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BD Giving Notes #40 – “My weapon of choice‘’ 

The training helped me realise that this neutrality was not about me but about the space I am able to create for others so that tensions can be spoken about.

A few weeks ago, our Head of Learning & Participation finally finished their Level 4 training in Lewis Deep Democracy (LDD), marking the culmination of a development process that started in September 2020. Here, Cameron Bray, reflects on what they’ve learned and what this means for their work.

My colleague Jack wrote a previous Note about his experience with the foundational LDD training. I won’t repeat too much about the background of the method as he’s already done a great job of that. In brief, it’s a way of dealing with conflict by ensuring that all voices are heard and get to influence a decision. By doing this, we hope to maintain relationships rather than ending them. There are a range of tools that a facilitator uses to draw out conflict and find a way to move through it.

Level 4 is the furthest I can go without becoming a trainer myself. There are no new tools to learn and it’s a very introspective process. Over the course of three days, our cohort of six worked together to get to the heart of the work we are each doing. We were a very mixed bunch, the most diverse in terms of how we were using the tools that I have encountered during my training to date. Alongside a familiar face from our work with the Lankelly Chase Foundation, I also met a councillor and people using LDD within the private sector. This really helped me see the potential of what I do in terms of where it could be used effectively.

We dug deep into the history of LDD. In doing so, we had to engage with the very premise of the methodology and work out for ourselves how it connected with the tools we had all been using. It also forced us to dig into our own histories and subconscious thoughts and behaviours. In doing so, we reconnected with how it felt to be facilitated. This allowed us to familiarise ourselves with how the people we facilitate are likely to feel and recognise when we are not paying attention to it during conflict resolution.

As a methodology developed by psychologists, it’s not something that can be easily boiled down to a few training sessions. I was very aware of the gaps in my own knowledge and the dangers involved in facilitation. None of us in the room were psychologists yet we had all dealt with emotional and mental distress in our facilitation – these are things that LDD’s creators had the education and experience to handle. 

Did that mean we should just give up and not bother trying to be facilitators, since we couldn’t give people counselling? After several years learning and using the Deep Democracy method, had we talked ourselves out of using it? That prospect felt scary.

I must not fear

As a facilitator, I try to take inspiration from many different sources. The above title is taken from the Litany Against Fear from Frank Herbert’s Dune series. In the story, several characters use the litany to ground themselves at times when their fear prevents them moving forward. While the litany begins by saying that one ‘must not fear’, it goes on to give specific instructions to deal with fear, namely that we must face it and allow it to run its course. It suggests that it is counterproductive to try and fight it, that in doing so we cause the fear to linger.

To me, this is an important lesson for facilitation. In Deep Democracy, the importance of a neutral facilitator is given a lot of prominence. It’s what is meant to allow you to fulfil your role in drawing out all perspectives about an issue. For a long time, I have wrestled with this as it felt wrong. If I’m confronted by hatred and bigotry, it feels like a violation of my innermost self to not speak out against it. The training helped me realise that this neutrality was not about me but about the space I am able to create for others so that tensions can be spoken about. 

If I am constantly fighting my feelings while facilitating, then I am hampered in my attempts to help others with their feelings. I am not a machine.  I have emotions and opinions of my own. How ever much I try to hide them, they will always be there. Being able to recognise when that happens and let it pass over me is then really important. I need to step away from facilitation and communicate why I have acted in this way. This mirrors my perspective on power, and the importance of knowing when to put it down. I am very glad that Jack and several others across the borough have started their LDD journey. This is creating the conditions where I am able to step away from the power that comes with facilitation, knowing that the work will move forward. It won’t be how I would have done it but accepting that as an outcome is key to doing participatory work.

To bring this back to now, BD Giving is currently on the brink of some monumental decision-making. The GROW Fund is the largest fund we have ever run, both in terms of the overall amount and the size of each grant. While the Community Steering Group are the decision-makers, it’s sheer folly to imagine that I am ‘neutral’ in this process. I have worked in the borough for three and a half years and forged incredible relationships with its amazing people. Once I acknowledge this, the decision-makers have a way of holding me accountable. They do this by pointing to my acknowledgement whenever they feel I am disrupting neutrality. Their ability to do this with me also demonstrates that it is safe and possible to engage with any conflict of loyalty that emerges in participatory decision-making.

At the end of our time together, my course companions reached a point in our discussions where the enormity of what happens to us next started to hit us. We reflected on the fact that, even though we had reached the highest level of Deep Democracy, the journey wasn’t really over. For us to develop as facilitators, we would have to continually engage in reflection, challenges and learning.

I must not fear.

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