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Increased competition, shifting customer demands, technological advancements, shifts in government regulations and workforce demographics are some of the triggers of change that continue to provide the impetus for organizations to continually adopt change (Sitkin et al, 2011), but these change efforts may be ineffective, unsustainable or even elusive if the fundamental principles and the methodologies of change are not effectively grasped and actively applied (Rough, 1997).
It is with this realization that the present paper seeks to discuss one of the change methodologies referred to as Dynamic Facilitation, with a view to bringing into light its theoretical underpinnings and how the methodology could be applied in contemporary organizational contexts.
Theoretical Perspectives of Dynamic Facilitation
Developed in the decade of the 1990s by Jim Rough, Dynamic Facilitation as a change methodology has attracted considerable interest from researchers, practitioners and organizational change agents (Sitkin et al, 2011; Howard et al, 2005). Rough & Martin (2007) describes Dynamic Facilitation as “…an emergent approach to facilitating that helps people address difficult issues creatively and collaboratively, where shifts and breakthroughs are the natural result” (p. 224).
Available literature demonstrates that Dynamic Facilitation revolves around bringing together people faced with a similar need and giving them the opportunity to chart the way forward by facilitating a process that will enable the participants to engage in deep, heartfelt and creative quality of thinking known in theoretical terms as “choice creating” (Rough & Martin, 2007).
In Dynamic Facilitation, the designated facilitator should not direct or control discussion among the participants; rather, he plays an active role in ensuring that all participants are allowed the chance to express their views in any form in addition to seeking forclarifications, encouraging opposing views, and ensuring that only one participant speaks at a time (Rough & Martin, 2007; Howard et al, 2005).
In theoretical terms, therefore, such an arrangement is intended to generate elevated trust, shared understandings, and the spirit of community in an attempt to come up with the best solution(s) to the arising need (Rough & Martin, 2007).
The major task of the designated facilitator is to attempt to record all the contributions made by participants using four charts, which are purposely labeled “…enquiries/problem statements, difficulties/concerns, information/perspectives, and options/ideas” (Howard et al, 2005, p. 3).
Using some sort of a jigsaw puzzle analogy, the participants in the group may jump around while discussing diverse sections of the bigger picture in a bid to come up with both short- and long-term solutions to the identified need. In recording the participants’ contributions into the four charts, the designated facilitator should ensure that everyone’s contributions are written down.
The theoretical underpinning of this process of recording all contributions, according to Howard et al (2005) and Rough (1997), lies in the fact that participants are more likely to expand their focus and listen to the contributions of others in the process of forming the bigger picture if they are well aware that they are free to be fully heard, and that their own contributions are taken into consideration in the search for possible solutions to the presenting need.
Consequently, Howard et al (2005) and Rough & Martin (2007) note that Dynamic Facilitation encourage participants to be ‘themselves’and to express freely or ‘dump’ the information on their mind to the group. Upon starting to comprehend the complexity of the scenario when considering manifold points of view they, on their own volition, begin to suggest possible solutions to the presenting need.
Howard et al (2005) observes that such a self-organization environment, where all participants are allowed to participate without the facilitator attempting to push for any consensus, brings forth important breakthroughs, which are then recorded in the fifth chart.
The facilitator should always ensure that the points of convergence brought forward by individual uniqueness and passion are identified as it is these convergences that form the backbone of the solutions to the presenting need. Indeed, Rough & Martin (2007) note that “…individual uniqueness and passion, normally seen as liabilities, are valued as assets in the group” (p. 224).
The theoretical underpinning of encouraging this uniqueness is based on the fact that the unique perspectives fronted by participants may well turn out to be the missing portion of the puzzle (Rough, 1997). However, it is always important to note that conclusions should always be unanimous (Rough & Martin, 2007), and the consensus statements then communicated to all stakeholders for additional discussion and possible implementation (Howard et al. 2005).
Application of Dynamic Facilitation
Dynamic Facilitation as a change methodology can be applied in managing change process at a community college, where the decisions made not only affect the school management and students, but also the community at large. An example of a change process affecting the college would be to develop mechanisms aimed at fighting the rising incidences of insecurity within the school’s neighborhood.
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In such a scenario, it is feasible to use this change methodology due to the fact that the processes triggering the change are largely unplanned, thus the need to employ the self-organizing concept to manage change which cannot be planned (Rough, 1997). It can also be argued that this methodology is feasible because it is very effective in dealing with complex situations, where there is no easy answer. Insecurity is one such scenario.
A number of stakeholders would be involved in such a change initiative. In the context of therising insecurity problem, it is imperative to involve the college administration, teachers, students, parents and local church leaders, as well as government officials such as the police.
Rough (1997) argues that it is these stakeholders who, individually and collectively, elicit creative quality of thinking through their contributions in the dialogue. It is this quality of thinking that is later used to come up with important breakthroughs. Consequently, it is of fundamental importance to include the right kind of stakeholders in the group for the discussions to become fruitful.
It should be noted that while the dynamic facilitator acts to guide and direct the discussion among participants, the sponsor is involved in setting or sketching the outcomes as needed by the organization or community to deal with the presenting problem.
To identify the sponsor, therefore, concerted efforts need to be made to identify someone who is well versed with the issues at hand, and who is well respected to command a significant degree of influence in the community (Sitkin et al, 2011). However, it is imperative to note that the influence of the sponsor should not be used to sway the contributions of participants in the group.
The success of the change initiative should be measured by how the members are able to attain convergences in discussing particular issues of interest. It should be noted that it is the convergent points of view that contribute to the achievement of the consensus statements, which are then used to come up with breakthroughs to the issues at hand (Howard et al, 2005; Rough & Martin, 2007). Lack of convergent points of view among participants therefore implies lack of progress.
Lastly, the organization, which is the community college in this case, is expected to gain from reduced cases of insecurity and student complaints in the short-term, but will gain more in terms of positive public image and enhanced student enrollment levels in the long-term.
This paper has effectively demonstrated how Dynamic Facilitation can be used as a methodology to manage a seemingly impossible and unplanned change process.
The discussion has particularly shed light on how change can be viewed as self-organizing, and how important breakthroughs can be achieved by getting people to freely discuss the presenting problem and by getting them to listen to the contribution of others (Howard et al, 2005). Certainly, it can only be concluded that Dynamic Facilitation represents an increasingly growing paradigm of change management methodologies, particularly at the community level.
Howard, P., Galarneau, T., Perez, J., & Shaw, D. (2005). Integrating open space technology and Dynamic Facilitation. Participatory Learning & Action, 53(1), 1-6. Retrieved from <http://foodsecurity.org/>
Rough, J. (1997). Dynamic Facilitation and the magic of self-organizing change. Journal for Quality and Participation, 20(3) 34-38. Retrieved from Business Source Premier Database.
Rough, J., & Martin, D. (2007). Dynamic Facilitation. In: P. Holman, T. Devane, & S. Cady (Ed.), The Change handbook: The definitive resource on today’s best methods for engaging whole systems (2nd ed.). San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.
Sitkin, S.B., See, K.E., Miller, C.C., Lawless, M.W., & Carton, A.M. (2011). The paradox of stretch goals: Organizations in pursuit of the seemingly impossible. Academy of Management Review, 36(3), 544-566. Retrieved from Business Source Premier Database.