Dynamic Facilitation: Ottawa, Pakistan, and Polygamy

This post was submitted by Rosa Zubizarreta of DiaPraxis, an organizational member of NCDD. Contact Rosa at [email protected] if you have questions about this post.

RosaZ-facilitating-outlinedFrom Conflict to Creative Community: A transformative Dynamic Facilitation learning journey” will be taking place in Ottawa on May 1-3, 2013. Discount available for NCDD members. For a fairly conventional read about this powerful groundbreaking approach, check out my article in the most recent edition of OD Practitioner. However, for a more unusual description, keep reading to discover how a participant from a recent workshop has been exploring the subject of polygamy in Pakistan…

Over the past 12 years, Patricia A. Omidian, a medical anthropologist, and Nina Joy Lawrence, a community mental health practitioner, have been teaching Focusing to local aid workers and human service workers in Afghanistan. Focusing is a self-care, transformational inner-listening practice that, in a similar way to Dynamic Facilitation, also involves a great deal of welcoming, reflection, and emergence.

Pat and Nina Joy both attended a DF workshop with me in Eugene, Oregon last May, and were inspired by the parallels between these two practices. Since then, Pat has been looking for opportunities to weave DF in to the work she is now doing in Pakistan. A week ago, she surprised me with an excited e-mail about a workshop she just led: “We did it! It worked!”

“I introduced the activity as an example of how to work with a community AND also as a metaphor for how we welcome ‘inner guests’ in Guesthouse Focusing. Each person would have a chance to speak and would be heard all the way through to the end of whatever they wanted to say. Then they would be asked, “What would you do to solve this problem?”

So off we went! The first woman said all she felt about the horrors of polygamy and how it would hurt her and her children. The husband was dividing the scant resources between more people when he took another wife and driving her and her children deeper into poverty. Her solution was: men can take more wives only if the woman and her children do not suffer from neglect. Then another spoke up about in Islam men have the right to marry but what can women do when men don’t treat women well…

And a man said, “I want more wives because I need more sons to protect the family and village–it’s a war here. I think we need to take care of each wife and the children. When we can do that, we can have more wives.” Another said. “Look, I am getting old and this wife is also old. Her sons will care for her but she cannot care for me. I need someone who can. My solution is to allow me to marry again so that I am taken care of.”

[Editor’s note: Pat is not “just letting people talk”, she is doing the kind of deep listening work we do in Dynamic Facilitation, and also in Focusing: she is listening deeply to each person’s contribution, acknowledging it, welcoming it, appreciating it… reflecting it back, checking to make sure it has been understood… asking if there is a ‘more’ there…. She is also “protecting” each person’s contribution, by not allowing interruptions or cross-talk.]

“The exploration continued for a while and something was beginning to shift. We had 2 pages of solutions on the wall and I stopped the group to look at how the solutions were changing. The big shift came when one woman said, “There are so many of us who are now widowed from the wars and we have children who also need protection. Who will care for us?” The solution was that men should marry again but they need to marry the widows so that the community stays whole and protected. And then one person said, “This is what the Quran means when it says men can marry again! It’s to protect the widows and orphans, not to please themselves!

And then the group started into a fresh problem.. the protection of the widows and orphans caused by war. After a bit we stopped this one and I asked if there were people in the group who wanted to try it. Several stood up and gave it a go. Did pretty well too!

I thought it was brilliant. The group could see the shift and the growing wisdom in the process. They also got to see me step between 2 who started to argue, and ask them to talk to me so that each person could be heard without judgment or goals.”


I know, I know… “what kind of dialogue practice is this?” you might be thinking…. “Stepping between people, and having them talk to the facilitator instead of to each other?? And what’s this about ‘pages and pages of solutions’? Isn’t dialogue all about leaving problem-solving behind??

Well, for those of you who are willing to question their own assumptions about what dialogue or deliberation “should” look like, and who are interested in learning something new, fun, and powerful… come check it out for yourself!


Afterward, Pat and I have continued exploring what had happened in her “real-play.” Pat wrote, “While it was a ‘role play’ of a village with a problem, the women and men in the group also understood the issues and I think their comments were real — based in reality and in their own opinions.” Pat’s comments reminded me of some learnings from the Ashland DF workshop last year

As an anthropologist, Pat also offered an interesting perspective on my title for this post: “…the topic of polygamy is one that Westerners have so many biases about… Here in the West, we do polygamy as serial polygamy, leaving the woman usually in poverty and without support (I doubt the stats have changed much in the last 20 years!)”

Here’s to the real possibility of using Dynamic Facilitation, as well as other kinds of transformative, solution-focused, problem-dissolving approaches, to create significant shared breakthroughs with regard to our own social policies…

and here is one vision of how together, we can create a powerful influence for doing so.

and, last but not least,
here is your invitation to come to Ottawa for the workshop, if you are so called!

with much love,


p.s. for those of you on the West Coast, DF founders Jim and Jean Rough are offering a rare U.S. workshop in the Bay Area. These days, they have mostly been teaching in Europe, especially in Austria, where Jim has shared a stage with luminaries such as Peter Senge. You go, Jim!!!

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