Tell me about yourself – Method of the Month: Parallel Autobiography

How did you become the person you are today? What events played a crucial role during your life? And how do you relate to the world around you?

These questions can stand at the beginning of an educational process. For many topics, it is essential to first understand who the learner is and what shaped the lens through which they approach a subject. Self-awareness marks the start to untangling societal issues.

I first came across today’s method Parallel Autobiography in the form of Parallel Citizenship Image-1Autobiographies as published in ”Under Construction – Citizenship, Youth and Europe – T-Kit on European Citizenship’‘ by Council of Europe (2003). I was searching for methods that would allow participants to reflect on their understanding of their own citizenship. Ever since I have used it in many different contexts reflecting on a diverse range of aspects. To simplify it I developed this base version just looking at the development of one’s identity, which I want to share with you as my Method of the Month for August 2019.

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DESCRIPTION

For Parallel Autobiography, the participants create two parallel running timelines Untitled_Artworkstarting from the moment of their birth to the current day. On the top line, they mark moments in their personal life that changed their understanding of themselves. On the bottom, societal or political events are chronologically arranged that affected the vision of their own identity. The participants are given a certain amount of time (usually around 25 minutes) to fill in their individual sheets. After that time, they are invited to share the autobiography if they feel comfortable.

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DEBRIEFING

In the debriefing, the trainer guides the group through a reflection of the process by following the experiential learning circle by Kolb. Possible questions could be:

  • How did the exercise make you feel?
  • Did one of the timeline feel different?
  • Was it uncomfortable, and if yes, why was it?
  • Was there a difference between the personal and the societal moments?
  • Was there something that surprised you?
  • Were there things in common within the group, and if yes, why could that be? If no, why not?
  • Does this experience impact you beyond the activity, and if yes, how?
  • How can you use this experience in understanding yourself or others better?
  • How can you use the commonalities with others for building bridges?
  • Is there a use for this experience beyond reflecting on your own identity?
  • How could you go more in-depth with it?
  • How can being aware of the history of your own identity impact the world around you?

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BENEFITS

As mentioned earlier, this exercise is extremely versatile. You can focus it on any personal aspect. Also, the systemic context of the second timeline can be drafted as narrow or broad as it makes sense. Some examples:

  • political beliefs reflected on the global economy
  • development as educator reflected on the different learning environments encountered
  • relationship to once citizenship reflected on the history of one’s country of residence

It is only essential to incorporate the dichotomy of the individual and the systemic timeline. That will allow the learner to reflect on themselves in the broader context and to find commonalities and differences with others. This last aspect is especially exciting when working with a diverse group.

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RISKS & TRAPS

Whenever it comes to self-reflection, there can be triggering moments. Participants can Image (1)carry past traumas which this exercise can open up. Therefore, a real safe-space must be established beforehand, and enough time must be allocated to address it adequately. One way to lower this risk is to frame the activity more on the surface. Choosing a focus of the reflection that is more general might allow the participants to decide by themselves how deep they go.

Nevertheless, that carries its own risk. Being too superficial might not push the participants enough to actually be challenged. One important thing is not to ”force” them to present their result. Let them choose if they want to open up to the group.

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SOME PRO-TIPS

If you want to go even further with Parallel Autobiography, try one of these pro-tips.

  • Shared Autobiography: After the participants created their individual timelines, let them group together and create a common one. That could be done either in the whole group or in logical subgroups. These subgroups could be based on geography, age, or similar aspects related to the object of the reflection. It can help the participants to discover patterns in each other’s stories or find something in common with a stranger.
  • Be vulnerable yourself: In my experience, it helps the participants to open up when I make myself vulnerable first. That is based on the authority I as the facilitator hold. If it is safe for me, it feels safer for the participants. For Parallel Autobiography, I usually do this by presenting my own timeline first and using it to explain the activity. I always make sure to share things that push my comfort zone but do not overwhelm the participants.
  • Give access: If the participants agree, I like to hang all timeline up on the wall. This gallery allows them to discover the stories of the rest of the group during breaks and to approach other participants if they have questions. It can lead to personal connections and more intimate sharing.
  • Use it for yourself: I used this exercise also just for myself when I wanted to work on developing in a certain area. So I took it for the base assessment. The gained understanding of how I came to where I was then gave me insides how to move forward. It allowed me to gain insights on my values and priorities through the moments I chose or left away. It can also be a powerful tool in a coaching setting.

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So, what do you think about Parallel Autobiography? Do you use it before? What are other variations you can think of? Do you know a similar activity?

Leave me a comment below. Also, it would help me out if you like and share this post with our fellow trainer friends!

You can download the method sheet of Parallel Autobiography here!

Love and appreciation,

Anuschka

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Turn on the right light – How to work with an expert

Have you ever been in a workshop and an expert bored you out of your mind? They had important stuff to say, but there was no process behind it? Did you maybe even wondered why they are there in the first place? That happened to all of us at least once.

As a facilitator, we sometimes have to work with experts during a learning event. Most of the time, this decision is not in our hands, but how we work with them definitely is. I am convinced if well prepared the above horror scenario can be absolutely avoided! In this IMG_0104blog post, I will present you with different types of experts you might encounter and walk you through how to work with them in different settings.

I differentiate between three types of experts. First, there is the floodlight expert that loves to be in focus and floods the participants with knowledge like the floodlight the soccer field. On the other end of the spectrum is the living room lamp expert. This expert feels awkward being in the spotlight. They prefer to shine their light from the background like the lamp behind your couch. And finally the flashlight experts. They feel comfortable navigating an educational space and know where to spot their light while leaving other aspects in the dark.

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The floodlight

The floodlight expert needs the stage. They will take up space no matter what and will speak and behave like THE expert. That might lead to the expert explaining to the participants by flooding them with facts. It also could establish their views as the only correct IMG_0107ones. This kind of expert can operate from a spot of entitlement and often is pushed on you by your client. There is the risk that this expert will take over control of the session as you might not have the ‘authority’ to set up sharp boundaries.

Working with a floodlight expert can be a challenge and has to be handled with some artfulness. Especially if the client insists on the expert. In this case, I work with the client on a clear framework for the expert’s presence. What do they add to the event? In what role will they participate? What are the power relations? After that is clarified, I would present to the client candid which processes are possible in that frame. I would also speak about what role I can take during the event to not create tensions with the expert. If the expert and their input were the main focus of the session, I would suggest that I either moderate the conversation or step back and conduct a Graphic Recording.

IMG_0101In a one-session-learning-event, there is not much more you can do than the above. It really depends on the frame the client sets. If I take the role of the moderator, I sit down with the expert beforehand to clarify the process and look at the questions I would ask. In the case of the Graphic Recording option, I would only passively participate in the session. Nevertheless, it still could be my responsibility to open and close the overall activity.

IMG_0102For a multi-session-learning-event, I often use the sessions before the expert’s input to prepare it with the participants. For that, I would look at what knowledge or attitude they need to build to interact productively. Sometimes, I even work with the learners to formulate questions, that have the potential to increase the relevancy of the input. After the presentation, I usually would debrief the session. For that, it would be best if the expert leaves after they are done. The group would have the chance to voice their opinion on the expert in a safe space and reflect on the content. That makes it easier to build on it in the remaining time.

IMG_0103I would similarly work in a multi-day-learning-event. The point in the learning journey in which the expert would join is crucial. When does it support and not interrupt the process? How can we build up towards it? If the moment depends on the schedule of the expert, I check if I need to redraft the journey itself. Putting an input at the beginning of the event could lead to the participants adopting the views of the expert. I would try to avoid that on any cost. If the group worked already on the topic, they would feel more comfortable to disagree with or challenge the expert.

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The living room lamp

The living room lamp expert blends in just like the actual lamp in your living room. They IMG_0108might even ask you to join the participants throughout the learning event and feel awkward being put into the focus. They often do not establish themselves as an expert and inputs might be diffuse. That opens the risk for a conflict of views if you have a really dominant participant or that the group does not really know what to do with the input. Unfortunately, this kind of expert is often young and/or female. 

I usually aim to work really close together with this kind of expert in the preparation. The more they feel integrated into the development, the more they appreciate the setting. It also helps to gain a clear understanding of their specific expertise to support them to integrate effectively. If they still do not feel comfortable and prefer to be an expert participant, I try to find small group methods with a lot of rotation of the members. This way, as many participants as possible, can have conversations with the expert.

IMG_0101One way, I include a living room lamp expert into a one-session-learning event, is to let them (co-)facilitate one activity. That could be the moderation of a group discussion or guiding a simulation within the specialisation of the expert. To support them and the group, it helps to give them very explicit guidelines regarding the content and the context of it. The earlier they get this briefing, the easier it will go, and both of us have the opportunity for bilateral feedback beforehand.

IMG_0102For a multi-session-learning-event, I would look at the possibility to give the expert a kind of consultant role. Let’s say, part of the sessions is to develop roadmaps for follow-up actions. Let the groups present their first drafts to the expert. They then give feedback and advice, which the groups afterwards have time to consider and integrate into the final draft. Another way is to let the expert follow a simulation up with a reality check. How does the simulated situation look like in real life? What are the options that the different roles actually have? I also sometimes let them simply go around during a group work phase, where they challenge the different groups.

IMG_0103For me, an ideal option for a multi-day-event is to work with this expert throughout the entire time in a co-facilitator relationship. That will allow the participants to build a connection with the expert and feel comfortable to ask them questions and vice versa. It is also convenient for me as I can tap into their knowledge for the preparation. Nevertheless, this option needs some sensitiveness for how the roles are established. The expert needs to remain a resource person than a knowledge authority. 

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The flashlight

The flashlight expert only shines their expert-light on specific aspects that will further IMG_0106the process. They often have an educational background or at least are experienced in the setting. They usually are aware of the space they take and incorporate the learners’ discussions into upcoming inputs. So, if that does not happen, the different moments of the expert might seem disconnected. This kind of experts can also stir your process in an unplanned direction.

This expert is a juicy one to work with – so many opportunities! I really love to use this expert like an actual flashlight. Before the event, I would sit down with them and see with them what are crucial moments or aspects they can shine their concentrated light on. That makes it really easy for me to guide the process and for them to focus and challenge the preconceptions of the participants.

IMG_0101Nevertheless, in a one-session-learning-event, this approach is a bit tricky to implement as it takes up some time due to the multiple inputs. Here I would see with the expert if they have one aspect that is really crucial for the topic of the event. They would then focus on that, and I would guide the group into diving deeper.

IMG_0102For multi-session-learning-events, I prefer to have this expert with us for the entire time. This way, I can weave the different inputs really deep into the programme and build them up on each other. The preparation with the expert is hugely crucial here. I need to be sure that they stay on track and do not go off on a tangent. Also, I always have an eye on the time and stop the expert when necessary. After all, it is about the participants, not them.

IMG_0103I would dedicate one specific day for the expert to come in and integrate them similar to above. It is essential to establish an understanding among the participants why the expert joins the group. This way, I can lower barriers and support the group to open up to them. Should the expert participate for more than a day, it is crucial to make sure that they do not take over the educational process. They are joining as an expert, not as a facilitator no matter their experience. That is needed to create clear roles and not disrupt the participants. I usually give them space for feedback and input in the preparation to honour their educational skills and knowledge.

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So what do you think? Here are the main takeaways:

  • Get your client into the clear: Check with them what is their expectation for bringing the expert. Sometimes there is a strategic reason behind it, and you do not want to cross them there.
  • Be frank and honest: You must be really precise with both your client and the expert. The better each partner knows what and how it will happen, the smoother the activity will go. And the more they understand the reasons behind it, the less resistance will be there.
  • Preparation is key: When the expert knows, what is expected when from them, the better the cooperation works. Also, a proper groundwork will allow you to get the most educational value out of an expert.
  • Adjust to the type: Use the expert strategic. This way, you make sure they do not accidentally sabotage the activity.
  • And as always, be the advocate of your participants!

What are your tips and tricks to work with experts? Did you have a difficult situation with an expert and no clue what to do?  Let me know in the comments below. 

Also, it would help me out if you like and share this post with your fellow trainer friends!

 

Love and appreciation,

Anuschka

Why we all discriminate – Method of the Month: Sticker Discrimination

As trainer and facilitator, we often face complex concepts like discrimination and we uhm and ah about how to facilitate a personal reflection on such a difficult topic with our participants. We want to avoid platitudes like “I do not discriminate as I believe in equality”, “Only people who are racist/sexist/abelist/… discriminate” or “I am a woman/PoC/… so I cannot discriminate”. Many participants have a hard time to think beyond these platitudes and are unconscious of one basic fact: As we live and operate in a discriminatory society, we are likely to act unconsciously in discriminating ways

A simple discussion of different definitions will certainly not do the job. On the contrary, a full-on simulation might not fit in the allocated time slot within your training. This is where my first Method of the Month will come to your rescue! The method is based on “Labeling Ourselves” publish by… in ….

“Sticker Discrimination” is a short and impactful simulation that confronts participants with rules and tasks that are aimed to trigger discriminative behaviours. After mixing the participants up by standing up and walking around, the trainer invites them to close their eyes. She walks around and marks the participants’ foreheads with different stickers. Some are left with no stickers. She now instructs the group to form smaller groups according to two rule: they are not allowed to speak and can only create groups of maximum four people. [Pro tip: Variate the number of people so participants can not split evenly]

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Participant waiting with closed eyes. [picture: IUSY]

Once the groups are formed, they are tasked to think of why they grouped up, what they have in common and what makes them better than the other groups. After the presentation of each group, the trainer calls the participants back in the large circle to facilitate the debrief. She helps the group to reflect on the process of the group building and forming a group identity. Did they follow a particular strategy? Where there moments of comfort or discomfort? How did it feel when someone was left out? How did this person feel? What were the power structures within the process? What did the stickers represent? Why did they stick to/break the trainer’s rules? How does this simulation relate to reality and the societies we live in?

I used this method in my last training “Equality start with us! – Youth promoting inclusive societies and global citizenship and opposing violent extremism” for the International Union of Socialist Youth in cooperation with the Council of Europe. We were already on our second day, and it was the start of several session on the topic of discrimination that would be later connected to the reality of refugees. On our first day, we worked mostly on the issue of identity which my co-trainer and I used as foundation and point of reference for the debrief.

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Participants trying to form groups without speaking. [picture: IUSY]

In my opinion when facilitating this method the trainer already needs to be established and recognised by the group as a leader. Otherwise, the power of the rules is weakened, or participants who are facing discomfort might just leave the exercise. We choose to use a harsh and authoritarian tone to instruct the participants and not to react to approaches during the group phases. Further, we interrupted or shut down groups during their presentation and even skip one group’s presentation entirely.

Looking at the outcomes, we as facilitators were surprised that even so, we worked with a group of left-leaning political activists how ‘easily’ they fall into behaviour patterns that embraced the rules given. Not one person broke the rules or rebelled against us as facilitators. The initial group forming happened really fast, and most participants expect that they finished their task, but participants did not realise that one person was left alone. This lack of awareness shocked many of them. They were so eager to figure it out and fulfil the trainers’ expectation, that they did not question the broader context of the exercise. In the debrief the participants were able to relate this to their real life and the fact that many people do not discriminate consciously but blindly follow the rules and authorities and therefore establish and maintain a system of discrimination.

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Participants are discussing how the exercise relates to discrimination in real life. [picture: IUSY]

Possible variations could be replacing the stickers with roles or attribute. The roles could relate to the context of the living reality of the participants like professions, gender, sexuality, education, religion or ethnicity. The attributes could be different forms of greetings or movements. If you are working with a multi-ethnical group, the rule of not speaking could be replaced by only speaking in one’s native language. The debrief could be connected to a group work phase, in which the participants have to relate the structures of the exercise to common hatreds like sexism, ableism and racism.

I am convinced that “Sticker Discrimination” is a powerful and with 30 minutes relatively short exercise on discrimination. It offers a different approach to understand the mechanism of especially structural discrimination and by being non-verbal invites shyer or participants with a more substantial language barrier to take an active role in the group‘s learning process. The discomfort experienced during the exercise enables a more profound reflection.

As always leave me questions and remarks down in the comment section below. I truly appreciate you taking this time out of your day to discover the world of Affective Facilitation with me. And I would be of course delighted if you decide to share it with someone!

Love and Appreciation,

Anuschka

 

How the heck do you do this? – Start of the ‘How to plan a Training’ series

Ever wondered how the trainer of the workshop you are sitting in right now came up with the methods she is using? Or do you know the overwhelming feeling that can overtake you as a facilitator when you get a new topic and do not know where to start?

img_0977-2I know both feeling quite well! Over time I developed a method to plan each of my training.

In this upcoming series of blog posts, I want to give you some insights into this planning process. I will show you how to get to all the information you need to get started, walk you through the steps to design a holistic learning journey for the participants and choose the methods that ensure the wished outcomes.

Of course, I will not dump all this information on you in just one post! The first part of this series will give you a general overview of the different steps, along side some tips and tricks.

My planning process consists of four main stages. Everything begins with the topic or theme of the training. From there, I develop the training objectives and learning outcomes. The second step is to take the objectives and create a learning journey for the participants. Out of this roadmap, I identify the thematic building blocks; to finally choose the concrete methods that are the backbone of the training.

But let’s start at the beginning!

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From the topic to the training objectives and

For me, this first phase is the most client or host intensive step of all four. You will want to take as much time as needed with your partner to break down the topic as precisely as possible. Do not let them escape with: ‘The training shall be about feminism.’ If they did not formulate them themselves, you should help to define the objectives and to set learning outcomes as tangible as possible.IMG_0976

Besides the thematic information, it is crucial in this step that you get as much information as possible regarding participants, time and place of the training and the background of your partners themselves, like general aims and objectives of organisation or company. A training for five participants looks entirely different from one for fifty. Also, it is necessary to know the age group and background of the participants.

Try to put yourself as soon as possible in the shoes of the participants. While you are discussing the objectives and outcomes with your partners, always try to imagine the participants’ expectation alongside. There is a ton of methods on how to define objectives. It will be the subject of a detailed post later.

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From the objectives to the design of a learning journey

This step is all about the participants and their experience during the training! It is important to create an experience as smooth as possible, where the predatory effortIMG_0989
is not visible to the participants. Therefore I always aim to find a narrative for the training, a story the group will build together. To do so, you need to identify how the
objectives build up on each other and what is important to experience before you open another aspect. It might be necessary to go back to the objectives at that point to adjust them.

Like in every good story always make sure there are no loose ends, and everything serves a purpose. The participants do not to see the connections immediately each time, but a final Aha-moment is crucial. We will come back to this in a later post of this series.

Pro-tip: If I have to plan a training over several days, I choose a topic for each day.

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From the learning journey to the thematic building blocks

After outlining the learning journey for the participants, focus on the topic and thematic of the training. I start with identifying thematic clusters along the way and structure the informative material accordingly. List the key terms and concepts thatIMG_0976 need to be established and the skills that need to be developed or extended.

Sometimes you might discover that the logical connections between the individual blocks do not work. In this cases, you need to go back and revise the design of the learning journey. The clearer and more natural the structure is the fewer surprises you will end up having during the facilitation. This whole step will be covered in more depth in the fourth part of this series.

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From the building blocks to the selection of methods

Now the fun part begins!! I love to go through methods and pick the diamonds for
each training I facilitate! Sometimes, I finally find the right spot for the new methods IMG_0990I wanted to try for so long! What a sweet feeling

But, as with everything nice, there is the backlash as well! To minimise the risks, you should review your first selection of methods and ask yourself some questions. What
learning types do the methods address? What personally types? Do they work naturally with the rest of the session ?? Do they achieve the objectives and generate the learning outcome? But also, will the participants and you have fun? Is there enough time and space for down time? And, are you brave enough with your selection? 😉 We will speak about this in all extend in the fifth and last part of this series. I am already excited!!

Pro tip: Because I never know how exactly the group and the on the spot mood of each session will be, I always bring some Plan B methods alongside to the training!

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So there they are my four steps on how to tackle any training. They are like four hats I put on. I start with the hat of the client or host and define what the aims of the img_0976training are and what information is needed. Then I put on the hat of the participants and ask myself what will be the experience during the training. With the topic hat in the third step, I discover what information and which skill is need when. And finally with my favourite hat – the hat of the methods – I choose which method will serve the participants and their learning the best.

How about you? How do you tackle a new training, workshop or session? Let me know in the comments below. Which of the four steps would be your favourite?!

Let’s facilitate Change together!