Dynamic Facilitation – seen historically

“Namely, in really muddled and difficult situations – situations in which a difficult issue has to be solved and in which possibly nobody believes anymore that there could be a solution here at all, but in which a solution is urgently needed and in which a differentiated documentation of the entire solution process is very helpful due to the complexity – in such a quandary situation we would choose Dynamic Facilitation. And nothing else.”

Matthias zur Bonsen, Dynamic Facilitation Trainer | zur.bonsen@all-in-one-spirit.de

The goal of Dynamic Facilitation is the joint exploration of room for maneuver for difficult, emotionally charged problems.

Dynamic Facilitation, or D.F. for short – seems to be ideally suited for this. The so-called “Choice Creating”, i.e. the collective thinking in possibilities to solve a problem, takes place where a group works together on problems according to the Dynamic Facilitation method. In this process, a collective thinking process begins, quite different from normal discussions or debates. It is no longer necessary to defend positions or to put down those of the other party. Rather, participants become able to understand each other’s arguments, and they are empowered to face the other group members with empathy. Possible hurts, frustration, anger, fear and offenses, which stand in the way of problem solving, are overcome thanks to D.F.. What has to come out, what wants to be said, is spoken freely and also noted down for all to see. This step is the “purge”.

»Only after everyone in the group was able to purge, the group can move on.«

Jim Rough, Erfinder von Dynamic Facilitation | Jim@dynamicfacilitation.com

Once this phase is overcome, everything important is noted on the wall and the person speaking feels heard, a transformation begins. A wounding that seemed to make the path to problem solving impossible turns into independent thinking and action. This Dynamic Facilitation principle paves the way to shared perspectives and mutually supported solutions. It allows the group to form deep trust and build a sense of community.

»DF – the most powerful small group process ever. Jim Rough’s Dynamic Facilitation is the most fluid, powerful form of consensus process I know, which also happens to be the process behind the Wisdom Council, the most powerful democratic innovation I know. I highly recommend you learn about it.«

Tom Atlee, Author of »Tao of Democracy«, head of the the »Co-Intelligence Institute«

In 2012, I had the first opportunity to interview Jim Rough, the inventor of Dynamic Facilitation. He is a charismatic, quiet man, in his late sixties. He wears white sneakers, jeans and a burgundy shirt. Serenely, he sits on a leather couch. His gaze is directed sideways past the camera at me.

In the nineties, Jim takes a consulting job for one of the large sawmills on the American West Coast. Jim is impressed by the quality of the raw material wood, the high quality of the products, the equipment and the technical standard in production. Nevertheless, the sawmill is not profitable. The reason is simply described: The employees are hopelessly at odds with each other. Any consulting activity seems to be fruitless. Inspired by C.G. Jung’s theories, Jim gets an idea overnight.

Jim assumes that in every single employee of the sawmill there is a part of the answer to the challenge of operating profitably again. Equipped with an individual treasure trove of values, years of experience and, above all, creativity, the workers are expected to work together to achieve a result that will allow them to once again look to a desirable future. The task is to transform grumbling and resentment, envy and rigidity into activity and a sense of responsibility.

In the weeks that follow, Jim tries out his new method. A dozen people are invited to participate and together they are to achieve a breakthrough by working out solutions that are jointly supported. In the sawmill, various measures are subsequently taken that are comprehensible to everyone and are generally implemented right away. Because each individual, no matter whether participant in the round or not, finds itself in it again. The conversation with a random selection of participants seems to be relevant to the entire system and is also consistently met with a positive response. This success prompts Jim Rough to apply his ideas to other situations and problems. The Dynamic Facilitation method is born.

How does the method work in detail?

Imagine the following setting: A group sits in a semicircle. There are four flipcharts. On flipchart one, the challenges or problems are noted by the facilitator. On flipchart two, all concerns have a place. This is where the so-called “purging” takes place. Everyone is allowed to give free rein to his/her displeasure. As a rule, this happens in the first hours of a round. On another flipchart, information about the topic is written down, but the moderator does not evaluate it or check its truthfulness. The solutions are written on the fourth flipchart. The moderator has a challenging role. She has to make sure that everything ends up on the flipcharts so that everyone can find their way back. It is important to remain alert to the other person – to oneself – so as not to run the risk of drifting off into thoughts about finding solutions. Active listening and an unbiased perception of the other person’s world of values are basic rules of Dynamic Facilitation that apply to all participants.

The real opening takes place when the concerns have been formulated and written down in a way that is clearly visible to all. Then the transformation takes place and a collective understanding of the reality of each individual’s life is established in the group. This is the moment when a breakthrough can occur. Jim paraphrases this situation where collective thinking kicks in as Choice Creating. A possible translation for this is “thinking in terms of possibilities”; it is that moment when one person formulates a solution and a murmur and nod of recognition goes through the group….


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