Harbinger Consultants

Culture + Complexity + Change

WORK | Reflecting on facilitation

We’ve had cause to reflect on our facilitation capability and processes lately. It’s always useful to pause and consider our practice given that facilitation, in the context of strategy development and stakeholder engagement, is central to all our work. It’s important because we strive to work with project stakeholders and clients so they can make the decisions they need to make about their communities, their organisations and their future.

As we reflect further, we realise that much of our work is facilitative in the sense that it is less focused on our ability to deliver solutions – which we do with aplomb – but to enable sensemaking and equip our clients and their stakeholders to formulate and design solutions. The facilitation aspect of our work is absolutely integral to everything we do. Because of this we are particularly attentive to people, process and content. Our process designs tend to be flexible and light, responsive to the aspirations and needs of the participants including the provision of any required knowledge or know how. However, we abide by the understanding that “A facilitator’s job is to enable others to assume responsibility and take the lead.”

Facilitation is an acquired and developed skill. It’s not just walking into a room and asking people what they want. That’s not meaningful or constructive and can tend to elevate expectations. However, an aspirational brainstorm can often elevate people’s mood, and adding structure to that brainstorm with strategic questioning can elevate a sense of purpose. Covering the bases is the stuff of applying core principles and values like creating the environment, setting the tone and asking good questions. We believe some structure is essential though this does not necessarily mean overly formal. Conversational and/or dialogue approaches that are peppered with curiosity are often foundational for prising open the space for understanding and discovery.

We’ve had some marvellous successes in stakeholder engagement that has been based on a facilitated conversational approach. This includes:

  • working with non-profit boards and community organisations on their strategic planning and establishing organisational goals
  • workshopping placemaking approaches with local businesses and community members to enhance visitor experience
  • scoping and co-designing the operations of community and cultural services for proposed community and cultural infrastructure
  • negotiating diverse cultural and community aspirations as part of cultural planning processes
  • facilitating community conversations exploring key questions about place, community and environment
  • facilitating project planning and shared purpose in creative teams and groups

We also adopt a facilitative approach in our work in education and board governance. The idea is to ensure that all involved are able to be fully engaged and involved in ways that enrich their understanding of the matters to be discussed. Much of it is being in the moment – so our mindfulness training has paid off – and sensing the mood of the room.

Our facilitation work is grounded in critical and approaches, such as Appreciative Inquiry,  and we are continuing to develop our methodologies and toolkit to ensure that stakeholders have positive experiences of cooperation, conversation and collaboration.


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