Partners in Place

Partners in Place, LLC is a small business owned by me (Anne Forbes) and located in Madison, Wisconsin. Although the services provided by Partners in Place have evolved over the years, the purpose has always been to help individuals, groups, and communities live and learn with renewed connection to the natural world in their daily lives, with attention to mind, body, and spirit.

A few years ago, I took down my tried and true organizational consulting shingle to focus on my roles as teacher, writer, and mentor. I am a skilled guide in personal and group explorations of human connections to the plants, animals, and landscapes of our home places and the home places in our hearts. I am known for my experiential approach and for my belief that creative expression is a longing of every human heart.

As I turn my attention to these new roles, I find myself grounded in the principles and practices that supported me for so many years as a an organizational consultant and facilitator. If you are a former client looking for assistance, or a potential new client, I hope that the following information about my approach is of use to you in thinking about your project. Although the principles and practices listed below have a project design focus, they also have relevance to many different sorts of group gatherings.

Principles and Practices — It’s all in the Integrity of Design

The design and facilitation of participatory group work is an art that requires a creative mix of tested practices and innovation. Here are the guiding principles and strategies I use to match a client’s needs to proven methods of creating partnerships and collaborations.

1. Successful partnerships or collaborations have visionary leaders who invest time and resources into exemplary process. I support this through the rigorous application of four Core Values, based on the work of Sam Kaner and colleagues in The Facilitator's Guide to Participatory Decision-Making (Jossey Bass 2007):

  • Full participation
  • Mutual Understanding
  • Inclusive Solutions
  • Shared Responsibility

2. Successful partnerships and collaborations use tools that foster a positive culture of continuous communication and learning and bring the above four Core Values to life. I carefully craft a match between every strategy or agenda item and the participatory tools and methods needed to address them. I select from the best practices for facilitation, such as a focus on the postive (Appreciative Inquiry), meaningful large group conversations (World Café), flexible participant-driven agendas (Open Space), and creating powerful visual and written records of their work.

3. Successful partnerships or collaborations make high quality decisions. I use a variety of approaches to poll for trends in a group’s thinking so that participants explore and improve early proposals and develop them into strong, inclusive decisions.

4. Successful partnerships and collaborations have access to quality information that is presented in ways that empower participation by everyone involved. I design strategies and agendas that include all participants in teaching and learning and that recognize multiple learning and communication styles. This process draws on the most important local knowledge and expert information needed at each step. Experts are coached to provide the most relevant information and analysis needed to support the group’s vision and goals. Participants are encouraged to become informal experts themselves, seeking out and sharing information.

5. Successful partnerships and collaborations have clearly defined mandates or “sideboards” that communicate the political and cultural context of the project, the timelines, what is ‘at stake,’ and what everyone can expect. As coach to the leadership or planning team, I facilitate the up-front articulation of the ‘promise’ being made to participants and the type of influence they will have on the outcomes (IAP2 Spectrum of Participation). I also ensure that policy or legal guidance, mandated outcomes, and all roles, responsibilities, and timelines are clear.

6. Successful partnerships and collaborations meet in open, comfortable spaces that support their best, most creative work. I work with clients to ensure that the setup of the working environment reflects needs of the participants and the methods selected. This means that:

  • People are physically comfortable.
  • There is ample “elbow room” for the variety of agenda activities planned.
  • There are large blocks of wall space and/or flip charts for graphic recording and group work.
  • The seating is arranged so that people can see each other’s faces, not just those of a leader or presenter.

7. Successful partnerships and collaborations are rewarding and fun. I help clients foster a culture of gratitude and celebration. Giving thanks for the small successes along the way helps sustain commitment and produces positive outcomes.

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