One competency of a facilitator that is extremely important to the success of an intervention, but often underrated or even ignored is the ability to carefully design the process. All levels of design require careful listening to the client and understanding what they need, and only then designing the process. As the intervention becomes more complex, the listening and design processes become more complicated.
Four levels of design may help understand what may be required:

  • Designing an agenda item for a meeting
  • Designing the flow of a meeting
  • Designing a complex event with several sessions
  • Designing a long-term intervention or series of events

Designing an Agenda Item
Intent: Detailed procedures to accomplish a specific aim
Take time to be really clear on the aims that the group and the client or sponsor needs for this agenda item. Ask both what kind of decision or product the group needs as well as how the group needs to respond or be different at the end of the agenda item.   As Robin Parsons puts it: “Fuzzy aims result in fuzzy conversations.”
Design questions and simple process to get to these results. There are many facilitation tools to choose from that can be tailored to reach the aims most elegantly.
ORID is very useful as an underlying flow for the process, whether or not it is a focused conversation.
We introduce a number of great tools for designing agenda items in our Meetings that Work course, and go into depth into two core ToP methods in Group Facilitation Methods.
More than 50 Ways to Build Group Consensus, by R. Bruce Williams, describes a number of very useful tools for accomplishing agenda items.
Art of Focused Conversation, by Brian Stanfield and Art of Focused Conversation for Schools, by Jo Nelson both provide many sample conversations that you can tailor for your specific agenda items.

Designing a Meeting
Intent: A logical flow of a whole meeting, with detailed procedures for each section of the meeting
A meeting may be one agenda item, in which case the process would be similar to designing an agenda item. But often a meeting, such as a staff or board meeting, has more than one agenda item.
Again, first listen carefully to the client and group needs for the results that they need from the meeting. Take time to ask specific questions about each agenda item and find out what the impact of the whole meeting needs to be on the group.
Think through the flow of the meeting, using a logical process such as the strategic thinking process as an underlying process. When designing the flow, include breaks and eventfulness to keep the group energized and motivated.
In Meetings that Work, a whole session is devoted to thinking through and then designing a meeting. The Facilitating Client Collaboration course includes tools for interviewing a client and taking notes on what they want. There are also several tools for analyzing what they need, and exercises to practice with this tool.
More than 50 Ways to Build Team Consensus, by Bruce Williams, includes a meeting orchestration template.

Designing a Complex Event with Several Sessions
Intent: Sequence of topics and steps in the journey to the final result, with detailed procedures for each step
As the events requested by the client become more complex, it is even more important to have a serious detailed conversation with the client, or even better, with a representative group such as a steering committee if possible. Co-designing with the client group is helpful.
Make time to analyze what’s beneath the request, such as the underlying contradiction that they want to address, operating images that need to change, and the breadth of needs of diverse participants. Listen to the client, and use analysis tools to understand what the larger issues are, and therefore the overall aims of the event as well as the aims of the steps within the process.
Design the sequence of steps first, then design the specific procedures and tools to use for each step. Test to make sure they flow into each other.
The Facilitating Client Collaboration course includes tools for collaborating with a client and documenting what they want. There are also several tools and exercises for analyzing with them what they need.
In the Art and Science of Participation course, an introduction to the ToP Design methodology (often referred to as the “Design Eye”) is followed by three afternoons of co-design. A comprehensive set of questions for digging deep into what a client really needs is provided, and practice in using the tool.
Getting to the Bottom of ToP, by Wayne and Jo Nelson, has a complete chapter on the ToP Design process and why it works.

Designing a Long-Term Intervention or Series of Events
Intent: An overview of the intent and flow of a series of events with details on the first events
Since this kind of intervention may have a huge impact and requires a great deal of investment of resources (time and money), a very thorough conversation with the client is required, and a representative group or steering committee is recommended. Co-designing with the client group is very important.
Make time to analyze and explore what’s under the request, and the ultimate outcome that is needed. This is where the ToP Design process is very important, with its detailed questions to be tailored to the client, and a separate step of deep analysis of needs that may go beyond what the client has been able to articulate.
Designing major steps in the process and the flow of these steps is the most important part of this design. Use a logical problem-solving process, such as the ToP strategic thinking spiral, to take the group through the flow. Detailed design of the first event or couple of events is also needed.
Reassess the journey regularly with the client as the situation evolves, and allow the detail to be planned with the client as the previous step is completed. As the process evolves, the intent of successive events will become more clear, and may change. For example, a thorny issue may take an extra meeting or two to be resolved before the process can move on.
In the Art and Science of Participation course, an introduction to the ToP Design methodology (often referred to as the “Design Eye”) is followed by three afternoons of co-design. A comprehensive set of questions for digging deep into what a client really needs is provided, and practice in using the tool.

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