As liaison and information exchange forms the core of CIMIC Officers’ work, they are likely to frequently chair or participate in meetings. Being able to do so effectively will greatly enhance the productivity of the CIMIC Officer – and can be seen as a core skill for the position.
This chapter will cover various aspects of meeting facilitation, including preparation, managing meetings, guidelines for facilitators and dealing with difficult areas in meetings.
Preparing for a Meeting
Before you facilitate a meeting as a CIMIC Officer, make sure that all appropriate stakeholders have been identified, consulted about the meeting, and invited to the meeting. If the meeting will bring two or more parties together to discuss a dispute, ensure that all parties to the dispute have confirmed that they will attend.
How do you identify the appropriate stakeholders? All parties who will potentially be affected by the outcome (positively or negatively) have a stake in the process. Those who will be directly responsible for implementing the outcome will be crucial to the process. Those parties that can potentially block the implementation of the outcome should also be included in the process.
Confirm your list of stakeholders through consultations with those already on your list. They are likely to alert you to any stakeholders you may have omitted.
Consult all the stakeholders to make sure all the participants have a common understanding of the purpose of the meeting before they arrive at the meeting. Prepare an agenda based on the input received by the various stakeholders attending the meeting. Make sure the venue is acceptable to all, and that it has been prepared before the meeting.
Opening the Meeting
Welcome all the participants and let everyone introduce themselves. Be sensitive to the local culture and integrate the appropriate local cultural protocols into the introduction and opening session.
Liaison and Information Management
Liaison and coordination is about the exchange of information. Meetings can be one of the most useful forms of exchanging information among groups of more than two people because they are more time-efficient than if parties had to meet separately. As a result, CIMIC Officers are likely to spend many hours in meetings during their deployment. In some cases they may chair meetings.
At the same time, there are few things more frustrating than a poorly-run or managed meeting. It is thus crucial for CIMIC Officers to master the skills necessary to effectively manage meetings, if they are to discharge their responsibilities successfully.
• All parties who will potentially be affected by the outcome (positively or negatively) have a stake in the process.
• Those who will be directly responsible for implementing the outcome will be crucial to the process.
• Parties who can potentially block the implementation of the outcome should also be included in the process.
Establish ground rules, such as time-frame for the meeting, methods for taking decisions, the role of the facilitator, and means of recording decisions.
Re-state the purpose of the meeting and finalise the agenda.
Managing the Meeting
Once the process is in place, start moving through the agenda. The skill in facilitating a meeting lies in balancing the need to move through the agenda within the agreed time frame with the need of participants to feel that they have had enough opportunity to participate and have their say. If the pace is too fast, participants may feel that they are being manipulated. If they are not comfortable with the process, they are unlikely to take ownership of the outcome.
The facilitator’s skill lies in ordering the discussion, and steering the meeting towards a constructive outcome. Ask people who have placed items on the agenda to speak to that point. Prevent interruptions. First allow questions of clarification and then open debate.
If the issue is too complicated, consider how it can be broken down into smaller, more manageable parts. If you do break the issue up into smaller parts, consider how they should be ordered and grouped. Tackle the issues one-by-one. Make sure everybody knows when a point has been concluded by providing a summary of the discussion and the outcome. Make it clear when a new issue is being introduced. Ensure that everyone is heard. It is often useful to start with a couple of easier issues to build momentum for cooperation. This will help the facilitator to identify and build on areas of commonality.
If the issues at stake are emotive, the facilitator should not try to formulate agreements too soon. Let the parties wrestle with their own problems so that they can take ownership of the process. Allow the parties to vent their emotions, within reason, and without losing control of the meeting, before steering the discussion towards seeking solutions.
Make use of short breaks when the meeting is deadlocked, or when the discussion is no longer conducive to settlement. Agreements are more easily reached over tea than in plenary. Remember that process often matters more than, or is at least as important as, the outcome. All the participants must feel comfortable enough with the process to abide by and implement agreements reached at the meeting.
Once the meeting has reached agreement, ensure that it is captured in writing. Take a small break, if necessary, and allow the persons involved to formulate the agreement on paper. Make sure that the agreement covers points relating to its implementation, roles and responsibilities, and monitoring and evaluation.
Use the appropriate protocols to close the meeting once all issues have been dealt with to everybody’s satisfaction. Agree on a date and venue for the next meeting if one is required.
Guidelines for the Facilitator
The facilitator should be an advocate for the principles that underlie collaborative decision-making processes, including structuring and managing the process to ensure maximum representation, and effective participation by all key stakeholders. Don’t dominate – an effective facilitator is like a good referee – he or she is invisible during the play, and only steps in when it is necessary to stop or start the play. A poor referee breaks the momentum of the game.
Neutrality and Impartiality
The facilitation process should be neutral and impartial. In this context, neutrality means not taking sides and impartiality means freedom from bias. The facilitator should not become an advocate for any particular point of view or position. If it is necessary to advance a particular UN or AU policy guideline, rather let a colleague make the point. You can’t be a credible facilitator and a party to the process.
The facilitator has an obligation to ensure that all the parties understand the nature of the process, the procedures and the role of the facilitator.
In some cases, one or more of the parties may confide in the facilitator. Maintaining confidentiality in these situations is critical for the credibility of the facilitator, especially in a dispute resolution process.
Dealing with Problem Situations
Even under the best circumstances, problems may crop up. There are a number of things you can do when you recognise that a problem may be emerging. One is to do nothing. It is not always necessary to intervene, and a premature intervention may actually worsen the situation. On the other hand, if it is potentially a serious problem then dealing with it as early as possible is advisable. You will have to make a risk assessment and judgement call yourself, and act accordingly.
The key to dealing with problem situations is to change the dynamics of the meeting. Sometimes dealing with a problem situation yourself is an option. You can do so either by taking the individuals involved aside for a private discussion, by changing your facilitation style, or by calling for a break. Another option is to involve the whole group in seeking a solution. You can do this by making the group aware of the problem and by asking their advice on how to deal with it.
One of the most difficult situations to handle is when an argument breaks out in the group. Discourage a back-and-forth exchange between two people by moving the discussion away from personalities and by reminding participants of the problem they need to solve collectively.
1. Fair process
2. Neutrality and impartiality
3. Informed consent