Some years ago, the new dean of a university education department decided they wanted to do a strategic planning process that involved students, faculty, administration, and staff – hundreds of people. Twenty focus groups generated values and vision elements, which were then drawn together by a representative group to make one comprehensive values statement and one overall vision. Then focus groups articulated underlying obstacles and strategies, which were again drawn together into comprehensive results. Finally, action planning teams planned how to implement each strategy, and everything was pulled together into a written plan, supported by all stakeholders in the department. This process took 6 months, after which the new dean was able to say, “this is what I will do, because the whole department wants it”.
Managing multi-session events has not only a facilitation element in it, but also a project management element. Multi-session events may be made up of several sessions over a day or two, or sometimes they are over a year or more. Sometimes there are several short online sessions with breaks in between. And sometimes there are sessions with different groups on the same topic with a plenary to pull together the results into a whole process. Sometimes a multi-session intervention may include more than one of these!
After you have had an in-depth conversation with your client and clarified the needed results (as we talked about in the last newsletters), it is important to think through the journey the group needs to take to get to the results. There are usually logical stages, which can be accomplished in separate sessions. For example, an early session can make sure important information is shared and understood, followed by another session where the group explores the implications of the situation, and a third where the group creates solutions that they can carry out. There is a journey of understanding that unfolds piece by piece. Planning this journey carefully will keep motivation up and evoke trust commitment to the results.
When you are planning the journey, there are several things that will help keep the focus clear.
• Articulate and write out the aims or kinds of outcomes intended for the whole process and for each of the sessions. Include both the rational aim, the product or decision the group needs to make, and the experiential or existential aim, how the group will be different at the end. Each aim for a session should build on the one before and lead toward the final outcome.
• Try a model of the flow of the events. The accompanying article gives some metaphors for flow, to inspire you.
• While you are focusing on the continuity of the journey, also keep an eye on making each session unique with different methods, to prevent monotony and keep interest.
• Think about sharing facilitation with another person, so that the group has different styles to respond to.
• Document each session and make sure every participant has the results to build on for the next session.
• Build in group reflection at the end of every session and at the end. The group reflections can let you know how the group is progressing.
• Review your plans after each session and adapt your plans as you go to address the group’s needs.