In Part I of our story on the 2017 New Brunswick Healthy Aging and Care Summit, we looked at the impact of the summit and the ways in which it is generating possibilities for positive action.

How did this germination occur? How do you design a gathering that values everyone’s voice and, in so doing, inspires real change?

Design & Facilitation That Provoke Actionable Change

As Charles Holmes asserts, the “success of the summit was a function of the design.” That design started 9 months in advance of the November gathering and encompassed every detail of the 2-day event, big and small. To keep the design focused on inclusion and ensuring everyone’s voice was heard, a top-down approach with keynote speakers was eschewed in favour of “provocateurs” who would provide stimulus for table discussions, sparking ideas and encouraging conversation.

healthy aging care summit

The 2017 Healthy Aging and Care Summit took place in Fredericton, NB

The lead-up to the NB Healthy Aging and Care Summit therefore necessitated Charles and his co-facilitator Amanda Hachey spending time with each of the provocateurs helping them decide what their thought and conversation stimulus content would be, and then deciding what flow and sequence made the most sense over the two days.

“90% of the success of any gathering lies in the design.” – Charles Holmes

When designing the summit, Charles also focused on certain key areas that help make any large group meeting succeed: welcoming people so they feel in a different and safe space, creating thought-provoking questions to explore in conversation, synthesizing comments in a way that makes people feel heard and understood.

The room set-up, the way people move about in that space, the different styles of “feedback” methods used – a graphic recording artist was present at the summit to visually capture the themes as they emerged from the discussions – are therefore all essential to the success of a large group dialogue.

Another key element, of course, is the facilitation.

The Importance of Masterful Facilitation

What is it that makes a particular style of facilitation so impactful? As Bill Mackenzie puts it, “facilitation works well when you almost don’t notice it’s there.” This speaks in equal parts to the excellent design and preparation of large group dialogues and to the subtle, service-based approach that distinguishes master facilitators such as Charles from others.

“Charles Holmes is truly is one of the best facilitators I have EVER seen.” Jamie Ryan, Chief Executive Officer of the New Brunswick Real Estate Association.

Jodi Hall points to Charles’ capacity to synthesize people’s comments in an impactful way: “His great gift is that he can take those comments and put a great deal of context and pull out exactly what a person is trying to express and really be able to connect all of these commentaries in an exciting way that helps us to see where the anchor points are and where we all align.”

At the 2017 Summit, the facilitators had another challenge – to ensure both official languages of Canada were respected. Amanda Hachey, co-facilitator, was instrumental here, providing French-language services.

Bridging Linguistic As Well As Organizational Boundaries

“Félicitations pour l’organisation et le programme! Évènement interactif et instructif.” Feedback from a francophone summit participant (Congratulations on the organization and the program. It was an interactive and educational event)

As a bilingual province, language played a key role in the design and delivery of the summit. Simultaneous translation – a translator sat at the back of the room and headphones were available for anyone who needed them – coupled with Amanda’s French-language facilitation ensured that everyone could participate and understand what was being said, whichever official language they felt more comfortable in. There were also tables with francophone participants and note-takers, and the 2017 Healthy Aging and Care Summit report that was created from the summit was translated into French.

graphic recording

Part of the graphic representation of the 2017 healthy aging and care summit by graphic artist Rachel Derrah

As William Randall contends, this focus on bilingualism resulted in a feeling that “we’re all in this together across French/English boundaries as well as organizational boundaries.”

The Power of Intergenerational Integration

The organizers were also keen to ensure engagement with a diverse demographic at the 2017 summit, in part to leverage the energy the younger generation brings, and also “to inspire new and future champions to keep this conversation going” (Jodi Hall).

Undergraduate students from St. Thomas University were therefore invited to participate in the event as note-takers. Randall, professor at St. Thomas, describes this experience as incredibly positive for the students. He relates how the students returned from the event “raving about the energy in the room, the contacts they had made, the people they met.” The summit reinforced the students’ motivations for studying gerontology as aging felt like a “hot issue in our province and beyond” and inspired their commitment to the field by revealing the future career roles that are possible for them.

Exceeding Expectations through Design and Facilitation

Months of planning, a design focused on inclusivity and valuing everyone’s voice as well as masterful facilitation on the day, resulted in the 2017 NB Healthy Aging and Care Summit not only meeting but surpassing expectations.

“My biggest goal and the goal of the council who created the event was to see people engaged in dialogue, and they were, simple as that, they were. Everywhere you looked people were talking.” Erin Jackson.

By removing traditional hierarchy, and focusing on the value of everyone’s voice, participants, young and old, felt inspired, involved, validated and energized.

“That room was full of energy. At the end of the day I felt like people were ready to jump on the train and say let’s go, let’s do this, you could feel it in the room.” Suzanne Dupuis-Blanchard

At its next gathering, the Collaborative will undoubtedly hear many, many stories of what empowered New Brunswick citizens did next!

Writer: Kim Bridgett, with the voices of Suzanne Dupuis-Blanchard, Jodi Hall, Erin Jackson, Bill Mackenzie, William J. Randall, Jamie Ryan & Charles Holmes.

Read a PDF version of Generating Systemic Change through Large Group Dialogues: Part II.