Director of Capacity Building and Standards
Being represented makes clear that we belong in a space, and helps to build trust. So we need to make sure the facilitators we work with reflect the diversity of the UK. Session Lab's State of Facilitation report, released last month, shed light on a serious issue within the industry - the lack of diversity and inclusion. In this blog, Carly looks at the big takeaways from the report, explores some possible solutions, as well as some of the ways that you can get involved.
We know how important it is during a democratic process - be it deliberative, participatory or something else - to have people there who look and sound like ourselves. Being represented makes clear that we belong in a space, and helps to build trust. So we need to make sure the facilitators we work with reflect the diversity of the UK. Session Lab's State of Facilitation report, released last month, shed light on a serious issue within the industry - the lack of diversity and inclusion. In this blog, Carly looks at the big takeaways from the report, explores some possible solutions, as well as some of the ways that you can get involved.
When I started working at Involve last year, I was told that the participation and deliberation field is homogeneous. I have a background in inclusion so I was curious to dig into this and find out what people really meant when they said this. I’ve spent the last few months looking into how the people we work with at Involve reflect the diversity of the UK (or not) and how we can better collaborate and learn together with people from other sectors.
So, when I saw Session Lab's State of Facilitation Report 2023 I was excited to see it took a deep dive into the extent to which facilitators reflect the diversity of the communities and countries they work in.
What is the State of Facilitation 2023 report?
Firstly, it’s a great report - go read it here.
Over 1,100 respondents from 93 countries took time to fill in a survey by SessionLab to understand who are facilitators, what they do and how they do it. This comes with a caveat - people from the Global South are underrepresented in the survey results, which are skewed towards European and North American respondents. The survey aims to:
- inform the collective conversation on facilitation
- amplify facilitators’ voices
- challenge the facilitation community to explore its growing edges
- inspire facilitators to expand and deepen their practice
So, as an organisation that does a lot of facilitation work - and wants to make sure we continue to push the boundaries of good practice - it is a really useful set of aims!
Takeaway 1: Facilitation lacks diversity and inclusion
Unsurprisingly, I fit the stereotypical profile of a facilitator in most ways, with the exception of age. The majority of facilitators that responded to the survey are white women in their 40s and 50s with a high level of education. But even I was surprised to see 90% of respondents have a degree - way more than the 34% of the UK population. 70% of respondents are white or caucasian, despite being a global survey, which says we have a long way to go when it comes to ethnic diversity in facilitation. Less than 4% of respondents are under the age of 30, aligning with my perception that there are not many Gen-Z facilitators out there. A final point to note is that there is a clear gender pay gap in facilitators' salaries. There is around a 20% pay difference, favouring men, in circumstances where people of different genders are doing the same role.
On diversity and inclusion - what are we doing?
For starters, we’re going to start doing something we should’ve already been doing - monitor the diversity of our freelancers. How are we to know where we have gaps if we don’t have baseline data? We will also be making our process for recruiting new freelancers into our network much more transparent.
Next, we are launching a new initiative - Introducing Involve - targeted at people who might be interested in becoming a freelancer with us. We will get to know each other at these day-long events, which will be made up of short interactive sessions to introduce what we do and our way of doing facilitation and other skills we look for in freelancers.
I also know how much we have to learn from other organisations to make sure our facilitation and other wider work reflects on power, privilege and inclusion. Our ambition here at Involve is to convene spaces for this sharing and learning because we know there is so much good practice out there already. We are educating ourselves at Involve on power and privilege, and we are building this focus into our training and activities.
Takeaway 2: We need to create a stronger community
The majority of facilitation happens alone. 97% of respondents stated they sometimes or most of the time work alone. I was disappointed to hear that over a quarter of respondents are part of no facilitation community or organisation at all. I have no idea how these statistics would translate into the UK context, but I would be interested to find out. How are we learning, challenging ourselves and pushing ourselves to try new innovations if we’re not learning from others? The survey respondents said “Keeping up to date with the trends” was the number one challenge for them. 72% felt it was very or somewhat challenging, pointing towards a need for greater community in facilitation and beyond. Facilitation should not just be an independent profession - it is an essential skill for everyone who leads teams and groups. And something similar should be said for deliberation and participation. Deliberative and participatory processes should be embedded into the work of community organisations, activism, grassroots initiatives, institutions and the public sector, not just done by institutions and specialist organisations like Involve.
On creating a community - where do we start?
We need space where people from different sectors and fields come together to share and create new practice in deliberation and participation. I would love to be in a room that is buzzing with discussion between freelance facilitators, community organisers, government officers and researchers about how to do participation and deliberation well. There is something inherently exciting too about the idea of bringing people together from the arts, innovation and tech, and the private and public sectors to celebrate successes, test new ideas and build new partnerships to create a more vibrant democracy. But this needs to happen from the bottom-up.
In the next few months, I will be having 100 conversations with people doing engagement work across different sectors across the UK to test the idea of creating a national Engagement and Participation Network. First, I want to get to the why - to find out if there is appetite for such a network and, if so, getting clear on its purpose. Then, we will get people in a room to think about the what - to decide together what the network could look like, how it would function and co-create it collaboratively. This cannot be done alone - we need you to join us to shape and create a network together.
Introducing Involve will take place at least once a year and will move around the regions and nations of the UK. Register your interest using this Google form and we will be in contact when there is an event near you.
Complete this Google Form if you would like to contribute to the development of an Engagement and Participation Network, or if you would like to be involved once it has been co-created.