This is the final part of a four-part series of blog posts, related to a recent article in CBI Reports, in which we sought to address several difficult questions related to facilitator identity in complex public disputes (see details in sidebar).
Before reading this post, we recommend that readers review both the original CBI Reports article, as well as our part one blog post on navigating identity through an intersectional lens, part two poston navigating internal verses external perceptions of facilitator identity, and part three on the value of lived and learn experiences.
Here, in part four, we summarize key overall lessons.
Pre-dialogue, practitioners should:
- Do your homework by looking at the stakeholder identities and identity issues in the situation, and then thinking about your own identities, how they relate to the engagement at hand, and whether your engagement feels appropriate and credible. If you have any doubts, check in with the client and/or others in the community you will be serving. In some instances, it might be most appropriate to step aside or seek a co-facilitator who brings a different set of identities to the table.
- Keep in mind your multiple identities and those of your stakeholders and clients, how they might intersect in ways that might make effective and authentic dialogue more challenging, and how they might offer opportunities for connection. Consider how your own background and experiences might bias you, and seek to foster a curious mindset.
- Consider how you want to present yourself and how you disclose elements of your identity ethically and strategically. Consider both internal identities (how you perceive yourself) and how you are likely to be perceived externally, as well as the role of both lived and learned experiences.
- Though in an ideal world, you could head off any resistance before entering the room, consider running through some potential scenarios of what you would say if your identity is questioned or challenged during the facilitation process.
Once in the room, the following additional recommendations may be helpful:
- When you first introduce yourself, offer an authentic description of your relevant identities, how they may connect you to the problem at hand, and where your limits may lie.
- If you are stepping into a controversy as a facilitator whose external identities are clearly different from the people with whom you are working, you have to be particularly attuned to the fact that you may receive pushback. Be prepared to address pushback respectfully and compassionately. Doing this work well requires resilience.
- Remain open to stakeholder preferences with regard to facilitator identities, even if they seem surprising or counterintuitive. At the same time, maintain clarity on your own values, and be prepared to draw a line if necessary (for example, where clients’ gender preferences have no bearing on the facilitators’ ability to lead engagements).
- Consider that participant behaviors you experience as difficult or confusing could be connected to one or more identities that they cannot or do not want to share explicitly, but that nevertheless drive their views and opinions.
- Continually look for opportunities to demonstrate competence and good faith across identity differences.
We acknowledge that few of these recommendations are clear cut — context is everything! CBI’s work in the U.S. and internationally often takes place in contexts that are politically charged and nuanced. Effective facilitation must consider the larger cultural milieu and the particulars of both the situation and the stakeholders. That said, we believe the facilitator’s identity is a factor in all processes whether or not it is expressly acknowledged. Effective facilitation thus requires raising our awareness around this reality, considering its impact, and addressing it with authenticity, nuance, and integrity.
Check our blog for all parts of this four-post series.