Barefoot Facilitation | Kate Sutherland

Author and facilitation expert Kate Sutherland presented Barefoot Facilitation at April’s DwD. Guided by appreciative interviews and dialogue questions, participants explored the landscape of facilitating where needs emerge, unbidden, for the benefit of groups and organizations we might serve.


Humans are going through a massive transitional period. This “Great Turning” is calling for collective intelligence, collective wisdom and collective capacity as never before. We are being asked to revolutionize how we work together.

Barefoot facilitators are to professional facilitators what paramedics are to doctors: a person with a basic and versatile toolkit and enough savvy to skillfully support what is needed 80% of the time, and for a fraction of the cost.

Kate is inspired by the “barefoot doctors” of revolutionary China. In the mid-60s, there was little access to medical care in rural areas, and not enough resources to supply fully trained doctors. Instead, 30,000 villagers were trained in basic Western and Chinese medicine — enough to treat common ailments, and to share information about hygiene, family planning, and prevention of epidemics.

They were called “barefoot doctors” because when they weren’t tending to basic medical needs, these people continued to farm barefoot in the rice paddies along side their neighbours. This important innovation rapidly revolutionized health outcomes in rural China.

By analogy, we do not have resources or capacity to supply professional facilitators to all the meetings and group endeavours supporting the great shifts underway. There are, however, thousands of people in all walks of life already up-skilling their ability to facilitate deep and lasting change in the human systems of which they are a part.

Questions we explored included the following:

  • What shifts in perspective will greatly enhance your effectiveness in groups?

  • What ways of being are like secret sauce for what you are doing?
  • What organizational theories are most helpful for a “barefoot facilitator” toolkit?
  • How can we grow a movement of barefoot facilitators who help each other  with supporting the groups of which they are a part?

Visual recording by Charlotte Young. Thanks also to Natalie Zend for facilitation support, and Patricia for the sketchnotes.

About Kate:

Kate Sutherland is an author and social entrepreneur who helps change agents and social benefit initiatives be more innovative and effective. As a consultant, trainer and coach, she has helped hundreds of leaders and organizations be more nimble, resilient and aligned with their core purpose.

Kate is the author of Make Light Work in Groups: 10 Tools to Transform Meetings, Companies and Communities, and Make Light Work: 10 Tools for Inner Knowing. She lives in Vancouver with her husband and teenaged daughter. For more about Kate, see

“We already have proven solutions to our toughest social challenges. Our bigger challenge is working together to scale them for wider benefit. Kate’s latest book is a precious resource for those looking to improve how they work not only with allies but also with opponents and strangers.”

– Al Etmanski, Co-chair of BC Partners for Social Impact