Thursday, May 01, 2008

Facilitation + Positive Psychology =

...equals the flourishing organization.

Let me put down this idea: Facilitation as a tool for conducting meetings, conferences and other social gatherings may be combined with the humanistic perspective of positive psychology to provide an important aspect of a theory of social organizing.

Being a practical tool developed out of community organizing, facilitation comes without much theory. Its drift is explicitly democratic and social justice-oriented. It has a distinct process focus, while being results-oriented as well.

Would it be far-fetched to suggest that as practiced by experienced facilitators, it serves the development of people's strengths and the realization of their best potentials, helping them flourish socially and create organizations and societies that allow everyone the opportunity to improve the quality of their lives? No.

Well, that's it, then. A humanistic and positive-psychology focus for facilitation. This is a theoretical context that may indeed be suitable.

Like coaching develops individual potentials, facilitation develops social potentials -- that is, the potentials held by people when together. Coaching is a structured process of asking questions that guide the individual to greater personal insight, preparing her for action. To facilitate is to enact group processes that help the group obtain its goals in a manner that engages every group member.

It seems, then, that facilitation serves, or ought to serve, the needs of the group's members as well as its external stakeholders -- including, in the work situation, the customers or citizens who are to be served by the group members' organization. To serve people's needs is to help unfold their best potentials and helping them flourish in the social and organizational context.

Much is known about individual flourishing and what can be done to enhance it (coaching, therapy, education, child care, mental health care); much is known, too, about social flourishing, or co-flourishing, as I have called it (although many schools or disciplines have gone part of the way: human relations, human resource management, organizational behavior, humanistic sociology, welfare studies, social reform movements, etc.).

What is to be explored is the capacity of facilitation to add to this body of knowledge about how to help social flourishing along. And the avenue of thinking I propose is that of positive psychology, maybe supplemented by the Aristotelian philosophy of human flourishing, eudaimonia, traditionally translated as "happiness".

For its focus on process and the germination of knowledge and action in groups of people, facilitation may be usefully seen as a practical tool to be deployed whenever human potentials and strengths are to be brought out in social contexts such as meetings, networks, conferences and organizations generally.

A bunch of people sitting together in a room waiting for a meeting to start is a tremendous reservoir of energy waiting to be released -- in annoyed argument and increasing conflict, or in constructive conversation followed by concerted, responsible action. The task of the facilitator is to manage the group energies so as to help bring about the latter, to help the group flourish together and bring its combined strengths and resources to the fore.

So, in terms of theory, what needs to be elaborated is the potential role of facilitation in bringing about social flourishing -- by relating core concepts and practices of facilitation to positive psychology and the philosophy of human flourishing.

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