WHAT'S THIS ALL ABOUT?
We’re running a new project called Pushing the Boundaries. As part of the project, we’ll be holding a series of discussions across the city which will use new methods and approaches to help people have more honest, open conversations about the things that really matter to them. It doesn’t matter if this is immigration, religious diversity, or why those Marvel superhero films are so bad – whatever the topic, we want to allow a range of views (especially dissenting voices) to be heard. We want to create different ways for us to communicate and listen to one another.
We’ve already been working with communities and people have told us the sessions are fun, open, and allow a better quality of conversation.
Why are we doing it? Well, many people who have real and important things to say about integration don’t get to say it. We are quick to label some views as negative (or worse). But not exploring or shutting down these ‘less positive’ views displaces large numbers of people who hold unanswered questions or disagreements. This can sometimes lead to divisions between communities.
HOW CAN YOU HELP?
Individuals: we’re looking for volunteers who can help us find out what local people – friends, family, colleagues – think are the important issues we should be discussing. As a volunteer you will receive training in different skills (e.g. conducting research) and will be provided with expenses to help you participate.
Community groups: we’re also looking for community groups who can help us bring people together. Perhaps we could organize an event together or talk to people who use your services about issues that are close to their hearts?
HOW WILL THIS HELP YOUR COMMUNITY?
This is a chance to work with an equality charity that cares about the city. We want to help local people respond to issues of integration and immigration and we’re excited that we’ve managed to get some funding to support community groups run events on real issues that matter to real people in different parts of the city. The project will help people get better at talking about changes in their neighbourhood and will help improve relationships between local people.
If you'd like to take part in the project drop us a line. We’d love to talk.
WHAT IS PROCESS WORK?
We've been using a method called ‘process work’ to have these conversations. Process work encourages and deepens dialogue on issues that are of concern to ‘ordinary’ people. Developed by Arnold Mindell in the 1970s, the objective of process work is to deepen democracy and be deliberate in exploring the meaning behind what people say – especially marginal or uncomfortable views. Mindell argues that these views are also part of our democracy, but too often it is only the popular or loudest views that are heard.
Process work does not dismiss the feelings and emotions that issues evoke in people. Commonly, emotion is seen as irrelevant, trivial, or disruptive. In process work, though, it is information and therefore important to notice if we really want to deepen understanding. Process work also encourages democratic engagement and fosters more honesty and understanding. brap facilitators have been training in group process (an approach to group facilitation based on process work principles) since 2012.
One of the reasons that this method works for people is because it dispenses with the traditional pre-set meeting agenda, table and chairs, and even the role of the chair. It is a fluid method and it is the participants who establish the agenda and agree what is to be discussed. The role of the facilitator is partly to help participants work on their identified topics, and partly to bring into the room the ‘hidden statements’ and positions that people often hold and are reticent in voicing.
We often refer to ‘roles’ in process work. These are understood as positions that we play out which might be linked to our identity, occupation, culture, position in a family, and so on. The exploration of these views is part of the discussion because often our thoughts and feelings are formed by the roles that we occupy. Occupying a different role or position can generate different understandings of the same issue.
Process work also considers how the roles that people present may have rank, power, and privilege. All of these factors play out and show up in group discussions and in community relationships. This also impacts on democratic engagement (although it is rarely explored). Facilitators bring awareness to these issues by exploring who feels they can speak, who gets heard, whose views are given legitimacy, and who is silenced.
The ‘beauty’ of process work is that the facilitator is charged with taking notice of this, signalling to all present when rank or power appears, and helping the groups to explore what insight it may offer.
If this all sounds too good to be true, don't take our word for it. Here's what some participants said...
So, you've heard a bit about process work - now you're wondering if you can use it to have a really meaty discussion in your neighbourhood or community.
Well, there's good news and bad news.
The bad news is that process work - like anything worth doing - takes a significant investment of your time. It's a skill that has to be sharpened through years of practice. There is also a lot of theory to wade through before you can fully grasp its core ideas. The good news, though, is that some of its key lessons can be summed up pretty simply.
The even better news is that we've done just that here:
Who are you and what do you bring to this work? Have you reflected on your 'position' and 'interests' and how this might inhibit/impact your relationship with others who do not hold the same views as you?
Make space for groups to bring in what they want to discuss.
Support individuals who make comments which are marginal to the majority – this does not mean you agree with their point.
Set ground rules that try to interrupt behaviours from dominant groups. You might agree that people shouldn't be allowed to make long points or that participants should use 'I' statements. This helps to democratise spaces and ensure that marginal and quieter voices can be heard.
Emotion and being emotional is part of being human. Is there room in what you do for people to really express themselves – or do you hide underneath papers and agendas?
Conquer your fear – you don’t have to be in control.
Conflict isn’t always bad – it can be transformative. Don’t be too quick to close down ‘heated debates’. On the other hand, you also have to feel equipped to handle them.
Democracy means hearing views that you may not like or feel uncomfortable with. So try to remain 'neutral' as a facilitator.
Not all meetings need to be meetings.
DOES IT WORK?