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Jam Facilitators

by Shilpa Jain and Tad Hargrave


How to decide who will make a good facilitator for a Jam? It’s a challenging and exciting task for several reasons. First because we recognize that each person has their own unique flavor and brings their own special energy. Some are more apt at cooperative games, others with the arts, still others with systemic analysis, etc.  Second because we know that each person also comes with their own particular set of questions, their own particular history and background, their own particular struggles and strengths.


Yet, even with this diversity, we have seen that some common qualities are shared among skilled Jam facilitators. By reflecting on the facilitators that have helped to nurture World Jams, Leveraging Privilege for Social Change Jams, and a variety of other Jams along the way, we suggest that what makes a person a Jam facilitator is that she or he:


  • Has an open heart, mind and spirit and is able to listen without judgment. Therefore is able to build trust and hold space for the diversity of people gathered.


  • Has everyone’s back. Doesn’t take sides or divide/sort/rank people in the group. Committed to being present for all participants (even in difficult circumstances). Makes sure that people’s voices get heard and that their needs get met.


  • Is able to communicate boundaries, concerns, limits, without shaming people.  Is able to lift up unhealthy group dynamics or interpersonal interactions in a way that sheds light on them. Is not afraid of conflict and helps to support the group to focus on healing and connecting.


  • Is able to read group dynamics. Can feel where the group is at and what might be emerging, and can therefore sense what is a good next step.


  • Can support and lead without controlling the outcomes of the space. Has a good sense of different dialogue processes and tools and can work in a team to come up with new processes and activities as needed on the spot.


  • Is in touch with their own emotional/spiritual/intellectual process and can choose how and when to share that process. Can stay centered, grounded and facilitate even in the midst of strong emotions.


  • Has a belief in the necessity of authenticity, and is committed to creating an environment that combines unconditional love and uncompromising truth.


  • Is willing to put themselves out there and consistently speaks from their own experience. Can take risks in front of the group. Is genuinely seeking to make the Jam a space of personal growth. Asks tough questions of themselves and therefore nurtures the space for others to ask tough questions too. Makes their own learning process transparent and part of the conversation, and in a way, serves as one of the group’s reference point. Is a source of energy, integration and motivation to the group to participate, learn and share.


  • Can move through a variety of roles fairly fluidly: between facilitator, participant, peer, friend, co-learner (sometimes also parent, partner, etc.).


  • Has a clear understanding of how power works in groups, movements and institutions.


  • Is a person of tremendous integrity. Is invested in growing themselves. Feels responsible to and invested in a community of peers.


  • Has attended a Jam (or similar events) before. Understands the space she/he is trying to create, and is attuned to the dynamic balance of internal, interpersonal, and systemic issues.


All of the above is foremost in figuring out who could be a facilitator for the Jam.  But, to be transparent, there is also a ‘business side’ to the Jam. This means that we also want a group of facilitators who are representative of the constituency we hope to gather for the Jam itself. Therefore, in putting together a facilitation team, organizers also consider:

  • gender balance: an even-ish number of women and men;
  • geographic distribution: coming from different parts of the participants’ geography – around the US for LPSC, around the world for a World Jam;
  • age balance: some younger, some older, roughly between 18-35;
  • ethnic/racial balance;
  • areas of focus (i.e. social justice, sustainability, peace, locally-based work, global connections, philanthropy, policy, etc.)
  • diversity in terms of levels of physical ability, and in sexual orientation.


In a World Jam, we seek to have a team of folks working on a range of different issues around social justice and also in varying levels of leadership.  In LPSC, we seek to have a team of folks with a variety of different privileges (fame, monetary, networks, time, skills, position, access, etc.).  At all Jams, we have found that another form of diversity is ‘career stage’, including some folks who are seasoned social change movement veterans, and others who are also deeply committed but may be somewhat newer to many of the conversations and issues.


In the past, YES! has worked with the idea of a facilitation ‘training’. Yet, it hasn’t quite worked out, in part because there is something wrong with the idea that we can train people to be Jam facilitators. We have to first find people with some of the basic aptitudes — people who care to understand one other and are not afraid to grow. These qualities people are nurtured through working in one’s communities, listening, dialoguing, holding space. They really emerge from a daily practice.


This is a constantly evolving statement that has  been created by and is being refined by the YES! Jam community. If you are a Jam alumni and would like to suggest any changes to this document, please email your thoughts to: info@yesworld.org.