Curiosity: The Essence of Independent Facilitation

I have had the honour of experiencing Independent Facilitation as a parent, as a researcher, and as a trainer. Each of these experiences has given me insights into the craft of Independent Facilitation and how facilitators are playing an important new role in the way we support people with developmental disabilities. I have learned that it the curiosity of facilitators that is so compelling. Their curiosity is catching, and as family members we often become more curious and open because of the facilitator’s approach with our family member.

I would like to share some thoughts about curiosity and the craft of Independent Facilitation, insights which I believe in many ways parallel important life lessons.

While facilitators are often trained to “focus on the person,” my experience over and over has been that it is the “person and their environment” that is the true focus of Independent Facilitation. Facilitators could aptly describe themselves as “context artists.” In this role, they understand that people in the person’s life, such as parents and siblings, are crucial to any change efforts. Facilitators see possibilities in challenging situations and they understand the power of people working together. They are curious about how other’s see the person and how a network or support circle might work for an individual. Experienced facilitators have learned that an entire context can shift with the right question, the right collaboration, or the right connection.

Second, facilitators work from a “relationship lens.” They understand that relationships matter more than procedures. Think about that. People with disabilities often are required to follow procedures without any regard for relationships. Because relationships are paramount, the “who” question becomes central in the facilitator’s work. Consider our family, where my daughter who had moved away from home was struggling with healthy food choices. While as parents we tried to push healthy options, the facilitator and my daughter identified five friends who began to meet regularly for a Healthy Eating Pot Luck. This activity involved sharing food and recipes as well as informal theatre as the group acted out food issues and had conversations about them. When facilitators work from a relationship lens, they are curious about who in the community might share the same passions, who would support the person’s dreams, and who can be invited to participate in the person’s life journey.

Third, in all my roles related to Independent Facilitation, I learned that the “power of community,” while very real, usually involves multiple communities. People with a meaningful life have several communities that enrich their life experience. My daughter has her church community, her housing co-op community, her yoga community, and her extended family community. Each of these communities are highly valued. More importantly, they each offer possibilities for deeper relationships, because we usually find one or two people in each setting who relate well to the person with the disability. When facilitators understand the power of communities, they are curious about what kind of communities might best fit with the person’s strengths and passions, and about how neighbours, friends, and extended family might play a role.

While these themes tend to reoccur with strong facilitation over and over, I have noticed one final thing that is the hallmark of effective facilitators. Facilitators stay mindful, positive, curious, and open-hearted regardless of the conditions in which they are working. I have been curious about what enables facilitators to avoid getting sidelined by challenging conditions. I think there are at least two reflections on this remarkable insight. First, it speaks to the type of people who are attracted to the craft of Independent Facilitation. Strong facilitators are not phased by uncertainty and chaos. They have a quiet self-confidence. Second, it speaks to the principles of Independent Facilitation and how these are practiced. It is as if facilitators work from the edges and stay connected to the entire context in which they work. In the deepest sense, they are participant observers; listening, noticing, and staying aware of principles, strengths, possibilities, and connections. I think what links these two ideas is compassion, which enables the facilitator to stay grounded. This ability to stay mindful, positive, curious, and open-hearted, regardless of conditions around them, is an insight that all of us could embrace to enhance our own lives.


John Lord is a researcher, author, and facilitator who played a major role in the development of Independent Facilitation across Ontario. His co-authored book, Facilitating an Everyday life, outlines effective principles and practices of Independent Facilitation. He is the author of several other books, including Pathways to Inclusion, now in its third edition. John was recently the recipient of the Order of Canada for his research, writing, and policy impacts on behalf of Canadians                                                          with disabilities.

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