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Facilitation Resources - Volume 1

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Volume 1. Understanding Facilitation

Overview: Understanding Facilitation

During the 1990s there has been a renewed interest in citizen involvement in community decisions. While many issues are still decided by powerful and financially strong networks, the ability of the average citizen to collect relevant information, address issues with intelligence, and initiate public meetings has made the public influence greater.

Those who work with organizations have learned over the years the need for effective facilitation skills. In the Foreword to Facilitator's Guide to Participatory Decision Making by Sam Kaner, Michael Doyle presents two important lessons learned. "Lesson one: if people don't participate in and 'own' the solution to the problems or agree to the decision, implementation will be half-hearted at best, probably misunderstood, and, more likely than not, fail. The second lesson is that the key differentiating factor in the success of an organization is not just the products and services, not just its technology or market share, but the organization's ability to elicit, harness, and focus the vast intellectual capital and goodwill in their members, employees, and stakeholders. When these get energized and focused, the organization becomes a powerful force for positive change in today's business and societal environments."

Facilitation Resources is an effort to enhance volunteers' group facilitation techniques. The participants will be able to use the skills in facilitating nonprofit groups and organizations through important discussions vital to the organization and to the community.

Facilitation Roles

The dictionary defines facilitate as "to free from difficulties or obstacles; make easier, aid, assist." That is the role of the facilitator - to design and manage a process that helps a group accomplish its work while minimizing problems within the group.

There are several stages of facilitation and tasks that must be accomplished during each stage. These include pre-work, opening the meeting or event, facilitating the meeting, closing the meeting, and following up with planners.

Facilitating a meeting is different from leading a monthly organizational meeting using parliamentary procedure. Clarifying your role is very important. The facilitator is a neutral guide who takes an active role in guiding the process while adhering to principles of effective facilitation. Such a neutral person is usually someone from outside the group and may show no vested interest in the outcome. A good facilitator guides the process.

Principles of Effective Facilitation

The facilitator and group members share responsibility for progressing toward the goals of the group. The facilitator serves as a guide to the group. Key principles of quality facilitation include believing that groups can make good decisions, ensuring participation, convening people as a neutral guide, sharing a sense of group goals, using effective processes, utilizing diversity and wisdom, improving continuously, working together with trust, progressing toward goals, and learning from experiences.

One excellent way to improve skills as a facilitator is to observe another facilitator in action. An observation worksheet that lists the key facilitation elements for rating is included in this section.

Evaluating yourself as a facilitator is important to continuous improvement of the group and the facilitator. Several questions are included that may be used verbally or prepared as a worksheet for group input.

Coaching

Facilitators often coach others to enhance their participation in the work that needs to be done. A coach works one-on-one with individuals and with the group to draw on individual strengths and develop the competencies they will need to be effective in the future. Coaches provide both support and challenge. More about coaching, and worksheets for reflection, are included in this section. The GAPS model (a tool for coaching) is included as a worksheet. It helps a facilitator become aware of the person's goals, the person's abilities, how others see the person, and what others expect of the person.

Leading Change

A common role of facilitators is that of "change agent." Understanding the nature of leading change can help a facilitator become more helpful to groups. This is especially important if you are invited to work with a change initiative during tense times. Worksheets are included in this section to assess your group's present attitudes and facilitate a change using an eight-step process.

Stages and Tasks of Facilitation

This is a framework that describes the typical stages of facilitation and tasks of the facilitator.


  1. Pre-work
    • Contracting or agreeing to facilitate
    • Planning the agenda
    • Confirming who is attending
    • Arranging the meeting room and supplies
  2. Opening the meeting or event
    • Making introductions
    • Exploring the purpose of the meeting or event
    • Helping the group determine the agenda
    • Breaking the ice
    • Setting ground rules
    • Initiating discussion
  3. Facilitating the meeting
    • Proceeding through the agenda
    • Helping the group stay on track
    • Ensuring participation
    • Building consensus and making decisions
    • Managing conflict
    • Handling disruptive behaviors
    • Fulfilling your role as facilitator ethically
  4. Closing the meeting
    • Reviewing the agenda
    • Identifying the next agenda
    • Reviewing decisions/actions
    • Answering questions
    • Evaluating the meeting
  5. Following up with planners
    • Clarifying remaining expectations for facilitator
    • Asking for helpful feedback
    • Determining action for any unfinished business
    • Saying "thank you" and "goodbye"

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