In the podcast The secrets of accelerated learning; create the right environment with Krystyna Gadd, we talked about the process of “contracting” in training sessions and other learning and development activities.
I haven’t found a definitive definition of exactly what contracting is in this context, indeed the word doesn’t seem to even exist!
The best I could do was this from Dictionary.com, as a definition for “contract”:
[noun, adjective, verb 15–17, 21, 22 kon-trakt; verb kuh n-trakt]
So, we can assume “contracting” is the act of doing that.
A reasonably good definition is this one from FacingHistory.org where they discuss various teaching strategies:
Contracting is the process of openly discussing with your students expectations about how classroom members will treat each other
I might change the words a bit for adult L&D, and include “… and agreeing” after the word “discussing”, but I think it’s good enough.
Is it worth doing?
Most people I speak to in L&D would say that it’s invaluable if done well.: it sets the scene, establishes the boundaries and gets people talking.
I suppose this is probably true, but I also wonder just how much impact they have as oftentimes they seem to be stuck on the wall and swiftly forgotten?
For it to be anything other than a paper exercise that provides more value as wallpaper than anything else, the facilitator must dig deep for useful stuff and the meaning behind it, and keep referring back to it so that the agreed rules act as a constant guide.
In the podcast, Krys talked about three questions she asked which acted as her contracting process.
The questions might be sent beforehand as prework, or – more probably – used to frame a discussion at the start of the session or programme.
- In order for this to be of value to you, it has to be like what?
- In order for it to be like that, you have to be like what?
- In order for you to be like that, others have to be like what?
During the discussion, the facilitator captures all responses – without changing any words – and does not comment or interpret*.
The facilitator can ask for clarification, and should be encouraging to participants, thanking them for their contribution.
These are then displayed on the wall throughout the session(s).
Krys credits Clean Language as her source for these questions.
* I don’t entirely agree with this, I think the Facilitator can add more value by digging to help people think through the consequences of what people come up with, potentially expanding on what they might say.
For example, a common one is that people must be open to challenge and feedback, but the Facilitator can prompt a discussion that then expands this to include the responsibility to challenge and provide honest and constructive feedback, not just receive it.
Similarly for the obvious one about mobile phones – someone often says that they must be banished! – but this can be tempered to be more realistic and allow for people to make their own decisions if they need to be plugged in for any reason.