Determine what your next steps are for moving forward.


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