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Split site working: facilitation skills and lessons

This note sums up some lessons learnt from a recent piece of facilitation with people on two split sites.

The day-long workshop was to assess future options for Kinloch Castle, a wonderful Victorian creation on the small Scottish island of Rum (population of around 40). Check it out:

The castle was built and used by a Victorian industrialist who owned the island and who had luxurious summer parties there.  After WW1 it fell increasingly into disuse and disrepair but still includes all the original furnishings, making it a fascinating site to visit (for the few thousand who visit the island each year). But its’ current owners, Scottish Natural Heritage, are not focused on preserving / managing buildings and several million pounds are needed to prevent further disrepair, dry rot etc.   Thus the need for options and an action plan to go to the Scottish government.

The workshop thus included 16 people in one room in Inverness and a room on the island – about 100km away) where between 3 and 7 people were assembled (some had to come and go to e.g. meet the daily ferry).

So how did it work?

  • The day was guided by a powerpoint presentation with facts, questions, exercises. This was prepared / agreed well in advance and the SNH person on the island had several paper copies for sharing as well as her lap top. Everyone was thus working to same core agenda.
  • Skype provided the video link.  Bandwidth was limited but the video quality was good enough so that each side could see what the other was doing, if not make out all details.  In Inverness, the picture from Rum was projected on to a screen a short distance from the powerpoint screen. Thus two laptops, projectors and screens were critical in Inverness.  The Skype link was of course tested the day before.
  • Skype was not good enough for sound and video (and the microphone quality on the laptops would not have been good enough). So a conference phone was used at both ends (sent out to Rum for the purpose in advance).  Some initial feedback with the Skype sound was easily sorted.  The conference phone in Inverness was tested in various places to choose the optimal one.
  • It took a while to set the Skype laptop in Inverness in a position so that the camera gave the Rum people what they felt was the best view.
  • The people who attended in Inverness (from many agencies) were briefed in advance that this would happen. Most of them were good at working with / responding to people on Rum.
  • As facilitator it also took a while to work out where to stand to be able to see the screen of Rum and be heard and seen by them (they felt that hearing what was being said was most important).
  • Rum couldn’t really read the flipcharts in Inverness – even with moving the laptop around, which was disruptive, so as I write I was consciously reading it all out clearly.
  • Small group working was done exactly as normal with Rum people being their own group and reporting in turn with the others. Early on, each of four groups considered different issues and Rum was allocated a key one, partly to ensure that people in Inverness got used to listening well.
  • Each end had a note-taker – they had the potential to share emails (not sure how much they needed this) and they talked during the breaks
  • Rum lost sound link once – they were able to display a note on the Skype link screen as soon as this happened so it could be fixed.
  • Overall feedback from both ends was very positive.


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