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Extension > Community > Civic Engagement > Tip Sheets > What type of facilitator will help the most?

Engaging with the Public: A series of best practice tip sheets

What type of facilitator will help the most?

Tip: Consider when to use an internal or external facilitator

Groups need meetings that make progress, and good facilitation can make this possible. A skilled facilitator, or process manager, designs an effective process and guides the discussion so that it gets results. Facilitators can be either internal to your group, or external. Both types have advantages and disadvantages. In this tip sheet, we discuss the pros and cons of both. We answer the question:

What type of facilitator can best help our group make progress?

Internal and external facilitation

Facilitators design and support sound processes for calling a group together; they pay attention to the how of a meeting. Groups should carefully consider who is in charge of the how of the meeting.

An internal facilitator carries the dual role of guiding, while also being a member of the group. This is a common role for managers and supervisors. An external facilitator is someone who is not a member of the group. When deciding whether a meeting should use an internal or external facilitator, consider the advantages and disadvantages of each.

Internal facilitation taps people who are part of the organization, project, or community as process managers. In organizations, these are often middle or upper-level staff members with skills in guiding group discussions, processes and decision-making. In communities, they may be elected officials or staff people. Internal facilitators may or may not have knowledge or expertise in the technical/content issues that are being discussed.

Advantages:

Disadvantages:

External facilitation taps people from outside the organization, activity or community as process managers. An external facilitator's primary interest is to guide a process that assists the group in discussing and taking action on issues. An external facilitator should have no vested interest in supporting a specific decision.

Advantages:

Disadvantages:

Summary

When groups are going to meet, an important early decision is what type of facilitator–internal or external–will help your group make its best progress on goals. When the type of facilitator matches the needs of the meeting, effective meetings are more possible.


References

Block, P. (2000). Flawless consulting: A guide to getting your expertise used (2nd ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass/Pfeiffer.

Boyce, K. (2005). Internal and external facilitation: A comparison. Fact sheet. St. Paul, MN: University of Minnesota Extension.

Schwarz, R. (2002). The skilled facilitator—new and revised. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Tip sheet prepared by Lisa Hinz, Assistant Extension Professor and Educator, Leadership and Civic Engagement

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