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....and many other thoughts about facilitation, coaching ( teams & individuals) and learning


  • David

Diversity in participants

Updated: Mar 24, 2022


[The view from my hotel room was surprisingly stunning!!]

I attended the IAF Asia conference last month in Tokyo. Different from last times, I co-ran a session with another practitioner as well. I learnt a lot about co-facilitation in the ‘open’ environment. Overall, I also learnt a great deal from the conference. One thing which stands out is how to facilitate when the participants are very diverse.

In various sessions in this conference, around half of the participants are Japanese-preferred speakers (with limited english) and half are english-preferred (with zero Japanese). I have experienced as a participant where some Japanese-preferred speakers could not participate at all. For example, there was a case study (written in English) for 1 on 1 negotation practice. My partner simply could not understand the case within the given time, not mentioning conducting the negotiation. (And I could not explain to him as his information was supposed to be confidential to me)

The challenge to the facilitation is not just about language, but also culture. There was another session which aimed to highlight the danger of facilitator giving too much freedom to the participants. The design was to let the participants experience themselves the downside of exaggerated freedom. However, probably since Japanese participants (or in fact Asians in general) have much less desire for freedom in meetings than other participants from the western culture, the effect brought out by the design was not obvious. (To be fair, the facilitator has done a great job in plenary discussion. I learnt!)

I think the questions here are:

· What can we do in advance to gauge how much the diversity is among the participants?

· How to customize the design and general facilitation aspect e.g. engagement in order to make the diversity less an obstacle or even a leveage point? What can be done before and during the event?

· What could possibly ‘blind’ the designer or facilitator to the above, and how to avoid such blindspot?

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