Facilitation

Leading a group of individuals through a process, for any number of outcomes.
Workshop facilitation in action
Being able to effectively facilitate a diverse group of people is critical for effective convening and co-creation. This is because facilitation is about leading a group of individuals through a process, for any number of outcomes, such as better understanding the nuances of a complex problem, collectively deciding on a challenge question, understanding each other’s perspective, creating a scaling strategy, and so on.
Ultimately, the outcome must be based on the overall group’s objectives, not anyone’s personal agenda or goals. It’s a collective effort that serves a shared purpose. When tackling complex problems, the facilitator(s) will allow the group to explore divergently first, and then enable convergence on the issue. For example, a group may first spend time understanding the diverse perspectives that hold things in place and then focus in on a challenge question; or a group may start with broad visioning to inform the creation of a strategy moving forward.
In innovation labs, disagreements on ideas and consensus on the way forward are both important. Innovative ideas in their infancy should be learned and developed, not prematurely assessed and rejected. But common direction and goals are also crucial to success. The line between the two are not always clear and the best way to learn how to facilitate this well is through practice.
Facilitation strikes a balance between moving a group towards the objectives, while being sensitive to each individual’s values, needs and desires. It also draws on participants’ perspectives and experiences to draw on insights and ideas in a way that goes beyond what any individual person could accomplish or contribute on their own in a more linear process.

Principles

A Good Facilitator:
  • Listens while suspending judgment
  • Challenges participants, asks probing questions
  • Energizes the group
  • Dispels groupthink
  • Leads the group forwards (acknowledging and resolving conflict, applying effective techniques for group discussion and collaboration)
  • Gets out of the way (when the group is working successfully)
  • Signals when the conversation is going too far off track
  • Supports everyone’s right to be heard
  • Empathetic, respectful and ‘holds the space’ for everyone in the room
  • Maintains neutrality on the content
  • Connects ideas in real-time; captures succinct outputs
  • Encourages everyone’s contribution (managing those who are more dominant)
  • Ensures the process and agreed upon ‘ground rules’ are respected and enforced
  • Checks often for understanding, summarizes or paraphrases participants to clarify
  • Flexible and adaptable. Sticks to the agenda, but is not fanatical about it
Participation Principles:
Effective convening also requires setting expectations or guiding principles for participation. Particularly for collaborative events where issues may be contentious and participants have diverse perspectives, it is important to guide participants in their actions and behaviours. If you are creating ground rules for participation, ensure you have participants' agreement on what they are.
  • Keep an open mind
  • Drop your agenda
  • Listen constructively
  • Speak with intent
  • Speak from your relevant experiences (be ‘real’)
  • Appreciate other points of view
  • Respect one another's ideas
  • Be honest
  • Criticize ideas, not people

Examples and Resources

There are many different types of facilitation methods. You must choose the one(s) that suit your purpose and help you achieve your goals and outcomes, depending on who your participants are and the amount of time you have. Different methods are useful for achieving different outcomes. Here are just a few more commonly used examples. We do not recommend applying any methodology by rote. You can also start experimenting with designing new methods, based on your context and the problem you are tackling.

Open Space

Open space is a self-organizing activity involving any number of people. Participants decide on the agenda, and bring topics to discuss. By allowing participants to lead and direct the discussion, participants are empowered to grow and invest in their own ideas, and support the ideas of others. There are many ways to conduct open space sessions, particularly the 'unconference'. This is particularly useful if you wish to host an event with emergent topics.
Open Space World:
Planning an Open Space Meeting:

World Café

The World Café is a process to facilitate large group dialogue. It encourages participants to contribute new ideas and add to or help shape others’ ideas in low-tension, small groups that keep changing. It allows for meaningful conversations and collective ideas to emerge on a subject or set of issues, and engages participants in greater collaboration.
The World Café:

Additional Resources

Chris Corrigan’s list of facilitation resources are available here:
A Seeds for Change guide on facilitating workshops is available here (from: https://www.seedsforchange.org.uk/facilwsh.pdf):