Facilitation for Flexibility and Accessibility

Guide for Facilitation

About this guide

When working with a group of diverse co-designers, whether in-person or remotely, facilitators may encounter barriers that can impact the flow of activities, the level of co-designers' participation, and outcomes.

Planning for access needs and preferences, selecting accessible venues, and using inclusive communication tools can minimize these barriers, but unexpected issues may arise. It is helpful to stay flexible and ready to change activities, schedules, room setups, and more.

The following paragraphs describe some common areas in which last-minute or on-the-fly changes may be required and where flexibility can be a great help.

Accessibility of the venue for in-person activities

A venue may be permanently or temporarily inaccessible for various reasons. Most often, barriers related to the location or the structural design of a venue can't be fixed, such as inaccessible washrooms or proximity to public transit. Although these barriers make certain aspects of a building permanently inaccessible, if they are known ahead of time the research team can inform co-designers of the available space and its limitations.

Problems can also arise when spaces become inaccessible without prior notice. For example, a city construction crew may start drilling next door in the middle of a session. An elevator may be temporarily out of service or the accessible washrooms out of order. In these unexpected cases facilitators can work with participants to find the best solutions. The group may choose to relocate or reschedule the event.

Accessibility of the communication tools and technologies in remote activities

Technical difficulties may arise during a co-design session, particularly during remote activities that depend on communication technology. Unstable internet connection that leads to lagging and frozen audio or video, and failure of assistive technologies such as head trackers or eye gaze are just a few examples. These experiences can introduce frustration for both facilitators and co-designers.

The limitations of technology can introduce other surprising challenges. For example, in a co-design activity that is direction-dependent and requires the recognition of right from left, the mirroring effect of many video conferencing tools can severely impact the process. When such challenges arise try to remain calm and explore alternatives with your co-designers to address the issue. If the problems cannot be resolved, you can work with participants to continue the work on a different platform or using another method, or reschedule for another date.

Activity flows

Facilitators may choose to change the order of activities for a variety of reasons, including running out of time, inaccessibility of the activities, low energy level of the participants, disengagement from the session, or technical issues. Sometimes just changing the order is not enough and the facilitator may need to abandon some of the planned activities altogether to be able to conclude the session.

It is helpful if facilitators prioritize their activities prior to the session and mark some that can be left out when needed. Rehearsing the activities ahead of time with someone from your team or ideally with one of your co-designers can help to refine the activities and to find the best order for them.

Timing

When working with co-designers who have access needs, setting arrival and departure times may require some flexibility. Many participants rely on accessible public transport vehicles to get to and from in-person venues. These must be booked ahead of time and often arrive early or late. In addition, many individuals cannot leave their house or start a remote session without the presence and assistance of a caregiver; they are therefore dependent on that person's availability and schedule.

Crip time is a term that is used by many in the disability community to describe a non-normative timeframe and a shift in the way we think about about productivity and efficiency. Respecting crip time means remaining flexible with start times, when breaks are taken, the length of the session and more.

It is also important to be mindful that each individual has a different pace of processing thoughts, communicating, and developing and executing ideas. This can be a challenge when people who work at different speeds are working together in a group. Minimizing the inter-dependencies of activities and need for group work can help facilitators to accommodate individuals with different paces and schedules. Allowing for activities to be completed asynchronously can also help.

Group Dynamic

Sometimes your co-designers are from the same community such that they may know each other or share the same values. However there may be situations in which a diverse group of people are brought together for the first time in a co-design session. Until they begin working together it will be uncertain as to how well they will be able to collaborate.

Participants may have opposing world views and perspectives that negatively impact their group dynamic and impede their collaboration. Sometimes they have different personalities and some may be more verbal than others and leave less room/time for the rest to contribute. Individuals that are members of a minority group (based on age, sex, gender, language skills, education, religion, etc.) may feel shut down or find it difficult to participate, particularly if they are the only minority in the group. Keeping the groups diverse can help, but it is important for facilitators to remain sensitive to this issue.

For these reasons and more, it is important for facilitators to remain vigilant of group dynamics, making sure everyone has a chance to participate either in remote or in-person sessions. In such situations, facilitators can pause the session, encourage participants to take a break, change seats, or even change groups. In some cases when there is high friction among group members, facilitators can stop the session, restate the co-design goals, and encourage everyone to reflect on their collaboration with others before proceeding with the event.

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Practice

Tips

  1. Be flexible and ready to adjust the length/duration/flow of tasks to address different needs.
  2. Provide ongoing and step-by-step assistance to groups that may be lagging behind and need more guidance.
  3. Be observant of individual needs and group dynamics during the co-design session and re-calibrate your facilitation approach accordingly.
  4. If you notice conflicting needs or unbalanced power dynamics in a group, join those groups to make sure everyone gets a chance to speak and to support individuals who may need more assistance.

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Further resources

Things that can't be controlled

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