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    Written by Luke Hohmann
    on November 24, 2015

    We've completed our third Sprint for the San José Budget Project! We've got the core functionality of the San José District 3 Participatory Budgeting web site up and running and are now turning our attention to building out our facilitator team (have you signed up? Well, get to it! Sign up here.).

    In this post I'm going to share some of the lessons we've learned in managing the facilitation team for large in-person collaboration events, which I define as more than 100 people, and extremely large events, which I define as more than 500. We're targeting 1,000 people for the in-person 20-Feb-2016 San José Citywide Budget, and 50,000 people for the online forums during the week of Feb 22nd, 2016, which is among the largest events we've ever produced, and (we think) the largest Participatory Budgeting program ever in the United States.

    In case you missed it: 1st post.

    Establishing Targets

    Let's focus on the in-person event, because it is typically more challenging from a logistics perspective. Each 9-person round table is organized with 7 participants, 1 Facilitator, and 1 Observer.

    players at the 2014 Budget Games
    San José, CA residents play Budget Games for the 4th year in a row to provide the City of San José with valuable information on their budget priorities.


    We're estimating 150 tables will be enough for the projected 1,000 participants for the in-person session on 20-Feb-2016. That's a facilitation team of 300 people (2 for each table).

    And that's not enough. Murphy, of Murphy's Law fame, will show up. Facilitators will get sick. Observers will have car trouble or forget the event. Which means you need extras. We've found having about 5 extra people for every 100 facilitators / observers is the right amount - in this case 15 people.

    Because this event often deals with emotionally challenging content, we like to staff a special team of truly extraordinary facilitators who roam around the room helping other facilitators fulfill their duties. For this event we're plan on having 20 roaming facilitators.

    This gives us a target of about 360 people. Yeah, my math is wrong. I rounded up and then added a few more, because stuff "happens" and we want to be extremely prepared. Will we need 360 people? Probably not. Will we be glad we have more than we need? Absolutely.


    The first step is recruiting facilitators. Casting a big net is good, but you're going to catch the best fish in the right pond. We like fishing here.

    Conteneo Certified Collaboration Architects. Our community of Certified Collaboration Architects is the best place to start looking for facilitators. They're trained in our methods and many of them use this event to introduce their colleagues and friends into the power of collaborative, participatory budgeting.

    Newsletter. Tami publishes a terrific newsletter each month. I know this because she tells me that our open rate is more than twice the average of corporate newsletters! Our latest newsletter focuses on the San José Budget Project and helps us recruit facilitators.

    Social Media. Obvious. Of course. Just listing for consistency. We find LinkedIn and Twitter especially compelling.

    Professional Organizations. We're associated with a number of amazing professional organizations, including the Agile Alliance, the Scrum Alliance, the Qualitative Research Consultants Association, the National Coalition for Dialog and Deliberation, the Product Development and Management Association, and other organizations affiliated with these organizations. Phew! It is quite a list, and what makes us happy is that the people within these organizations have really big hearts. Members of these organizations have ALL participated in prior Budget Games and will contribute again in 2016.

    City of San José. The City has always supplied Subject Matter Experts and additional staff adequate to run the event. However, the magnitude of the February event means that we'll be leaning on City staff to help. To minimize potentially damaging facilitation bias, we'll be using City employees primarily as Observers.


    Making sure our facilitation team is properly trained is essential to the engagement. To accomplish this goal, we've collaborated with The Kettering Foundation to develop a ½ day training program that covers our collaborative Budget Investment process, Budget Games and Common Ground for Action.

    Our training is organized around our "Know-Do-Have" model of training.

    Know: We start with what we want facilitators to know, ranging from technical skills associated with managing our in-person and online technologies to software skills associated with facilitating / moderating group discussions.

    Do: We've been practicing experiential learning / "learning-by-doing" for years. Indeed, we're renowned for teaching multi-day workshops without ever using PowerPoint! The trick is to organize the "Knowing" around the "Doing" - a set of carefully designed activities that give facilitators confidence that they can do their job.

    Have: We augment our training with a set of job aids / handouts that facilitators can use throughout the program and beyond!

    You can find a full description of our training program and register here.


    Facilitation is a (soft) skill that typically gets better with practice. So, we're going to be organizing a lot of practice sessions over the next few months to give facilitators training. Time permitting, we'll organize the practice to cover increasingly challenging situations, ranging from basic facilitation of a "normal" group of participants to more challenging facilitation experiences dealing with Wallflowers and Dominators.

    Even if you're not interested in facilitating at the San José event, sign up and we'll include you in the practice sessions. You'll be helping a great cause and you might like the process so much that you change your mind and join the facilitator team.

    Recognition and Rewards

    Facilitators give their time freely for this event, so we recognize them by including them in our formal report to the City of San José and by granting them extra Facilitation Credits that they can apply towards their Conteneo Certified Collaboration Architect status. It is a small gesture of thanks for an event that simply cannot be accomplished without their active involvement.

    Oh - and they get a super cool T-Shirt. This year will be bright Orange!

    Let us know what you think. 

    Add your comment below.

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