Commencing

You're reading Phase 2 of the 5 Phases of Faciliation in Loomio. In this phase we'll cover:

  • Invitation
  • Arrival
  • Who’s in the Room
  • Who’s NOT in the Room
  • Culture, Protocol, Expectations

Invitation

How participants are invited into a facilitated space is incredibly important. People understand huge amounts of information from the invitation, and use it to judge how a space will be held and if they belong there. The moment of invitation is in many ways the defining opportunity to set the tone and establish trust.

Decision-making is all about communication: your group can only make good decisions together if there’s a foundation of good communication in place first. This means being clear about what the purpose of a discussion or meeting is, who needs to be involved, what the time-frame is, and what people can expect. — Richard Bartlett

Key aspects to an invitation:

  • Background. What is this thing? What am I being asked to do? Who is behind this? Who else will be involved? What is the time commitment, topic focus, and protocol?
  • Context. What is the character of this specific engagement? Of all the possible formats and ways it could go, which one will it be? Why now, why this way?
  • Belonging. Am I welcome? Is this for me? Am I needed in this process? What is my unique value and contribution? Why should I specifically be compelled?
  • Safety. Does this invitation indicate thoughtfulness, trust, and understanding? Is the structure of the engagement up to handling the inherent power dynamics at play? What level of honesty or vulnerability will this require of me? Do I think the person inviting is going to hold me well?
  • Accessibility. Will my basic requirements for participation be accommodated? Language, assistive technology, unfamiliar jargon, etc. Will it be possible for me to engage?

On Loomio

  • The tool has a built-in function to invite users by email or by sending them a special link. Users can also request to join your group if your settings allow.
  • The invitation tools built into the software are very basic, and getting an unexpected login request for new software without context isn't very inviting, so group creators often introduce people to the idea of Loomio through a separate process.
  • Many aspects of Loomio are already designed to create a safe and respectful space users would want to enter — such as thoughtful privacy options.
  • The design of the software itself is meant to be friendly, simple, and professional, hopefully putting out a trustworthy vibe.
  • Loomio has accessibility features, for people who use assistive technology like screen readers, and translation features for people who speak different languages. Emphasising these aspects in an invitation can make some people feel more welcome.

Arrival

The moment of arrival is the “first impression” of an engagement, and sets the trajectory from there on out. The person has accepted an invitation and decided to step in. They are open and expectant, and the impression they get will make a big impact on their experience.

Welcoming

To enable openness to engagement, participation, and receptivity, a person has to feel welcome. They need their existence acknowledged, and to feel a sense of hospitality.

Settling

When someone enters a physical room, they want to know where to sit, where the exit is, where to go to the bathroom, and if there is coffee available. They need a basic introduction to the space and their place in it.

On Loomio

  • The group description fields and discussion context box are the main space to put a “welcome message” for people arriving into the space.
  • Take a tour of the Loomio space, tweak things to make yourself comfortable (like notification settings and your profile photo).
  • See information how you like using different thread views and options like Recent, Unread, Mute, and Star. Make yourself at home.

Who’s in the Room

Introducing yourself and being introduced to others is one of the most basic and most important human social functions. From Māori mihimihi to British “how do you do” to Japanese business card exchanges, every culture places a lot of importance on this. It goes beyond practicalities and politeness and touches on a deep human need, which is a prerequisite for comfort, openness, and focus.

As a facilitator, if you don’t give people a chance to introduce themselves and find out who is around them, they will generally subvert whatever else you’re trying to point their attention at until you allow this process to occur. Consciously design in introductions as a feature, and use them as an opportunity to further the overall goals of the interaction.

Even among groups who already know each other well, this introduction process continues with “checking in” and other good practices for team cohesion. People have a multitude of identities, which change based on the context. People answer and re-answer “who am I for this moment” all the time, and that is what allows them to orient around one another.

People's expression does not occur in a vaccuum, but in the context of who the are. A multi-faceted view of someone’s identity is an essential aspect of interpreting their contributions.

We start many of our meetings with everyone “checking in” before we get to the agenda. These check-ins are focused not on your work tasks, but on how you’re doing as a human being. If you’re going through a rough patch at home, or you’re sick, or you have exciting positive news, understanding your state of mind will help the entire group have the right context to interpret how you’re communicating. — Richard Bartlett

On Loomio

  • Introduction threads began as a user-created “hack” of discussion threads. They were so widespread that now new Loomio groups automatically start with an intro thread pre-loaded. You can edit this thread to best suit your group's needs. It provides a useful first “call to action” everyone coming in will understand: introduce yourself.
  • For “request to join” groups, we have a function that allowed the requestor to introduce themselves to the coordinator to get access to the group. Some groups have a process of re-posting this content in the intro thread to welcome people in.
  • Upload profile photos! Photos of faces are one of the most powerful ways of feeling like you know who is in the room with you online.

Who’s NOT in the Room

Diversity is critical for quality group decision-making. The “wisdom of the crowd effect” (collective intelligence) only works by combining a variety of viewpoints. Outcomes of collaboration processes depend heavily on which voices are, and are not, represented. It’s impossible to have perfect representative inclusion, but you need to take into account who might be missing.

It’s extremely common for people to have blind spots around privilege. Humans are not great at intuiting bias, and are a lot better at noticing the presence of something than the absence. Our minds trick us. For example, when women and men are deliberately given an equal amount of talking time there is often a perception that women are getting more than their fair share, due to different ideas about how much they “should” talk (more details). It can be necessary to actually measure or count to get an accurate picture, instead of relying on intuition.

Someone who does not have particular accessibility needs may not even notice that a venue isn’t wheelchair accessible, a document isn’t formatted for screen readers, or a situation is excluding someone with hearing loss. But the people with those challenges will notice. Someone without kids might not consider that a 7PM meeting time won't work for parents. Or a thousand other practical, social, and cultural elements that could block someone from being in the room.

It’s especially important to think about who is not in room when trying to solve problems for others: build with, not for; talk with people, not about them. If the people you are trying to serve are not in the room, it’s very unlikely you’ll have all the input you need to be effective. This is just as much about effectiveness for business outcomes as about social justice; it’s almost always better to design collaboration with the users or stakeholders.

On Loomio

  • Collaborating online can allow for whole other levels of inclusion. Instead of thinking about a “digital divide”, think about the “digital bridge” — how technology can include people who cannot attend in-person meetings or participate at a specific time, and enable whole new possibilities like multi-lingual discussions.
  • Loomio makes it very clear who is invited to a group and who has participated in a discussion, giving important information for thinking about inclusion. If people are missing, you can see that.
  • If inclusive decision making and diversity of thinking are important to you, periodically ask yourself, “Who’s not in the room Why?”

Culture, Protocol, Expectations

Culture can be quite a nebulous concept, and operates at multiple levels. The culture of the wider society has a big influence, but you can think of every group, and every session or discussion, as having a culture of its own.

How do we roll? How do we talk to one another? What is and is not ok here? What are the rules of the game, of how we interact?

The process of confronting cultural questions can be a powerful moment of self-awareness for a group. Not confronting them can harm the ability to meet goals, or sometimes tear apart a group completely.

Culture, protocol, and expectations can be implicit or explicit, and by nature intersect in complex ways with power dynamics and social capital. It’s a challenging balance to keep things loose enough to allow emergence, evolution, creativity, and freedom, while being explicit enough about bottom lines and boundaries to ensure safety.

Facilitators often guide the group to live up to the culture it has set, follow the protocols it has agreed, and hold expectations to account. If a facilitator is tasked with this role, they need to be backed by a certain level of explicitness about those agreements, and a certain mandate. Otherwise, it can get messy.

People often want to leave things to “common sense” and avoid agreeing a code of conduct or explicit protocols. However, this can disproportionately affect the most vulnerable members of the group, since they will feel the negative impacts of bad behavior or culture first and strongest, and are least empowered to counteract it themselves. It's the responsibility of the more priviledged or influential members of the group to think through these questions carefully.

Like a legal contract, you hope you never have to enforce a code of conduct, but if you need it you’re very glad it’s there. You want to agree it before it became necessary. In order for a facilitator or any member of the group to effectively stand up and say, “that’s not OK here”, you need to have already invested in culture-building and expectation-setting.

On Loomio

  • Because Loomio is usually used as a space for constructive deliberation among groups with a specific purpose and set of members, for the most part people engage in good faith and behave respectfully.
  • Loomio is designed specifically to give voice to the individual, and let them communicate their needs and concerns. Even if a majority doesn’t see a problem, a single person can raise it and be heard.
  • Communicating online enables a certain level of physical safety, because people are not face to face.
  • Some groups already use the group description field to note a code of conduct or expectations for behavior. Others have collectively agreed a set of expectations that govern participation.
  • Many groups use Loomio itself to decide their group protocols, such as how to engage, what is allowed, what a decision means and what makes it valid, etc.
  • Some core protocol issues are answered simply by using Loomio: Who is allowed here? How do we communicate?
  • One of the most basic decisions Loomio users all encounter is about decision-making protocol — Consensus? Majority? Quorum? Unanimity? Bringing the question of decision-making protocol to the fore can be a very productive step in cultural development.

Move on to Phase 3 of the 5 Phases of Faciliation in Loomio.

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