I am honoured to have facilitated an informal meeting in London for biodiversity experts from over 50 countries. The aim of the 3 day conference was to prepare for negotiations on the world’s post 2010 targets. Tackling the demands of global biodiversity with such a great diversity in the expert-group: a valuable and exciting process. The conference was organised and hosted by the UK and Brazilian governments – our preparatory meetings were marked by great commitment by all involved. As far as my experience is concerned, it’s unusual and very gratifying for Ministers to be so actively and intensely involved in the background of such consultations! The atmosphere of our internal meetings in preparation was concentrated and target oriented, but open and fresh – it’s uplifting to see how representatives of such different countries treat each other with respect, interest and comradeship.
And then the conference itself: 3 days of large group discussion (100 people) at 10 round tables. Lots of self-organisation – facilitator, scribe and timekeeper roles were allocated at the start of each of the 5 table discussions and ensured a broad and fair participation at all tables as well as a good recording of results. We’d done some good work before the conference to create clear and challenging templates for the tables to use to focus their discusssion and visualise their main results. This process also enables an overall report to be written up quickly after the conference – synthesising the results of all tables in the same overall template logic. Synthesising effectively, quickly and with the acceptance of the group is one of the major facilitation tasks at a large group conference – ensuring that tables’ diverse and broad results are fed back into the process without either taking too long, losing too much detail or confusing/frustrating participants! We chose different methods to do this, which I’ll list below, and all were based on a good written recording of results through the participants:
- Facilitator uses the break to summarise the results of tables in a slide and presents the slide after the session: great for results of brainstorming and uncomplicated discussions.
- Facilitator invites a representative of each table to join her at a central “fishbowl” table, which summarizes the main areas of the table discussions. All participants outside of the “fishbowl” listen in. We didn’t do this, but you can leave one chair open for people on the outside to occupy if they strongly feel one of their discussion points has not been raised. This is also called the Carousel method.
- Facilitator “visits” the tables for a round of short interviews on what the discussions are bringing to the surface. Participants’ reports are recorded simultaneously by the co-facilitator on a ppt-slide, creating a cluster/structure, which is summarised verbally before the close of session.
I am excited about meeting many of the experts again next week at the 6th Trondheim Conference on Biodiversity in Norway. Peter Schei, not only an expert in the field, but also a good listener and communicator, will be chairing the meeting at which I’ll be helping out with facilitation. There’s a lot going on in this Year of Biodiversity – with a lot of great minds and hearts determined to make a change.
For a summary of the meeting and more information on the Convention on Biological Diversity see: https://www.cbd.int/sp/sp2010+/