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#24 Facipulation

February 16, 2011

Yes, I’ve just added a few specific words in there that my agency wants to see. The meaning is definitely the same as what you’ve said.**

Expat Aid Worker practitioners love feeling like they are supporting locally-led development processes. They love being one with the people and steering them towards self-sufficiency. They love building capacity in local and national institutions and mainstreaming core development principles like gender, human rights, sustainability, participation, and local ownership during life-saving meetings in communities, hotels, and retreat centers around the world.

They envision themselves as catalysts, animating people to travel down the long road to development; as facilitators, helping things along by their mere presence, asking the right questions at the right time and then allowing things to naturally flow towards what local people want to discuss.

After repeated attempts at facilitation, however, even the most noble Expat Aid Workers realize that if they want to succeed at their job, rather than facilitatation, they need to learn the gentle art of facipulation: a delicate blend of facilitation (catalyzing, easing and supporting conversations and actions around themes and issues important to the community and/or program participants) and manipulation (steering conversations towards their INGO’s established themes and goals, and ensuring that actions and decisions made by local people support their INGO’s interests and happen within the time frame stipulated by their donors).

We’ve listed a few of our favorite workshop facipulation techniques here:

The workshop set-up. When selecting facipulants for the workshop, choose those that you know from previous experience a) agree with you, b) understand what your agency wants to achieve and c) have a stake in a future project that they don’t want to lose out on by being difficult. It’s helpful if facipulants appear to represent a diverse group, but that their diversity does not include diversity of opinion. It’s also a good idea to decide on the core learning objectives or meeting outputs ahead of time, and print them nicely in color on A-4 or a 3-fold brochure. The more official things look, the less likely people will be to think they can change them.

Paying a per diem. This small token of appreciation (along with providing a very healthy-sized breakfast, lunch, two full snacks, a lot of soda, a cap, a t-shirt, a pen, a notebook, a nice workshop themed bag and other bits of swag) for facipulants helps them to help you steer the meeting where you want it to go. They must, of course, want to be asked back to the next meeting.

Group work. Assign people to groups ahead of time, and plant someone who knows exactly what you want to achieve in each group. Meet with your plants ahead of time, make them feel special, and explain that they are the ones you’ve chosen to help you help the groups move forward. Engineer the group work exercises carefully so that you get the answers that you are looking for, and never give sufficient time to complete discussions.

Selective hearing got the group down? No problem. It’s energizer time! –Photo courtesy of Felicia, EAW

Selective hearing. In plenary and group feedback time, use the “there’s just so much participation going on I can’t capture it all!” trick to ignore or skip over what you don’t want to deal with or what doesn’t fit with where you need the workshop to go. After a few ignores, most people will give up and start grumbling, but that makes them look bad, not you. When this happens, give a pep talk about how important everyone’s participation is, admonish the group for not participating, ask if they are tired, and have the day’s volunteer animator lead an embarrassing (singing/dancing) ice breaker to motivate them.

Translation. Notify your translator ahead of time what your objectives are for the workshop (this works for facipulating evaluations or community visits with head office and donor delegations too), and he or she will easily transform even the most challenging local language response into just what you are looking for without you even realizing it.

The “parking lot”. This helps ensure that your workshop stays on your track, rather than veering off topic to discussions of things you or your agency are not interested in or prepared for. When thorny issues that require long-term, structural changes in the way your organization works or how it interacts with the local community, partner or government come up, simply say “Yes agreed. That’s a very important point. But that’s not what we are here to discuss today. Should we put that in the parking lot?” Then either a) get more funding for another workshop to discuss it later (great tactic if you are a consultant who wishes to extend a contract),  b) task a small group of people (excluding yourself) to deal with it on their own time (they won’t), or c) put it in the “action plan” in your report (you can be confident no one will ever follow-up on it). Once you move issues to the “parking lot” you can get back to what you’re really there to do: move forward on your agency’s objectives.

Facipulation. A core competency in any successful Expat Aid Worker.

**Note: This photo is illustrative only – we do not know if those involved are facipulating/facipulated….

40 Comments leave one →
  1. David permalink
    February 16, 2011 9:01 am

    Oh god, too true. Some of this stuff strikes a little too close to home.

  2. facilipulator permalink
    February 17, 2011 4:51 am

    I LOVE this! I just came from a workshop that used most of these techniques, including the show bags and parking lot. I have never used the trick “there’s just so much participation going on I can’t capture it all! I will try it at my next workshop.

  3. February 17, 2011 8:41 am

    “clustering” issues on cards, another favourit
    inviting “token” guest speakers who will not wow any audience
    “ownership” by government by presenting and wrapping up

    anyone thought of turning this into a rather spiteful game?

  4. Post-it note Power User permalink
    February 18, 2011 7:29 pm

    For some reason we always refer to that all-important ‘parking lot’ as the ‘fridge’, as in:

    “That’s a great suggestion Ahmed, and it really needs some time devoted to it, so let’s put it in the fridge and keep it cool shall we? That way, when we get it out again in a year’s time, the idea will still be fresh!”

  5. Mzee permalink
    February 20, 2011 3:13 pm

    The devlopment of good facipulation skills is a stepping stone towards earning the title of Lead Manilitator. Facipulation is the rubber mallet where manilitation is scalpel precise. Manilitation is facipulation with a laminex top. Slippery surfaced, stain resistant and hiding a multitude of unmentionables. Manilitation – it’s where we want to be at!

  6. February 26, 2011 2:39 am

    OMG..this is so twilight zone. But poor facipulators…sometimes they have no choice but do the bidding of the all important ‘higher management’.

  7. February 26, 2011 10:07 am

    I think I recognise the hotel meeting room in the top photo. But I am sure I was only a facipulatee not a facipulator there….

  8. March 1, 2011 7:19 am

    Fun Fact. In Arabic the “Parking Lot” can be called the “Souk Al Afghar”.

  9. Cottesloe Princess Does Safari In Stilettos permalink
    March 3, 2011 4:17 am

    This is the funniest blog I have ever read! Great writing!

  10. March 6, 2011 10:16 pm

    Might interest everyone to know the genesis of this word. I used to work with PATH, an INGO based in Seattle. I was part of a team working on a project to promote safe abortion in Nepal. Our consultant in Kathmandu was Anne Kaufman-Gurung, and it was she who, one day, apropos a conversation on workshop processes, coined the word ‘facipulation’. It took instantly, since it nailed something all thinking development professional knew happened all the time.

    I have been a great deployer of the word in my workshops, speeches and sessions. It nails us all neatly, and has the added advantage of making one sound like one is wryly admitting to a fatal flaw while continuing to do exactly what one was doing.

    Loved your blog, by the way!


  11. workshop participant permalink
    March 29, 2011 8:38 am

    Currently sitting in a workshop, staring at a “parking lot” sign taped to the wall in front of me…and we just had another revitalizing icebreaker. And just pulled off two successes: 1) facipulated my project out of the parking lot and into the logframe, and 2) pulled up the facipulation post on my mobile and passed it to a colleague, thereby forcing him to suppress laughter in the midst of a meeting.

  12. June 7, 2011 6:08 am

    Spot on, well said!

  13. Optimistery permalink
    January 9, 2012 7:50 pm

    Hmmm… very clever! But isn’t all teaching, training, pedagogy, development (including child development & socialisation) various forms of facipulation?

    And if you’re the facipulator, or at least on their side, what’s so bad about that? Especially if it’s ‘for your own good’, as our mothers told us when we didn’t want to do as we were told.

    We’re all being manipulated, every day, constantly, by some set of rules or relationships or advertising agencies or media or global corporations or whatever. I suppose when we’re (reasonably) willing participants in that process we can call it ‘facipulation’. It’s probably a good thing that we’re aware that it’s happening, because being conscious & aware is the first towards taking control… leading to – yes, you’ve got it – empowerment!!

  14. April 27, 2012 12:06 am

    I love to laugh at myself for it keeps me sane in this rotten world. We need to get away from meetings for ourselves and serving ourselves inwardly. Reallocate the money to beneficiuary communication. Have a look at this: ).

  15. Jim Vance permalink
    December 17, 2012 4:06 pm

    “Facipulation” as a combination of “facilitating” and “manipulation” made me think of an offshoot — the combination of “facilitating” and “capitulation” when dealing with highly regressive and insular governments representatives who simply won’t budge from the party line in any direction you’d like for them to go toward, so that unhappy and intrinsically frustrating circumstance might be termed “facipitulation” instead….

  16. oleron3 permalink
    January 17, 2013 12:05 am

    Oh, the dreaded per diem. “One” is not “allowed” to pay per diem to host country government employees. BUT. How else to lure them to training sessions, which must, bien sur, be held far away from their offices, preferably in some idyllic location? “One” must also be mindful of facipulating the donor.


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