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Blog Series on Facilitation - Introduction to Choosing a Facilitation Technique

By Lisa Tolentino, HC Link Community Consultant (with special thanks to Jeff Kohl, of the Ontario Healthy Communities Coalition, for sharing his notes and wisdom on the topic)

Due to the number of requests that we have received asking for more information on the Wise Crowds activity that we facilitated at our recent HC Link conference, we have decide to post a series of blogs on Facilitation Tools and Techniques over the coming months. By way of an introduction this will be the first post in the series and the next one will be on the Wise Crowds activity itself.

Facilitation is the art of guiding groups of people through processes to help them reach agreed upon goals in a manner that encourages participation, ownership and creativity from all involved, while fostering respect and trust. (David Sibbet, Principles of Facilitation: The Purpose and Potential of Leading Group Process. February, 2002.)

Plan for Success

As HC Link Consultants we often receive service requests for help in planning and facilitating community processes, meetings or events. Sometimes we are called upon to facilitate an event and are asked to use a particular technique because it was used somewhere else or at another time, and it worked really well. But in some cases, the technique or approach that is suggested is not always the ideal one to use under the circumstances. Therefore, we hope that this blog series will help you when you are considering a technique or sequence of techniques to use, given your specific situation and circumstances.

Facilitating group processes is not always as straight forward as it seems. We choose to use facilitation techniques based on a variety of things, including the current situation that exists within a community and the individuals or groups who will be participating. In order to plan for a successful meeting or event, we need to design the session to ensure that the facilitation approach or technique we use meets the goals and expectations of those involved. We have to consider what the overall purpose and desired outcomes are for the session. This requires not only speaking to those who are planning and organizing the event, but also gathering information on who will be participating and what sorts of things they will be looking for when they attend.

Ask a Series of Questions

Choosing the right approach, technique and tools means asking a series of questions to determine what is appropriate for the group and situation. In order to answer these questions, you also have to be sure to involve the right people in the planning process (i.e., those who are well-informed and/or have access to the necessary information). Among the questions that you should ask are the following:

  • What is the purpose of the facilitated session? For instance, is it for: sharing information; gathering information; getting feedback on something; and/or making decisions?
  • Is it a one-time event, or is it part of an ongoing process?
  • Are you working with an established group, a newly created one, or individual participants who do not know each other? If they know each other, how well? What is the level of trust that exists? Are there any group dynamics that you should be aware of?
  • What is the participants’ previous level of experience with facilitated processes? Is this experience likely to be positive for them or will there be any resistance?
  • Are there any other topics/issues you should consider?

Various Tools & Techniques

There are a variety of techniques that you can use depending on whether or not you want to gather information, create shared understanding, identify possible solutions, do priority setting, take action, and so on. As facilitators, we typically use and string together numerous techniques and approaches in a single session so as to meet a range of goals and objectives. Among the approaches that we use are the following:

  1. Ice Breakers - to allow people get to know each other and/or network
  2. Visioning - to generate ideas for the future
  3. World Café & Community Conversations - to explore current and pressing topics
  4. Open Space - when topics need to be identified by the participants themselves
  5. Appreciative Inquiry - to uncover unknown or hidden motivations
  6. Peer Sharing - to draw upon the wisdom in the room
  7. Asset-Based Community Mapping - to build upon what already exists
  8. Naming the Moment - to plan for political action
  9. Results-Based Accountability (RBA) - developing plans by starting with the desired outcome
  10. Grouping, Merging and/or Prioritizing Ideas - to assist strategic planning & decision-making

To assist you in learning more about a collection of facilitation approaches and techniques, HC Link staff will be making several blogs posts in the New Year. The next and second one in this series will be on the Liberating Structure Wise Crowds, as it was used at the Day 2 Plenary Session at our bi-annual conference on November 13th, 2015. So please stay tuned…

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