What is Facilitation?

This is Part 1 of a short series on facilitation and its uses in organizations. As an evaluator, I sometimes use facilitation to help organizations plan and use the results of my work.

Over the past several years, facilitation has become a popular word and concept in organizations. We are asked to “facilitate” meetings or processes or introductions. It’s become a bit of a junk term, with unclear definitions. Just what does facilitation mean?

“Facile” is the root word of facilitation, and according to Merriam-Webster Online, a synonym for facile is “easy.” In other words, facilitation at its most basic means to “make easy.” In the context of organizations, it is a different thing than training, teaching, or managing.

The facilitator is not part of the group, but is tasked with helping the group come to a decision. This is key, because groups are much more likely to implement decisions when everyone in the group has a sense of buy-in and commitment to the decision. An equation you can use to describe facilitation is:


where ED=Effective Decision; RD=Right Decision; CD=Commitment to Decision.

Facilitation is a widely useful set of tools. In future posts I’ll be exploring ways to take these tools and apply them for organizational effectiveness, especially when you want to make changes.

Not All Change is Created Equal – Multiple Levels of Change

Not all change is created equal.

The first step in effectively creating change of any kind is to understand that change happens at many different levels – from a single moment or thought, up to an historical change in social structure. If you don’t understand the level of change you are working at, you may select the wrong approach for dealing with that change. In this post I identify four levels of change and give some examples that will be helpful in deciding what level you need to work at.

The micro-personal level of change happens moment-to-moment. It is all about a thought, single action, or event in our daily lives. Change at this level means interrupting a pattern just once. This can be a habit of thought or action, like negative thinking or smoking. It can also be a repeated sequence of events, like a yellow light always being followed by a red light.

Personal change is the level that I address when I want to “change my life.” Most often when we talk about personal change, we’re talking about changing a habit. Building on the previous examples, quitting smoking for any length of time is a personal change. Replacing negative thoughts with positive thoughts is another personal change. Generally people want to change their lives on a long-term basis, but personal change can also be temporary. One common example is pregnant women who give up pain relievers during their pregnancies, but reach for an Advil the first time their baby has a crying fit!

At the organizational level, planned change is usually addressed through change management initiatives. This seems to be the organizational equivalent of “I want to change my life.” Of course, change can happen to organizations in many more ways. It seems that more often organizations are faced with unplanned change such as shifting markets, staff turnover, or technology changes. In those situations, organizations can either react through a planned initiative, or ignore the change and hope it goes away.


Over time, all communities and societies will experience massive amounts of change. Societies are the ultimate open systems and are subject to a constant inflow and outflow of people and ideas. This is a good thing, because too much stability in a society creates stagnation. The “Dark Ages” in Europe provide one of the best examples of an insular society hostile to innovation. However, when societies change too quickly, the chaos that follows can lead to a lot of unhappiness. I imagine that American Indian societies went through a long period of chaos and cultural upheaval during the European migration to North America.

Modern governments generally attempt to balance the pace of societal change through public policy. For example, the United States controls attempts to control the number of immigrants allowed to enter the country every year. Social norms are also a means to slowing change. The stronger a social norm is in a current population, the slower the change pendulum will swing toward its opposite.

In any situation requiring change, I suggest that you consider the level of change that is appropriate. While this isn’t always obvious – for example, you may have to change your mindset about your job instead of changing the company you work at – some reflection will lead you in a starting direction.

Introducing the Story by Numbers Podcast

Have you ever noticed that nonprofit podcasts are often dull, dry, and not terribly useful? I’ve been listening to many podcasts since I got my first iPod 6 or 7 years ago, and the nonprofit-ty ones never stay in my subscription list for very long.

But there’s no point in complaining if you’re not willing to work for change, right World Savers? The incredibly awesome Ruth Terry and I have started a  bi-weekly podcast that we hope will fix some of those ills!

Story by Numbers (coming soon to iTunes) is all about quick, useful and most of all FUN ways that you can tell your organization’s stories using quality data. We want you to be able to talk to funders, supporters, clients and maybe even your friends and family about what you do all day while keeping them entertained.

This first episode is a short, 5 minute intro, but check back on May 15 as we get into the real focus of the show.

Calling All World Savers

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Are you a World Saver?

Don’t worry. I mean that in the nicest possible way. To me, a World Saver is bright, energetic and convinced that some things aren’t right in the world, so they’re committed to doing something about it.

If that’s you, you probably started a nonprofit, or work in the sector. Or maybe you’re a social entrepreneur, a committed volunteer, or a business person concerned about your social impact as well as your financial bottom line. You’ve got a vision for how the future can be better than the present.

But you’ve got a problem. You started this work to try and make a difference, but somewhere along the way you’ve gotten bogged down in details. You have to make budgets, hire staff, screen volunteers, and of course raise funds. And now people are telling you that you have to do program evaluation. What does that even mean?

You are exactly the type of person I want to work with.

Who am I? My name is Maria Gajewski and I Help World Savers. I own Changing River Consulting and for over 5 years now I’ve worked with nonprofits, charitable foundations, government offices, citizen groups, and concerned business people to help them make their good work even better. I can help you ask the right questions about your programs or organization, evaluate your results, and make the most effective improvements with the most efficient use of your resources. Nothing is more fun to me than seeing an organization getting better results, more funding, and more community involvement because of our work together.

I’m working to make ChangingRiver.com the best website for practical information about ways to evaluate programs, measure results, and make continuous improvement a realistic part of your busy workday. If there’s every any way I can help you, contact me. Thanks for visiting and let’s go out and save the world today.

2012 Blogathon (Yikes!)

I’m happy (and a little terrified) to announce that I’m participating in the 2012 WordCount Blogathon. Over the next 31 days, I’m going to do my best to publish one post per day that helps you Save the World just a little bit better.

If you’d like to follow along, be sure to subscribe to this blog by RSS or email. You can find the links on the right side of this page.

Also feel free to suggest post topics. I’ll mostly be writing about managing change, using data to tell stories, and confessing my overwhelm and panic – but don’t let that stop you!

Fingers crossed for a great month!

Welcome to Changing River Consulting

You work in a small to medium size nonprofit. The staff and volunteers work hard daily to address needs in your community.  You think you are doing good work, but have no way to prove it. How can you know that you are making a difference?

Your nonprofit’s services have been “good enough” for a long time, but you know you need to make improvements to keep up. Where can you make changes to your services to improve quality without adding lots of extra work?

Your organization is working harder than ever. You are providing quality services to growing numbers of clients in need. You are dealing with funding cuts by asking staff and volunteers to do more work with fewer resources. How can you make the best use of the resources you have? How can you prove your effectiveness and make a case for more funding?

Changing River Consulting can help you answer all of these questions. Using accepted techniques in program evaluation, quality improvement, and change management, Changing River Consulting works with your nonprofit to measure program performance, identify places where improvement is needed, and take credit for the good work that you are doing.

Some of the tools we use include:

The Five Tier Program Evaluation Model. The Five Tier Model (Jacobs, 2003) can include needs assessment, monitoring and accountability, quality review and program clarification, outcomes measurement, and showing impact. This model is one of the best and most comprehensive ways to help programs measure their work. It is flexible and can be tailored to many timelines and budget options.

Systems Mapping. Evaluation can identify where improvement is needed, but doesn’t do a good job identifying ways to make those improvements. Using systems mapping techniques such as process flowcharts, Changing Rivers Consulting can work with your organization to identify leverage points to make noticeable improvements in organizational work at a minimum cost in time and money.

Change Management. It is one thing to identify needed changes, but another thing entirely to help staff and volunteers make the transition to new practices. Change management techniques can help bring people along to the next evolution of organizational work.

Contact Changing River Consulting to learn more about how we can help you help others.

Helping You Help Others