Facilitation Case Studies

A Four-Part Series of Resident Meetings for a School District

The Assignment: Kettle Moraine School District (KMSD) is faced with drastic budget cuts due to declining enrollment and other factors. A failed operating referendum in Spring 2019 added to an already urgent situation. KMSD superintendent and staff recognized the need for neutral, third party facilitation of a representative group of tax payers to discern feasible scenarios for District Sustainability to present to the School Board in late summer.

The Challenge: The failed referendum signaled to the School District that it had not successfully communicated the dire financial straits the District was in. The District also received feedback that, for those in the community who did receive that message, it was perceived by many as “fear-mongering” from the District. There was an element of unfounded resident distrust of the School District leadership’s financial management of the District and/or the unfounded belief that the financial situation could be resolved with simple cuts. In fact, KMSD had already made all cuts possible and was now facing school closures and/or dissolution of the District. But this information was not widely known or, if known, not believed to be fact. KMSD needed to take a different tactic with the community, engaging them in a fully transparent process to review for themselves the financial situation facing the District and to evaluate scenarios for District Sustainability…and do it in an extremely compressed timeframe. Over summer. 

Solution: MK Communication Strategies, in collaboration with Amy Murphy Facilitation, designed a structured, facilitated process to engage a representative community Committee Study Group of 20 people to methodically review, discuss and identify feasible scenarios for District Sustainability. This was achieved via a series of four 3-hour custom-designed facilitated work sessions that built from one to the next, with the end goal being to provide a report to the Kettle Moraine School Board on recommended options for District Sustainability. The report was to include scenario options, pros and cons, and cost-benefit analyses for the Board’s consideration. 

Critical to achieving the outcome was creation of a process and atmosphere by the Facilitators that demonstrated full transparency by KMSD and encouraged full participation of all Committee members. The process needed to allow expression of the participants’ diverse opinions, perceptions and concerns, manage the group’s inclination to skip the tedious due diligence and jump to solutions and instead engage them in the due diligence, and facilitate the group to come to consensus on a productive final report. Vital to the validity of the final product was that it be an unbiased report generated by the community representatives, not from the District. Thus, KMSD staff attended as content resources, but did not participate in the scenario discussions and findings. 

Outcome: In a confidential survey to the community participants, 100% of the respondents stated they believed the KMSD Sustainability Study Group process was effective and that they felt confident in the due diligence done by the Study Group on the scenarios provided to the School Board. Participants called the process “structured, organized, unbiased” and “outcome-driven and well-designed to move toward the desired outcome.” Another stated, “The facilitation kept us on task and moved the meetings along.” Numerous participants expressed appreciation for the creation of an “open environment” in which to “express thoughts, concerns and ideas freely, without criticism.” By the end of the four sessions, the process had not only resulted in the findings for the report to the School Board, it had cultivated a core of extremely concerned and motivated residents to become vocal, active KMSD advocates. Of the facilitation services, KMSD superintendent Pat Deklotz stated, “Thank you for your support and guidance as you facilitated this work. Your responsiveness to our time-sensitive needs was greatly appreciated. I will recommend you to others seeking direction.”  


A One-Day Summit for the Workforce Board

The Assignment: Employ Milwaukee, the workforce board for the City of Milwaukee, recognized it did not have a functioning relationship with or the trust of the Latino community, a critical segment of the City’s workforce. With new organizational leadership came the opportunity to take steps to build a better relationship. To that end, Employ Milwaukee planned a one-day Latino Workforce Development Summit and discerned that such a meeting would be most effectively facilitated by a neutral third party professional. 

The Challenge: Given the current lack of trust or existing rapport with the community, the mindset/tone of the prospective attendees was an unknown. Also, attendees were representing a wide variety of Latino organizations, businesses and faith groups, each with their own special interests, needs and constituencies, which could get unwieldy. In addition, Employ Milwaukee staff were concerned that the conversations at the event might veer off into realms over which EM has no purview or control, creating expectations in the community for action on which EM could not deliver, thus further damaging the trust in the organization. The facilitation thus required a fine balance of providing respectful space for complaints, needs, concerns and guiding the group to future-looking, actionable opportunities and ideas, while not putting Employ Milwaukee in a position of generating expectations that could not be met. 

Solution: Working within the confines of the pre-determined amount of time, MK Communication Strategies custom-designed a three-part daylong facilitated event utilizing the techniques of Focused Conversation, Consensus Building and Action Planning. This combination of facilitation methods allowed for constructive sharing of what the 70+ participants perceived to be currently working and not working and guided the group toward productive, actionable outcomes. The activities were designed with an eye toward anticipating the need for navigation through discord, respectful redirection of dominant participants and skillful elicitation of participation of more reticent attendees, as well as management of participant expectations of the workforce board’s purview of influence and capacity. At the recommendation of MK Communication Strategies, Employ Milwaukee leadership staff and board attended as hosts of the event and to provide overview presentations of Employ Milwaukee’s work at the beginning of the Summit to set context, but not to participate at the attendee tables, in order to allow attendees the freedom to express themselves. 

Outcome: A robust, constructive day of energetic participation by all attendees resulted in the community feeling heard and the client feeling confident in the progress made with this vital constituency. The final section of the day resulted in written actionable next steps generated from and owned by the Summit participants. The deliverable to the client included a detailed recap of all input, next steps, owners of those next steps and a recommended path forward to continue building the relationship with and trust of the leadership of the Latino community in regards to workforce development. In an unsolicited follow up letter to MK Communication Strategies principal Maggie Kuhn, Employ Milwaukee leadership stated, “Thank you for your exceptional work on our Latino Workforce Development Summit! You and your colleague did an outstanding job facilitating the event…[we are] truly appreciative of your expertise and pleased the event produced constructive results. We were initially concerned that it would be difficult to keep all the strong personalities on track. But we didn’t have to worry. The process you designed was organized, strategic and produced maximum attendee engagement.”


Including the Voices of Emerging Leadership in Strategic Planning

The Assignment: A large, multi-state design, build, construction firm was about to undertake their annual strategic planning meetings, which are traditionally attended only by the senior management. The Executive Vice President of Performance & Innovation was seeking an outside facilitator to design and implement a day-long meeting prior to the traditional meetings that included both senior management and several more junior staff people, in order to elicit the input and viewpoints of the company’s emerging leaders. 

The Challenge: The company’s traditional Strategic Planning process is, in the words of the EVP, “staid and stale.” The same people each year, saying the same things. In addition, all good talent attraction and retention professionals know that the millennial generation wants—even expects—to participate in the strategic direction of their workplace. These young professionals have many options of where to work and they don’t hesitate to change jobs readily if they don’t feel valued. This company is no different. Not all senior management had bought in to the idea of including the younger generation to participate in the planning process. The challenge was to design a day in which the senior leadership has the opportunity to provide context to the emerging leaders, the emerging leader staff members have a structured opportunity to provide meaningful input and express their ideas and feedback, senior management had the opportunity to actively listen and had a structured, positive format through which to respond, and all had the opportunity to collaboratively develop several actionable strategic initiatives and determine a path forward that senior management could buy-in to supporting. 

The Solution:

Initially, the President wanted the emerging leaders to do a workshop on their own in the middle of the day-long meeting and do a “report out” to the senior leadership. This is where 30 years of communication and leadership experience was invaluable: MK Communication Strategies principal Maggie Kuhn spotted that scenario as being antithetical to the goals of including the emerging leaders in the first place. As an outside, third party expert in facilitation, she was able to present a strong case to the President to allow her to design a day that included all participants and built from one workshop to the next. 

The over-arching question to be answered at the end of the day was: What are the opportunities, disruptions, threats and innovative possibilities in front of us and, in light of this, how do we position ourselves for success in the next 10 years? 

Elements incorporated into the day-long process included: 


An unprecedented day of engaged dialogue, analysis, input and idea generation resulted in the generation and consensus on numerous categories of potential future actions which the senior management took forward into their subsequent days of Strategic Planning. The day of the event, the President of the company stated, “This was very high value to the whole team.” A few weeks after the session, the EVP wrote, “The energy coming out of the session has been really positive” and went on to outline how it has energized the company and mobilized them to handle upcoming industry disruption and impending leadership changes.


A One-Day Planning & Consensus Building Meeting for Large Utility’s Start Up Ec Dev Dept.

The Assignment: A nationally-recognized economic development consultant is working with the small startup Economic Development division of a large 8-state utility company to develop long-term goals and create a road map to scale up to capacity, while at the same time delivering short-term returns. MK Communication Strategies was contracted by the Consultant to facilitate a day-long session of the 6-person staff to outline the road map and identify the necessary elements of it, with the Consultant participating as the Subject Matter Expert.

The Challenge: In addition to the challenge of needing to break down a vast topic into manageable parts in a single, daylong session was the fact that members of the team were jaded from past traditional “strategic planning” sessions that resulted in much talk and few actionable outcomes. They were thus skeptical of anything of value coming from the meeting. Additionally, the company has a traditional, top-down hierarchical management style, yet critical to a successful outcome of the day was creating an atmosphere that encouraged all members of the staff to provide input and ideas without hesitation, as they each hold a piece of the puzzle. Likewise, because each team member has their own area of expertise, the individuals often operate independently and even competitively at times; thus it was necessary to create an atmosphere of collegiality and collaboration that could override their traditional siloed corporate culture. The goal was to design and facilitate a process where all input was valued and seen as necessary to creating a complete road map and to build consensus on that road map, as a team, with expert industry feedback and insight offered by the Consultant in real time…and assure that all that resulted in actionable outcomes. 

Solution: Working with the Consultant, MK Communication Strategies custom-designed a day-long outcome-driven meeting for his client with the goal of engaging full and equal participation. The day began with a Focused Conversation technique to immediately engage all members of the team to participate and be valued on equal footing. Following a detailed presentation of industry Best Practices by the Consultant as a framework, the team was guided through an Action Planning Process to identify their own road map, priorities and timeframe to scaleup, as well as the team member(s) responsible for each element. A Consensus Building exercise closed out the day to assure team buy-in of the path forward. The deliverable to the Consultant was a document detailing the major goals and actions identified and the team member(s) who owned each element, which the Consultant and team are using as the basis for a more detailed strategic plan.

Outcome: All 6 members of the team enthusiastically engaged, their group wisdom was elicited, competitive jockeying was diverted, a framework for a path forward to scaleup was identified, short-, medium- and long-term actionable steps were outlined and team member owners were assigned to those steps. At the end of the day, one of the self-proclaimed skeptics declared the day to have been, “the best facilitated planning session of my 25 year career.” 


Non-Profit Planning for a Capital Campaign

The Assignment: As a contracted team member of an architectural firm, design and facilitate a process for two different non-profit clients to get organized in order to undertake capital campaigns. 

The Challenge: One of the non-profits does not have an existing facility and has no experience in how to get organized to undertake a capital campaign. The board is comprised mostly of dedicated area volunteers with expertise in business or the social services sector, not fund development. The other non-profit has a successful existing facility that requires expansion. The original board that did the initial capital campaign has mostly turned over, leaving the current board without the experience needed. Again, the board is comprised mostly of dedicated area volunteers with expertise in business or the social services sector. Despite this lack of expertise it is the board members of both organizations who are largely tasked with accomplishing their capital campaigns, as they are the ones with the passion for and knowledge of their organizations’ missions. A successful capital campaign green lights the architectural firm’s role in the project. 

The Solution: MK Communications has designed the following facilitated process to prepare each of the boards to undertake their capital campaign:

Facilitated Stakeholder Input Sessions 

The purpose of these two day-long session is to gather key stakeholders to begin the process of planning for a capital campaign, even prior to hiring a fundraising consultant (or to determine if an outside consultant is needed). The reason to do this prior to hiring a consultant is for the nonprofits to garner “internal” consensus and get itself organized and aligned on: approach, key messages, tasks and task owners, timing , purpose and goals of such a campaign in order to avoid wasted time, energy and money. 

The processes to be used at the Facilitated Stakeholder Input Sessions include:

--Outline the capital campaign elements

--Confirm the capital campaign budget

--Identify potential capital campaign committee members

--Identify potential capital campaign chair(s) 

--Identify preliminary sources of funds (i.e., private donors, grants, government funds, etc)

--Identify preliminary ideas for major donors

--Identify individuals who have a connection to the identified potential donors

--Identify fundraising consultant options 

--Create Timeline and Allocate Tasks to Stakeholder Group

--Develop a preliminary Capital Campaign timeline, including pre-launch, launch and conclusion 

--Identify attendant tasks to each phase (pre-launch will be the most detailed at time of this Input Session)

--Identify champions of said tasks (from the stakeholders at the Input Session)


The deliverable from this Stakeholder Input Session will be a written document summarizing all of the above findings and outlining the Capital Campaign Road Map agreed upon, and thus bought into, by the stakeholders. It is possible that an outcome of such pre-work is surfacing the realization that the organization is not yet ready for a capital campaign and has further work to do prior to undertaking one. While disappointing, it is best to know this prior starting a campaign.