Facilitation: A Growth Opportunity

One of the aims of MozFest is to engage attendees in participatory learning and include a variety of voices in discussion. Our sessions are interactive and stimulate creative thinking, and to ensure that special sauce for collaboration happens at every session, Dirk Slater of FabRiders gives virtual facilitation training workshops for all session facilitators.

Essentially, Dirk teaches how to not teach. Energetic and personable, he encourages session leaders to focus on what participants will experience instead of prescribing what they’ll learn. “People’s experience of MozFest is so reliant on the facilitators because the success of the festival hinges on participants having a good session,” said Dirk. All of the sessions are an opportunity for the leaders to learn and gain valuable insight from participants as well.

Having led sessions and participated at MozFest every year since 2013, Dirk understands what the facilitators are going through. During the online coaching sessions provided to MozFest facilitators, Dirk has asked everyone to reflect on a positive learning experience. The session leaders always mention a form of interaction instead of passive listening or reading.

Incorporating dialogue, support for making mistakes, and real-life applications are ways to make a session active. Session leaders can still subtly teach, but the session should not be solely based on pushing expertise outwards on to the participants. Dirk is fond of riffing off of JFK’s quote to say “ask not what you can do for your participants, but ask what your participants can do for you.” What’s critical is that all the MozFest sessions move projects forward and facilitators use the opportunity to engage the brains that come to their sessions.

Participatory facilitation is an applicable skill outside the walls of Ravensbourne College. Good leadership starts with facilitation — guiding individuals through ideas to an outcome. For our festival, we define open leadership in three parts, as detailed in our 2017 facilitator’s guide:

  1. Welcome as many diverse perspectives into the community as possible.
  2. Encourage contributors to participate meaningfully in the decision-making process.
  3. Distribute code and content widely and freely, allowing others to build on your project.

Dirk expanded the facilitator’s guide from last year to include information about how to design a good session. Session leaders have responded positively to the guide and the training workshop, with some leaders so inspired that they changed the title and reorganized the format of their sessions to be more inclusive.

In fact, one facilitator already strengthened the MozFest network even before the festival. Alastair Somerville works on raising awareness of the needs of marginalized communities in tech products and is running a session on user experience for cognitively impaired people. After reading the MozFest Facilitator’s Guide, Alastair tweeted his appreciation and Dirk then met Alastair for coffee, since they both live in Stroud, UK. The two swapped tips on stories about facilitating sessions, conducting training, and running focus groups. If talking about accessible sessions yields collaboration, then running these sessions at MozFest will surely inspire.

If you’re hosting a session at MozFest and have questions about how you can make it more participatory, purposeful and productive, we recommend these resources:

Have additional questions for Dirk about facilitating discussions? You can contact him here.