HQ Profile: The International Association of Facilitators (IAF)

Enabling positive change through facilitation
26th Jun, 2017

Founded in 1994, the International Association of Facilitators (IAF) is a participatory organisation based in Toronto, Canada with members from more than 65 countries, dedicated to setting internationally accepted industry standards, providing accreditation, supporting a community of practice, advocating the power of facilitation and embracing the diversity of facilitators. Wiebke Herding, IAF’s communications director, explains why facilitation goes far beyond coaching and mediation.

Why is facilitation important in today’s world?


Facilitation is really about the art of working in groups together towards a shared goal. Meetings, conferences and workshops are an important part of work in many businesses, organisations and industries, but they easily become frustrating and boring if we don’t prepare them well. That is where facilitators comes in: we focus on the group process so that you can get to the content and outcomes you need while engaging all participants deeply.  


What kind of events does the IAF organise?


As a professional association that focuses on group processes, our members learn and innovate from interacting with one another. In-person events are thus a really important element of IAF’s work. This starts in local chapters that organise monthly meetings and skillshares. Then there are national conferences, for example in Sweden, Italy or India. Finally there are four larger regional conferences this year that bring the community together in North America, Asia, Europe and Africa. Each conference focuses on a specific theme, organising workshops, keynotes and experiential learning around it. Our speakers and workshop leads fly in from all corners of the world, ensuring a good cross-fertilisation of ideas. We will also announce the winners of the annual Facilitation Impacts Awards at these conferences. We have found that for our community, a single large international conference does not work as well as regional get-togethers: travel costs are a real barrier for our members, and networking is more important on the local level in facilitation.


What kind of sectors are your members from?


Facilitation skills are important in a large variety of sectors. Many of our members work in organisational development or training. Some come from a background of coaching and mediation. We’ve also seen many specialised facilitation skills pop up: there are agile coaches, business analysts, process engineers, visual facilitators, design thinkers, community organisers, youth workers, campaign strategists and many more. Most facilitators first start off in a different job, and then realise at one point that what they are actually doing is facilitation - and there’s an entire community and body of practice attached to it.


How do you pick the destination for your events?


Sure, accessibility and attractiveness are important for conference destinations. For us, however, this is dwarfed by one important criterion: Is there an enthusiastic conference organising team on site - and can they pull off an exciting programme? If that is given, IAF members will come. When we look for venues, our most important criterion is their flexibility: Are they open for an unconventional conference set-up? Can they accommodate last-minute changes? And, can they work with us if our registration numbers exceed (or don’t quite reach) the initial estimate?


What is the most memorable event you have attended?


Personally, I was most impressed by the 2015 Nonprofit Technology Conference in Austin, Texas. This was a 2,000-people conference in a comparatively boring conference centre, and yet, the organisers managed to create a real feeling of community and connection from the get-go. One of their secrets was to skip the keynotes, and instead focus on celebration, personal stories and humour during the plenary sessions.


What do you find rewarding about working for IAF?


As Communications Director, my focus is on telling stories about professional facilitation worldwide and connecting members to our shared practice. Talking to our members has really helped me deepen my own facilitation practice: I’ve learned new methods and tools, dared to go into deeper work with my clients and developed new professional collaborations.


Looking back, what makes you proud in the history of IAF?


Given the variety of applications for facilitation and the many different styles, I’m really proud of the IAF Certified™ Professional Facilitator programme we introduced in 1998. It is based on a set of core facilitator competencies (from creating participatory environments to maintaining collaborative client relationships), and asks applicants to demonstrate how they are meeting these in three different ways: through their work experience, in interviews and through a live demonstration of a facilitated session. More than 1,500 people on six continents have gone through these assessments since we introduced the programme, and the CPF has become a real mark of quality for professional facilitation.


Have you spotted any latest trends in the association industry?


All associations exist in purpose of a community, a mission. Once we run events, sponsorship programmes and membership drives mainly as a tool to finance our operations, we are in danger of losing our focus in the search of the perfect business model. I’d love to see our associations become really clear on whom they are here to serve - and then go out and focus on making a difference in our sector. We’re so much more than just conference organisers.


Any future plans for the IAF?


We’re really investing in our professional development programmes at the moment. For beginning facilitators, we will be introducing a mentoring-based programme for an initial endorsement. For seasoned pros, we are developing a senior accreditation that values contributions to the profession and continued developing practice. And finally, we want to embrace the variety of facilitation by acknowledging specialisations like visual facilitation or agile facilitation in our programmes.


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