ILRI / ILRIComms / Knowledge and Information / Open access

Open access; open facilitation: One week, two good ideas

This week is ‘Open Access Week‘ with lots of activities happening worldwide. A good week to celebrate the freedom of information to circulate.

This week is also ‘International Facilitation Week‘; also a good opportunity to wonder how open facilitation helps knowledge circulate just as openly…

International Facilitation Week hosts chat events (credit: Martin Gilbraith / IAF)

The International Facilitation Week hosts various chat events (credit: Martin Gilbraith / IAF)

Open access – let information circulate

In a scientific organization such as ILRI, information is key. As it is the cornerstone of evidence that is generated by sound scientific research, and it is hopefully used to inform discourses, behaviours, policies, and further research.

Open (Access) is part and parcel of the communication and knowledge management work done by the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), from providing access to open journals (and more recently welcoming the Knowledge Management for Development Journal back into Open Access), publishing open journal articles to moving research outputs away from scientific silos to open repositories and to using open source softwares and off-the-shelf solutions for our information infrastructure (using existing platforms such as WordPress, FlickR, Wikispaces etc.).

But the story does not end here.

Open certainly does not end with information. As much as Open Access liberates information, facilitation helps people filter that information more adequately through the knowledge flowing in good, focused, conversations.

Facilitation – let knowledge flow and learning follow

If information matters, knowledge is equally important, and perhaps even more so, as it brings people and conversations together, and helps us explore the boundaries of our current understanding and of the relations that help us cross unknown territories. Facilitation can be one powerful way to unlock conversations, relations and learning all at the same time.

In essence, facilitation aims at:

  • Interacting – Getting people more involved and committed as they share knowledge, co-create the agenda, conversations and sessions, and the results thereof;
  • Learning – Bringing participants to learn more, as opposed to passively consuming information delivered conventionally in endless Powerpoint presentations.
  • Delivering – Ensuring that the objectives set (or whatever else that appears to be more important in the course of the event) are delivered, in time;
  • Innovating – Stimulating and using participants’ creativity to unlock unexpected solutions;
  • Connecting – Developing trust and bonding relationships among participants…
Facilitation: bringing creativity and order to generate meaningful, co-created results (Photo credit: WebbedFeat)

Facilitation: bringing creativity and order to generate meaningful, co-created results (Photo credit: WebbedFeat)

The basics of facilitation are also well-known: paying attention to the participants, the space (venue), the type of conversations, the energy and politics among the people concerned. Read this post to revisit the key issues to consider when facilitating. These ingredients are used to liberate knowledge flows.

But that is just how basic facilitation works…

What might open facilitation look like?

And what makes the combination with open access irresistible?

In addition to the above, Open Facilitation:

  • Develops capacity for facilitation: Involving people in facilitating sessions themselves (to chair, to minute, to keep the time, to host, to co-facilitate), and also developing the capacity of dedicated facilitators, to openly expand the movement;
  • Is being more open and explicit about using facilitation: both by promoting it among management to get more buy-in and a conscious effort to bring in facilitation, but also by talking more openly about facilitation in events themselves, introducing facilitation rules, mentioning specific knowledge sharing and facilitation methods to progressively sharpen the collective inclusion and engagement quotient (IEQ);
  • Documents events and conversations more openly, publicly and purposefully, both the results of the events themselves and the process of facilitating these events, so as to keep track of insights and re-use them…

Open Facilitation more effective when combined with Open Access because: information that is openly accessible is then used selectively – facilitation acts as a filter to avoid information overload – or rather ‘filter failure‘ – as with orchestrated death by Powerpoint. And also because the information that is generated through facilitated and documented events comes back to the public domain and contributes to the growing Open Access information base.

Open Facilitation at ILRI and in CGIAR, now and in the future

ILRI and CGIAR have been making intensive use of facilitation over time (as testified by the Google Search on ‘CGIAR facilitation’. Within ILRI, Open Facilitation has not been rolled out explicitly labelled as suchs, but a lot of the principles mentioned above are actually put in practice:

  • In more and more events ILRI is making use of facilitators working as pairs to develop each other’s capacity – but we have also developed the capacity of various ILRI and other CGIAR centres’ staff in running effective events and conversations through our Komms Klinics;
  • The process of designing and running events is often totally open to anyone, with invitations to join ‘after action reviews’ for any participants that wish it;
  • All events supported by the ILRI Comms team are effectively documented online for future reference – as evidenced by this list of supported events;
  • And many of these events have their process documented also, from the early 2010 ‘ICTs in agriculture’ exhibition to the recent African Dairy Seminar (September 2014).



And ILRI is investing ever more in its own facilitation capacity, by bringing social media and Open Access specialists into facilitation…

Some open facilitation trends on the horizon?

Perhaps there will be fewer and fewer meetings, because many people are experiencing that the sacrosanct workshop needs to be reinvented?

Perhaps more and more conversations and events happen online so that online facilitation becomes a much more commonplace trend, labelled perhaps as ‘massive open online facilitation’ – MOOF?

Perhaps people realize that facilitation is not just about improving the quality of collective conversations, but also about facilitating one’s own personal knowledge mastery?

Various people within CGIAR are currently exploring these questions, and more. In fact, the May 2015 issue of the Knowledge Management for Development Journal will be dedicated to facilitation and will feature an article tracking back 10 to 15 years of facilitation history, current and upcoming trends within CGIAR. Stay tuned!

Meanwhile, with open information, open knowledge, open learning, perhaps we have all it takes here to do ‘Open Knowledge Management‘ – OKM? Where will the open movement take us next? And where will facilitation go? All the more reasons to join events on both fronts of this excellent OKM week!


Find out more about the ‘Open Access Week‘ 

Find out more about the ‘International Facilitation Week

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