About Barbara MacKay

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Certified Professional Facilitator and Assessor
IAF Hall of Fame Inductee

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years experience

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projects facilitated

How I “fell into” facilitation

I discovered facilitation accidentally.  I was working as a researcher for a social and environmental impact assessment consulting company in the 1980-90’s.  Many of my assignments were with indigenous peoples in northern Canada. I remember one of the first times I started facilitating without knowing it was facilitation. An interview I was conducting with one trapper (a person who makes their living by trapping small to larger animals to sell their fur) became a group of 15-20 hunters and trappers over the course of several hours.  I realized I had to change the way I was asking questions. I began to welcome each person and to draw on the unique experience of each resource harvester. Then as I noticed patterns in their thinking, I would summarize what I was hearing test out these themes with them.

I ended up doing many large group interviews for this work.  In hindsight I was probably conducting what have become known as “focus groups”.  A few years later I began to facilitate large environmental conferences looking for example at the decline of beluga whale species in the Hudson Bay area (northern Canada again). Another event I was hired to facilitate (I was now recognized by my company as having some experience with this new  competency) was called Extender Producer Responsibility. This involved helping a Canadian federal government agency to collaboratively create “recycling” policies. The aim was to encourage companies to take responsibility for the disposal of products at the end of their useful life.

When I was in the throes of all that challenging work, I realized that a corporate 60-70 hour work week with a lot of extended travel wasn’t working for me or my young family.  I left that job without no idea of what I would do next. Instead, I invented an exercise for myself where I mapped out a timeline of my major life events looking at what I had enjoyed or not enjoyed.  From this exercise, I realized I had always been a “facilitator” – a person who tries to help make things easier for others by helping them think well together. The timeline exercise, I later learned already existed in several formats and is recognized as a powerful group facilitation technique.  It was 1995.

Getting good at facilitation

The International Association of Facilitators (IAF) came into being in 1994. So I was lucky. My lifetime mission and passion already actually had an international organization associated with it.  I feel extremely fortunate to also have discovered some of the best facilitator training in the world through the Institute of Cultural Affairs. I learned and practiced the Technology of Participation skills diligently and exhaustively for the next decade or more.  I became a certified professional facilitator with IAF in 2001 and an assessor for other certification candidates in 2002. This was indeed a “brilliant” decision on my part. It was brilliant for me, because I have loved the chance to see other experienced facilitators in action every time I’m asked to be an assessor.  I’ve assessed for events all over the world. What a joy to see others who care as much as I do about this profession striving to improve their skills!

My philosophy of facilitation

I’ve never turned away difficult facilitation assignments.  I often don’t have the hindsight of knowing how challenging something might be.  There are probably quite a few client jobs I wouldn’t have done had I known how hard they would be.  However, it has given me great strength to do very challenging facilitation jobs. And, it really helps me know how to mentor others in a kind and compassionate way as they also struggle with difficult assignments.

I’ve been on this journey full time for almost 25 years.  I am still changing and adapting both as a facilitator, as a mentor and teacher of facilitation skills.  I’d be delighted to help you in finding a good facilitator for your group or teaching you the skills needed to be an outstanding facilitative leader.  Our website is meant to delight and fulfill your needs around exploring the profession and competencies of facilitation.

We’ve chosen a new logo. It’s actually 7 stars overlapping each other at different angles.  Each star represents one of the major competencies required by the IAF certification process.  Whether you are contacting us to facilitate or learn to facilitate, we will use every “star” in our toolkit.  I grew up in the northern hemisphere and spent much of my young adult years staring at the sky. In particular, I always start by looking for the north star constellation as my reference point in the sky.  That is why we are called North Star Facilitators. We want to be your guiding star to a brighter future. Have you found your north star yet?

“You do not belong to you. You belong to the universe. The significance of you will remain forever obscure to you, but you may assume you are fulfilling your significance if you apply yourself to converting all your experience to the highest advantage of others.”

R. Buckminster Fuller