Who’s really in charge – power, authority, or influence?

Think of the last time you had a dinner party. Perhaps your spouse invited the boss and his family and now you’re faced with figuring out the menu. You ask your spouse what to serve, and he or she says, “It doesn’t matter, you decide and I’ll be fine with that.” Okay, you’ve been given authority. So you make a decision to have steaks cooked on the grill and you’re about to head to the market to buy the meat when your spouse says, ever so gently, “You know, the boss is a vegetarian.” Your authority to make a decision has gone right out the window. Your spouse’s boss has power to call the shots even without being party to the discussion, simply by virtue of being the keeper of your spouse’s job. And so, based on your spouse’s influence, you opt for a vegetable lasagna and green salad instead. You could, in fact, put your foot down and say, “We’re having steaks – it’s too hot to turn on the oven,” but you know that even though you have the right to make that call, it’s not in your best interest to do so. And so is born the power-authority-influence conundrum – who’s really in charge?

When planning, it is important to have the right people involved. (planning presentation in Sweden in this photo).

When planning, it is important to have the right people involved. (LIsa leading a planning presentation in Sweden in this photo).

It doesn’t matter whether you’re talking about a small committee meeting to plan a single special event at your workplace or getting stakeholders together to discuss a multimillion dollar community development project, the dynamics required to achieve success depend in large part on who does or doesn’t come to the table to take part in the discussion. A good facilitator will try to assess who holds the power, authority, and influence in the group that he or she is facilitating, but without the right people at the table, it may be difficult to facilitate the group to a successful conclusion. I’m measuring success, of course, by the ability to achieve the objectives set forth by the group.

Power, authority, and influence are very different things and although some individuals or entities that make up your planning group may fall into more than one category, chances are good that most will land squarely in one and only one. Over the life of any project or meeting, players may even shift from one category to another depending on the specific issue on the table at the time.

Skillful facilitation requires recognition of who falls into what category and then using that knowledge to help achieve the objectives of the group overall.

Authority gives someone the ability to sign off on and take responsibility for various decisions. This person might seem to be the most important player at the table because he or she has the right to make decisions, but that’s rarely the case in actual practice. The person with real power may be the one who holds the pursestrings or some other valuable resource, without which the project cannot be completed. Unfortunately, sometimes that person or entity realizes the strength of their position and uses it as a bludgeon to get their way, in effect holding the authority figure hostage so that he or she must make the decision the power figure desires, regardless of whether it is good business to do so. But that’s where influence comes in. Influence might be exerted by a single individual (for example, the person who was the founding father of a program or place, which causes people to listen and consider what he has to say before making a decision). Or it might be exerted by a stakeholder group such as consumers, supporters, or friends. In either case, influence may sway the course of a decision depending on how persuasive the argument becomes.

Ideally, these three individuals or entities will work together to arrive at consensus or general agreement about how to proceed in any given situation. A good facilitator can help that happen, but if one or more of the three groups (or individuals within those groups) simply refuses to participate or cooperate, be prepared for a project to stall or end without achieving its objectives.  To avoid that situation, think ahead about the individuals or groups that should be invited to meetings and at what time in the process to create the most desirable discussion and decision-making environments. Crafting the right team and keeping all members of that team engaged at critical points along the way is vital to success.

Lisa Brochu

Facilitators – the Question People

We have just returned from an excellent Interpret Europe Conference in Sigtuna, Sweden, with about 165 colleagues from 40 nations. I am mulling over the ideas than ran through the presentations. “Be a facilitator,” certainly seemed to be one of the consistent messages. Excellent keynotes by Ted Cable, Mette Knudsen, Poul Seidler and James Carter were especially thought provoking.

Poul Seidler spoke about our audience taking ownership if we facilitate well.

Poul Seidler from Denmark spoke about our audience taking ownership if we facilitate well.

I think of the many titles under which interpreters work – naturalist (expert), historian (expert), presenter (communicator), ranger (problem solver), guide (expert communicator), visitor information specialist (expert) and program specialist (communicator). In most cases we are doing the same kinds of work but the title makes us sound tilted one direction or another. Most organizations seem to value titles that set us up as content experts, information specialists and people with answers. And yet we know that good interpretation is much more than giving information.

Despite the titles, we might well be ahead to think of ourselves as “the question people,” not “the answer people.” Mette and Poul emphasized the value of an interpreter being not in front of or beside those with whom we work, but behind them. We facilitate experiences by helping others understand the world and stories through our questions. “What do you find here of value? What do you see? How would you like to explore this place? What should we do here?”

Sam Ham gave a great presentation at the Nordic-Baltic Seminar at the Swedish Centre for Nature Interpretation just before the Interpret Europe Conference. He described the transitions in the field from didactic approaches, being experts giving information, to being entertaining presenters with no other purpose than to keep people engaged, to being true interpreters, facilitating self-discovery of the visitors’ own thoughts and meanings about a place or story. Research suggests that effective interpretation gets people to think more deeply, having internal conversations and discussions with others about what we encounter. When interpreters simply tell visitors what they are seeing, the visitors may or may not really be thinking about the subject. Interpreters who ask a question that invites visitors to explore, think, process and remember engage their visitors’ minds. Few people are given the title “facilitator,” but facilitation is what helps others find answers for themselves that endure, enlighten and grow.

Sam Ham gave a very inspirational keynote at the seminar at the Swedish Centre for Nature Interpretation.

Sam Ham urged us to inspire people to think and have conversations during the seminar at the Swedish Centre for Nature Interpretation.

Dictionaries suggest that “to facilitate” is to “make easier,” but interpretation’s aim is not necessarily to make things easier, for the interpreter or the visitor. Perhaps interpreters even make experiences with nature and culture more challenging, to understand, to plunge into the depths of our minds with new ideas, unanswered questions and the desire to learn through exploration. Simply naming things and being experts is certainly easier than thinking about the use of powerful themes, asking questions that provoke people to think and planning experiences that create lasting engagement.  But facilitation of heritage experiences is likely better for everyone when the interpreter chooses not to be just an expert. The challenge is to ask the right questions and place people in situations where they will start conversations with themselves and each other.

Lisa and I want to thank the keynoters named above and Patrick and Bettina Lehnes of Interpret Europe for facilitating a thoughtful conference with friends and colleagues from all over the world. The entire group challenged us to think more about heritage interpretation, always a good thing to do.

– Tim Merriman

On the Road in Stockholm – The Music and Theater Museum

Entry door to the Musik/Teater Museet.

Entry door to the Musik/Teater Museet.

We are on the road again in Stockholm, Sweden, on our way to the Interpret Europe Conference in Sigtuna and the Nordic-Baltic Seminar on Heritage Interpretation and Cooperation in Uppsala. We were here eighteen months ago for a conference in Visby on Gotland Island and enjoyed wandering around Stockholm for a couple of days at Christmas time when the winter decorations and celebrations add a festive atmosphere. On both of our visits here, we’ve stayed in Ostermalm in the heart of the city and enjoyed the food of the 1895 Saluhall markets and cafes of Gamlastan, their old town.

We kept walking near the Musik/Teater Museet on both visits and this time we stopped by to see how it compares with other music museums we’ve seen around the world. The entry fee is 70 Swedish Kronors (SEK) each (about ten dollars) and we really didn’t know what to expect from the signage outside. It’s in a very old and beautiful building but the entry is understated and somewhat difficult to find.

We started with the interactive musical instruments in the hall of music history. This was not the grand display of every lute ever collected or elaborate labels about the origins of each drum. The museum has many of the instruments mounted and ready to play (even in tune – wow) and you are invited to try them, creating a delightful cacophony with other museum goers. Signage is in Swedish for the most part, but since so much of the exhibitry revolves around sounds rather than words, we rarely referred to the English translation provided in a carry-around notebook. Some of the exhibits have videos or recordings behind them with earphones or audio wands to avoid an overload of repetitive

Lisa tried the harp and liked it a lot.

Lisa tried the harp and liked it a lot.

soundtracks. Lisa and I both enjoyed playing a variety of drums, especially with the complete trapset which allows you to play backup to ABBA, the famous Swedish group of the 70s. Lisa also tried the harp and swears this could be her future career. A Karaoke room invites you to become a lead singer with ABBA and other musical groups.

The museum also includes a couple of galleries devoted to theatre and the marionettes exhibit was fun to see. I had a puppet theater in the 1970s and 1980s in my work with state parks and a nature center, and had pointedly avoided marionettes because they are more challenging to make. The ones on display were beautifully crafted by varied cultures. Ipads mounted in tables and a couple of staged areas highlight the marionettes in performance.

The museum building itself seems positively medieval, which adds to the ambiance as you tread on creaky wooden floors and move from gallery to gallery via substantial stone staircases. The current photo exhibition in one wing features the

The gift shop is thematic and shares instruments from varied cultures at reasonable prices. The cards, posters and other artwork are all about music and theater.

The drums are from Africa but you are invited to play them.

The drums are from Africa but you are invited to play them.

We enjoyed the museum a great deal, largely because of the friendly greeting we received and the encouragement to interact with the instruments. If you have the chance to visit, don’t miss the Saluhall just a few blocks away to enjoy the tradition of fika – time for a great cup of coffee and a baked treat with friends or family.

– Tim Merriman

Ecotour to National Parks of Rwanda – Gorillas and Duikers and Chimps, oh my!

When we first read Gorillas in the Mist by Dian Fosse and then saw the movie, we were intrigued by the possibility of one day visiting the Virunga Volcanoes to spend time with mountain gorillas. It seemed a distant dream until October of 2012 when we were training guides in Rwanda’s Nyungwe National Park. On our days off, we took a short side trip north to

 Mountain gorillas are the attraction in Volcanoes National Park in northern Rwanda.

Mountain gorillas are the attraction in Volcanoes National Park in northern Rwanda.

Musanze and had an unforgettable experience with mountain gorillas. We felt privileged to spend time with the gentle giants of the Kwitonda group, one of ten gorilla families visited each day by tourists. Visitors are asked to stay seven meters (21 feet) distant from them, but the gorillas don’t seem to know the rules. Occasionally, they approach out of curiosity or just to get somewhere they need to go and it is breathtaking, but not at all scary.

Rwanda has three great national parks that differ in a variety of ways.  From January 22 to 30, 2014, we will lead an ecotour taking a small group of ten people through these amazing parks, including chimp tracking and a visit with the Fosse’s beloved mountain gorillas. You can join us on this amazing adventure.

Nyungwe National Park in southwest Rwanda gives us a chance to track chimpanzees through one of Africa’s largest and most pristine rainforests at the famed headwaters of the Nile River. Surrounded by tea estate communities, we will enjoy meeting local people and sharing their cultural traditions of dance, songs and stories. Skilled guides will take us through forests dripping with orchids in the hopes of spotting some of the 268

Chimp tracking in Nyungwe is a rewarding hike in rainforest.

Chimp tracking in Nyungwe is a rewarding hike in rainforest.

species of birds including 26 endemics (species found only there). Nyungwe is also one of the best primate parks on the planet with 13 species, including chimps, Angolan colobus, red-tailed monkeys, mountain monkeys, blue monkeys, olive baboons, and many more. We saw eight of the 13 species in our brief visits there in 2012 and early 2013.

After Nyungwe, we travel on to the famous Virunga Volcanoes and spend an unforgettable morning with mountain gorillas. Skilled trackers stay with them 24/7 both to protect them and to know where they sleep at night. Following our guides’ and trackers’ advice and supervision, we’ll take a hike into the bamboo forest to spend an hour up close and personal with these giant vegetarians. Permits to see the mountain gorillas are not cheap, but mountain gorillas simply would be gone if park managers were not expending such great effort in protecting them from poachers and habitat destruction. Your permit fees are an investment in the conservation of one of man’s closest relatives in the animal kingdom. The tourism program started by Amy Vedder and Bill Webber over twenty years ago has provided consistent protection for the mountain gorillas in Rwanda, allowing this population to triple in size from a low of just over 200 to over 770. That’s still a very small population, but you will be one of the fortunate few people in the world who have had a chance to see them behaving normally and naturally in their own habitat. The habituated gorillas have learned to ignore the humans that take their photos for an hour every day.

Topi are one of the many beautiful savannah animals in Akagera National Park.

Topi are one of the many beautiful savannah animals in Akagera National Park.

Our last park on the itinerary is Akagera National Park on the northeast border of Rwanda near Serengeti National Park in Tanzania. Akagera’s combination of savannah and wetlands provide habitat for an astounding variety of birds and big animals. Here you can find the more traditional African safari animals – elephant, black rhinos, giraffe, cape buffalo, impala, zebra, wildebeest and more. The birding is world class with more than 500 species of birds. As of this writing, leopards are the only cats found in Akagera, but park management has plans to reintroduce lions and cheetahs in the near future. The wetlands are beautiful and teeming with wildlife including hippos and crocodiles.

We will stay in four and five star bush resorts in Nyungwe, Volcanoes and Akagera, some of the best in the world. The food is wonderful, the people are delightful and the cultural stories are unforgettable. We travel with Safari Legacy, one of the most experienced safari providers in east Africa, but this trip is absolutely unique, designed to give participants a once in a lifetime experience in one of Africa’s smallest but most biodiverse nations.

Ruzizi Tent Camp in Akagera National Park is an amazing bush resort with hippos just in front of your very comfortable tent/room.

Ruzizi Tent Camp in Akagera National Park is an amazing bush resort with hippos just in front of your very comfortable tent/room.

People who travel with us often say they go looking for the wildlife experience, but leave with a deep connection to the place and the people. For us, Rwanda has the potential to make that incredible connection. The nation has a unique history and has held on to some of the most beautiful natural places and unique species in Africa.

The trip begins and ends in Kigali, Rwanda’s capital city. The Genocide Memorial Centre in Kigali, which we will visit, is a museum of immense power, telling the story of the events leading up to and sparking the genocide thoughtfully and with great compassion. People heal after tragedies but telling the story and remembering in order to avoid similar difficulties in the future is part of the healing. Like the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, this museum leaves its visitors with an appreciation of the power of the human spirit to recover and work through heartache.

As always, we will provide plenty of opportunities for souvenir shopping and time for relaxation. Anyone can opt out of any activities that are uncomfortable at any time, enjoying some down time at our accommodations instead. Please note that the minimum age is 15 for most hiking activities requiring permits. This tour will involve moderate hiking and physical exertion at elevations ranging from 5000 to 9000 feet (1700 to 3000 meters), but is suitable for most people in reasonably good physical shape.

Blacksmith plovers are common in the wetlands area at Akagera.

Blacksmith plovers are common in the wetlands area at Akagera.

You can download a PDF file of the complete RWANDA NATIONAL PARKS ECOTOUR ITINERARY. The base cost of the tour is $4,750 and does not include the round-trip plane flight to Kigali, tips for guides or soft drinks and alcoholic beverages purchased along the way. All other ground travel, food costs and parks fees, including permits for chimpanzee and gorilla trekking are included in the tour price. We have very few seats left so please register right away if you wish to go. It’s important that we get gorilla permits purchased well in advance since the number of visitors each day is severely limited.

Please call us at 970-231-0537 if you have any questions at all or are concerned over the physical requirements for this trip. We have trained all of the guides at Nyungwe National Park and know them to be among some of the best in the world. We look forward to sharing these unique places with you while traveling with a very congenial group to enjoy spectacular scenery, communities and wildlife.

– Tim Merriman and Lisa Brochu