Facilitation as weaving. Actionable reflections by Patricia Canto

Patricia Canto, of Orkestra Institute, led the fifth workshop of our Transformative Learning Spaces coLAB. The session was facilitated by Andrea Rodericks.

Patricia writes:

“I’m seeing the wisdom in being a weaver as my developmental edge in facilitating action research processes. 

I’ve been facilitating a learning space for action researchers in Orkestra-Basque Institute of Competitiveness since 2019. This learning space is called Zubigintza, (“Building Bridges” in Basque language). The name is an inheritance from the first research project developed in Orkestra with an action research methodology. The project is now one of the longest-standing research projects with stakeholders in Orkestra and has since changed names. But we kept Zubigintza, the original name, and it has become our heirloom.

Like the project from which it got its name Zubigintza has also changed. An early definition reads as follows:

Zubigintza is a learning space (involving theoretical and methodological development and enhancing facilitation capabilities) made up by the community working in research projects that contribute to the development of Action Research for Territorial Development (ARTD)

The community was initially made up of six participants and now has 13, with a larger group of seven younger people having joined in 2021. The young researchers in this group were hired to do their PhD on a part-time basis while working in one of the many action research projects developing in Orkestra. Moreover, beginning with one initial participant from Latin America we now have three, who connect online, often at inconvenient times, due to the time difference.

In the period since 2019 we have gone from discussing the institutional settings that made us invisible as a research group in a context designed for positivist methodologies (“disappearing acts” in the form of career progression indicators, evaluation mechanisms and other) to welcoming a new group of younger action researchers, and more recently, to writing a full chapter from an action research perspective for the institute’s flagship report in 2023.

Some of the challenges I am facing in facilitating Zubigintza, which I shared with my workshop peers are:

  1. encouraging members of the group to consciously make space for new and younger participants to participate actively:
  2. facilitating hybrid meetings with 10 people in the room (who are Basque speakers) and 3 online from Latin America, trying to avoid giving too many instructions on how to make it inclusive for everyone;
  3. carving my own role, among very experienced and well-known action researchers, beyond organizing the logistics, sometimes finding it difficult to get a word in; and
  4. creating conditions that empower the group, and wondering whether in the spirit of empowerment we should transition to co-facilitating the learning space passing the baton to emerging facilitators who seem (to me) keen to jump in. If I had to think of a metaphor of how I sometimes feel it would be a sandwich.

I also shared some of the challenges I am facing in trying to write about Zubigintza to share learnings with the action research academic and practitioner community have to do with conceptualizing from a place of being an insider action researcher writing about relational aspects that involve me and my own colleagues at work (including reflecting on conflict, competitive attitudes, how certain absences and presences shape the space, etc.). I am also sometimes challenged to find the right academic concepts to frame the discussion of a particular event or group dynamic.

Here is what I heard my workshop peers reflect:

  • The framework on types of knowledge and wisdom from John Vervaeke (a cognitive scientist.  [curators note] AND ).  John Heron articulator of cooperative inquirí  may be useful as you begin to write about Zubigintza and reflect on the types of wisdom that the space holds. Consider Heron speaks of types of knowledge that arise from experience, such as propositional, presentation, practical.  David Kolb has also developed this concept as an integration of different types of knowing referred to as experiential (action) learning. In this we each transform experience via reflection, conceptualization and experimentation. Usually we have a preference for the type of knowledge we emphasize.
  • Exclusion and inclusion is something to be aware of in all contexts, especially how we may create groups and networks that are more welcoming and inclusive of younger people – passing the baton to them.
  • Agreeing on a set of social rules/ norms and values may help to build a more inclusive group/ network for which members take responsibility.
  • In transformative learning spaces, we are always navigating sensitive dynamics and emotions – how do we accommodate them without letting them dominate everything else? And how do we distill learning from doing this to make it shareable? It may be useful to reflect on the idea of shared leadership – when is it my turn to step forward, and when is it my turn to step back and allow others to come in? How do we dance together in the space, not disconnecting when things get intense, but creating a shared culture to hold the intensity and co-hold each other?
  • Something that has been helpful in another group has been to reflect and write about different dimensions of learning edges, “What am I learning? What are we learning in interaction? What are we learning together on the topic into which we are inquiring? What are we learning about our context?”
  • A very useful piece of advice I received is to pay attention to what is happening now, to feel the nervous system of the group. How we speak, the quality of listening, the tempo and rhythm, including what is happening under the surface, shapes the environment in which learning takes place.
  • In situations where there has been little interest in reflection two ground rules may help: 1) one person speaks at a time; and 2) take a pause – breathe and let something land and digest. This may make room for collaboration.
  • We tend to speak about what we do (the outputs). There are other truths — what happens in the “we” space? What connections have been made? What are the shifts and new possibilities? It is helpful to bring the subjective and intersubjective too in thinking about our accomplishments. This may be a way to unearth what really happens behind lineal narratives.
  • Consider that different generations may learn differently. There are different forms of obedience. The older generation may learn through “due obedience” and the young generation may naturally and less consciously – building more informal forms of mutual knowledge.
  • What is wrong with being a (macaroon!) sandwich? There is a wisdom in being in the middle, in being the glue, the weaver, the connector… We don’t have a name for this important role. When you disappear, people just think the person disappeared, not the role, which is generally played by women. Women, talk less and listen more. This may be a perspective from where to start your writing.
  • It may be useful to have participants pause and think about what is going on inside themselves. Even if it is not shared, it changes the dynamics of the space. One may also use two columns: on the right side, “What is happening?” and on the left side, “What is going on in me?” 
  • For writing, approaching this reflection as the evolution of a “learning space” would be very interesting. Moreover, focusing on the space, not only grounds participants, it helps you avoid hurting individual people and focus on how the space evolved over time and with it, your role as a facilitator.

Reflections from Andrea (who facilitated the session):

“For days after Patricia’s session I reflected on the call to leadership for ART practitioners that surfaced in this session. While it sometimes feels like being smothered in the mess of a sandwich 😊 with little appreciation for the flavor we may add, in our role as ART practitioners and facilitators, we are invited to lead. To lead from a place that sometimes feels vulnerable – to practice a leadership that calls us to bridge and weave different perspectives (while also understanding our own), to surface differences, to build connections and common purpose, to step in and know when to step back… to hold spaces that inspire the trust and courage to dance at our learning edge as we navigate the eco-social crises of our times. What a challenging and exquisite opportunity.”

Patricia concludes…

“I left the workshop with the feeling of carrying many gifts that make me more aware of the wisdom in being a weaver.  In writing these notes, I feel inspired to experiment by discussing more with the participants in Zubigintza how we might “co-hold each other,” whether that has meaning for us and how. I will also try to make more space for silence, pay more attention to how we speak and listen and write one or two paragraphs about how this unfolds as an experiment and check with myself how I feel about how it unfolds after each workshop.”