There are times when it is helpful to have an external facilitator take responsibility for a meeting’s process management so that the meeting participants can focus on the substantive issues, for example when having to make important but difficult or contentious decisions. Bringing in an external meeting facilitator is also helpful when the relational dynamics within a group, or between groups, have broken down in one way or another. In these circumstances, I can help everyone re-establish their foundation for working together and move through complex issues to reach agreements and create implementation plans.
There are a number of goals and principles that guide my facilitation work:
The necessary parties must be included, engaged, and committed to the collaborative effort.
Discussions should be science-based to the degree possible. The process is one of joint fact-finding and joint learning, avoiding adversarial science debates, looking for zones of agreement.
My role includes assisting all parties to be effective negotiation partners.
As facilitator, though I do not have to be expert in the subject area, I do need to have sufficient fluency in the issues and the relevant terminology to be able understand what is under discussion, to summarize discussions efficiently and accurately, and to ask the right questions that will move the discussion forward.
I must be comfortable with disagreement and able to channel it in productive directions. The objective is to manage contention, not avoid it, and to use it to discover the path forward.
A good process is well-organized, methodical, clear, transparent, progressive, maintains the vision of partnership involved in a common challenge, and supports creative problem-solving.
Building and sustaining trust requires ongoing communication and honesty.
Respect for the various interests around the table is essential.
Monitoring and evaluation of agreement implementation is necessary and contributes to an iterative process of success.
Effective facilitation includes:
Creating a clear mission statement and sense of purpose tied to the project’s goals, and anchoring a group’s discussions to those goals, as necessary.
Designing agendas that move coherently from inception to outcomes for each meeting and over the course of the group process.
Asking questions that help group members clarify what they are trying to say and understand, and traffic-managing the discussions so that they move forward constructively and coherently.
Helping members dissect disagreements to increase understanding.
Encouraging and affirming group members when impasses or frustrations arise.
Keeping track of issues and questions that arise to be sure that they are not lost and that strategies for addressing them are implemented.
Helping group members identify what information they need and how to go about attaining it.
Helping staff and group members design an effective fact-finding process so that the necessary data is incorporated into group deliberations.