A facilitator is someone who helps a group of people understand their common objectives and assists them to plan to achieve them without taking a particular position in the discussion. The facilitator will try to assist the group in achieving a consensus on any disagreements that preexist or emerge in the meeting so that it has a strong basis for future action. The role has been likened to that of a midwife who assists in the process of creation but is not the producer of the end result.
There are a variety of definitions for facilitator
- "An individual who enables groups and organizations to work more effectively; to collaborate and achieve synergy. She or he is a 'content neutral' party who by not taking sides or expressing or advocating a point of view during the meeting, can advocate for fair, open, and inclusive procedures to accomplish the group's work" - Doyle
- "One who contributes structure and process to interactions so groups are able to function effectively and make high-quality decisions. A helper and enabler whose goal is to support others as they achieve exceptional performance" - Bens
- "The facilitator's job is to support everyone to do their best thinking. To do this, the facilitator encourages full participation, promotes mutual understanding and cultivates shared responsibility. By supporting everyone to do their best thinking, a facilitator enables group members to search for inclusive solutions and build sustainable agreements" - Kaner
work in business
, and other formal organisations but facilitators may also work with a variety of other groups and communities. It is a tenet of facilitation that the facilitator will not lead the group towards the answer that he/she thinks is best even if they possess an opinion on the subject matter. The facilitator's roles is to make it easier for the group to arrive at its own answer, decision, or deliverable.
are used in adult education. These facilitators are usually subject experts, however draw on the knowledge of the participants and then fill in any gaps. Training facilitators focus on the foundations of adult education: establish existing knowledge, build on it and keep it relevant. The role is different from the formal trainer who will take a more leading role and take the group through an agenda designed to transmit a body of knowledge.
The basic skills of a facilitator are about following good meeting practices: timekeeping, following an agreed-upon agenda, and keeping a clear record. The higher-order skills involve watching the group and its individuals in light of group dynamics
. In addition, facilitators also need a variety of listening skills including ability to paraphrase; stack a conversation; draw people out; balance participation; and make space for more reticent group members (Kaner, et al., 1996). It is critical to the facilitator's role to have the knowledge and skill to be able to intervene in a way that adds to the group's creativity rather than taking away from it.
A successful facilitator embodies respect for others and a watchful awareness of the many layers of reality in a human group.
In the event that a consensus cannot be reached then the facilitator would assist the group in understanding the differences that divide it.
The International Association of Facilitators was founded in 1993 to promote facilitation as a profession.
The role of a facilitator
Some of the things facilitators do to assist a meeting:
- Codifying the purpose, scope, and deliverables of the meeting or workshop
- Coming prepared with a variety of group facilitation and dialogue tools that the facilitator is skilled in and can employ in difficult moments
- Keeping the group on track to achieve its goals in the time allotted
- Either providing the group or helping the group decide what ground rules it should follow and reminding them of these when they are not followed
- Reminding the group of the objectives or deliverables of the meeting or session
- Setting up a safe environment where members feel comfortable contributing ideas
- Guiding the group through processes designed to help them listen to each other and create solutions together
- Asking open-ended questions that stimulate thinking
- Tentatively paraphrasing or repeating verbatim individual contributions to confirm understanding and ensure they are heard by the whole group
- Tentatively summarizing a recent part of the discussion
- Offering a possible wording for an unspoken question that may currently beset the group
- Ensuring the group doesn't settle for the first thing that they can agree on because they find it painful to go on disagreeing with each other
- Offering opportunities for less forceful members to come forward with contributions
- Ensuring that actions agreed by the group to carry out its decisions are written up in a large script on the wall for all to see and are assigned to individuals
- Evaluating the performance of the meeting to assist in continuous improvement.
Some things that facilitators don't do:
- Back a particular opinion voiced in the group
- Offer their own opinions
- Let the group unconsciously shy away from a difficult area
- Lead the group towards what he/she thinks is the right direction