Learning to Share Offers and Needs

How to encourage intimacy, even in Zoom meetings.

Crystal Arnold
Aug 26, 2020 · 9 min read
Chris Montgomery via Unsplash

Historically, in cultures around the world, ‘the market’ was a place for human connection. Through rituals of exchange people satiated their deep need for belonging.

In today’s globalized world, ‘the market’ has taken on a different meaning. As unknown consumers, we purchase so many things from unknown producers, awash in a sea of globalized trade.

How then do we revitalize our sense of connection through the marketplace, especially in times where we are required to socially distance? And if it’s difficult for communities to meaningfully connect in this moment, how can we possibly train people to facilitate community connection when we’re running such training via Zoom? Surely it’s impossible to achieve intimacy and inclusion through training platforms that seem so impersonal? What we learned through a recent training program we delivered via Zoom upended every assumption we were holding.

Since 2010 the Post Growth Institute has been running a rapid process for people to share their gifts and have their needs met. The Offers and Needs Market (OANM) is a two-hour, guided process in which community members meet (virtually or in person) to identify and exchange their passions, knowledge, skills, resources, opportunities, and needs.

Surely it’s impossible to achieve intimacy and inclusion through online platforms that seem so impersonal?

The OANM builds trust and respect, nurturing a culture of community reciprocity.

Over the past decade, OANM events have been catalyzing connections in more than 30 locations worldwide, engaging thousands of people. This process has connected individuals and organizations in neighborhoods in Australia, Zimbabwe, Egypt, the European Union, Argentina, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

The OANM builds trust and respect, nurturing a culture of community reciprocity.

Running OANM Facilitator Training, virtually

The OANM method has been so successful that people were requesting to facilitate it themselves. So we began planning a virtual training, largely focused on teaching others to run in-person events. Then Covid hit and we wondered how this would translate to the digital space, and if people would show up. Turns out, we were overwhelmed by the response.

In June 2020, Donnie Maclurcan and I (both from the Post Growth Institute), joined by three guest faculty, conducted the Offers and Needs Market Facilitator Training for more than 90 participants from 13 countries. They showed up excited, but also with Zoom fatigue. Yet, instead of feeling drained by our virtual meetings, participants reported feeling energized by the experience, while feeling nurtured through a deep sense of belonging with the wider cohort.

As we developed this process and designed this training, we were seeking to find the answer to three questions:

  1. How can facilitator training model inclusive facilitation?
  2. How can you build facilitator confidence through virtual learning?
  3. How can local community development be furthered through the support of a global cohort?

Participants’ feedback revealed that modeling good facilitation, our methods for leading a virtual event, and the presence of international diversity led to a majority of participants feeling more confident with their facilitation.

Instead of feeling drained by our virtual meetings, participants reported feeling energized by the experience…

We discovered that, even when our connections come through internet cables, we can still connect with each other as human beings, and listen to each other’s hearts. Inclusive facilitation is the gateway for creating the safe container that makes this possible.

The depth of personal and professional transformation that many experienced surpassed what we imagined.

We modeled inclusive facilitation in three ways:

  1. An accessible scholarship process

We sought to model the trust that sits at the heart of strengthening diverse communities.

Our approach to providing financial aid is meant to decolonize the power associated with many charity or scholarship applications, which are long and laborious for applicants. We were committed to making the training financially accessible.

So, whoever wanted a scholarship, got one. No questions asked. We also wanted to give people more choice in how and what they contributed in exchange, beyond just money. So many people chose to barter for their place in the program. The graphics augmenting this article were created by Viv Rockach in Australia, as part of her barter exchange, and the article itself was collaboratively edited with other trainees.

Our approach to providing financial aid is meant to decolonize the process associated with many charity or scholarship applications, which are long and laborious.

2. Surveying

Each encounter can be a learning experience with proper feedback.

We conducted extensive pre- and post-training surveys to adapt the material to participants. Each week we surveyed people and used the feedback to shape the next session.

All trainees gained templates for digital and printed surveys to use at their events. Consider surveying with these three simple questions after your event: “What did you like about the experience? What could be improved? Anything else to add?”

3. Silence

As group facilitators, we create inclusivity through silence.

In the shared silence, the online participants were able to drop into their inner wisdom. Rossana Rossi, a Puerto Rican woman in New York City, was brought to tears during the training when we did an exercise demonstrating the importance of asking people to be silent for a short period while reflecting on a prompt or question.

We create inclusivity through silence.

We sought to enhance facilitator confidence, in the virtual environment:

Safety through structure allows for vulnerability to be expressed.

An effective facilitator engages with emotional intelligence. They read the energy of the group, and direct their attention and intention. Many of the social and emotional cues can be diluted in virtual meetings. We’ve all attended poorly facilitated Zoom meetings. It’s awkward for people to respond virtually to a group of strangers.

A crucial role for facilitators is to remove the awkwardness that people feel in virtual meetings.

We weren’t certain whether participants could increase their confidence in facilitating through participation in an online training. Yet they did! On a scale of 1–5, confidence had nearly doubled from a pre-training survey of 2.15 to an average of 4.1.

Facilitation goes beyond sitting in a circle or being guided through a process in a room. It shows us how to relate with grace and kindness.

We demonstrated that local community development can be supported internationally:

“Building community can feel like the loneliest of journeys, until it doesn’t.” — Donnie Maclurcan, Post Growth Institute

There is a spirit of camaraderie in our virtual cohort that is nourishing. Participants in our social media groups have been generous with their comments and shared learnings.

Participants are a diverse and largely female group. In terms of gender, 70 percent of participants identify as female and nine percent as non-binary. Women keep showing up at the frontline of community development and the care economy. Think of all the educators, social workers, caretakers, and nurses who are women.

Racial and cultural diversity contributed to an interesting experience: 31% of participants were people of color and/or biracial and 70 percent of people identified as white. Also, 54 percent of participants were aged 40 or younger.

Watching a spreadsheet populate real-time with people eager to co-facilitate was inspiring.

Our key learnings

“Good facilitation is one of the world’s most needed skills, and one of its least appreciated.” — Donnie Maclurcan, Post Growth Institute

An asset-based approach to virtual facilitation is effective, because it builds on existing strengths. Facilitators reduce the barriers to participants’ sharing by using intentional silence and asking them to signal in the chat when they have a question or comment. Facilitators can ease the trepidation that people often feel during virtual meetings.

Not all facilitators are extroverted and comfortable in the spotlight. I have introverted tendencies, as do many facilitators, which may surprise you! People who are empathetic and sensitive to others can use these skills to facilitate a group. Knowing how to process and take care of ourselves after running a group event is essential to thriving as a facilitator.

We need each other. With our unique threads we are weaving the tattered tapestry of community. We are valuable beyond measure.

Various feedback from participants illustrates the success of our approach, and how participants have immediately applied their new skills:

  • Jasmine Victoria participated in the training. She earned her masters degree from Oxford University and has over 14 years of experience working directly in post-disaster communities.

For the past several years, she has lived and worked in Puerto Rico, an island which was hit hard by Hurricane Maria in 2019, followed by a swarm of powerful earthquakes in early 2020. Puerto Ricans take pride in their ability to be self-reliant, yet the pandemic has dampened an already struggling economy. Jasmine sees the potential of the OANM to be used to shift a prevalent mindset: that asking for help is a sign of weakness or personal dysfunction.

  • Olga, a Romanian woman in France, was awake at 1 AM each Friday in June to participate in the weekly sessions, and she said that connecting with this diverse and interesting cohort was worth it. She was surprised about how this impacted her personal life, improving her personal relationships with her fiance and mom. She is communicating in a more inclusive and respectful way because of this training.
  • Anto Ferraro from Argentina co-facilitated an OANM with 730 members of the Liberating Structures CoP (community of practice) from Latin America. She found that “the OANM is a great tool for communities that are already established, as it truly enables everybody to see and share how rich and abundant the group is and the many different ways we can relate to each other.”

Through the collaborative ecosystems laboratory UNCULAB of the National University of Cuyo in Mendoza, Argentina, where Anto lives, an OANM will be facilitated within a project between the Municipality of the City of Mendoza and one of the local artisan communities, seeking to strengthen ties and lay the foundations for collective work.

Thank you to our funders, including: Kelley Buhles, Ellie Lamphier, and RSF Social Finance, the New Economy Coalition, the Whole Systems Foundation, Grant Williams, and Barry Thalden.

Special thanks to Donnie Maclurcan, Patrick Fitzgerald, and Howard Chesshire for their contributions to this article.

Find out more about the Post Growth Institute on our website.

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