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TLDR: I run a regular gathering for facilitators to try out new tools, share knowledge and use our combined views of the world to help each other learn, grow and thrive. In February, a small group came together and I shared what I’ve learned, and they offered some reflections on AI and the future of facilitation.

You can find the main takeaways below and an index to my “Playing with AI” series here.

Takeaways

The main takeaways (my summary and therefore others may have a different view!) are here:

#001 AI isn’t new to us
Many of us have been using AI to some extent for years: SIRI, Alexa, DeepL, Grammarly, Otter, Amazon-Netflix-Ecommerce “you may also be interested in”.

#002 Using vs simply being aware?
As facilitators, we don’t have to use these tools but it’s important to be aware of them as they are likely to be here to stay and may start having an impact on how we work AND client expectations.

#003 Transparency when using AI
If you want to use tools that capture people’s data – i.e. Otter – or that use people’s input for sentiment analysis, you will need to be transparent and crystal clear about how people can opt-out.

Possible action: do we need to update our terms and conditions? Privacy policies?

#004 Wasting time/saving time?
Many of these tools can just be a big time sink, but if we know how to use them strategically, we can use them to reduce the time we spend on repetitive tasks (social media, transcription, translation), or to inspire us when we need to create content (i.e. for a website or report), or to kick-start our thinking (i.e. by generating a workshop outline that we can then expand upon) and so on. Again, we can only do this if we are aware of what is out there.

Possible discussion point: if we spend LESS time on designing a workshop because we have become proficient in using the AI tools around us, should we reduce our fees? Or do we keep our fees the same because, like the electrician who charges £500 for a callout and only takes 5 minutes to fix a problem, people are paying for years of expertise and not just time?

#005 Making us more present
Some tools can be useful in allowing us to be more present: Someone mentioned using Otter to record conversations (with permission) which means that she can focus on the conversation fully, whilst being able to refer to notes later. Mindful moment: this can cause problems in some organisations from a legal point of view – note #3 regarding transparency.

#006 The human aspect of facilitation can’t be replaced easily
As facilitators, we aren’t content creators, but “midwives” (of a sort): through workshops and facilitated sessions, conversations happen, ideas emerge, insert whatever it is that you do here. This means that this ISN’T something that can be replaced by AI. The human element is essential.

Possible discussion point: how can we make this clear for customers? How can we use this as a selling point even more than we already do? How can we bring empathy, connection, and as Jan discussed, the “things that aren’t being said” or the good stuff that arises between the conversations, to the fore?

#007 Could AI be used for collaboration?
Some of the AI tools may be interesting tools to use in co-creating content, strategic thinking and simply to allow people to collaborate (in the same way that we use online whiteboards, Google docs and so on). Someone mentioned that in polarised conversations around, for example, climate change, we could start a discussion by asking ChatGPT what the key risks of climate change are. Participants can then discuss and debate and identify solutions WITHOUT getting into a “he said, she said” situation – because really, “ChatGPT said”! I mentioned how I have used ChatGPT and Midjourney to create comics for high school students to kick-start conversations, but I could also envisage getting participants to do this (given the right workshop and audience). You can get teams to use different types of AI to co-create content or solutions together, then come back to the human-only world to discuss, refine, strategise etc.

A question: should we as facilitators be creating a resource that details interesting ways that we can use AI for activities?

#008 People who prefer a rational style of communication may benefit from the use of AI
When working with people who find it difficult to interact with emotions and emotional people, some of these tools might be a godsend, in that they provide ways to kick-start conversations without emotion. Someone mentioned this in the context of some of the scientists she has worked with and I am sure that we can think of other groups where this might apply.

The question: how could we use this effectively AND meet the very human need for (some) emotion and human connection? Is there a need for this?

#009 Like all tools, AI has some challenges that we need to be aware of
We need to be mindful of AI shortfalls – privacy, ethical issues, bias, misinformation – and be hyper-aware that people can generate content with all of these issues “10x faster than humans” (according to Jasper.ai).

#010 MORE content ahead
We are likely to see a deluge of mediocre content. Some folks felt that we will always be able to tell AI-generated content, but I don’t know – I think that as AI improves, it will be harder to distinguish between the two, in part because AI technology will get better, and perhaps because humans will copy the AI!

The bottom line:

AI presents phenomenal opportunities to facilitators because the act of being in a room, reading non-verbal cues, reading between the lines from the way that people interact of what people don’t say, the ability to guide conversations with empathy and so on are VERY HUMAN qualities.

The question is: how can use this to our advantage as freelancers, business owners or employed facilitators? And how can we use this superpower of ours as a force for good, in a world where it may be easier to turn to ChatGPT for a conversation than to turn to a human being?

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That ends my notes from the meeting. Below is my “Playing with AI” series, where you can see some of the ways I played with AI to help me in my thinking about AI, facilitation and the work that I do.

Playing with AI

These are relatively “rough” notes – no fancy language here! – but hopefully they will be helpful to fellow facilitators.