Rocky Mountain Institute has long used facilitated meetings to bring together diverse groups of stakeholders to address the most complex problems we face on our way to creating a clean, prosperous, and secure energy future. In engaging the minds of many, we draw on a range of perspectives to generate insight and produce outcomes beyond what any single mind could achieve alone.
While we value facilitation as a core competency, most techniques are passed down from mentor to mentee and we have done little to formalize useful tools for the facilitation process. (One exception: Michael Kinsley has developed a website based on his vast experience facilitating RMI and other events. We will reference Kinsley’s work throughout this toolkit and suggest carefully reading through his materials, you’ll find the link to the left.)
The goals and scope of RMI facilitated meetings run the gamut -- from engaging Shell engineers to minimize energy consumption on a Floating LNG ship to bringing together industry leaders to develop new electricity business models at the distribution edge.Thus, a one-size-fits-all approach to workshop facilitation will not apply. We’ve created this toolkit as a starting point. It is merely a framework to guide you through workshop design (Pre-Meeting), execution (Meeting), and follow through (Post-Meeting), but you must put in the time and effort to customize the process to your specific needs. diverse stakeholders -- likely with different mental models and often with high-stakes at hand -- is a massive undertaking. Practice, lots of practice, is the best way to improve your skills and develop your unique facilitation style.
Another resource that's high on the reading list is GATHER: The Art and Science of Effective Convening. It is a comprehensive facilitator’s guidebook published by Monitor Institute and The Rockefeller Foundation and is referenced frequently within this toolkit.
A brief note on language: collaborative events, meetings, workshops, charrettes -- each serve a distinct purpose, but the terms will be used interchangeably in this guidebook to describe an RMI facilitated event.
Addressing Complex Problems
The Case for Systems Thinking and Collaboration
In driving the efficient and restorative use of resources, we are faced with complex, global problems with many causes, many manifestations, and multiple players wielding influence. These problems cannot be reduced to a single-cause explanation, and the complexity arises due to the interconnections between parts of the system.
Without a view of the whole, solutions directed at one part of a complex system can compound problems in another part. These complex problems require us to develop creative and systemic solutions by communicating, learning, and collaborating across sectors, levels, and cultures. They demand multiple minds with distinct perspectives, interacting with one another in a dynamic process -- and these high-quality conversations need to be facilitated.
As the facilitator, it is your role to create an environment that enables the minds you’ve brought together to develop systemic solutions to change the underlying thinking that is producing these complex problems.
Shifting from reactive responses and quick fixes on a symptoms level to generative responses that address the systemic root issues is challenging. Theory U is has emerged in the systems thinking field as a process that leads an individual on a journey to systemic thinking. To learn more about the theory and how to utilize it in your facilitation practice, read through the attached documents.
Rapid Cycle Prototyping
Cause and effect are not straightforward in complex problems, thus we cannot predict all the outcomes of a solution with certainty and we can’t separate planning from implementation. Work to rethink the situation at the systems level, then act at the local level to observe what is emerging in the physical reality. The learnings will shape the systems level thinking and the reworked ideas are tested at the local level -- it’s an iterative process, a type of rapid cycle prototyping. We must experiment all the time to design a more sustainable future.
Beyond systems level change, apply the idea of rapid cycle prototyping to the collaborative meeting design process. As you design, test ideas and structures on your facilitation team, participants, or outside experts and redesign from the feedback. This will ultimately lead to a more dynamic experience, specifically tailored to the problem at hand.