Setting sharp standards through facilitator certification

Ann EppsCocodipes are diapers made from coconut fibre – a “green” Asian item that could sell well in the US market. This fictional baby product was the subject of a mock workshop I led on how to market an item in a new location.

I was being assessed on my competency as a facilitator during the workshop. I had invented Cocodipes as part of my preparation. I had a lot of fun developing a storyline, props and procedures for the workshop. And even though I was an experienced and more-or-less competent facilitator at the time, the value and experience the assessment process provided was priceless.

The assessment by the International Association of Facilitation (IAF) was 13 years ago. Although I was an IAF founder and an experienced full-time facilitator and group facilitator trainer, I had decided to undergo the process so I could be a Certified Professional Facilitator (CPF). My husband thought I was crazy to prepare so long and so diligently. Besides preparing for the workshop, I spent months writing a five-page detailed account of one of the seven required facilitated events over a three-year period.

I took part in the CPF assessment process as though I was brand new to the profession. I thought through each detail and changed my workshop topic at least three or four times until I settled on one that I thought would be fun: marketing the Cocodipes product. I was assessed by four people. Five fellow candidates also being assessed served as participants in my workshop. I in turn was a participant in their workshops throughout the day.

The candid, specific feedback from my peer assessors was valuable. Even those deferred at the end of the process said they treasured the learnings. These insights come not only from the assessors (each candidate gets two assessors to work closely with throughout the process) but also from the fellow candidates one observes as a participant in their workshops.

The IAF was formed in 1994 by a group of facilitators from the Institute of Cultural Affairs (ICA). After discussing the various pros and cons, more than 70 of us signed an agreement and contributed $100 each. One of our concerns was to have a say in determining the professional standards of facilitation.

That led to a draft of “core competencies” for assessing facilitators. It has since evolved into a list of six major competencies with 18 sub sets and 72 illustrative examples:

  • Create Collaborative Client Relationships
  • Plan Appropriate Group Processes
  • Create and Sustain a Participatory Environment
  • Guide Group to Appropriate and Useful Outcomes
  • Build and Maintain Professional knowledge
  • Model Positive Professional Attitude

This has been translated into Spanish, Dutch, French and Mandarin. Those who can demonstrate these competencies at an assessment win the CPF designation. Up to 550 such people have been certified and 45 of them, including myself, are qualified to serve as peer assessors. We are located all around the world, from Taipei to Toronto, and Malaysia to Madrid.

Ten to 15 certification events are held each year. These are either in conjunction with various IAF conferences around the world or at ad-hoc locations where a group of 12 candidates are ready to be assessed. The first Mandarin assessment is scheduled to take place at the IAF Asia Conference in Taiwan later this year.

The process and assessors are rigorous. The candidate must demonstrate “pure facilitation” and not training or experiential learning or consulting. However, the philosophy is “assess to pass.” This means each candidate gets several opportunities to show evidence of the competencies. The written material, interviews with the assessors and the workshop all provide evidence of this or lack thereof. Many of those who are deferred re-enter the process again. No candidate fails the first time through the IAF facilitator assessment process.

The CPF assessment does not provide training. It merely scrutinizes one’s prowess as a facilitator, meaning that no one set of facilitation methods, for example, Technology of Participation (ToP), is favoured over another. It’s the demonstration of the IAF competencies that count.

When a facilitator asks whether he or she should go for IAF or ToP certification, I say “both.” They are different processes with different functions. ToP certification focuses more on mastering the ToP methods; IAF certification focuses more on mastering the overall competencies of an effective group process facilitator, and encourages a broad array of facilitator methods. Personally, I am passionate about both the ToP and IAF networks and have benefitted from and hopefully contributed to each of them.

Ann Epps is a Director of LENS International Malaysia.  This post was first published in Winds and Waves, April 2016.  For past issues, please visit our Winds and Waves archive.