By Ymke Knaap
Part of my research is about the role of the facilitator in a Writeshop, what to look out for and how to facilitate the process and encourage a group to tell their stories. The Writeshop process was based on the Barefoot Guide Connection: “the ‘Writeshop’ is a creative, collective and disciplined method for surfacing and writing stories and then reflecting on and learning from them to inform the future”. It is about learning to write and writing to learn, including free writing and feedback rounds.
After talking to several experienced facilitators and several participants in the Writeshop conducted in Lebanon in 2021 by Perspectivity in collaboration with the Knowledge workshop, I’ve listed some key points for facilitators. This is not new rocket science, but very informative for me as I see a possible future in facilitation for myself.
Create a safe space
This can be done in many different ways, creating a safe space for people to share and not share is essential for a facilitator. A key element is creating ownership of the process. This way participants are in control of their own experience and can step in and out of the process, allowing them to be as public as they want. This also leads to deeper reflection and a comfortable atmosphere. You cannot drag people into the process, any more than you can pressure people to tell their story. That often backfires: people will implode and no longer want to share anything.
Another way to create a safe space is not to create expectations about an end result. The power of storytelling is also in the process of writing the story, as it gives participants time and opportunity to reflect on their story and possibly see it through a different lens.
A very good piece of advice I got from a colleague at Perspectivity for creating a safe space is: use the space to your advantage. Think about sitting in a circle and not in a classroom structure, with movement-based activities like stretching and walking in silence. These physical activities help you feel the story even more with your whole being. Being close to nature also often helps people unwind, but unfortunately this is not always an option when facilitating.
Make rules with each other
Before you start writing, it is very important to set the intention of the Writeshop and make clear the ownership of the process. Why are we here together and what do you want to get out of this experience? In addition, there are some other things that are important to do before the Writeshop begins. Knowing each other’s names and what people want to share, but also making common understandings: how do we want to be together in this space? What people usually share then are their personal values and what they want to get out of the experience. Sharing this openly in the group creates transparency and ownership by the whole group.
Provide a good structure
Less is more. Think about the duration of your activities and also important: breaks. An important part is a good structure within the amount of time you have available. And especially in storytelling, there is no point in pushing someone to tell something important or personal in a short amount of time. That only puts him or her under pressure and leaves no room for reflection or deeper stories.
Don’t abuse your role
The facilitator is someone who only facilitates the process, but you as a participant are the process. As a facilitator of, in this case, the Writeshop, you need to be on the level of the participants. You are not superior and cannot force people to do things they don’t want to do. Try to share things yourself.
Want to know more about the Writeshop? Read about the Our Stories of Change Writeshop in Lebanon.