Welcome to the second blog in the “Family and Community Group Conference Lived Experienced Practice Notes” series, brought to you by Kar Man and Tim. In this series, we will share our insights and experiences from Family and Group Conferencing (FGC).
Kar Man, a parent activist with lived experience of using FGC to plan for her future alongside her community, brings valuable insights as a research assistant and peer researcher at CASCADE, Cardiff University. She actively contributes to an NIHR-funded research project on Family Group Conferencing, working alongside Professor Jonathan Scourfield. Kar Man’s involvement extends beyond research, as she serves as a Lived Experience Advocate in the London Borough of Camden. Her dedication to social change through FGC, Peer Advocacy, and Co-Design models shines through her work.
Tim, a leading expert in facilitation and participatory methods, combines his 18 years of experience as a social worker with his extensive knowledge of empowerment models. As a service manager with LB Camden, Tim has facilitated over 100 FGCs in different communities in Wales and England, making him a seasoned practitioner in the field. His commitment to community inclusion and collaborative approaches is evident through his role as a Co-Investigator on the National Institute for Health Family Group Conference research project.
Through this blog series, we will explore the intricacies of FGC practice, community engagement, and the transformative power of relational activism. Join us on this journey as we look in detail into innovative approaches, share practical insights, and examine the impact of FGCs on social change. Stay tuned for our upcoming posts, where we will delve into various aspects of FGC practice and its profound influence on families and communities.
2. Group Dynamics in Family Group Conferencing
In Family Group Conferencing (FGC), understanding and managing group dynamics is essential to ensure a fair and inclusive decision-making process. By encouraging group thinking and avoiding “group think,” where individuals conform to others’ views without expressing their own, the FGC can benefit from a diverse range of perspectives and ideas.
Each person present should have a direct connection to the issues at hand, ensuring that their input holds weight and contributes meaningfully to the decision-making process. Striking a balance between immediate family members and friends’ networks, extended network participants, and relevant professionals creates a holistic representation that fosters a well-rounded discussion.
One challenge in group dynamics is group polarisation. This occurs when two individuals take opposing positions and engage in persuasive arguments to sway others in the group to their side. While healthy debate and differing opinions can be valuable, it is important for the FGC coordinator to mitigate extreme polarisation and ensure that all voices are heard and considered.
As a coordinator, it is crucial to be attentive and sensitive to the dynamics within the group. One question to ask is whether someone in the room is not speaking for a particular reason. It is possible that they may be hesitant to share their views due to power dynamics or fear of judgement. By acknowledging and addressing this concern, the coordinator can create a safe space where individuals feel comfortable expressing their thoughts and concerns. Skill in facilitating the process can significantly impact its efficacy. Preparation and clear goal-setting are integral aspects of their role. Providing participants with a thorough briefing before the conference helps them understand the purpose and structure of the session and ensures that they come prepared to contribute meaningfully. The coordinator’s guidance in setting the tone of the meeting, managing time effectively, and promoting open communication sets the stage for productive discussions.
Power dynamics within the FGC setting should also be recognised and managed. Power imbalances can arise from various factors, such as age, gender, cultural background, or past family dynamics. The coordinator should be mindful of these dynamics and take proactive steps to level the playing field, ensuring that all participants have an equal opportunity to contribute and influence the decision-making process.
By actively addressing power dynamics and fostering an inclusive environment, the coordinator can promote collaborative problem-solving and prevent the dominance of certain voices over others. This allows for a more balanced and fair decision-making process that reflects the collective needs and aspirations of the family. By assembling a diverse and relevant group of individuals, the FGC can tap into a multitude of perspectives that enrich the discussions.
In summary, understanding and managing group dynamics is crucial in Family Group Conferencing. Encouraging group thinking while avoiding groupthink and mitigating polarisation helps to ensure a diverse range of perspectives are considered. The coordinator should be mindful of individuals who may be hesitant to speak and work to address any power dynamics present within the group. By creating an inclusive and safe space, the FGC can facilitate effective decision-making and support positive outcomes.