What’s the Buzz with AI?
Artificial intelligence (AI) is becoming quickly recognized by our field of facilitation. Some of my colleagues have been using one form of AI, ChatGPT to get good answers to facilitation design questions. They are also using it to learn how to use different facilitation tools. There are AI applications to draw images of facilitation too. More on that later.
This is just the tip of the iceberg. I can foresee massive changes to our field because of AI. A few years ago, many thought it was still quite far away in terms of its useability for the general public. That is no longer the case. It is here and it works well. It is up to us, as thoughtful human beings, however, to use it well and proceed cautiously. Facilitators might have a unique role to play in ensuring thoughtful discussions and decision-making about ethical applications. I am in awe of this new development and frankly completely naïve about it. I share this topic with you knowing we HAVE to talk about it but not sure how.
My long time colleague, Teck Kwang, (TK for short), founder of Pareto Solutions from Singapore, who has done a fair bit of research on it, and shares a few of his discoveries below. Then another long term colleague, Rangineh Azimzadeh Tehrani, founder of Solh Resolutions International came to visit and added in some great ideas. I add in my own ideas about how we might start to use it. Basically this is a rough brainstorming session on how we might begin to start using it in facilitation. In our conclusions, we share some cautions and our roles going forward in this stunning new development some are terming as revolutionary as the internet.
Ways to Play With it Now
Use it to understand and learn about tools and concepts
When TK asked ChatGPT, “what is facilitation?”, this is the response:
“Facilitation is the process of helping a group of people to work together more effectively. The role of a facilitator is to guide the group in achieving their goals, rather than leading or directing the group themselves. Facilitation can be used in a wide variety of settings, including business, education, and community development.
Some key elements of facilitation include:
- Creating a safe and inclusive environment for everyone to participate
- Helping the group to establish clear goals and objectives
- Encouraging active participation and engagement from all members of the group
- Managing conflicts and facilitating effective communication
- Helping the group to make decisions and take action
- Evaluating the group’s progress and making adjustments as needed.
- A facilitator can take many different approaches depending on the situation and the group being facilitated. Some use different techniques like brainstorming, problem-solving, consensus-building, and others.
In general, facilitation can help groups to work more efficiently and effectively, and can lead to better decision-making, increased collaboration, and improved communication among group members.”
We both agreed this is a reasonable and accurate, albeit general definition. Thanks, TK for this. My family is experimenting with it too. Three of them are engineers and testing how to use ChatGPT in their jobs. This description of facilitation above is better than the one a family member sent to me, which was more vague.
Use it to draw images for adding intrigue and décor to the room, for richer discussions and for marketing
He asked AI: “Draw me a water colour painting of 1 facilitator and 4 people having conversations with a Flipchart by the side.” This image came out.
Use it to reflect or build skill with difficult situations
Finally, TK did more testing on challenging participant behaviour situations. He asked ChatGPT, as a facilitator, “When someone says, ‘this response is dumb’, how do you respond?”
ChatGPT Response: As a facilitator, it’s important to handle challenging comments or feedback in a professional and respectful manner. Here’s one way to respond when someone says “This response is dumb”:
“I appreciate your feedback, but I’d like to encourage a more respectful tone in our discussions. Can you please elaborate on what you mean by ‘dumb’? I’m open to hearing different perspectives and would like to understand your thoughts better.”
By responding in this manner, you are defusing the situation and reframing the conversation in a more productive way. You are also setting a tone of respect and inclusiveness for the rest of the session. Additionally, by asking for clarification, you have the opportunity to understand the person’s perspective and address their concerns in a constructive manner.”
Its response is about what we’d do in this type of situation!
Use it to analyze, synthesize and propose solutions
He tried feeding it with past strategic planning data, e.g., from a wave (trends) analysis.
He keyed in the trends and asked it to analyze for opportunities and threats. He reports back: “It did an amazing job, I think as good as if not better than humans. I am quite amazed with its abilities to synthesize and draw our major conclusions.”
Use it for marketing
I have heard it is especially powerful for marketing and its ability to combine phrases creatively. I think for us facilitators, that could be especially useful when we’re trying to find exactly the right title for a facilitation training, a blog or podcast title we want to offer, to generate more sign ups or clicks.
There are infinite possibilities that will surface over the next few months and years. As noted above, a common AI that people are using now is ChatGPT. Open AI was the original developer (and now has significant backing from Microsoft – see Forbes references below for more) of this prototype and has just this month launched GPT-4. Other organizations are coming on the market including Google Bard. Also, the Forbes article in our references below talks about an open source product created by a UK organization Stability. Their AI product called Stable Diffusion allows among other things, renderings of videos and spinning lines of text into pieces of art. It has at least 10 million daily users that create “stunning” art from text.
I think facilitators should consider using AI. In this early stage, take the stance that AI will give you a good starting point. AND, you need to be skillful enough to validate the quality of results and add in your own unique touches. You need to consider the context of your group and organization at this moment in time. If you are a novice facilitator, you might want to vet the AI output you obtain to ensure that e.g., your design will work, has flow and weaving, interaction and opportunities for deep connections. See below for some ways to use AI for design and a few more possibilities.
- do a client “discovery” interview – record it with their permission. Then use AI to find patterns in what they are saying to help you articulate key objectives and design the agenda activities. Be sure not to use any of the client’s identifying data. AI is collecting data to further the work. Anything you input is available to the world forever.
- use it to design a session based on inputting generic words like “design me a 90 minute collaborative teambuilding session for 20 Gen Y and X participants in a corporate setting”.
- give it 5 other similar agenda designs you have created in the past (remove any client identifying info first) but with the new parameters (what is different with this new client). Have it help you find a new design.
- ask it to give you questions your group could discuss to do a plan or make a decision, e.g., “tell me the top 5 questions I could ask my group in considering a vision for a new product we are creating for climate change action in Mexico”.
- use it after a workshop to synthesize data and key outcomes. Again, be sure not to use any of the client’s identifying data.
- use it to generate a PowerPoint from the text outcomes you have created.
- use it to create images and symbols to portray certain results.
Limitations of AI in Facilitation Now
Although analysis may be better with AI, generative work (e.g., design, reflection), often does not catch the nuances that are part of the human experiences.
Emotional, personal and social connections cannot be replicated in the same way as human interacting in the same physical or virtual space – e.g., we have energy spheres, neural connections, ways we regulate once we are in proximity of one another. These are not at this point fully captured by AI. Some would argue that AI is doing some of this already.
You can probably tell that I’m both excited and nervous about this new development. Essentially we can look to AI to help us and our groups do very sophisticated things and do it better than we can on our own. AI will definitely help us with cognitive work – analyzing complex data, synthesizing, and has tremendous potential to help us be more creative.
On the other hand, one famous author, Yuval Noah Harari, in the third of his famous series, called “21 Lessons for the 21st Century” says AI may be one of the greatest threats to humankind. Others cite the dangers of misuse of data to manipulate us (we have already seen this), over-reliance on incorrect data, massive loss of jobs making the working class and many professionals unable to use their skills, over-dependence on AI for close relationships, etc.
The Forbes article below in the references cautions also: “AI’s potential impact needs to be debated now: Its like an invasive species. We will need policymaking at the speed of technology“. Facilitators, we need to step up to help with this.
Even with care, we facilitators are bound to create harm unintentionally in our use of AI. I urge us all to have many conversations about how to use it wisely, where best to use it, how to monitor its impact, and how to reduce harm at every new development.
We have experienced such change over the last three years of a global lengthy pandemic. And we proved ourselves exceptionally resilient despite the massive losses. How will we weather this new change? Can we be even more resilient and adaptable? Facilitators help people hold onto our humanity. How might we continue to hold onto our humanity AND leverage technology in service to the collective benefit? Ah, those are the questions.
Thanks, TK and Rangineh for the start of some very interesting conversations to come. What do others think about this?
Please glance at these articles. They are very powerful and help you get up to speed pretty quickly.
This very recent blog (March 2023) by a fellow facilitator from the USA and a long time, well-respected facilitation company called Interaction Associates is well worth reading including why facilitators will still be needed in an AI intensive world:
Here is some info on AI art generators that you can use:
And, some deeply compelling cautions from the author I mentioned above, Harari of “21 Lessons for the 21st Century” and “Sapiens” etc.
You Can Have the Blue Pill or the Red Pill, and We’re Out of Blue Pills
This is an older post (2018) by the same author: Author Yuval Noah Harari warns AI will make us ‘intolerant’ of fellow humans | CBC News
The Forbes article which came out this week is very enlightening about who is stepping up to create these AI tools, how users are responding and cautions. Note, you may have to download something but it is free or you can see if the same article is picked up elsewhere by searching on this title: The New AI Era Begins Right Now.
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