Clarity of Purpose – Streams of Engagement Framework

In a recent Art of Hosting post, as well as in his blog, my friend and colleague Tenneson Woolf is inquiring into questions that invite real energy and focus into the purpose of a project, especially at the start of community or organizational engagement, and also to guide such initiatives once they are underway to ensure the original intent is not lost. He remarks that often there is a rush to ‘jump in’, overlooking this vital first step, and this may lead to stuckness later on.

When it comes to stressing the importance of being clear on purpose, I love Toke Paludan Moeller’s wonderful quote: “Clarity of purpose is a sweet weapon against confusion”. This reflects my own experience that if you don’t know where you’re going, any road will lead you there, and don’t be surprised if you find yourself lost, confused, frustrated, and de-energized in the process. The single most important task in the initial phase of engagement contracting is to clarify the ‘why’ of coming together, along with the ‘what’ of desired outcomes and deliverables.

In this regard, yet more of my friends have been grappling with the same issue at the National Coalition on Dialogue and Deliberation. The result is a wonderful resource developed by Sandy Heierbacher, ED of NCDD (presented in October 2005 with Tonya Gonzalez at Study Circles – now Everday Democracy national conference) and Jan Elliott (presented at the Facing Complex Issues Together Canadian Conference on Dialogue & Deliberation), entitled: NCDD’s Engagement Streams Framework. Intended to assist in the process of clarifying purpose and the alignment of methods to serve that purpose, this free downloadable resource is a series of two charts that categorize the D&D field into four streams based on intention or purpose:

  • Exploration – people learn more about themselves, their community, or an issue – and perhaps also come up with innovative ideas.
  • Conflict Transformation – poor relations or a specific conflict among individuals or groups is tackled.
  • Decision Making – solutions are generated and evaluated, a decision or policy is impacted, and public knowledge of an issue is improved.
  • Collaborative Action – people tackle complex problems and take responsibility for solutions they come up with.

The framework shows which of the most well-known methods (e.g., Cafe, Dialogue, Appreciative Inquiry, Open Space, Study Circles, and so on) have proven themselves effective in which streams. The second chart goes into more detail about 23 dialogue and deliberation methods, and includes information such as group size, meeting type and how participants are selected.

The Streams of Engagement framework was featured in the May 2006 issue of IAP2’s Participation Quarterly publication, was featured in a book published by the United Nations Development Programme called Democratic Dialogue: A Handbook for Practitioners, and is also described in Sandy Heierbacher’s chapter on D&D in the 2nd Edition of The Change Handbook. It has also been used by numerous D&D practitioners to help community leaders and public managers understand their options. The resource can be downloaded free in the following formats as:
  • A 9-page PDF resource
  • A comic graphic representation of the 4 main purposes, and
  • NCDD is in the process of developing a beginner’s toolkit around this.

Masterful Facilitation Institute: Becoming An Inspired Facilitator

With my friend and colleague Brenda Chaddock, for the past couple of months, we have been busy developing our exciting 3-tier “Masterful Facilitation Institute: Becoming an Inspired Facilitator” (download overview PDF flyer).

Last July, we offered “Facilitating Wise Action for Lasting Impact” at Rivendell on Bowen Island in BC. It was sold out and a real success. Wise Action was initially conceived as a practically focused skill-building program for people who want to gain greater confidence in the process of convening, designing, and facilitating the engagement of communities or organizations. It is for people who are in positions where they are already asked to be the guide in the overall process of engagement, and to lead in a whole journey from the call to the plan for action. The program in particular was for facilitators and practitioners who had already attended previous AoH programs and attended Nexus for Change conferences, and wanted to understand more about the bones beneath the experience of hosting inquiry and conversation, to the methods, the principles, guidelines that often are tacit knowledge to a skilled facilitator.

We examined issues such as how to select the right process for different challenges and opportunities, and provided ideas for mixing and matching methods for effective outcomes around existing issues. Wise Action was a blend of formal teaching, action learning, experiencing, understanding the key elements of each methodology, of design principles, and of blending methods to achieve a desired result.

From last July’s experience, we realized that in order to build even greater facilitator competence and confidence, we needed to add two additional tiers, hence this year’s Institute which starts with building essential skills for guiding groups through “The Confident Facilitator” offering October 6-8, 2008, and “The Inspired Facilitator” October 27-29, 2008, which goes on to provide more opportunity for deep diving into the ‘moments of truth’ that inevitably arises – opportunities for group emergence. The difference between “Facilitating Wise Action for Lasting Impact” and “The Inspired Facilitator” is that the former focuses more on the engagement process and the blending of conversational methods for engaging communities and organizations in non-adversarial processes (in 1-day or several day engagements), whereas the latter picks up on ‘what do you do in the moment, once the engagement is underway, when things go awry, and/or when opportunity shows up? – either way, how do you facilitate emergence of group wisdom and dynamics? The two programs complement one another, with “The Inspired Facilitator” picking up where “Facilitating Wise Action” leaves off. Participants who took “Facilitating Wise Action” last July are telling us they are coming to “The Inspired Facilitator” this October. In a nutshell then, depending on existing knowledge and proficiency, the three Institute programs build and enhance confidence and skill at designing and facilitating successful meetings, retreats and sessions through these tiers:

  • The Confident Facilitator: Essential Skills for Guiding Groups – a three-day experiential program (October 6-8 2008), focused on the foundational level of practical facilitation theory and practice at the Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue, SFU in Vancouver, BC, Canada. If you or your staff regularly lead meetings in any setting, whether at work or in the larger community, solid facilitation skills are critical for obtaining successful outcomes. This facilitation workshop is a three-day experiential program that will give participants a practical foundation in facilitation theory and practice. As a competent, capable, and confident facilitator, participants will be able to use their skills and knowledge to achieve effective results in guiding and enabling groups to move towards their goals and find their own answers. Participants will know how to create participative environments, and use a variety of approaches to help groups achieve their objectives and desired outcomes. Participants will be able to honour and recognize diversity, support groups to higher performance and creativity, leverage different learning styles, and minimize tension and conflict. The regular registration rate for this program varies according to corporate or social profit sector. Learn more or register.
  • The Inspired Facilitator: Achieving Mastery in Engaging Organizations and Communities – a deep dive into the principles, theories, practices, and processes for understanding, designing, and facilitating complex group dynamics and multi-stakeholder situations scheduled October 27-29, 2008 the Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue, in Vancouver, BC, Canada. Using different theoretical frameworks as useful constructs, participants will dialogue, analyze, experiment and practice how to transform (and as needed, rescue) design and facilitation situations, nurture the emergence of group creativity and wisdom, while remaining centered, authentic and present.
  • Facilitating Wise Action for Lasting Impact: Engaging Groups in Meaningful Conversations Around Complex Issues – a unique in-house learning intensive scheduled January 18-21 2009 (Bowen Island, BC) on how to facilitate conversational methods in communities and organizations for more cooperative and sustainable results. This program combines theory and practice around proven participatory methods used around the world (e.g., World Café, Open Space, Dialogue, Appreciative Inquiry, Deliberative Dialogue, etc.) for breakthrough thinking, decision-making and collaborative action.

INFORMATION: All three of these highly experiential programs are designed to help enhance facilitation performance to produce extraordinary group results. For more information, visit our website, download the full Masterful Facilitation Institute brochure, send me an e-mail:, or call me at 604-943-9133.

REGISTER: To register, please download the Registration Form and return completed to me by email at

Action Learning

– Co-authored by Peggy Jessome and Myriam Laberge

Premise: An action learning approach can be adopted by an internal facilitator pool, or community of practice, to enhance individual and collective facilitation confidence, skill and success over time.

Background: For organizations as diverse as Motorola, British Airways, General Motors and Marriott, a new approach to training and problem solving has emerged as a way to stay ahead of the pack. This approach, Action Learning, moves learning from a separate activity that occurs in the classroom to one that is fully integrated into the work that is carried out by the organization.

The power of this approach lies in its ability to increase the organization’s capacity to respond to change. It does this by creating a framework that enables individuals and groups within the organization to systematically learn from their experiences within the workplace. The Marquand Model identifies six components of an Action Learning system that build upon and reinforce one another. These are described below, followed (in italics) by how each would be applied to build the competencies and capability of an internal facilitation pool and/or facilitation community of practice.

Elements of Action Learning (Applied to Facilitation):

1. Team
The team is composed of four to eight individuals, preferably with a diversity of background and experience, which has responsibility for dealing with the problem or project. (This would be the internal facilitator pool or facilitation community of practice.)

2. Focus
For Action Learning to be effective it must start with an important outcome, need, problem, or project not previously encountered, attempted or solved and that is both urgent and important to the team or organization. (Choose an upcoming, important to high stakes, complex meeting, session or workshop.)

3. Process (Meeting Scoping & Design)
The Action Learning process is focused on insightful questioning and reflective listening. Questions are at the heart of Action Learning and are used both to solve the problem and to reflect on the solution after it has been implemented.

(The process begins in the Meeting Scoping by asking Scoping questions to clarify the nature of the outcome/need/problem before determining the meeting/session purpose, goals, deliverables, objectives, or generating a possible meeting design. Focusing on questions enables the team to identify what it doesn’t know as well as what it does know, and opens up the possibility for innovative and systems thinking. Once the team is on the same page regarding the focus, the team moves into Meeting Design and co-designs the detailed meeting process/agenda, including facilitation methods/processes, etc.)

4. Action
It is essential that the team commit to, and be able to take action on the outcome/need/problem it is working on. Action grounds the learning in reality. (Consistent with the detailed Meeting Design, one or more members of the team then facilitate the session.)

5. Commitment to Learning
Action Learning places equal importance on learning and the achievement of the outcome. It is the learning gained by members and the team, and more importantly, their application on a system-wide basis throughout the organization that significantly increases the organization’s capacity and to respond to change.

(After the meeting/session has been facilitated, the team convenes again and engages in the critical learning dimension of after-action reflection, by asking and answering three broad questions:

  • What? What did we set out to do? What did we actually do? What were the results and experience? 
  • So What? What have we learned that can enhance our future facilitation skill, confidence and performance? 
  • Now What? What will we do differently in the future? What do we need/want to learn now?

6. Action Learning Coach
Coaching is essential to ensure that the team focuses on learning as well as solving the problem. It is the coach’s role to ask the questions that move the team through the action learning cycle. This role may be rotated through the group, or assigned to a specific person.

(As the facilitation pool/facilitation community of practice starts off, it is often helpful to call upon the knowledge, experience and insight of a professional facilitator, to act as a subject matter expert, and provide further just-in-time learning, coaching and mentoring.)

Call to Action:

Facilitation skills are key to bolstering productivity, innovation and morale. As a result, businesses and organizations are making facilitation a core competency in their leadership development and corporate effectiveness programs. Read more about how we can deliver virtual and -in-person courses at your workplace and help you to apply Action Learning as part of our In-House Delivery and Follow Up.


What Is The Work We Really Do?

In my previous blog conversation with my friend Chris, I am hearing that this deeper question, “what is the work we really do?” is underneath our seeking to find a way to define what we’re up to, as we offer our service in the world as facilitators, consultants, coaches, educators, catalysts, hosts.

I resonate with Chris when he says we need new words to properly communicate a living systems practice and new ways of doing things. Perhaps this can be done through a set of words embedded together as holons. Inspired by some thinking of our mutual friend Tenneson Woolf, I found that the following relation of words helped me clarify the larger picture that my work is committed to, (“Focus” would be the larger holon within which “Work Mission” would be embedded, and “Avenues of Work Service” would be embedded within it):

My Focus: Conscious human evolution, whole system transformation and change, co-creative power, collective intelligence and wisdom – especially through groups, organizations and communities.

My Work Mission: Creating effective, empowering, healthy, unifying and uplifting spaces and experiences where groups, organizations and communities can discover, and take positive action towards, wholeness, deeper purpose, possibility and sustainable outcomes.

Avenues of Work Service: Design, facilitation, teaching, hosting/leading, co-creating, organizing, collaborating, speaking, writing, art-making, music-making, poetry-making – especially through group sessions, seminars, workshops, retreats, classes and virtual spaces.

Facilitation and Hosting – A Continuum or A Dichotomy?

Some recent blog musings by my friend and colleague Chris Corrigan on the distinctions between ‘facilitation and hosting’ stimulated me to clarify my own thinking, which in turn have led us to a further exchange and refinement of views (for the full thread, see Facilitation vs. Hosting – Parking Lot. Here is a brief extract that captures the essence of Chris’s initial reflections:

“Facilitation comes from a mechanistic view of organizations, that they are machines that can be fixed…. Hosting, on the other hand, is a practice of leading from within a living system. It’s like entering the machine, becoming a part of it and changing it by being there… From a complexity stand point, facilitation is seen as a reductionist activity, reducing complexity to simple problems with simple outcomes and a simple path for getting there. Facilitators help groups to seek answers and end states. Hosting from within the field however is more aligned with the nature of complex systems, where there are no answers, but instead only choices to make around the next question, and the paths where those questions lead us.” (November 20, 2007)

Here is my November 26th response to Chris post:

Chris, I appreciate the thoughtfulness and time you have committed to attempt to distinguish between facilitating and hosting; it is one that as a Certified Professional Facilitator with the International Association of Facilitators and as a Fellow of the Art of Hosting, I have grappled with as well.

We are in agreement about the need for leading from the emerging field within the living systems we are invited to serve, and of bringing our whole self to the work – all of our tools, insights, wisdom, processes, and other assets that may assist in enabling the wisest and most sustainable choices.

Characterizing facilitation as a mechanistic and reductionist activity, however, is where we disagree. As a professional facilitator, I do not see groups, organizations and communities – the client systems where I am called to assist – as machine problems to be fixed. Clients do not bring me into the relationship as a mechanic, but rather as an active partner and catalyst, where my process expertise and experience are to serve as ‘evolutionary agent’ towards a desired change or transformation.

As a facilitator, whenever I can, I work with a design team of the whole system throughout the convening and design phase of an engagement, so that together, our combined content and process knowledge can help ensure we develop the most effective and appropriate work we are capable of at this time, given what we know. Once the system convenes around the agreed upon agenda and process, however, there is clearly a need for a neutral and skilled facilitator that is trusted by all to remain in service of the whole system, and not perceived to have a bias towards a particular group, stakeholder, answer or direction.

The facilitator’s neutrality does not equate in my mind with being a mechanic; it is a role adopted on behalf of and in service of the whole system towards its greatest ongoing good. Within that role, it is still possible for me to ‘lead from the emerging field’ and to ‘host consciousness’ – in other words, to discern what is emerging, to sense the questions that need to be asked, to have the courage to name patterns, call behaviours, and to suggest changes in process direction – all in service of the group’s larger health and wholeness. Up until now, I have called this “masterful facilitation”, or “servant leadership”; it requires complete detachment from the outcomes, and no investment in being right, looking good, or making a difference. I am willing to also call it ‘hosting’ so long as in doing so, I am not agreeing to a dichotomy that I do not believe truly exists between facilitating and hosting.

I suggest that a true disservice will be created Chris, by fostering this distinction in the field. Instead, I would invite you to view hosting as the endpoint of the facilitation continuum – representing the deeper intention and commitment of the goal of facilitation – to host the highest and wisest good of the whole. Along this continuum, the student starts with technique and method, and as s/he gains experience and wisdom, is increasing is able to act as a true servant leader – courageous as a warrior, gentle as a midwife – a humble host who understands one’s self as an integral and inseparable member of the larger whole.

To which Chris responded on November 28th:

Thanks all for these comments. Myriam, you are right I think to call me on the dichotomy. I think this post was generated out of a call to see things like that, and I acknowledge that the raw dichotomy itself does a disservice to the continuum you point to so beautifully.

On one level our language doesn’t matter, and on another level it does. I don’t mean for this post to be a call to see oneself as one thing or the other – I will call myself a facilitator for a long time to come. Nor am I seeking a conflict between communities of practice that use one term or the other, because there IS no conflict there. I do, however think that language does belie some hidden cultural assumptions about things. I am inspired in this regard by Meg Wheatley’s practice of trying to exorcise mechanistic language from her vocabulary and see where that leaves us. We can certainly shift the meanings of words depending on how we use them, but to me it’s interesting to note what does pass for “facilitation” in the wider world and to see the assumptions that many people who are not facilitators hold about the work we do. In my experience, more often than not, the general population has a view of facilitation that is mechanistic or arises from the dominant mechanistic worldview – come and help us solve the problem, make things easier, make things run smoother. You are the guy with the tools…come work with us. It might not be how I actually show up, but the ground of expectation is set there.

You speak of “masterful facilitation” as a term to describe this shift from a beginning in facilitation to the practices I am also writing about. The only quibble I would have with this is the light implication that we move there from a place of being a student facilitator showing up with tools and techniques. It charts a path from technique to wisdom. I wonder if there isn’t another starting point. What if people were introduced to this field not through techniques and tools but rather through processes of presence? If the core practice of a masterful facilitator is leading from the field why not begin a path that is about learning how to be in that field first, how to work from within fields as a servant leader or a host? This is something I am trying hard to do with the people I run “trainings” with. Can we find our core capacities in being rather than in doing? What if we began the journey that way? Of what service could we then become? What implications would this path have for learning the art?

In practice of course, the dichotomy doesn’t matter and I agree wholeheartedly with the idea of a continuum. Those of us that do this work offer ourselves to the world in numerous ways, and that is all good. We are needed in the world in a diversity of ways. There really is no language that works for me to describe the kind of work I am doing with people, and any attempt to choose words comes with all kinds of implication. I have to be careful not to call myself a facilitator if the expectation is that I will behave in certain ways as a result. And calling myself a host in most contexts is even worse, because most people don’t even know what that means.

Although, like here, it is the conversation that might matter rather than the label. Thanks for these thoughts and for showing up in here with such strong and generous energy. Chris

And to which I then replied on November 28th:


You ask, “what if people were introduced to this field not through techniques and tools but rather through processes of presence? If the core practice of a masterful facilitator is leading from the field why not begin a path that is about learning how to be in that field first, how to work from within fields as a servant leader or a host?”

What I meant about the ‘do be do be do’ comment earlier is that whether to start with presence or technique may be a conversation that does not lend itself to a ready or obvious answer. In our practice retreat Wise Action/Lasting Impact, we do both together – that is, strive to help participants learn to attend, or “be present to” in your language, both the ‘outer’ and ‘inner’ work of facilitation “as” they learn various facilitation methods/techniques.

Quoting directly from our program materials (download brochure – Wise Action/Lasting Impact) “outer facilitation is helping participants through the agenda in accordance with the purpose, principles and other articulated norms for working together. Inner facilitation is being present and attending to what is actually emerging, and being willing to change the design to best serve the group.” We go on to further help participants distinguish (and practice) these dual foci of facilitation, and provide these two lists to help clarify what to attend to:

Outer Facilitation During Event: Constantly Ask – What Will Serve the Group Now?

  • Help participants pursue or explicitly revise the purposes and goals that brought them together, and the norms and agreements for how they want to work together.
  • Stay focused on the agenda, framing questions and exercises from the methods selected within the time available.
  • Coordinate activities and contributors (as appropriate to the method/process chosen).
  • Model a spirit of openness, curiosity, respect & care.
  • Collect group results/data for harvest; display group work/progress.

Inner Facilitation During Event: Constantly Ask – How Can I Nurture Emergence?

  • Be fully present to the unfolding field. Attend to what is unfolding in real time versus original agenda.
  • Continually ask: how can I best serve the whole for collective wisdom to emerge?
  • ‘Dance’ flexibly with the design in response to group energy.
  • Anticipate and be transparent about the ‘groan zone’ or other bumps. If/when it happens, be willing to stand in the creative tension to foster emergence.
  • Demonstrate commitment to responsiveness, detachment, collaboration, co-design.”

I am grateful to you Chris for the opportunity you are providing to help clarify thinking about these two terms.

All the best,

Convening Strategic Conversations Around Emerging Crises

Tom Atlee of The Co-Intelligence Institute and his daughter Jennifer Atlee, have initiated a very interesting conversation through the National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation listserve on how to convene strategic conversations around emerging social and environmental crises to enhance how consciously our societies evolve, even as: 1)impacts arise faster than our understanding; 2) action lags behind understanding; and 3) time to think about issues — and resources to address them — decline as disasters increase. “How, they ask, “do we rapidly evolve models of inquiry to meet demands of the time?” or, from an evolutionary perspective “How can we enhance the potential evolutionary power and wisdom of conversation in times of crisis and catastrophe?” This conversation is worth following, and will hopefully lead to some tangible action on the part of the dialogue and deliberation, Nexus for Change, Art of Hosting, and 0ther related communities.

Adam Kahane – Facing Complex Issues

As an organizer of the 2007 C2D2 Vancouver Nov. 12-14 conference – Facing Complex Issues Together, I wasn’t sure how much inspiration and new insights I would be able to take away. To my delight, two opportunities presented themselves for me to interact with and learn from Adam Kahane. Here are some of the ‘golden nuggets’ I retained from his talks:

  • Sun Tze in The Art of War teaches the importance of solving tough problems without destorying the system, or ‘taking whole’.
  • Co-creating a better future requires both love and power. Love is the act of listening from a place of deep attending, compassion, and empathy – as if what is being spoken is sacred. Power is the capacity to achieve purpose and to act together. The most important outcome of a multi-stakeholder meeting then, is for people to find and commit to what they have energy and will to act upon together. (For an in-depth elaboration of his new thinking representing the last 15 years of his work, replete with case examples, see Adam’s article, The Language of Power and the Language of Love, in Fieldnotes.)
  • Quoting Martin Luther King Jr., “Power properly understood is nothing but the ability to achieve purpose. It is the strength required to bring about social, political and economic change. … What is needed is a realization that power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.”
  • We can deceive ourselves with easy answers such as, “we’re sure this is doing some good”, “talk is work”, and delay taking action until later when we hope all will see what we need to do. As long as we’re not acting, says Adam, then we can imagine that we are in agreement. It is not until we actually start to ‘do something’ to transform and change current reality that we can actually determine whether there is in fact sufficient will to act. Action is the litmus test of whether we’ve had “good talk”. The imperative then, especially in the face of complex issues like climate change where Mother Nature (and not humanity) is in charge, is to act together much sooner, learning by doing and by prototyping, in an ongoing process of action and response.
  • The important questions to guide how we design our work in facing complex issues include: 1) How can we work systemically, generatively and participatively? 2) How can we move from downloading (what we know); debating (our positions) to reflective dialogue and presencing for real learning and understanding? 3) How can we put our purposes together first then decide on our ideas for acting together? 4) How can we become bilingual in the language of love and power?

Wise Action/Lasting Impact

These complex times call for meaningful involvement of people, tapping their collective intelligence and wisdom to co-create solutions that serve the common good. “Engaging Communities and Organizations for Wise Action/Lasting Impact: How to Convene, Design and Facilitate Meaningful Conversations Around Complex Issues” is a new program that I have designed and co-lead with my dear friend and colleague Brenda Chaddock.

Wise Action is a practically-focused, skill-building program for people who want to gain confidence in the process of convening, designing, and facilitating the engagement of a community or organization. It is for people who are in positions where they are already asked to be the guide in the overall process of engagement, and to lead in a whole journey from the call to the plan for action. The program is for facilitators and practitioners who want and need to understand the bones beneath the experience of hosting inquiry and conversation, to the methods, the principles, guidelines that often are tacit knowledge to a skilled facilitator. Wise Action is a blend of formal teaching, action learning, experiencing, understanding the key elements of each methodology, of design principles, and of blending methods to achieve a desired result.

The dates of our next offerings are January 18-21, 2009. A 3.5 day residential practice retreat on Bowen Island BC at the magnificent Rivendell Lodge (download PDF flyer – Register:

First Musings

On Procrastination

task without passion
attention wanders
emails beckon
anything to distract

is this really worth doing?
why bother?
who cares?
a million excuses not to do

try new technology goodies
and blogging too

here goes….