Facilitation 101

From Le Hub/The Climate Justice Organizing HUB
Jump to navigation Jump to search

This page was created to provide tips and suggestions for activists related to facilitating meetings and events. This guide reflects several questions the HUB community has raised on facilitation. 

The information included comes from existing organizer databases and resources and advice from movement thinkers. A special thanks to HUB advisor Amara Possain, who thoughtfully shared their expertise with the HUB team. Their knowledge is shared throughout. We encourage readers to share further ideas on how this page can be expanded upon and improved.

This guide includes... definers of good vs bad facilitation, tools for good facilitation (in preparation, the beginning of meetings/events, for idea discussion and clarifying and suggestions for increasing participant engagement), suggestions for managing group dynamics and some suggestions specifically for online facilitation.

What do we mean by facilitation? [1] [2]

The role of a facilitator is to drive meeting or event participants towards clarity. Facilitation move things forward and build momentum. Facilitators also bring participants back to the purpose of the event/meeting. Remembering your purpose is key, so that when someone is taking up too much space, the facilitator can remind that you'd like to bring us back to the purpose and our goals. -Amara Possain, HUB advisor

In other words, the role of a facilitator and the purpose of facilitation is to [3] [4]  :

Take responsibility for helping the group stay on track and move through the agenda within the available time.  

Suggest how to move the group forward, rather than making decisions or plans for the group.  

Regulate the flow of discussion.

Track decisions and milestones, providing clarity on the group's journey, clarifying and summarizing points.

Prioritize the collective needs and goals of the group over individual within the group. 

Note: A person who has strong opinions or significant investment in the decisions being made may find it challenging to facilitate effectively. In some situations, it can be helpful to have an external facilitator.  

What makes for poor facilitation?

The following reflections were raised by CAN-RAC and HUB team members in a joint workshop developed and delivered by Amara Possain:

  • No agenda, no steering, lack of organization
  • Repetition 
  • Lack of momentum 
  • Not stepping in to help pull out the positives (groups tend to focus on negatives)
  • Not stepping in when some people are taking up too much space
  • Not knowing the audience and how to tailor facilitation 
  • Not stepping in to get people back on track, when people hijack space
  • Low engagement and energy, lack of initiative
  • Not being able to move past certain items
  • People weaponizing meeting rules and knowledge of process
  • Passive aggressiveness
  • Unclear roles in non-hierarchical structure
  • Interrupting each other
  • “Outfacilitating" the facilitator - often around an unbalanced power dynamic 
  • Miscommunications / inability to diagnose where we departed in understanding

Key facilitation skills [5]

  • Active listening enables us to hear what others are saying;
  • Questioning helps clarify what people are saying, or supports people to explore their needs and come up with new possibilities;
  • Summarising helps remind us of the key points in the discussion and check we have the same understanding;
  • Synthesising is the skill that allows us to draw together different views and ideas to form one proposal that works for everyone.

Good facilitation should result in good meetings with [6]  :

  • Clearly defined and mutually understood goals.
  • A well-defined process for effectively achieving those goals.
  • Recognition that participants bring their personal preoccupations and emotions alongside their interest in the subject matter.
  • Fostering a sense of involvement and empowerment, allowing participants to feel ownership over the decisions and able to take necessary actions.

Tools for good facilitation

The following sections include a compilation of suggestions from Seeds for Change' [7] ', Amara Possain (HUB advisor), Daniel Hunter (350.org training director) [8] , the Anarchist Library [9] , Berit Lakey (Training for Change) [10] , Change Agency [11] , Adrienne Maree Brown [12] and Rhizome [13] . Suggestions in these sections are relevant to virtual, in-person and hybrid meetings and events.

For meeting/event preparation

Stop and P-O-P [14]
  • Use POP to help set the agenda.
  • Purpose: Why? Why are we having this meeting/event? What is the purpose?
  • Outcomes: What do we want to accomplish as a result of this meeting/event?
  • Process: What steps will we take to achieve these outcomes and fulfill the purpose?
Collect accessibility needs
  • Develop an adaptable, spacious agenda so participants can shape meetings/events. Most conversations need about 1.5 hours to cover orientation around content, identify what's needed, and next steps.
  • Ideally include approx. time markings when explaining how the meeting/event will run. Note: Consider the dance of time; give a range of time to help people get a sense for how long you'll spend on things, but also balance when more or less time needs to go to certain things
Ordering items and modes of participation
  • Start with something easy to build momentum, then move on to harder items. Finish with something short and easy to provide hope for next time.
  • Include alternate structures / modes so there are many ways to participate.
Example agenda (for meetings)

-Welcome (honour the land, place and people) 5-10 minutes

-Introductions 10-15 minutes

-Overview of goals, agenda, agreements

-Framing: Why us, here and now?

-Brainstorming discussion

-Harvesting ideas

-Meaning making

-Closing with appreciations for each other and the land

Circulate for feedback
  • Circulate the agenda for feedback and proposed revisions ahead of time. This will reduce the time spent on revisions during the meeting.
  • Engage rather than talking-at
    • If you're teaching, try the 10-10-10 set up. Teach for 10 minutes, practice for 10, and debrief for 10. 
    • If you're in a group meeting, the facilitator shouldn't be doing the majority of the speaking. Use engagement prompts to facilitate discussion.

    For opening and beginning the meeting/event

    Build trust and ground attendees
    • For in-person meetings, assign a welcomer or ‘doorkeeper’ for newcomers who can point people towards refreshments, explain where the toilets and fire exits are, and bring late arrivals up to speed with the meeting/event progress.
    • Explain the time frame, subjects, goals of the meeting/event and the process for making decisions.

    Review as a group

    • Agree with the group what behaviour is acceptable/not acceptable (e.g. avoiding jargon, asking questions if you don’t understand, trying to understand someone’s views even when you disagree with them.) Establish consent to hold people to group agreements (see this example from Adrienne Maree Brown's Emergent strategy)
    • Review, make any changes, then agree to move ahead with meeting.
    • Be conscious of how long this process is taking– it’s better to be firm and go ahead with a plan rather than spending half the time talking about what to talk about! 
    Engage people early and often - set the tone in the first few minutes
    • Start with names, pronouns and a check-in question. This is a great chance to hear everyone’s voice on something that’s not a work topic.
    • Depending on the group and the time avail­able you might share personal things or keep it short and functional. (E.g. "I'm very tired, can we have a short break in the middle?")
    • Examples of check-in questions include: what’s a song that represents you? What’s an object around you that says something about you? What’s one thing you’re proud of from last week? What’s something people might not know about you? What do you appreciate about another team member?
    Try the circle up tool!
    • You might also try using the circle up tool. It helps people now who is in the room. It can be used for things like introductions, and during discussions if you wish to use go-arounds.
    • As facilitator, you might mark down each time someone speaks, so you can identify who is taking up lots of space vs who can specifically be called on to share their thoughts (ensuring less dominant speakers/personalities get speaking time).
    Screen Shot 2023-07-07 at 11.00.34 AM.png

    For discussion and idea raising

    • Best reserved for smaller meetings. Everyone takes turns speaking without comment from others. This helps to gather opinions and feelings, and ensures everyone has a chance to speak.

    • The fishbowl is a special form of small group discussion. Some members representing differing points of view meet in the middle of the room, and create a circle to discuss the issue. Everyone else forms an outer circle and listens.
    • At the end of the discussion, the whole group reconvenes and evaluates the fishbowl discussion. 
    Paired listening or small groups
    • Participants can explore and formulate their own thoughts and feelings on an issue without interrup­tion.
    • In pairs, one person is the listener, the other speaks about their thoughts and feelings on the issue. The listener gives full attention to their partner.
    • Listeners offer a summary at the end, to check they've understood. After a set time swap roles within the pairs.
    • A good alternative to lengthy report-backs to the whole group is using gallery report backs. Each small group prepares a flipchart or slide summarising its discussion. This encourages groups to identify key conclusions that can be clearly understood by people who weren’t in the discussion. Everyone else views the flipchart gallery/slide at their own pace. 
    • If there are several issues to get ideas about, the group can be split into small groups, and move from issue to issue on flipcharts on walls or slides. People will put ideas on each and add to others. They are given an allotted time for each issue, which reduces as the sheets are filled.
    • Those who want to speak can signal the facilitator, who would add the person’s name to a list of those wishing to speak, and call on them in that order. This can be, for example, dropping a * in the chat virtually, or recording those who raise their hands in-person.
    • If many people want to speak at the same time, it is useful to ask all those who would like to speak to raise their hands. Have them count off, and then have them speak in that order. At the end of the stack, the facilitator might call for another stack.
    Use sticky notes
    • Sticky notes (virtual on slides or in-person) can be used to allow participants to share ideas.
    • You can ask people to leave their names and/or identify specific sticky notes you want to discuss together (rather than waiting for someone to speak to their ideas).
    Screen Shot 2023-07-07 at 11.05.40 AM.png
    Journalling/individual reflection
    • Journalling/individual reflection before coming into discussion is helpful, especially for those that need more time to process. We especially recommend this for big decisions or questions.
    Parking space
    • When something comes up that's not relevant to the discussion at hand, 'park' it in the parking space (a large sheet of paper on the wall or in the notes) and deal with it at an appropriate time later. This allows you to stay focused but reassures participants they will be heard.

    For specifying/clarifying details

    • In any group there are always at least two roles operating at any one time: a mainstream and a margin.
    • The mainstream is part of the group that has its interests recognized. The margin is not part of this universalised interest. Margins are any subgroup (or sub-groups) whose voice is not recognized by the group.
    • This dynamic can be as simple as, for example, those who talk loudly (mainstream) and those who tend to be quiet (margins). We often shift between these 2 roles.
    • The mainstream offers commonality, and the margins offer growth for new behaviours, insights and understandings.
    • By being aware of the mainstreams and margins in a group the facilitator can proactively support the margin by creating space to bring their voice and new insights to the group.
    • For example, a facilitator might describe what sounds like the mainstream argument in the room, and then invite other perspectives to come forward to provide other ideas/insight.
    • The facilitator can also request that three speakers speak for the proposal, and three speak against it, to help spark new ideas and parse through all potential issues with an item.
    • Questions that aim to draw on specific insight.
    • For example, a maximizing question might sound like, “How, in your experience, do you maximize the value of a social media post? For example, when you see a post about an upcoming protest, what maximizes the chance of you attending their event?”
    • A minimizing question might sound like, "What would minimize your chance (or our target audience's chance) of attending our event?"
    • Regular summaries ensure everyone shares the same understanding of the situation. It also aids the discussion to develop and to stay focused.
    • Sometimes it is useful to use the actual words spoken by participants. Summaries can help pace a discussion and provide a reflective moment on the big picture of discussions. They're also useful when you're looking to finalize an action plan or next step!

    For information on how to facilitate decision-making processes, see the following pages:

    For feedback

    Temperature check
    • A non-verbal quick way to gauge different levels of enthusiasm for a topic.
    • For example, "How keen are you on this idea? If you think it is fantastic, raise your hands high. If you feel middling about it, hold your hands in the middle. And hands down low means you're not keen at all."
    • This has the benefit of getting quick and basic input from everyone in the room - including people who don't often speak. A temperature check isn't the same thing as a majority vote. For example, even if only one person really needs a break, it could still be a good time to stop!
    Prioritization dots
    • Helps to whittle down a long list of options into something more manageable.
    • Everyone in the group is allowed the same number of 'dots', e.g. five (this could simply be dots they draw on with their own pens or drag on a screen). They can 'spend' these dots between their five priority options, or choose a different weighting (e.g. three dots on an idea they are very keen on, and then one each on their next two favoured options).
    Pros and cons or plus/minus/interesting
    • Listing the benefits and drawbacks of different ideas can be a good way to explore different viewpoints without people taking it too personally.
    • This can also be a starting point for a deeper exploration of what people really want to achieve and avoid. Some people will find it hard to engage with an abstract question like "What are your core needs?" Listing the reasons why they like or don't like particular ideas may help them notice and explain what they want and don't want.
    Spectrum tool
    • Use the spectrum tool to help gauge where people are at. If you're virtual, you can also do this anonymously with figures instead of names.
    • People line-up according to where they would position themselves in relation to two opposite opinions to respond to a question. For example, instructing folks to stand at one end of the line if they think a detailed written campaign strategy is a must for campaign impact, and at the other end if they feel that other factors are more influential (the group’s relationships, energy etc).
    Screen Shot 2023-07-07 at 11.04.11 AM.png
    Skits, mime and tableaux
    • A skit involved quickly acting out a narrative. Skits can be an opportunity to use humour to relieve tension.
    • A mime is similar to a skit except words are not spoken, so the message is conveyed through movement.
    • Statues or tableaux are similar except that the actors do not move; the message is conveyed through the actors’ poses.
    • These tools are particularly helpful for kinaesthetic learners and for those who have trouble verbalizing their thoughts/feelings.
    • An example of where this method might be useful, for example, is in pretending to execute a proposed strategy. Some people could act as folks passing by the action, another might act as the security guard, while others act as group members holding the action.
    Rose, thorn and bud
    • Invite people to share one rose (positive takeaway), one bud (what they want more of) and one thorn (challenge/opportunity for growth) regarding how your facilitation or an event/meeting felt for them.

    For ending meeting/events

    • Make sure you finish on time, or get everyone’s agreement to continue.
    • Ensure someone will be circulating the minutes, notes or slides in the next few days.
    • Make sure there’s a time and place set for the next meeting, or share upcoming events!
    • Offer a way to evaluate and provide feedback the meeting/event.
    • It can be nice to follow the meeting with an informal social activity!

    Energizers to increase engagement throughout

    Energizers provide a break/rest and can help increase engagement when included between the beginning to the end of a meeting/event [15]

    Sam Went to Venus

    • Have the group stand in a large circle.
    • Explain the first person will say: “Did you hear?” The second person (the person to their right) says: “What?” First person: “Sam went to Venus.” Second: “Really how?” First person: “She went to Venus like this!” – and the first person proceeds to make some repetitive motion.
    • Everyone in the circle repeats the motion (and continues repeating the motion). Then, the person to the left of the first person repeats that same series: “Did you hear?/What?/Sam went to Venus./Really, how?/She went to Venus like this” and makes his/her own motion (which the whole groups repeats).
    • The process continues around the entire circle until ending when everyone has done it. (In large groups, this can be done in several separate groups simultaneously.)

    Something True About Yourself (from Gerald Gomani, Zimbabwe)

    • Have each participant write down something true about themselves (anything), without their names, on a piece of paper. Then, have them wad it up. Then, throw snowballs at each other! After a few minutes of play, have the group read the snowballs.

    Strategy Stretch (from Erika Thorne, USA)

    • A simple stretching activity, but laced with activist principles. Start by having people get some space from each other.
    • Each stage involves a new direction to physically have people stretch their bodies. “Stretch upwards towards your vision / [while bending halfway at the waist] stretch your arms out towards your allies and colleagues / [while bending down at the waist] stretch down towards the grassroots, the source of your nourishment / [bending backwards] and bend backwards towards your ancestors, those people who support you from behind.”

    Why… Because… (from Gerald Gomani, Zimbabwe)

    • Have people on one half of the group write down a Why question (“Why is the grass green? Why is there suffering?” etc.). Have the other half write down a Because answer (“Because I said so. Because it can float.” etc.).
    • Give no indication for the purpose or what types of why questions or because answers people should write. Then – and this can be a hilarious exercise – go around the room and have the Why’s ask a question and get their answer from the Because’s.

    Managing group dynamics

    From Amara Possain:

    Assign observers to support

    -What was the general atmosphere in which the group worked? relaxed? tense?

    -How were the decisions made?

    -If there was any conflict, how was it handled?

    -Did everybody participate? Were there procedures that encouraged participation?

    -How well did the group members listen to each other?

    -Were there recognized leaders within the group?

    -How did the group interact with this facilitator?

    • "When you as process observer (whether appointed or not) are paying specific attention to patterns of participation, an easy device would be to keep score on papers. In a small group a mark can be made next to a person’s name every time they speak. If you are looking for differences in participation patterns between categories of people, such as around gender, race and ethnicity, new members-old member, etc, keeping track of number of contributions in each category is enough." -Berit Lakey, Training for Change
    • Other roles that help facilitate smoothly include a time keeper and note taker.
    Specific practices
    • Make the agenda visible to participants at all times. Refer to it and the time markings when possible.
    • Break things up and take breaks, especially in longer meetings/events with many big and/or difficult items. Take a break or try an energizer if people are speaking out of turn, if tensions are too high, and offer a break every 45 minutes.
    • Break up who is speaking - arrange for others to present whenever possible.
    • If the facilitator wants to become involved in the discussion or has strong feelings about a particular agenda item, the facilitator can step out of the role and participate in the discussion, allowing another member to facilitate during that time. 
    • Probe and test for agreement when decisions need to be made - be suspicious when agreements are reached too easily. Test to make sure that people really do agree on essential points (using the above feedback tools). Try something like 'there's a lot of great knowledge in the room. Is there anything we're missing, anything we haven't considered?"
    • Notice and celebrate when we do get agreement — even small ones!
    • Look for minor points of agreement and state them. This helps build the group's morale.
    • When a questions arises, especially one you can't answer, it can be thrown back to the group for answers or comments. E.g.”That’s an interesting question/comment, what does anyone else think?” This can encourage the group to take ownership and responsibility. E.g. “I’m unsure about what we should do next. We’ve heard…and also… What suggestions are there of next steps?”. 
    • "Know when to say yes and when to say no. Yes to those things that deepen the gathering- cultural grounding, local welcome, clarifying questions." "Yes to singing, bio breaks (bathroom, fresh air, snacks, self care), ending early (when the group has run out of energy for the day)." "No to judgment, delays, circular conversations, and people who are rejecting the process while offering no alternatives."

    Handling specific situations

    • All depends on the facilitator’s ability to interpret the situation and ability to intervene accordingly, the participant, and the group - but it’s helpful to keep tools in your back pocket and to practice. 
      • You have to assess what's going on. Are they a jerk? Are they feeling unheard? 
      • Shift the format/structure first. Break things up in pairs or try something else. Help get a sense for what's going on.
      • Sometimes need to intervene directly with the person, sometimes need to include the whole group.
      • Jokes and affirmation can help depending on the situation. 
      • Ask for others input if a conversation is being carried out by 2 people only.
    • Some approaches: shift format/structure, energizer, break, 1:1, remove them, make the group a part of it, humour, affirmation, the list goes on.
    • When a group is in conflict, consider applying the conflict mapping tool found on the following page: Navigating in-group conflicts

    Specific suggestions for online facilitation [16] [17] [18]  

    Engagement tools

    • Use tools such as the circle up, spectrum, sticky notes (mentioned above) on a shared slide deck to facilitate engagement and ideas sharing.
    • If you're not using slides, have a document which the group can all edit.
    • Example slides template from Training for Change

    Use the chat box

    • Use it to your advantage to increase engagement. You can say something like "type in the chat box one word representing how you are feeling right now,” or “type ‘done’ in the chat box when you have finished journaling.”
    • Also, for those who can't interact with the slides, you can ask them to share thoughts in the chat.
    • To replace raising hands and keep track of who’s talking next, keep “stack” by using these symbols in the chat:
      • in the chat to make a point
      • in the chat to make a direct response to what someone has just said (jumps to head of queue - use this sparingly!)
      • ++ for agreement (or, do jazz hands

    Reactions and prompts to read/engage the group

    • For example, ask for thumbs up/thumbs down on a decision, ask people to show you something on the camera, or do a short stretching routine together
    Breakout rooms
    • How effective these are may depend on the size of the group, whether folks would rather discuss everything in person, or break off for more in-depth discussion.
    Encourage (but don't require) cameras on
    • Turning cameras on can create greater feelings of engagement with the group.
    • Do not require people do this, however, as some folks may have things going on in their background that are our of their control, or be more able to engage with their camera off.
    Set roles for the meeting/event
    • Facilitator: Designs and Facilitates Meeting
    • Note Taker:  Takes action notes/takeaways and emails them to everyone right after meeting
    • Technical Support: Helps with technical troubleshooting
    • Bridge Moderator: Someone who can facilitate the chat/those calling in
    • Time Keeper: Keeps time
    Tips for using zoom
    • If registration is required (increases meeting security), send a meeting reminder by resending the confirmation email to registrants. (You will need to do this manually).
    • Enable a "waiting room" so you can screen participants as they join to make sure you know who is accessing your meeting space. This means the host will have to grant permission to participants joining
    Provide a 5-10 minute break mid-meeting
    • Make this mandatory (otherwise people who want a break will not speak up!) Encourage stretching, getting water etc.
    • You can also stay during the break/provide an activity for people who don't want to leave, such as a guided stretch, meditation etc.
    Turn on closed captions
    • This is a standard way of increasing accessibility for participants.

    Related pages

    Decision making

    Consensus decision making 101

    Consensus decision making (suggestions for small groups)

    Consent decision making 101

    DARCI decision making framework

    Modified consensus decision making 101

    If you have any suggested revisions or additional resources to share related to the above content, please email them to kenzie@lehub.ca.

    Creative commons.png

    This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

    Back to Homepage