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DATE: September 9, 2021

At Stratos, convening is an experience – one designed with intentionality, customized to achieve desired outcomes, shaped to be inclusive and safe, and often infused with creativity and interactive dialogue. These unique trademarks of Stratos’ Convening, Facilitation and Engagement Practice hold true for both in-person and virtual gatherings. At Stratos we are proud of our team’s in-depth knowledge, subject matter expertise and integrated networks. We are committed to bringing together the right people to have the conversations needed to tackle complex problems, overcome challenges, and work towards impactful solutions.

Barb Sweazey, Partner, leads the company’s Convening, Engagement, and Facilitation Practice. As a certified professional facilitator with the International Association of Facilitators (IAF), she has convened and facilitated hundreds of people through countless engagements over her many years in practice. Just as importantly though, she has also directed her energy and expertise to building the convening skills of her Stratos colleagues, so that others on the team are empowered and equipped to design and guide conversations that will generate the impact that Stratos is so passionate about.

While each Stratos facilitator has their own facilitation vibe, Barb leans towards creative, tangible (and usually fun!) approaches: “When in person, a lot of my workshops will have really tactile elements: flipcharts, sticky notes, markers,” explains Barb. “I also use silent mind maps where I have a full wall of murals. Everyone has a marker, and for a time no one talks but everyone connects their ideas through written words and pictures. It is also not out of the ordinary for participants to be handed playdough and pipe cleaners to reimagine a model for how they want to work together or to create their annual work plan”.

When COVID-19 entered the mainstream business world, Stratos’ Convening, Facilitation and Engagement Practice quickly adapted to designing and leading meetings through a variety of virtual platforms. A member of the Stratos team promptly recognized that facilitating these virtual gatherings would require a new toolkit to create the professional, effective and creative experience that the company is known for. With research, experimentation and practice, Barb and the Stratos convening team integrated virtual engagement tools into workshop designs, including mechanisms such as virtual breakout rooms, interactive whiteboards, polling, and other customized activities designed to keep participants engaged and moving towards impactful outcomes, no matter their location.

To help demonstrate all that Stratos convenors have learned over the past few months, it is helpful to recount a recent bi-national session between Canada and the United States of America that focused on better articulating the full value of the social, cultural, environmental and economic benefits of the Great Lakes. The Stratos engagement team designed this three-day virtual workshop, engaging close to 100 experts from across North America. The interactive session included participants representing academia, Indigenous leaders and communities, interest groups, industry and all levels of governments. Together, they participated in a variety of activities drawing on a suite of virtual engagement mechanisms and tools, including presentations, moderated panels, facilitated breakout groups and co-generated polling and prioritization. A pre- and post-workshop website was also generated to facilitate the community’s learning and information sharing. The participants concluded their session with a common commitment to move forward as a united community to elevate better information and data on the full value of the Great Lakes to decision-makers around the basin. Stratos, bringing our best convening skills to bear, was recognized by the client at the end of the session, noting the facilitation team’s ability to “juggle multiple plates in the air while jumping on a trampoline!”.

Following more than a year of online meetings, Barb recognizes the eagerness of clients to meet again in person. Just as Stratos adapted to facilitating fully virtually meetings, the Stratos team is now preparing to convene hybrid meetings. As this next evolution of facilitation gets underway, one thing is guaranteed – as with any Stratos-led engagement, it will be guided by our values, ensuring that the approach taken is objectives-driven, well-planned and executed, and inclusive, engaging and equitable for all.

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