Organizing Groups with Systems Facilitation

Facilitators don’t talk, they act,
When their work is done,
the people say, “Amazing:
we did it, all by ourselves!”

The intersection of organizing and facilitation is the topic of this page. Traditional organizing and traditional facilitation are covered elsewhere on this site. Where the two come together is sometimes called “systems facilitation” and is defined as the process of catalyzing groups’ development of innovative, integrated systems. The method, in various guises, is being used in Australia, New Zealand, and various places in the U.S. Practitioners are using it to help watershed groups, cooperatives and other value-added businesses, software development groups, in family therapy, and a number of other situations. Systems facilitation is a mirror image of one of history’s most successful, but limiting, organizing methods — that of Saul Alinsky. His Rules for Radicals are the 13 Commandments of both labor organizing and civil rights organizing.

Systems facilitation is much more than traditional organizing or traditional facilitation. It’s a holistic means of transforming people and their systems. You can explore it from an infinite number of angles. My personal favorite is to look at it through the PROCESS groups go through as they become more effective.

Or you can explore the SKILLS which adept systems facilitators all seem to have.

For approaches similar to systems facilitation . . .Bill Patrie’s approach to Cooperative Development

Bill Patrie’s approach to organizing includes a post-Alinsky set of Rules for Radicals. Patrie’s rules of organizing stress working together to create wealth instead of attacking to redistribute wealth. Patrie’s methods have led to creation of dozens of successes in value-added diversification.

Australia has generated several related approaches to facilitation.Sirolli’s Enterprise Facilitation approach is most similar to the systems facilitation approach described here.

Over half of Australia’s farmers are members of groups facilitated through Australia’s Landcare Facilitation Program

Another widely popular Australian application of rural group facilitation is the property management planning program. This national effort has been adopted by each Australian state.

It is similar to holistic resource management in the U.S.

If you can’t go to Australia, here’s where you can find many of the Best Facilitators in the United States!!!

If you are interested in theory, you might want to explore the more general phenomenon of which systems facilitation is but one example:

self-organizing systems

The essence of self-organization is that system structure often appears without explicit pressure or involvement from outside the system. In other words, the constraints on form (i.e. organization) are internal to the system, resulting from the interactions among the components and usually independent of the physical nature of those components. The organization can evolve in either time or space, maintain a stable form or show transient phenomena. General resource flows within self-organized systems are expected (dissipation), although not critical to the concept itself.  Or, more succinctly:

The Master doesn’t talk, he acts,
When his work is done,
the people say, “Amazing:
we did it, all by ourselves!”

from the Tao Te Ching as noted in the
Introductory MBA course taught by Robert Bostrom at the University of Georgia.