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Cornwall Museums Partnership

The role of good facilitation in diversity and community

How can we make the sum greater than its parts? This should be the goal of all cultural organisations, working in harmony with their communities. Over the last month I have been learning about facilitation, group dynamics and how this affects a museum’s collective ability to be inclusive.

In January I made a diversity pledge to carry out over the coming year, like many others who serve museums and cultural organisations and took part in our rural diversity conference. Mine focuses on mapping the micro-community I live in to better understand the diversity on my doorstep.

Also since January I have been participating in an experiential learning course on facilitation organised by the Association of Facilitators. At the end of March I was delighted to have passed my peer assessment and I am now an Accredited Member of the Association of Facilitators. It ranks as one of the most enlightening learning experiences of my life and certainly a firm foundation for my leadership odyssey with Change Makers.

Good facilitation is about gaining a better understanding of the relationships that are at play in any given group. Those relationships may be with others in the group, with external factors and with attitudes towards planning and valuing the work we do as a team.

Both these trains of thoughts are beginning to converge.

Communities are groups of people, either self-defined or defined by others. Each has a group dynamic that we need to understand. We may need to see ourselves as part of that group to gain that better understanding—in fact we should see ourselves as part of that group.

Simply classifying/decimating the individual members of that group according to diversity measures may not give you a realistic idea of their interests, motivations, fears and curiosity levels.

In the workplace, museum organisations not withstanding, we experience good groups and bad groups; teams that perform and enjoy a sense of satisfaction and those that fail and end up unsatisfied, often repeating mistakes and colluding with bad behaviour by not challenging it or being afraid to challenge it.

I have learnt a lot about raising awareness of confronting situations, of identifying when prejudice (often unconscious) is at play. The experiential learning cycle (after Kolb) is imprinting in my mental planning processes: I experience something, I reflect on that experience, I make sense of it and then I plan what happens next.  It’s easy to short circuit this cycle and either end up falling into a reflective chasm or ending up as a ping pong ball between experiencing and planning.

I wonder how much a lack of awareness of how to deal with our experiences among those of us dedicated to activating towards a more inclusive and diverse cultural sector is leading to a ghettoization of themes and issues of diversity and is also encourage a particular style of leadership that might be counter-productive? Learning to be a better facilitator has left me with more questions than answers but at least I now know which questions I’d like answered.

The other model that has stayed with me is the organisation pyramid. Being able to diagnose organisational strengths and areas where more stretch is required is so important in effective community-orientated museum work. Without a solid sense of identity, clearly articulated values and a strong set of ethics it is almost impossible for an organisation to build healthy relationships, both internally and externally, to communicate well and to make good, fair decisions that lead to satisfying results.

I will be using these tools to help me with my community mapping exercise and also to promote and advocate for creative, diverse practice in cultural and museum work. My new learning will certainly be put to the test when establishing, with Cornwall Museums Partnership, the Rural Diversity Network for Culture, Heritage and Museums.

*Image: Organisation pyramid, explored during the Foundations in Facilitation course

Dr. Tehmina Goskar, Change Maker (Arts Council England supported),
Cornwall Museums Partnership & The Royal Institution of Cornwall

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