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Facilitation Resources - Volume 7

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Volume 7. Utilizing Diversity, Power, and Ethics

Overview: Diversity, Power, and Ethics

Facilitators must be aware of the cultural contexts in which they work. Three dimensions of culture are diversity, power, and ethics.


A facilitator needs to be aware of the visible and invisible diversity within groups they work with. Cultural, ethnic, racial, and gender differences are some aspects of diversity to be sensitive to. It is the role of the facilitator to ensure that the group respects differences.

The United States has certain attitudes and beliefs about equality, self-help, individualism, informality, directness, control over the environment, future orientation, change, competition, materialism, time and its control, and work orientation that form the unexamined foundations of group meetings. For example, people in the United States are some of the most casual and informal people in the world. Most often they call each other by their first name. They may even feel uncomfortable being addressed as Mr. or Mrs. People coming from more formal societies can perceive U.S. casualness as disrespectful.


A facilitator can help ensure that group members feel valued and significant. The power dynamics within a group help determine how people perceive their value to the group. There should be a relatively equal sense of power for all participants. It is important that participants perceive that the process is fair and just. Facilitators must tend to the power and ethics of the group and the process.

People bring different aspects of power to a group setting. One source of power is the relationship between group members and the facilitator. If certain members are acknowledged more by the facilitator, dominate the time, or state their views without being open to discussion, they are using more power at the expense of other members. The sensitive facilitator can control these power dynamics.

Another source of power is the relationships between people within the group. If a boss and employee are in a meeting, the employee may not state an opinion for fear of retribution. Ground rules may help to diminish the threat of one person using information against another. Some of the bases of power include: coercive, legitimate or positional, expert, reward, referent, information, and connection power. It is important for a facilitator to know and understand both formal and informal power systems.


The facilitation process has three areas where ethics need to be considered: participant ethics, facilitator ethics, and the ethics of the situation. There are some "red flags" to be aware of and some "ethical expectations" to hope for in group meetings. For example, the facilitator should expect that information shared is honest and accurate and would find a red flag if it appeared someone was lying or manipulating data. The facilitation situation should be an authentic process and should not have a predetermined outcome. The facilitator should avoid conflict-of-interest situations and withdraw if that is the case, or if he or she is not qualified for the task at hand. Groups should brainstorm about the "red flags" and "ethical expectations" they bring to the situation.

In a public setting, facilitators must adhere to ethical principles and values. If they do not uphold ethical expectations, they undermine their role and potential success of their own future as a facilitator and they damage the effectiveness of others who serve as facilitators. The code of ethics for facilitators includes: honesty, integrity, promise-keeping, fairness, concern for others, respect for others, responsible citizenship, pursuit of excellence, personal accountability, loyalty, public trust, independent objective judgment, and public accountability.

Facilitation and Diversity

Here are some general ways of working as a facilitator that will help utilize diversity:

Recognize that newcomers, or those who perceive themselves as different from the rest of the group, may feel at a disadvantage or feel excluded within the group. Sometimes this is unintentional, such as when language that is full of jargon is used. Sometimes behavior is intentional, such as when certain individuals within the group are excluded during refreshment breaks. If you see intentional or unintentional behavior that is biased, intervene as subtly or forcefully as you must to provide an inclusive environment for all.

If comments or jokes that have an ethic or gender bias are made, tell the group that this type of communication is offensive and will not be allowed in this group meeting. Facilitators should refrain from using visuals, jokes, or quotations of poor taste.

During planning, determine if the group is excluding anyone from the decision making. For example, if youth development activities are being discussed, the facilitator should inquire whether youth are participating in the meeting. If there is a series of meetings, you can work to see that the "empty chairs" or "silent voices" are invited to participate next time, once the exclusion has been recognized.

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