user group participant engaging in the liberating structure called drawing together

Tracy participating in the LS called Drawing Together

It’s been four years since I attended my first Liberating Structures immersion workshop, with Keith McCandless, Fisher Qua, and Tracy Roberts and Leva Lee from BCcampus. Not too many months before that, I’d never heard of Liberating Structures and responded with the typical, “What are they?” when the faculty member I was supporting to design a course at Royal Roads University announced to me that she wanted to design some LS in. The immersion workshop with Keith and Fisher (who come from the LS “mother ship” in Seattle – as Tracy puts it) came at an excellent time, to help me experience what LS are and see for myself why they are so powerful, not only in post-secondary education but in healthcare, nonprofits, corporations and more.

I don’t think it’s hyperbole to say that attending the LS immersion workshop in early 2016 changed my life. My facilitation life at least. I came home and wrote this blog post because the vulnerability the facilitators showed in opening up their end-of-day debriefs for participants to watch – and then participate in – blew my mind. I loved everything about what I saw in LS, and was inspired to start using them in my own facilitation practice right away. In fact, on the third day of the immersion workshop you could have seen me over in the corner of the room, starting to design a new workshop using LS. I just couldn’t wait to get dig in.

Fast forward one year later to early 2017 and this time I was co-facilitating a Liberating Structures immersion workshop alongside Nancy Roberts, Tracy and Leva, and a couple of other Vancouver-based post-secondary facilitators. Nancy introduced our team to “private conversations in public”, a torch we took up with enthusiasm to keep modelling facilitator vulnerability and transparency. On day two of that workshop Tracy and I started talking about creating a Victoria-based user group to continue to practice Liberating Structures, and we basically came home right away and did it.

Our first Victoria Liberating Structures User Group meeting was in March 2017 and, so far, we’ve had 19 meetups which are free to attend for any facilitators wishing to expand their practice. (Our 20th meetup is coming up this month!) Our members are a mixed collection of people who facilitate in different contexts and with different clients and groups, yet who are all trying to enhance their practice in inclusive ways. We move our meeting space around Victoria; we’ve held meetups at Royal Roads University, Camosun College, University of Victoria, BCcampus, DND, and at local nonprofits.

To give people a more robust experience of participating in Liberating Structures – which helps to know more about how to facilitate with them – Tracy and I have been co-facilitating LS immersion workshops through Royal Roads University’s Professional and Continuing Studies for the last several years. Our immersion workshop is normally held in April and is complete not only with many Liberating Structures, but with private conversations in public, and open end-of-day debriefs. (Of course!) You can visit the RRU PCS website to see upcoming dates. Leva Lee (BCcampus) and Barish Goland (UBC) continue to steward a Vancouver-based LS User Group and we have joined the groups from both sides of the water together once so far – at a Vancouver-based teaching and learning-focused conference – to keep exploring these powerful processes.

I continue to turn to Liberating Structures on a regular basis in my own teaching and facilitation practice. While I do use processes from other sets and websites, LS often are my first “go tos”. They are simple, complex and powerful all at the same time. They are engaging and support inclusion. Participants have fun! I have supported participants through easy and tough times with these structures. There are structures for many purposes. Last year I started using Strategy Knotworking, a “string” of LS put together for the purposes of strategic planning, and successfully facilitated government participants in one particular session to a great result. One participant said it was the first time they had been in a meeting with other colleagues at their organization where no one pulled out their phones. (I think that kind of says it all, don’t you?)

I didn’t set out to become such an evangelist for LS! But I’ve experienced their efficacy time and time again and they keep me coming back for more. Facilitating with Liberating Structures has deepened my ongoing journey to enhance my own facilitation skills and support groups to do great work. I hope you’ll join us someday – either at an immersion workshop or a user group meeting – to experience them for yourself and start your LS journey at the same time.