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Facilitation and Reviewing to Scale

Active Reviewing Tips 6.2   Facilitation and Reviewing to Scale
  1. EDITOR: What do facilitators facilitate?
  2. TIPS ARTICLE: Reviewing to Scale
  3. TIPPLES: Why review outdoors?
  4. LINKS: Experiential Learning
  5. NEWS: Top 20 Active Learning Books
  6. SITE UPDATE: What's new at http://reviewing.co.uk
  7. QUOTE: Factuality

~ 1 ~ EDITOR: What do facilitators facilitate?

What do managers manage? What do teachers teach? What do executives execute? What do operators operate? A job title only gives general clues about its nature and purpose and the skills required. So how much variation is there within the field of 'facilitation'? And, of special interest to me (and you?) - do some, most or all facilitators have a use for reviewing skills?

Here is part of the infinite list of what facilitators facilitate: groups (of all shapes and sizes), meetings, workshops, programmes, activities, conflict resolution, problem-solving, decision-making, risk-taking, learning, personal development, growth, performance, profits, parties, fun, healing, well-being, harmony, community action, a supportive learning climate, self-esteem, curiosity, spiritual awareness, dialogue, reviewing, reconciliation, agreement, results, change, empowerment, anything and everything!

So what do you facilitate? And how relevant are reviewing skills to the kinds of facilitation that you provide?

The more I work with different people doing different jobs, the more I come across new areas of practice where people want to develop their reviewing skills. Given that people in all walks of life want to learn, this is not an earth-shattering discovery. But what does surprise me is how often people who work in 'sitting down' cultures are prepared to get people moving by using active reviewing methods as the taking off point for new ways of working. Once people are out of their seats and this threshold of passivity is crossed and enjoyed, a whole world of possibilities for learning and change opens up.

This brings me back to question number one: what do facilitators facilitate? I think that what is common across all of these settings is the facilitation of the courage to change. Big changes may take a long time, but the sooner you get people to cross little thresholds, the sooner they will find the courage to cross the big ones.

A facilitation style that is itself innovative and active is already half way towards generating solutions that will be innovative and acted upon. Set the tone early on. But do not simply use energisers and then revert to dull ways of working. Try to keep the spirit of innovation and action alive throughout. If you cannot change the mood or culture of a meeting, how can you expect participants to make changes?

If you happen to facilitate in the outdoors, you may want to take a look at my new article about facilitation and reviewing in outdoor education. It explores the implications for facilitation style in a truly learner-centred approach, and it lists 16 advantages of reviewing outdoors. You will find this article one click away from the index at: http://reviewing.co.uk/articles/index.htm

Even if you work indoors, you may still be tempted to work in the fresh air, so I have included a brief extract about the benefits of reviewing outdoors in the 'tipples' section below (in section 3).

How much space (indoors or outdoors) do you have to work in? How many people are you working with? Whether you work one-to-one or one-to-a-hundred or somewhere in between, I hope you will find some useful ideas about 'scaleability' in reviewing in the tips article that follows (next below).

~ 2 ~ TIPS ARTICLE: Reviewing to Scale

This article outlines a number of practical considerations when reviewing with groups of different sizes and describes how reviewing techniques can be scaled up or scaled down or adjusted in other ways for maximum effect. If you are not familiar with the methods described you will find more detail by using the search box at http://reviewing.co.uk

Most reviewing methods can be scaled up or down to suit the size of the group that is taking part in the review. Different materials may be needed at different ends of the scale. Most paper and pencil exercises can be scaled up with a bit of imagination and resourcefulness. And reviewing exercises that you first came across as whole group activities can probably be shrunk down to a more intimate size for a paired activity or for personal reflection.

But even while working with the same group you may want to use a variety of 'scale' in the reviewing techniques that you are using. Sometimes people will benefit from reflection that is internal and private (as in Guided Reflection). At other times people will benefit from the kind of reflection that happens while taking part in an Action Replay. And on an even grander scale, people can learn a lot by walking around giant Metaphor Maps in order to represent the learning journey on which they have been travelling. They find themselves walking around the winding pathways of their minds.


A circle is the best shape for maintaining eye contact and for group discussion. But what is the discussion about? Will it be easier for participants to communicate by staging an active illustration of the point being discussed?

Circle? Example: Rounds

Rounds provide a useful structure for allowing everyone to make a brief comment in response to the same question or to complete the same sentence beginning (e.g. An example of creative thinking was ..). It is a good way to make a quick survey. That benefit would be lost if each brief point had to be illustrated in some way. But use a round of mimes and you get the best of both worlds - a circle and a stage at the same time. Whether you are looking for words or actions, people can always pass if they have nothing to say or perform.

Stage? Example: Positions

'Positions' can be even quicker than rounds - so it does not always follow that active methods need more time than verbal ones. 'Positions' is also known as 'silent statements', 'spectrum', 'line-up' or 'diagonals' (which is the longest straight line you can make in a rectangular area). 'Rounds' are good for open questions, but 'positions' is often a better choice for closed questions or for the kinds of questions that can be answered by placing a cross somewhere on a line between contrasting statements. A suitable review question for positions might be: 'How much encouragement for creative thinking did you notice during the exercise?' One end of the line represents 'lots' the other end represents 'none'. Everyone chooses a point on the line and stands there. They are now all standing on the 'stage' and there is no 'circle' to see where each person is standing. There is a neat way of overcoming this problem if you want each person to readily see everyone else's position: make the line a horseshoe shape. Everyone is now BOTH on the stage AND in a circle. In this more circular shape it is easier to develop a group discussion. It is also called 'silent statements' because even non-speakers are making a statement by having chosen where to stand on the line. And to make things more interesting and dynamic you can encourage people to move if they change their minds.


Do you want participants to step back into the experience (to relive the experience and appreciate more about it) or do you want them to step out of the experience to see the bigger picture (from the outside looking in)?

I once took part in a 'die-in' where thousands of people were lying down on the ground pretending to be dead. It was a very strange sight. Stranger still was the fact that nearly everyone else had brought their cameras along to get a picture of this spectacle. Have you anticipated what happened next? Arguments quickly erupted between all these peaceful people who were spoiling each other's pictures. Everyone who stood up to take a picture was spoiling someone else's picture by not lying down dead.

In or out? Example: Action Replay with Interviews

You can never escape this problem entirely (of trying to be both in and out of the picture), but here is a creative compromise. Ask the group to perform an 'action replay' of the event that you are reviewing. During the 'action replay' everyone is 'in' the picture and cannot readily step 'out' of the picture to see what is happening. They may simply be going through the experience again and are achieving very little new learning from doing so. This is where interviews can help. At any point during the replay, anyone can call 'pause' and request the dummy microphone to interview one or two people who are taking part in the replay. At this point, all of the players (except those being interviewed) become spectators and are 'out' of the picture. If the interviewer's questions are good, new information will come out that was unnoticed or unspoken at the time. After a minute or so, everyone gets back 'in' the picture and continues the replay until someone else requests a pause. Not only is this a dynamic and focused reviewing technique. It also develops people's ability to switch rapidly between different levels of awareness.


Do you want a 'snapshot' (a fairly permanent record of how things appeared at a particular time), or do you want to work with more flexible and moveable images to makes it easier to represent and negotiate alternative views and possibilities?

Concrete? Example: Predictions

'Predictions' is a versatile reviewing technique. It is important for predictions to be recorded in some way so that they can be returned to after the event. A written prediction serves this purpose well, but making a audio-recording or video-recording of predictions has even greater impact. Much the same is true for objective-setting. There are many other aspects of reviewing that are worth recording, but this good habit sometimes goes much too far. For example, whenever you see a messy flip chart with lots of crossings out, the chances are that the facilitator should have been using a more flexible and interactive medium.

Clay? Example: Stones

I have actually used clay in reviewing with some success, but the 'stones' exercise will serve as a better example here. 'Stones' (or other small objects) are flexible because they can easily be moved around to create different patterns. The basic technique involves asking people to arrange the stones to illustrate the dynamics of the group and their position within it. (Detailed instructions are on my website.) I will usually ask each individual to make an arrangement in a different location, and then ask the whole group to make a tour as a whole group to visit each arrangement in turn. If appropriate, a development of this exercise is to provide the group with just one set of stones and ask them to tell the story of how the group has developed by constructing about 6 different arrangements of the same set of stones. When this exercise is carried out in a group circle it is likely that everyone will be involved in moving the stones around and making adjustments until they are happy with each of the 6 frames of their group story about how they have developed. After doing this 6 times they might be ready for the final challenge which is to use the same technique for reviewing what they have just been doing with the stones. Group dynamics are always in flux. It seems highly appropriate to use a hands-on and flexible reviewing technique for looking at group dynamics. A group that can communicate effectively about its own processes is probably at a more advanced stage of development compared to groups that talk about anything but their actual experience of being in the group.

~ 3 ~ TIPPLES: Why review outdoors?

When reviewing in the outdoors there is no shortage of opportunities for active reviewing. The outdoors provides:

a breath of fresh air and change of scene that can inspire a refreshingly new approach to learning

an abundance of visual aids, some of which are 'the real thing' rather than substitutes for it

a naturally stimulating environment for learning that is more 'brain-friendly' (and arouses more 'intelligences') than the most well equipped indoor classrooms

space that is useful for more physical reviewing such as action replays, human sculpture, human graphs, or human scales

privacy for solo reflection

freedom from fixed or cumbersome furniture - you can move quickly between large group, small group, paired and individual reviewing activities

opportunities for walking and talking - for paired discussions or for interviewing each other

sand or soft earth for drawing anything such as a graph for showing ups and downs, a journey towards a goal, a force field, a flow chart, or a learning model

natural objects and materials for making concept maps to see how ideas connect, or metaphorical maps as an aid for reflecting on psychological journeys.

natural objects that can be arranged and moved to represent the changing group dynamics

viewpoints from where participants indicate places that evoke thoughts or feelings associated with the experience being reviewed

opportunities for reflective exercises such as guided reflections or making personal gifts from natural materials

a 'Canterbury Tales' journey where each review topic happens at a different location.

The above list is based on a larger list in: 'Facilitation and Reviewing in Outdoor Education'. The full article is one click away from:


~ 4 ~ LINKS: Experiential Learning

Why Experiential Learning is so Effective

These 12 points are drawn from the Experiential Learning Research of corporate psychologists Dr John Luckner and Reldan Nadler. Sabre Corporate Development 1999 after Luckner and Nadler http://tinyurl.com/hs0c

The Experiential Learning Cycle

James Atherton's 'Learning and Teaching' is a superb online presentation, digest and discussion of a wide range of learning and teaching theories. It includes many clear and colourful diagrams illustrating the theories under discussion. Atherton maintains a critical edge throughout his presentation. This site rates alongside Mark Smith's Informal Education site. Both offer tidy and readable accounts of key theories, while also pointing out their shortcomings.



Conversation as Experiential Learning

Part of the fast growing literature about conversations and learning. This article suggests a way of being in conversation and of fostering experiential learning that increases the likelihood of creative learning within conversational spaces. by Ann Baker, Patricia Jensen and David Kolb

For quotes about conversation in learning see:


For reviews of books about dialogue and conversation in learning see:


~ 5 ~ NEWS: The top 20 best sellers

I was very interested to discover which books have been selling most copies since my bookshop opened 5 years ago. The best seller was 'Team-Building Activities for Every Group' by Alanna Jones, closely followed by John Heron's 'The Complete Facilitator's Handbook'. Books of games and activities have been selling particularly well, but it is reassuring for me to find that books about facilitation skills are also featured. My own book reviews seem to make a difference, but the critical reviews of the book in third position do not seem to have put people off buying it. Or maybe sales slowed down when the critical reviews appeared? I will continue to review the books that interest me most. I also welcome reviews from other contributors - anything from a sentence to a paragraph.

The Top 20 are listed at:


~ 6 ~ SITE UPDATE: What's new at http://reviewing.co.uk


I have already mentioned the new article about reviewing in outdoor education. The next new articles will be on 'learning styles' and on 'creativity and transfer'.


New titles been added to these categories in The Active Learning Bookshop:

Conversation, Dialogue and Stories in Learning, Appreciative Inquiry, Drama Games, Facilitation, Large Groups, Talented Children, Inner Dialogue, Informal Education, Humour in Learning, Brain Compatible Learning, Narrative and Qualitative Research, Personal Development.

All of the most recent additions are listed at:


~ 7 ~ QUOTE: Factuality


The consequences of my acts,

you might collect as proven facts

yet proof is an elusive notion

divorcing time and place and every motion

from meanings, and intuitive leaps,

from shadowed, hidden unknown deeps

and always will the facts belie

the sensing, feeling, inner eye

that tells no stranger what it learns

but tells, perhaps, for what it yearns.

F Ashton 1994 (Rev. March 1998)

'Factuality' is published at Clearwater and is reproduced here with Frank Ashton's permission.
[http://homepages.enterprise.net/frankash/clear/writes4.html - original source, no longer works]

Articles relevant to the topic of reviewing to scale are:
Reviewing with Large Groups
Reviewing by Numbers
Big Picture Reviewing
and relevant to the topic of facilitation, take a look at:
Facilitation and Reviewing in Outdoor Education
Enjoy! Please remember that your feedback or ideas are always welcome.

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