It is World Water Day on March 22nd and I work closely with the water sector. My post is inspired by my love for challenging the way we gather in the water sector, especially, so read on. 

I will start with this compact yet powerful one minute video by Jason Silva on the importance of designing space: Why Design Matters. 

Let's set the scene (get the pun?). The lighting, the shapes, the shadows- everything in a space shows us the way architecture, considered by Jason as "designing the without" affects how we design the within (which for me is the process in facilitation). The connection between design that reflects and affects the inner state is known as ontological design.

Everything we design in turn designs us back.
— Anne-Marie Willis

We may not give enough credit to the impact that the space we are hosting our gathering in has, because often we do not have too many choices, maybe the space is available through our office, community centre, the organization who hired us to facilitate. No matter what the situation is though, the psychology of space plays a role in influencing the outcome of the process.

I'll share a personal story. Recently I found myself welcomed into a "used-to-be-an-office, now is a storage room" space, without any windows, with the whizzing of a fan in the background and pale yellow lighting, for an interview. Yes, it was pointed out jokingly that it was a busy week at the office and the interviewer was unable to find another empty room. Yes, I laughed back. Meanwhile, I could not help but think to myself how much I would rather sit in the hallway to do this interview than to be enclosed in this space for an hour! Was this a sneaky test to my abilities, I thought? Testing my endurance? Really, it was not as sophisticated as my mind so persistently tried to justify it. It was simple. Not enough credit was given to psychology of space here. 


versus... this. 

It makes a world of a difference. I will use this extreme example to build the contrast case: when you are in a white room with big windows that allow a lot of natural light in, and you are sitting on comfy chairs or even the floor (for some people it invites their most comfortable state), how does that make you feel? The psychology of space tells us that people naturally open up more in spaces that have bright, open characteristics, and feel closed-in in spaces that are too formal, constricting and without windows.

The # 3 RULE to great facilitation, is: space matters!

You are the architect of your gathering space. Creating spaces that allow people you are working with, to unfold, to open up, to feel inspired and creative, to feel motivated and relaxed, to feel less tension merits some pause and thinking as you design the process of the gathering itself (it is as important!). This is why, as a facilitator, I get very excited about hosting retreats in nature. You want to see real transformation? Gather a group of executives in a cottage or retreat centre outside the city – take away technology (as much as possible) and invite everyone to focus on the “real” connection. The outcomes will be stark and powerful. This has been the policy for all past, and all future Water Innovation Labs, where we bring professionals from within and outside the water sector for a 5 day experience in dialogue exchange, innovation and project prototyping, and skill building (a project I am working on with Waterlution). 

Keeping in mind the psychology of space, and assuming you don't have a choice about the space you will be using for your next gathering or event, and say, you already know it is not ideal, are there ways to compensate? Absolutely!  If you feel you are lacking certain spacial components to help open up your group, then incorporate some decorating, artwork, adding touches of inspiration to the wall, and activities in your process that move people around the room, break the ice and deepen trust. Try and gather your group in circle, too. Stay tuned and I will share the importance of gathering in circle in the next post.

Let's tap into collective wisdom: Here's an observation activity for you.

How often do you consider space psychology when organizing events or meetings? Has this post helped you better understand the importance of "designing space" and not just process, and how to compensate for the lack of open spaces? Share with me your ideas in the comments below.