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Welcome to Facilitation Stories, where we discover how facilitators ended up in the profession, and how facilitation methods, principles and techniques are used more widely. Brought to you by IAF England and Wales. For more information on our chapter, click here.

May 23, 2023

In this episode of Facilitation Stories Pilar is joined by Sue Bird, who is a European public affairs specialist and facilitator.

Sue ran a session on facilitating for government at the recent IAF conference. She talks about how pleased she was to be able to attend the IAF England and Wales conference in Birmingham recently, and how it was great to be able to meet fellow facilitators and understand how they're running their business, how they do facilitation. She talks about how she does both European Public Affairs consultancy work AND facilitation. 

Sue reflects on a session she attended at IAF England and Wales about structuring your facilitation business. She set up her own business a year ago, following her 30 years work for the European Commission in a number of different policy areas, and in funding programme management. She wanted to set up a business that would play on these strengths and use the training she has received in the Art of Hosting and Participatory Leadership with the European Commission. She used this in her job to help in team building process, strategy development and other areas while employed with the Commission. She still helps them out in this way still as an “Active Senior”.  

On the topic of how well embedded facilitation is into the European Commission, Sue mentions that the tools they use at the European Commission are well known tools, such as the World Café. She thinks that facilitation is about marrying passion and profession. 

Sue talks about the very generous training offers in the European Commission and how she was attracted to facilitated meetings and realised that this was something she really wanted to get trained in. The Commission trained people to a good enough point to try them out as internal facilitators. Her facilitation work was in addition to her ordinary 40 hour week. 

Sue describes the different types of work that she is able to offer now and how facilitation links into the public affairs she gets involved in.

Pilar asks how facilitation in government might be different to other sectors. 

Sue explains that there are political processes that affect these different organisations and that being involved in politics is a very human experience. She talks about how uncertainty can arise and how there is often pressure on public officials. She also talks about when there are changes in the working environment and how reorganisation of services can happen every now and then. When change is in the air, there is quite a bit of uncertainty and, as in all large organisations, people’s opportunity to influence what they do is limited.  

All of this will affect how people show up to facilitated sessions and how a facilitator needs to manage this.

Pilar asks whether when working with people in government, people might not be able to be as open.

Sue says that there would probably be a minimum amount of openness but that it will be up to the procurer of the service to set the scene. The facilitator will need to build up a trusting relationship with the client.

On the subject of working as a facilitator in an institution with people of different nationalities, Sue mentions the possible challenge of language. She will be soon facilitating a session in French, and although she is fluent, this will be harder work. International organizations tend to create a culture of their own, and there's a certain understanding that broadly facilitators need to accept that and work with it.

Sue shares a little about her role with the IAF Belgum chapter and their 24 members. They have two different types of meeting each month. The focus of one of them is on sharing tools that educate, while the other is called a “Facilitators Studio”, where people can experiment. One recent topic has been different decision-making tools.

To connect with Sue Bird  on LinkedIn:

You can connect with Pilar Orti on Twitter

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And connect with us on Twitter: @fac_stories