Inclusive decisions with Convergent Facilitation

So often working in systems change we seem to hit limits in our ability to collaborate when we are coming with different perspectives and priorities. It can seem like we are in different realities, stuck in a polarity, too hard to find a way to togetherness in the challenge.

We might try to hear and value different perspectives and share power, yet it can feel frustrating and even impossible to try and find a way through to reach consensus, and sometimes people walk away, or resort to going back to how things were, or settling for small tweaks rather than the bigger changes we dreamed of.

I feel really fortunate to have met Miki Kashtan and got to know the process she has developed called ‘Convergent Facilitation’ which offers a different way forward. The key difference is pausing the conversation and getting really clear on what all the needs are, what matter to each of us, and then shifting to a creative thinking phase where we collaborate together on finding solutions that meet all the needs we have named. From there we can make a truly inclusive decision that all in the group have genuine willingness to go forwards with.

I have since used it with groups including GM Homelessness Action Network, and Extinction Rebellion UK and love the creativity and togetherness that comes with this different way of finding next steps that work for all, and am keen for more people to experience it.

How does Convergent Facilitation work?

I learned an analogy for this process from Paul at Navigate that i like – making a list of ingredients and checking for allergies; coming up with recipes using all the ingredients; and then agreeing together on a recipe that really works for everyone – explained here and included below…

Phase 1: Finding criteria (listing ingredients and identifying allergies)

The first part of the process involves hearing from different perspectives what is important, what matters about this for different people, and finding a set of criteria that they all agree to. In this process, the criteria are called ‘noncontroversial essence‘ – detailed enough to contain the essence of what matters, broad enough that all in the group are willing to adopt the criteria. This alone builds trust and a sense of working together towards a common goal.

Phase 2: Creating proposals (exploring possible recipes)

The next phase is a common mission for the group, to creatively explore ideas for meeting these criteria. Objections are invited in, seen as a gift to the group, a way to see another valuable perspective that was missing, the gold that makes what is agreed more likely to work.

Phase 3: Making a decision (choosing a recipe that all can say yes to)

In this phase, we look for willingness from everyone in the group to adopt or adapt a proposal that works for all. We rate and analyse the proposals as a group, to find a good place to start, and then seek objections to see if there are criteria that are not met, and get suggestions from the group to improve it. This process continues until there is genuine willingness, or an alternative decision is reached.

In addition to building trust, and enabling groups to find a way forward through complexity, what i love about this process is how it gives people an experience of a different way of being together, to know that it is possible to find solutions that work for all, that it can be win-win. It also surprises me when i see that setting specific criteria actually invites more creativity and togetherness rather than constraining anything. Wrapped into all this is awareness of power and privilege, making sure everyone is empowered, that their needs and concerns are heard and valued.

Find out more

I would love to see more structures and organisations opening up to making decisions together, beyond consultation, to deeper collaboration, and I am curious to understand what the blockers are. Here’s one example from the GM homelessness network.

If you are facing challenges around making decisions that work for all, feel free to get in touch.

Wisdom in times of uncertainty – Theory U / ULab

TheoryU and ULab developed from two decades of action research at MIT, and now hosted by Presencing Institute. It is a theory, framework and set of tools to build capacities we need to address the root causes of the social, environmental, and spiritual challenges we face.

A core component of ULab is working with the future as it emerges, tuning into deeper sources of wisdom – in ourselves, in others, in the collective field. It is both mysterious and scientific, and unlike anything else i have come across! I followed the ULab 1.0 course back in 2016 and found a place where social change, research and spirituality came together with a kind of mystery and an inner shift that felt significant.

I have since used ULab in a few different contexts, most recently connecting change makers in GM through GM Transformation Lab, and we are now exploring the potential for using this to bring policy makers and grassroots organisations together around systems change in GM (Greater Manchester).

I’m also following #GAIAJourney which is a ULab offering for connecting globally during the pandemic. There are people from projects all over the world (not just from Europe and Americas, which is often what is the reality when something’s called ‘Global’) – I have been in breakout rooms with people from Colombia and Uganda and Brazil and Japan and everywhere in between, groups working on so many different things from systems to individual change to local communities from health to farming to economics to alternative finance to democracy to growing food to education. I follow with wonder at this evolving movement that has come together so quickly in response to a time of great uncertainty.

If you are interested to find out more about TheoryU and ULab, and explore how it might support you and your organisation to see your next steps and emerging future, please get in touch.

Read the full post on (an initiative to support collaboration, based in Hebden Bridge).