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  • Writer's pictureMartha Williams

Plenty Belize Strategic Planning

When | Fall 2019

Background | See “Plenty Belize GATE Project”

Objectives | To facilitate the Plenty Belize board and staff in their strategic planning process through guided reflective exercises and working sessions

Partners | Plenty Belize, Lily Cowen

Mentors | Marcia Eames-Sheavly

My Roles | Co-facilitator

Highlights | Travel to Belize; reconnecting with former work partners; improving facilitation skills

My Story | Months after submitting my team’s final Plenty Belize GATE project evaluation report, Marcia looped me into a correspondence with the Plenty Belize staff and board. The were discussing a strategic planning session, the number one recommendation in our evaluation report. They asked Marcia if she could facilitate the experience. As a part of her transition to her nearing retirement, she suggested that I facilitate the session instead. With their enthusiastic acceptance of the suggestion, they awaited my reply. I wondered what date they had in mind.

Later that week, Marcia and I discussed the details. I would organize the session materials– reflective questions, working activities, and pacing– while the Plenty Belize staff members handled the travel and lodging. I was anxious, but confident that I could do it well. I would also travel to Belize alone. I was less confident about this. After further discussion, Marcia and I decided to ask Lily Cowen, another GATE project evaluator, to co-facilitate with me. Thankfully, she accepted and we got to work.

Lily and I met at least once every week to determine the direction, session materials, and leadership roles for the strategic planning meetings. We both had experience with facilitation and planning within organizations and other projects. As a result, our work went smoothly, giving feedback to one another and asking Marcia for hers. Within 42 days, we were ready to facilitate.

When we arrived, a board member picked us up at the airport. She took us to a restaurant to share a meal together and catch each other up on our lives since we last saw each other in April. A few hours and several bus rides later, we arrived at our strategic planning site– T.R.E.E.S field center, a research center for a small grassroots ecological conservation organization. That first night we rested and prepared for the first day of our two-day planning session.

The first day was dedicated to reflection and the second day was centered on goals and structure. For a total of twelve hours, Lily and I took turns facilitating activities that required the Plenty Belize team to look inward as individuals, a team, and a society. During every discussion and individual activity, they learned something about themselves and their progress. Lily and I did the same.

While the group determined their values, reestablished a vision, reworked their mission, and discovered their new direction, Lily and I learned to be better facilitators. For me, adaptability, flexibility, and creativity took on new meanings. They meant changing the schedule, editing the process as we went, and sometimes, entirely scraping activities to try something new. They meant understanding and reimagining ideas so that they made sense to everyone in the room. Unexpectedly, these three familiar words also meant being comfortable with whatever the group decided as long as they were adequately satisfied with the outcome. It was this last collective meaning that became the most important. It allowed me to provide a space that favored the participants’ will and creative direction over my own. It also granted me permission, when the time came, to let go.

Photo Description | Participant and facilitator lodging at T.R.E.E.S. (top) | The Plenty Belize Board discusses their roles in the personal lives and work; Photo Credit: T.R.E.E.S. staff member (center)

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