Community Transformation

Pre-Launch

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The work of this stage involves clarifying particulars of the strategy and process design with the convener to ensure that the project gets off to a strong and well-coordinated start.

Delineating expectations—about the roles/responsibilities of convener staff and facilitation team, about the project scope, about the tentative process design, and about the desired norms for group conduct—ensures that team members operate from a shared understanding of them.

In this pre-launch stage, the facilitator works to understand the issue content from the perspective of both the convener and the group participants.  A pre-meeting survey of working group members offers a preview of their values and beliefs, and sends a signal that their needs and interests will be taken into account.

With the information gathered, the facilitator can customize a process design and prepare draft scenarios for participants to discuss and modify during their first meeting. By the end of this stage, both convener and facilitator are aligned and ready to launch the working group sessions.

Preparing draft scenarios with the right amount of detail encourages both abstract and concrete thinkers to participate in developing the group’s operational guidelines.

Clarify the particulars of strategy and process design.

  • Delineate convener staff and facilitation team roles.
  • Deepen project-related content knowledge.
  • Clarify with convener what’s firm and what’s flexible regarding scope, timetable, agenda items, and budget.
  • Agree on desired norms for group conduct.
  • Clarify expected outputs.
  • Understand policy-level concerns.
  • Ensure that necessary expertise exists to deliver project.


Increase alignment between facilitator and convener
.

  • Prepare convener staff to present project context and respond to participant questions that are likely to arise in early phases of the project.
  • Clarify convener’s role and degree of influence in working group.
  • Walk through plans and expectations for the first session and anticipate areas of potential difficulty.
  • Understand mutual expectations in terms of desired “climate” of the group, tenor of discussion, and degree of participant engagement.
  • Clarify facilitator’s prerogatives during and between working group sessions.


Gather information about prospective participants.

  • Conduct a survey that will yield insights about participants, both individually and collectively.
  • Identify interpersonal or group dynamics that might require special sensitivity or process accommodations.
  • Synthesize survey responses to share with group in Stage 3; aggregate responses without attribution.


Prepare for the process
.

  • Customize the process design to mitigate participant fears, concerns, and reservations associated with their group participation.
  • Prepare draft charter describing operating protocols for group to consider (charter, operating guidelines).
  • Prepare draft project trajectory and overall design scenario for group to consider.
  • Disseminate and collect survey in advance of first scheduled meeting of working group.


Notify working group participants.

  • Provide background, logistics, and contact information to group members.
  • Designate staff to answer pre-launch questions.
  • Post a public announcement of project’s commencement, if appropriate.


Arrange for project’s administration.

  • Put in place tax clearances, liability coverage, expense documentation, reimbursement requirements, invoicing protocols, supplemental services, etc.
  • Prepare a detailed project budget.

In the pre-launch stage, the facilitator and convener may want to consider questions like these:

  • What do we want to know about group members individually and collectively that we can gather in a survey?
  • Who will provide administrative project support (website support and document writing, for example)?
  • Who is the final arbiter regarding content?
  • Are there regulatory or compliance issues that need to be built into the process, (e.g., public notices, Sunshine Law, public access, postings)? Who is responsible for ensuring compliance?
  • Which liability issues need to be addressed and how will they be handled?
  • Will a convener representative participate as a member of the group? If so, does he/she have different set of expectations from other members?



Convener’s style may not go over well.
To avoid being perceived as controlling and increase the likelihood of being seen as belonging to the group, the convener representatives may be encouraged by the facilitator (even before the working group meets) to moderate their degree of participation and hold back from being the first to speak every time. Some participants may be suspicious of an institutional convener and its team (and, in some cases, suspicious of facilitators) who favor a “take charge” stance and perceive this style as rude and too aggressive. Anticipating this, the facilitator can coach the convener or even suggest involving a different individual from the convener team.

Public sector participants face hurdles.

Facilitator and convener need to be aware that budget constraints, collective bargaining agreements, and contract terms are sometimes invoked as barriers to participation. Additional hurdles for members of public sector organizations include needing supervisory approval for travel, overtime, or participation in a long-term working group. Field trips and site visits involve added expenses and significant blocks of time that often occur beyond the normal working hours of some participants who may not have flex, comp, or overtime options. In some cases, technological accommodations (such as video conferencing and user sites) can be considered for these participants.

Previously formed working group exists.
If a working group exists, the facilitation team should familiarize itself with existing protocols, leadership structure, roles and practices, and either adhere to them or recommend modifications for the group to consider.

Participants try to sway facilitator.

Efforts by a few individuals in advance to predispose the facilitator to favor particular strategies, ideas, or candidates, can compromise the facilitator’s standing with the whole group when it convenes. Disclosing those interactions and bringing up past connections with the convener or members of the group can reinforce a facilitator’s commitment to transparency and avert accusations of collusion.

Factions form in advance.
Two or three members of an appointed working group may get together before the group convenes to push a particular platform or orchestrate a leadership structure that serves their interests. The situation may call for a facilitator to intercede and slow down the selection process, giving the group the opportunity to agree on how it will make such decisions. The facilitator must ensure that the collective will of the working group is not subordinated to that of an energetic few.

Map out the process and possibilities with convener.
It is useful to clarify the sequence of events and possibilities with convener staff before launching a new working group. The mapping out of proposed stages (in the form of flow charts, tables, or maps) helps a client understand the rationale for various approaches and options and serves as a mental dress rehearsal for everyone. It also may increase a convener’s comfort level with the process and equip them to design their own approaches for future initiatives. Discussing the pros and cons of scenarios also offers the facilitator insights into a client’s needs, interests, and thinking styles. Additionally, discussions about process design can help explore a convener’s sensitivity to budget, pacing, style, and comfort with conflict and change.



Related Examples

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