By Alice Blackwell

In April 2019 I joined ICA as ToP Training Coordinator. As a new graduate, bursting with enthusiasm and new to the concept of facilitation, I was excited to embark upon my new role. At the beginning of 2020, after almost a year of learning and experimenting, the hard work we had put in at ICA:UK seemed to be paying off. Participant numbers were rising, more courses were being held, and we had a greater online presence. Then COVID 19 hit. I was devastated to see 14 public courses cancelled, 2 in-house training sessions postponed, and opportunities for new facilitators halted. I then began to worry about the impact on the longevity of the organisation itself.

“Creativity was needed in order to answer the question on everyone’s lips – ‘what do we do now?’”

With both the training and facilitation community grinding to a standstill, our trainers, board and staff came together via Zoom to support each other, as well as to discuss the changing world and to reflect on our role within it. Once the initial shock of the situation had subsided, and the new limitations were accepted, slowly creativity began to flow. This creativity was needed in order to answer the question on everyone’s lips – ‘what do we do now?’ 

It would be a lie to say it happened overnight, but through the chaos a path seemed to be emerging. Online. More meetings online meant people needed help facilitating in this new environment. More time at home meant people had time to reflect and put time towards developing new skills. Lack of social contact meant people needed to connect. We were delving into a little known world. Some of us were apprehensive about how to train effectively online, others were nervous about the use of new software which provided its own set of problems. However, our trainers based up and down the country, each with their own passions and expertise, began to support each other, work together more often than ever and develop their skill sets. I myself had the opportunity to work one on one with different colleagues, learn from their experience, develop my own skills and strengthen working relationships. In short, a real sense of community and creativity that ICA had been looking for, happened organically. This is in part due to the pandemic but because our trainers and staff are motivated by a love of what they do, a genuine desire to help people and a dedication to their work. 

Thanks to the continued work of our team here are some of the successes and new learning opportunities we have been able to develop and deliver to our network over the last few months:

  1. Virtual Facilitation Workshops – In April and May we ran six, 90 minute workshops, with our Virtual Facilitation expert Orla Cronin with a total 118 participants. Through these workshops we were able to support the mass ‘going virtual’ of the world!
  2. Focused Conversation webinars – Between April and June we ran eight, one hour webinars, delivered by ICA:UK’s trainers. 610 participants from all over the world joined us to discuss topics from Reflective Practice to Taking Your Event online. Watch our recordings here, if you missed them.
  3. Facilitating Virtual Events course – Following the success of our 90 minute workshops we were able to schedule two 3 week virtual facilitation courses, in June and September. Partnering with Orla Cronin, (who has been ahead of the online facilitation curve for years), a number of our other trainers have been instrumentally involved in the delivery of this course and are now ready to lead the training next year!
  4. Transforming Difficult Conversations Online – After developing and running this course for 20 years, Ann Lukens, parterned with ICA:UK to bring this course online for the first time! From 13th-16th July the course successfully ran online with 14 participants who learned 4 practical tools for effective communication in difficult situations. If you missed out, keep your eye on our course schedule for another coming this autumn.
  5. Free Resources page – ICA:UK went live with its new free resources page in April – featuring blogs from our trainers, quick tips videos, downloadable PDFs from our courses, networking opportunities and more.
  6. Online Energiser Workshops – New lead trainers, Miriam O’Donoghue and Megan Evans will be coming together to deliver a series of workshops in September, October and November, designed to combat ‘online fatigue’ and put the energy back into your meetings and online events. Book now.
  7. Group Facilitation Methods Online (COMING THIS AUTUMN) – Since May 2020 our trainers have been working to develop a quality online version of our flagship course – the GFM. We are now in the final stages of the design process and hope to run the first online version of the course this Autumn. Register your interest here.

The future still holds many uncertainties, and we still have a lot of challenges to face.  But I am certain that this time has allowed ICA:UK to reach a point it needed to reach, and that it may never have reached if the pandemic had not occurred. Cohesion, learning, community and modernisation – all ‘facilitated’ by the technology we now have access to – although one technology will outmatch them all – the ‘Technology of Participation’!