Sunday, 18 November 2007

different kinds of facilitation?

I've just facilitated a four-way (Washington, London, Berlin, Melbourne) PBI conference call by telephone, using concensus. It was pretty productive, we were all calm despite the fact that three of us disagreed pretty strongly with the fourth. We didn't come to a final position (we weren't meant to; awaiting more information tomorrow) but have another call scheduled for Wednesday. Yes, consensus can be time-heavy. And expensive!

But it did strike me that maybe one of things we didn't address yesterday (perhaps because we are going to do it next month?!) is that between us we were trying to practice (and be practiced on by) two different kinds of facilitation.

One is that of (training) exercises, where for the most part we are directive in the structure of the exercise, but neutral on the content - that what people say doesn't really matter to the facilitator, it's just their job to facilitate the space to enable people to say it. This kind of facilitation has its own guidelines.

The second is that of facilitating a concensus meeting, in which often (always in my experience but I recognise a 'neutral' facilitor could be drafted in) the facilitator has an opinion on the issue under consideration. This is good, fine, and in the cases the group often choses the facilitator to a greater extent than they do in exercise-facilitation (again, in my experience). And while there are rules of this kind of facilitation, as well as guidelines, techniques, etc, and the process is structured, the outcome is not. The facilitator does not know (and must not know) where s/he is taking the group - because it is not the facilitator taking the group anyway. It is the group going somewhere, and the facilitator is just one member of that group, albeit at this point in time having an additional role.

Does that distinction resonate with anyone?

And if so, which kind is TTT focussed on? My suspicion would be that as RPs we are primarily supposed to be able to do the first (exercise-facilitation) very well, and that if we can do the second (meeting-facilitation) that's an added bonus. Clearly there is a skill-overlap, but...

.. and even in writing that, I'm not sure I have got it right. Is there a better way of defining our field?

Friday, 16 November 2007

Maybe ....

Maybe. When Rachel suggested using the leaves at AWE to write out 'Maybe' as our act of protest/expression of hope/creative query, I could understand her thinking (I think).

And for me, the word was good enough, though it didn't particularly resonate with me, I had no nagging doubt or debate. But over the week I've thought a lot more about 'maybe' and bells are beginning to chime.

'Maybe' is not 'no' or 'yes' it's maybe ... when nothing is certain, everything is possible. It's the thrill of discovery, the satisfaction of knowing you were right, and the opportunity to sit back, undo your assumptions, look and learn. What a rich word.

And what a rich and inspiring RP gathering at Douai Abbey. Report to follow soon along with more fotos.

Circles of Empowerment

Sorry that my first posting here is a bit of a whopper - I did it a little while ago, but it seems relevant to conversations we've been having lately.....

Circles of Empowerment

Power matters. Power is what drives social change, good and bad. More subtly, though, empowerment in itself leads directly to personal and community well-being. The sense of being in control of our lives, in a healthy relationship with our community, able to direct the energy which flows through us to achievable goals, is one of the main thing that enables us to be happy.

Where this is flowing well, it can lead to a virtuous circle, as suggested in the picture, where personal and community empowerment drives positive social change, and this positive change itself enables more empowerment. Unfortunately, in many ways, most of us feel profoundly dis-empowered, and many factors in our society combine to keep us that way. However, there are plenty of good models of empowerment and plenty of government rhetoric about personal and community empowerment - opportunities to be seized at least.

In this discussion, I want to ask the question:
How can we cultivate a situation where personal, community and global levels of empowerment reinforce each other, following a positive model of power - cooperative and compassionate, rather than oppressive?
I don’t have the answer, but I’ll point out a few positive models, which have the potential to fit together, and I hope this will stimulate thought.

1. Personal empowerment: our psychological conditioning
Most of us, having “un-learned” power to varying degrees in our childhood, need to learn to develop our power. We need to develop the tools and techniques of exercising power in a positive way, but also the belief, and experience, that our actions can have an effect on society around us.

Paulo Freire - who regards empowerment as being necessary for successful learning - talks about 3 levels of consciousness [i]. As described by Heaney [ii], these are :
- Semi-intransitive consciousness is the state of those whose sphere of perception is limited, to the demands of day-to-day life, and who are impermeable to challenges situated outside these demands. (It seems to me that most of the population are like this, most of the time, in our current society.)
- "naive transitivity." Freire characterizes this stage of consciousness by an over-simplification of problems, nostalgia for the past, an underestimation of ordinary people, a strong tendency to gregariousness, a disinterest in investigation, a fascination with fanciful explanations of reality, and by the practice of polemics rather than dialogue. (Sounds like Freire was familiar with party political meetings!)
- "Critical transitivity." This stage is characterized by depth in the interpretation of problems, by testing one's own findings and openness to revision and reconstruction, by the attempt to avoid distortion when perceiving problems and to avoid preconceived notions when analyzing them, by rejecting passivity, by the practice of dialogue rather than polemics, by receptivity to the new without rejecting the old, and by permeable, interrogative, restless, and dialogical forms of life.

The concept of “dialogue” is important to Freire: a multi-faceted dialogue, where we have the skills to engage with many others: on “our side” and “the opposition”: listening and intervening effectively. This is relevant to the idea of webs of power, which we will come on to.

There are techniques to support “dialogue” and empowerment. One example is “deep democracy” To quote Wilson [iii]:
“Imagine how the following three habits, if embedded in the culture, could build the basis for deep democracy:
- the habit of listening to understand the “other” before advocating a position
- the habit of reflecting on, and revealing, one’s own assumptions and values
- the habit of sensing together the emergent future of the whole organism or field.”

2. Community Development
Individual empowerment is intimately linked with empowerment of one’s community or social group. Illich [iv] (amongst others) has criticised the way that social initiatives which purport to help communities can end up becoming - at least partially - “part of the problem”. They often come to serve the needs of the professionals and the power-holders, and (perhaps unconsciously) act to “keep people in their place”.

The approach known (rather inelegantly) as asset-based community development (ABCD) [v] has developed an alternative methodology, and a detailed set of tools for an empowering approach.

Many community development initiatives start by identifying a set of problems or deficits in a community, which need to be “put right” through interventions from outside. (x% illiteracy, y% teenage pregnancies, z% drug use, etc..) This starting point can be profoundly disempowering. In contrast, ABCD starts with the assets within a community It is based on:
- Appreciating and mobilising individual and community talents, skills and assets (rather than focusing on problems and needs) The greatest assets are the qualities and skills of community members.
- Community-driven development rather than development driven by external agencies
It uses participatory approaches to development, which are based on principles of empowerment and ownership of the development process. The ABCD toolkit includes developing a community vision (including a picture of how it will look when the vision is realised), asset mapping, analyzing community data, selecting priority issues, establishing targeted outcomes, and developing detailed plans - leading to action.

ABCD is by no means unique: to name just one other approach: “appreciative inquiry” [vi] also takes community strengths and skills as a starting point, [employing a cycle of:
- collaboratively “discovering” the strengths and high points of the community,
- developing a vision for a better future, perhaps challenging the status quo, but grounded in the community’s strengths,
- designing a strategy to realise the vision,
- sustaining the progress by nurturing a collective sense of destiny. ]

3. Dealing with global issues and their overwhelming nature: “power with”, and webs of power
The sorts of empowerment described above engenders what Joanna Macy [vii] calls “power with”: power operating through sustainable networks of connections with other people. Macy contrasts “power with” with the common conception of power: “power over” - the power to prevail over another. [As she points out, this originates in the “traditional western” world-view, “which sees reality as composed of discrete and separate entities, be they rocks, atoms, people, ...” This is the underlying view when we talk of people “possessing power”, “building up power”, “wielding their power”. This kind of power tends to be associated with armour and rigidity, and with defending ourselves from “the other”. It sees power as a zero-sum game: “if you win, I lose”. ]

“Power with”, on the other hand, comes from being part of a living network. It is a process: something that happens through us when we engage in interactions that produce value. Power is exercised by influencing others. This influence is rarely on just one other: it propagates through a web of connections, flowing together with the power of others to produce results. Fluidity and flexibility are strengths.

This view of power has a number of consequences, which relate to the preceding parts of this article.
- We needn’t be so discouraged by the enormity of the task facing us, and the globalised networks which we need to influence. We are unlikely to be able to say “this demonstration which I went on stopped the war with Iraq”, or “this action has brought the cancellation of third world debt 1% nearer”. However, to expect this is to mis-understand the nature of our power. In reality, our power flows into and reinforces the power of others, and works through an incalculable web of influences. This produces a virtuous circle where our own empowerment and the empowerment of others go along with influence in our chosen issue, and knock-on effects on the web of issues relating to it.

- Process and product, our own empowerment and the results we are striving for, are inextricably entwined. Empowerment of individuals around local developments in their own immediate community will enhance those people’s learning (as Freire suggests) as well as leading to better outcomes in the community development. It will also improve the climate for global peace and justice. Reciprocally, engagement of people in positive peace and justice actions will also help with personal empowerment, which will enhance the ability to influence local developments.

- “Webs of power” - Starhawk [viii] amongst others, has used this image, and it has great resonance. Both our model of a peaceful, just society, and our organising principles for achieving this, have the characteristics of a web.

- The place of spirituality. A spiritual perspective very much chimes with the notion of “power with”, and personal empowerment being inextricable with the achievement of political goals.

Bringing it all together

I like the metaphor of “scaffolding”, where the various aspects of empowerment are built up gradually, but lastingly, in a mutually reinforcing way - as suggested in figure 1. For example, tools for empowering people and communities - like deep democracy, ABCD, and appreciative inquiry - could support Freire’s notions of individual empowerment and learning. The practice of “power with” could naturally flow from the use of these tools, and perhaps be explicitly drawn out, to help people feel empowered around global issues.

It is easy to say this, but making the links is unlikely to happen automatically. It would be really interesting to explore ways of making the links in practice, weaving strong, resilient webs of power.

[i] Paulo Freire “Pedagogy of the Oppressed” Continuum Publishing, 1970.
[ii] Tom Heaney “Issues in Freirian Pedagogy” -
[iii] Fieldnotes/Issue3/Deep_Democracy.pdf,
[iv] Ivan Illich: “Deschooling Society” Harper & Row, 1971 - see also
[v] See - for example “Agents rather than patients” - available from the Building and Social Housing Foundation -
See also the Asset Based Community Development Institute at Northwestern University -
[vi] See - e.g. -
[vii] Joanna Macy, “Despair and Personal Power in the Nuclear Age”, New Society Publishers, 1983.
[viii] StarHawk “Webs of Power”, New Society Publishers, 2002. See also

Tuesday, 13 November 2007

Buy nothing day

Coming up soon. Space Hijackers will be doing it, Slackers might be doing it, and many others are. See the Buy Nothing Day website.

Monday, 12 November 2007


From Helen Dymond

It is now 7pm, six hours since I got home from the Action this morning and I want to get my thoughts down on paper while its still in my short-term memory, so this is a personal story and not necessarily factually correct in every detail. Especially as I got home feeling extremely cold and tired, I immediately crashed out and am still fuzzy-headed. I just hope the wonderfully brave, inspiring people who formed the blockade and were arrested, have all got home, had hot drinks and food, and maybe caught up on some sleep too.

I guess it started on Sunday when we waved the other RP’s off at Thatcham station after a brilliant weekend together that was both understanding how we work as a group, , and preparing us for NVA whether today’s or in the future. After a short rest, four of us, Chris, Alison. Denise and myself met in the now very peaceful sitting room, and after some silent worship, Chris took us through some questions we needed to think about: what kind/size of group did we want to participate in? What were our goals and objectives within that group? What kinds of action did we feel able/unable to do? Which AWE site did we want to protest at, Aldermaston or Burghfield? The outcome was that we decided we wanted to stay together as a TTT Affinity group but in a direct supporting role to the Muriel Lesters (sic?) Chris’s own Affinity group, some of whom would be likely to be forming the Blockade at Burghfield, whereas we for various reasons did not want to risk arrest on this occasion. We brainstormed some kinds of support we could offer, including doing mad dancing and creating an artefact, but we decided to offer singing as our form of encouragement, and in addition I wanted to offer readings on the Testimony to Peace from ‘Quaker Faith and Practice’. After tea we went to the Quaker Meeting House at Newbury where 40-50 people gathered from Block the Builders and many other groups. We looked in their library for protest songs and as we didn’t find anything exactly suitable for the occasion, started to re-write some well known tunes with our own Protest words; we wrote out several copies and practiced them with some of the Muriel Lester’s group. The organizers of the Action told us about what the Government was doing at the two sites, the symbolic and to some degree strategic purposes of the Blockade, and the risks/conditions for arrest, the procedures/phone numbers if arrested. After supper there was a great deal of self-organizing of people into groups and vehicles, and a great perusal of maps looking at the best spots for blockading and routes for getting there. Chris had by now agreed to be part of the blockade with three of the Muriel Lester’s group, and after discussion the best spot was agreed; we also agreed to get there by 7 a.m. to prevent workers from getting onto the AWE site., which meant getting up at 5.a.m and meeting the M.L. Minibus down in Woolhampton village en route to Burghfield

In fact I woke up at 4 .m. and spent some time choosing texts from QFP chapter 4 on the Peace Testimony to read out to encourage the Blockaders and hopefully reach out to the hearts of the Police with the truth of the testimonies. It was weird, indeed, that the police had followed the Minibus from Newbury, they must have an informer or some way of knowing which vehicles to follow – anyway, this police van proceeded to follow our convoy of three vehicles for about half an hour round and round the country lanes, and even though we stopped at Aldermaston to let some people off there, the police van continued to follow our group to Burghfield where, we understood, the Trident warheads are being made, and we wondered if a convoy was going to arrive there today. When the Minibus got to the lane that had been chosen, it was totally BRILLIANT the way the four (you could call them elderly, if they weren’t so youthful in spirit) blockaders LEAPT down from the van and laid themselves across the road locking on, it all seemed to happen in about three seconds and took the police completely by surprise. They managed to pull at Chris’s arm, I think, as he was last out of the van, to try and stop him locking on but he fooled them by lying down on the grass verge with his hand invisible in the sleeve of another blockader, so it looked as though he was locked on even though he was in fact holding on. It was a bright and beautiful morning but extremely cold – it must have been the coldest day of the year so far- and the four of them lay on the freezing ground for two hours as the unlocking team dealt with the three blockades at Aldermaston first and did not reach Burghfield till 9.a.m. All those gathered in support supplied them with as much warmth as we could, sleeping bags to cover their legs, biscuits etc. and though we could all have done with hot drinks, they did not want to drink as they could not go to the loo. Dan was the legal observer and many photographs were taken of all of us both by supporters and the police. I heard someone say that Radio Berkshire had sent reporters to the Aldermaston blockade.

Strategically it was a great success, the police blocked off the lane and there was a long queue of traffic on the perimeter road so that workers were delayed in getting to work in the site. Meanwhile we sang our protest songs, another guy called Chris played the violin which was great, and I read out excerpts from the Quaker Peace Testimonies and the police had no choice but to hear them and some of them appeared to be thinking about them. We engaged the police, who were friendly and good-humoured, in discussions about the purpose of the Blockade; a fairly senior officer I was talking to said he had assumed it was a political protest and I emphasised the spiritual and moral purpose of the Action ,which I saw as not affiliated to a political party but to an ideology of the spirit and a way of seeing the world. I heard one elderly gentleman Blockader called Ray explaining calmly and with great authority to the policeman who had come to cut him free, that he felt he had to do this action for the sake of his children and grandchildren. The four were then arrested and taken to a police van, we believed they were going to Newbury police station, and the supporters dispersed and went to a transport café for greatly needed hot drinks and food.

It truly was inspiring to witness this courage and commitment, the macro- and micro-teamwork that went on, and the opportunities it offered for constructive engagement with representatives of the law. I feel that I have learned some valuable lessons from my first experience at an NVA Blockade. On another occasion I would still want to sing and would prepare a lot more songs in advance and I might also play my recorder. I hope that on a future occasion I would feel able to get arrested but could see that we were all playing our parts interdependently and drawing strength from each other.

Helen Dymond

Monday, 5 November 2007

Making Eurostar Cycle-friendly

Eurostar services will start running from St Pancras International on
14th November 2007. But, in spite of all the publicity about the brand
new station, which is indeed impressive, provision for cyclists is

Cyclists deserve better cycle carriage, cycle parking and cycle access:

* It is awkward to take a bike on Eurostar (it has to be bagged) or
you can pay £40 return to send it a day ahead.
* Cycle parking consists of a pathetic 30 wheel-bending loops.
* Access is hindered by the new gyratory round the station and lack of


Please publicise this demo and do your best to join in. Even if you
can come only for a short while on the way to work, it will be worth

Friday, 2 November 2007

Reverse Trick or Treating

I was surprised on Tuesday night to see so many witches ghouls and goblins about as I rode home from Friends House to Hackney. Follow up conversations with a random sample of 5 locals revealed that trick or treating is a long established English tradition. Huh. I didn't know. Reverse trick or treating was also news to me, and a good campaigning idea.

Happy Samhain!