2.7 Facilitating dialogue
The main job of a facilitator is to create an open, safe and inclusive space for those participating. You are not involved in the discussion and instead are at the service of everyone in the room. Here are some techniques to encourage discussion while managing the room:
|Listen actively: Adopt an encouraging manner and posture. Summarise what was said to ensure you’ve interpreted it correctly. Let what was said influence what you say next.
Use a parking place: When participants are going off task, tell them you will make a note of that point and put it in the ‘parking place’. Points left in the parking place can be tackled later if there is time.
Keep the discussion going: Encourage conflict rather than confrontation. Ask questions as prompts to further discussion. If silence falls, allow a little time for participants to reflect but then reignite the discussion with a new question.
|Start with refreshments or introductions: Allowing time for your participants to get to know each other before diving into the issue humanises the group and makes discussion easier.
Create agreed ground rules: From the outset, get your participants to agree on some basic rules of how they can interact with each other. The fact they’ve agreed on these rules will give you more authority to refer to them later.
Use the UHT technique: If you are finding it difficult to get through to someone about their behaviour, explain why you ‘understand’ [their concern], ‘however’ it is disruptive to the group [for these reasons], ‘therefore’ perhaps we can try [alternative] as a solution.
|Be aware of power dynamics: There will likely be participants who are more comfortable joining in than others for various reasons. Try and support these people to participate. We will talk about power dynamics more in the audiences module.
Tackle jargon: Record any terminology people struggled with and keep these definitions in a visible place or supply them in between sessions.
It may be necessary to intervene if someone makes a confrontational or obstructive comment. This can be addressed by acknowledging the comment, re-framing it into an open-ended question and offering this to the group. Here are some examples. Have a think how you would respond and then click to see our suggestion:
Below is a ‘You’ statement. How could you respond with a ‘We’ question?
‘You don’t understand enough about STEM cell research’
Below is a closed statement. How could you respond with an open question?
‘Genetic modification is just wrong. Plain and simple.’
Below is a personalised statement. How could you respond with a depersonalised question?
‘The councillor didn’t listen to us, he’s being influenced by big oil’
Below is a statement that focuses on past problems. What question can you ask to re-focus on future solutions?
‘Last time they didn’t inform us of the changes they made!’
Below is a generalising statement. What question can you ask to bring it back to the specific discussion at hand?
‘That’s the government’s responsibility!’
Below is a threatening statement. How can you ask a question of affirmation (focusing on the positive)?
‘I want to see someone fired!’