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Feeling my way around: facilitatin’ the NT

Richard F Fell

Tropical Savannas CRC, Northern Territory University, Darwin NT 0909

The paper describes the process and outcomes from various activities that were to assess future needs for the pastoral industry and other organisations in the Northern Territory. Processes used have to change to engage similar audiences in differing needs assessment, review and future action activities. The processes were used with the Victoria River District Conservation Association, the Northern Territory Cattleman's Association, the Mary River Landcare Group and also in two major conferences — the Northern Territory Landcare Conference and the Northern Grassy Landscapes Conference. All led to action on the ground.

Introducing the Territory

During a two-year period in the Northern Territory I was asked to facilitate many meetings for a variety of agriculturally based organisations. In this paper the processes used for these meetings are outlined and brief comments on the results obtained are made.

There was a need to vary the approach used in the range of meetings that were facilitated – five of which are reported here. The reasons for the change in approach were:

  • the same group/organisation was requesting assistance and they would become bored with a similar approach;
  • there were often the same people at the meetings, because they belong to a number of different groups/organisations – thus it would’ve been easy to expose them to the same technique time and again;
  • there is a need to maintain creativity and innovative thought that might be restricted using the same approach;
  • the intention in all cases was to develop thought through to action and
  • workshops in large conferences need to give everyone contributing a sense of their contribution being valued and used.

Over the two-year period I worked with many organisations and will report on one example from three of these, as well as on two large conference workshop sessions that were conducted. The paper will concentrate on the approaches used with producer – community organisations, rather than government agency or meetings of the Tropical Savannas CRC.

The organisations and conferences in question:

  • Victoria River District Conservation Association (VRDCA)– a planning meeting to ‘kick-start’ collaborative work in the Victoria River District.
  • Mary River Landcare Group (MRLG) – assisting the group re-focus and move onto more positive actions.
  • Northern Territory Cattlemen’s Association (NTCA) – 4 branch meetings on their future needs and how the NTCA itself could help.
  • Northern Territory Landcare Conference – a conference with over 200 participants looking at the regional key issues and concerns and strategic actions that might be taken locally to address these.
  • Northern Grassy Landscapes Conference – a conference attended by 252 people, the workshop session looked at important issues and concerns and actions that could be taken at local, regional and national levels.

What were the processes that were used — visions to action?

There were similarities in the way the meetings were conducted as in each case it was requested that the thought/visions be turned into some strategic or practical action. The phrase Visions to Action covers the general approach.

  • Victoria River District Conservation Association (VRDCA)– a modified strategic planning meeting that started with highlights of work done to date, looked at the vision and moved onto action planning for the next 2-3 years.
  • Mary River Landcare Group (MRLG) – also a modified strategic planning approach – visions to action again.
  • Northern Territory Cattlemen’s Association (NTCA) – a modified nominal group technique (NGT) to look at the future needs and report these to the NTCA executive as well as identifying actions that could be taken locally.
  • Northern Territory Landcare Conference – listing important issues, strategic actions for high priority issues and reporting to regional and Territory management.
  • Northern Grassy Landscapes Conference – the future needs of the grassy landscapes of northern Australia from the wide ranging view points of pastoralists, conservationists and aboriginal communities – issues to actions.

Processes used in more detail

Each of the workshops followed a step by step facilitated process that are outlined in more detail in the following sections.

VRDCA meeting – the program and process

There were 8 main parts in this process:

1.Overview of the workshop — welcome, administrative matters, introductions and expectations.

2. Highlights of past work — stories about the VRDCA - members have their say.

3. Relooking at the mission of the VRDCA — the vision statement was re-examined.

4. What are the issues and concerns facing the Victoria River district over the next 5 years?

Prioritising the issues — impact and influence to prioritise these using n/3 and coloured stick on dots.

5. Developing actions for the priority topics — small group activity

  • What are appropriate actions to deal with this high priority issue?
  • What resources do we have to call on?
  • What? How? Who? Where? When?
  • Likely obstacles and how to manage these.
  • Likely assistance and how to engage this.

6. Report back to whole group — 10 minutes each small group for each of three topics.

7. Discussion and consensus of action to be taken by individuals, properties and VRDCA.

8. Evaluation of the meeting — what did you like about the day? What did you learn? What can we do differently?

In general the process worked well, although it the time spent on it had to be shortened. The main time saver was to have each of 4 groups works on a separate high priority item each. This led to some very specific actions that the group and/or individuals in the group could start immediately.

Mary River Landcare group — the program and process

The overall process for the day was based on 1. Our vision, 2. Strategies to make it work and 3. Projects, activities and actions – the next steps. Step by step the process was:

1. Achievements for 1999-2000 and how these have contributed to the MRLG Vision

Achievements were listed and discussed in depth in three groups. They were listed in one list as there were obvious double-ups from the three lists reported back.

2. MRLG vision is it still appropriate? Relook at the vision statement

Three groups were formed and they each considered the Vision as it stood (see below) and made their recommendations on any needed changes. The parts that are underlined are those parts that all three groups agreed should be in the revamped vision.

One of the new versions:

"We, as members of the Mary River Landcare group, aim to have an ecologically and economically sustainable catchment for our families and future generations of all peoples to enjoy and benefit from its incredible landscape and biodiversity."

Another revamped version:

"We as a Landcare community of actual landholders and land managers still want to be here in the year 2009 and beyond. We aim to have an ecologically and economically sustainable catchment for our families and future generations of all Australians to enjoy and benefit from its incredible biodiversity."

There was general consensus that the changes needed to be approved and/or endorsed at the next meeting of the MRLG.

3. What strategies does MRLG have to make the Vision happen? Are there any new ones that the group feels are appropriate?

Three groups worked on this exercise and their results were listed. There was some grouping of issues and the top five were selected by consensus.

The whole group was then asked to self-select one of the five issues (the highest priority issues), for which they had some energy, to decide on appropriate actions. There were sufficient numbers for 4 of the topics and it was decided to go with these and leave marketing.

4. Report back from the group working on information sharing and education is presented below as an example of the actions being set up.

What and why?



Information exchange and sharing of ideas –education
- raising awareness of Landcare ethics & activities on the ground
- more interesting Landcare meetings
- involving everyone (action learning)
- improve sharing of resources

All members
Clair to put this on next agenda
Jeff to take a recommendation to next meeting re education & training workshops

Next meeting on-going

Next meeting on-going

At each meeting informal reporting from each member on recent land management activities


Next meeting

Case studies written up
- for newsletter
- for agency reports

Richard to present fire case studies - Abbie to liaise with respect to date invitation etc

May 2000

Education and training workshops on issues of interest
- first aid, farm chemicals, fire management, weeds, toads - get experts in to talk to the group
- seek other topics from the group

Alan supply a list of courses
Clair to put on agenda

Next meeting

Next meeting

From the glimpses of action and changes to the vision it seems that the process worked well with this group. The actions have since been through one or two action learning cycles and are still part of the agenda of the MRLG.

NTCA future needs — NGT process

The future needs of the NTCA were canvassed by conducting a modified NGT with each of 4 Branch meetings. The step by step process was:

1. Write down, without consulting your neighbour, the 5 -10 most important issues or concerns facing the cattle industry that your NTCA might be able to assist with or do something about.

2. The facilitator then lists these on a white board (or butchers paper) in a round robin fashion, each person gives an item from their list until all items are on the board. List without comment from the rest of the group and record in as close to their words as possible.

3. Read through the list, ensuring that everyone understands what each statement means, points of clarification only, not of discussion or disagreement.

4. Gain agreement where there appears to be items that are the same in different words, but do not seek too much lumping. (3 and 5 are similar, when we come to voting votes for 3 will include 5). If anyone is adamant that they should not be grouped together then do not do so.

5. Use coloured dots for voting - n/3 (number of items divided by three gives tha numbers of votes to be allocated) - but no less than 5 votes each. Please use your votes to decide which are the most important items on the list, place your coloured dots against those items. (You may use all your dots on one item or split them any way you wish).

6. Use a second colour - n/3 - but no less than 5 votes each. Please place the second colour against those items over which the NTCA should have most influence. (You may use all your dots on one item or split them any way you wish).

7. Highlight and take to a separate list the 3 or 4 items that are most important and that the NTCA has most influence over.

8. Small group discussion of these items - what can we do about these items - as individuals, as a local Branch of NTCA, at Regional level or on a Territory basis.

9. Have groups report back verbally but record the items of action that can be made at local level and see if you can get commitment to action for reporting back at the next Branch meeting.

10. Advise the group that the next step for the NTCA will be to collate these reports and take them to an Executive meeting for discussion and action, with an open industry meeting scheduled later.

11. Close this segment of the meeting with thanks for their attention and involvement.

All four groups completed the workshop and were happy with the outcome. Groups and individuals felt that they had been listened to and that actions suggested would be actively considered. A report has been prepared for NTCA and action has been taken from the meetings at NTCA executive level.

NT Landcare Conference workshop session

Workshop participants were asked to bring their learning diaries (handed out at the beginning of the Conference and referred to throughout) to the workshop where they could be used to canvass the important issues facing Landcare in ecologically sustainable land management. The step by step workshop process was:

1. What are the important issues facing the region in enabling ecologically sustainable land

management in the next 3-5 years? (List one issue from each person in a round robin fashion - organise these into the 5 sectors as they come up. This should get you around 30 items on the board as some will already have theirs up as you proceed, but ensure that each person actually states which is their important issue as you go around.)

2. Which of these items as listed seem to be the same — that is common to more than one of the sectors that are represented here at the workshop? (Mark these in some way so that it is obvious that they are common to more than one sector - 1 to 5.)

3. Identify which of the items if it was fixed would have the biggest impact on ecologically

sustainable land management in your region. Identify which of the items that you and your group can have the biggest influence over in your region. (In both cases give the group 5 or 7 coloured dots which they can stick on the board against the items they chose, they may use all the dots on one item or spread them around as they wish. Do the impact first and then summarise the votes. Then do the influence and summarise the votes.)

4. For the top 3 items — high impact and high influence — brainstorm any possible actions that might be taken to deal with them. (List all the possible actions on a separate sheet for each of the top 3 priorities.)

5. Report back to the whole group on the top 10 priorities- that is those with high impact and high influence. The report should also outline where there is commonality between sectors within the region and the possible actions for the top 3. (Each facilitator should make this report using either butchers paper.)

6. Similarities and differences from the regions will be highlighted by concensus from the whole group and will form with the 3 regional reports the basis of the report to the Landcare Council. (The facilitator will highlight similarities using "lassooing" with differently coloured pens. The differences will be acknowledged by underlining each different item in red.)

7. The workshop will be closed by thanking the group for their input and effort. Ask them to hand in their "learning diaries" as they will be a valuable input into the evaluation of the Conference. (Questions 1 and 2 provide good insight for the evaluation of the Conference and question 3 will provide the most comprehensive list of issues and concerns based on the 8 sessions that formed the initial part of the Conference — ensuring that no ideas are lost. These items will be typed and be part of the Conference proceedings.)

One crucial element of this process was the appointment of three facilitators to conduct the workshop with the three regional groups (around 25 people per group). Each group operated slightly differently — all with the assistance of a recorder. The final reports were easily collated into one, via the lassoing and underlining process that gained concensus from the group on actions to take. A separate report was prepared.

Northern Grassy Landscapes Conference workshop

Participants were asked to find the group that they had been allocated to – by a letter of the alphabet, randomly allocated. (There are 25 groups in all – the seats are grouped in 10s and a letter placed on one seat).

They were then given the following task to complete: There are three steps in the process that we would like to use to think about the future needs of the northern grassy landscape. These have been designed so that the Conference organisers do not miss any of the information generated in this session.

1. Consider the question “If we are to maintain and/or improve the health of the northern grassy landscape what do you think are the most important issues/concerns that face us?

2. List three issues or concerns that are important. List these on the sheet provided in a round-robin fashion until all items are listed – a group recorder should be nominated for this task.

Come to agreement on one of these issues that you would like to consider in more depth.

3. Take the one most important issue and think about some possibilities for action to assist with that issue.

Record these actions on the sheet provided. Use these questions to help you think about the actions:

  • Who will be responsible for the action?
  • What should be done? What will the action entail?
  • How can we proceed?
  • Where will the action take place?

Give these sheets and lists of issues to the Facilitator or any other person on the Organising Committee (Blue name badges).

4.Report back to the whole group the most important issue and one possible action that might be taken — in one minute reports from the 25 groups. A person needs to be nominated to report back to the Conference. Collect the full reports from each of the groups.

The one minute report back proved to be a winner and generated a deal of excitement and energy at the end of the Conference. The reports were recorded on the board as they were being given. A short report was prepared for the Director Tropical Savannas CRC to take to a meeting in Canberra the next day – and this report had all the high priority issues and actions from the Conference. A successful process.


The paper describes some of the processes used in the Northern Territory with different groups and organisations, as well as with different sizes of audience. They are all based around developing actions, with the phrase Vision to Action capturing the essence of the process in each case. Processes have been detailed, so that the reader can adapted them to their own needs.

The processes have successfully delivered in every case the future needs of the group, organisation or Conference and tangible action has resulted from each activity. The paper should be read in conjunction with two others: “A bright future for beef — futuring scenarios in the real world” and “Charting the Unknowns in the NT — keeping the crocs at bay”, as these relate two other processes that have been successfully applied.


  1. Fell, R.F. (1999) Process for Katherine Landcare Workshop on Future Directions for Ecologically Sustainable Land Management - Landcare Conference – Internal Report for Tropical Savannas CRC.
  2. Fell, R.F (1999) Notes from Strategic Planning meeting - Mary River Landcare Group - Internal Report for Tropical Savannas CRC.
  3. Fell, R.F. (1999) Report on the Future Directions of the NTCA – Submitted to the NTCA
  4. Fell, R.F. (1999) NTCA Alice Springs meeting – October – Internal report for NTCA and Tropical Savannas CRC
  5. Fell, R.F. (1999) NTCA Tennant Creek meeting - September – Internal report for NTCA and Tropical Savannas CRC
  6. Fell, R.F. (191199) NTCA Top End meeting - October – Internal report for NTCA and Tropical Savannas CRCSullivan, R. (1999) NTCA – Katherine Branch meeting - August - Internal report for NTCA and Tropical Savannas CRC
  7. Fell, R.F. (1999) Workshop report for VRD Conservation Association -
  8. Strategic Actions Workshop - Timber Creek meeting – Internal report for VRDCA and Tropical Savannas CRC.
  9. Fell, R.F. (2000) Northern Grassy landscapes Conference Workshop report – Internal Report for Tropical Savannas CRC

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