While our protocols, technologies, and experimental designs are all feminist in that they foreground issues of equity and justice, the main place where people notice feminism-at-work when they join our lab is in how we run our weekly lab meetings. Here are some resources to running an anti-oppressive, horizontal, equity-based meeting:
Facilitation is a discussion method that aims to bring collective knowledge together. Rather than styles of discourse characteristic of teaching, leadership, or debate, all of which are more individualistic and based on a single main “knower,” facilitation looks to “grease the wheels” of everyone else’s knowledge. Facilitation addresses how different people in the room are more or less likely to speak, be heard, or be interrupted, and works to address those disparities. Facilitation is not intuitive. It’s a skill, and it has to be trained.
Everyone can work towards facilitation, and there can be designated facilitators. We’ve done enough training that students now run lab meetings, meaning that the faculty “in charge” speak just as much, or less, than everyone else.
Here are two excellent resources on how to do facilitation:
Aorta Collective Anti-Oppressive Facilitation Guide (Creative Commons license)
USAID Facilitation Skills Training Manual
One of the simple facilitation techniques we use every meeting is a round robin. We go around to everyone at the table, in order, and they have a chance to speak or weigh in on the topic. Anyone can “pass” and choose not to speak, but it also means the junior researchers, introverts, women, people of colour, new recruits, and others that may not otherwise speak have a chance to share their insights. We often do one of these at the end of the meeting to see how everyone is doing/what their main take away was. (Note: This is not a talking circle, which is a specific and sacred healing ceremony. This is just taking turns.)
Consensus-Based Decision Making
Consensus-Based Decision Making (CBDM) is a process where everyone in a group agrees to move forward on a plan of action. This doesn’t mean everyone agrees equally, but that everyone has agreed to move forward regardless of unevenness and differences of opinion. Because it is a method that aims to reach agreement despite difference, it should be carefully and intentionally facilitated.
There is a concrete, step by step process that can help a group research consensus outlined in Tim Hartnet’s book, Consensus-Oriented Decision-Making. This is the model we use, though there are others. Here is our lab’s “cheat sheet” of condensed steps in the consensus process.
Our lab operates as a collective and leverages our shared intelligences, rather than acting as a bunch of individual geniuses. However, collaboration is a skill. We work to develop this skill in a few ways.
The first step is to set ground rules, guidelines, or a code of conduct about how we want to work together. What do we think about lates and absences? How do we want to communicate with one another? How do we make decisions? How do we resolve conflicts? I teach some of this in my classes. Here is a sheet for structuring these ground rules in a rather formal way via a collaboration contract. You can also do it less formally. We’ve done it by having facilitated conversations about what we value, and then drawn practices & protocols from those values. This took several meetings, but we are damn good at collaboration. One of our most basic ground rules is: “If you are sick, heartbroken, or exhausted, go home. Work is not more important than your health.”
Another part of our training is to recognize that people have different preferences for how they maintain their energy, think, make decisions, and communicate. To address and support these differences, we use the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) (a free version is here) to help us articulate how we think and work, and then use the “Types and Teams framework” to create specific meeting styles and work styles that work for all participants.
A full training manual to Types and Teams is here: https://www.opp.com/en/shop/mbti-step-i/introduction-to-type-and-teams-10-pack/c-24/c-74/p-209
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These processes don’t mean that we don’t have problems. We have them all the time. But we work through our issues equitably, supportively, and consistently. As a result, lab members are collectively able to take on riskier work, act autonomously, stretch their limits and skills, and have fun doing it. CLEAR currently has 18 lab members and 2 faculty members working on close to 20 unique projects, an impossible set up unless everyone is supporting one another consistently, selflessly, and in good humour.