Recruit, Train, and Support Facilitators
The most effective dialogue-to-change programs combine community organizing with excellent facilitation. Highly skilled facilitators ensure a quality discussion in each circle. Effective facilitator training develops discussion leaders who understand the principles and techniques of effective small-group deliberation and the broader civic context in which the facilitation takes place.
A group of well-trained facilitators is key to a successful program. Good facilitators come from all age groups and all walks of life. Some have previous training; some do not. What they have in common is an interest in how groups work, the skills to guide the conversation, and a desire to help people have a productive experience. They are good listeners and relate well to many different kinds of people. Above all, they are interested in improving their communities.
Obtain a copy of A Guide for Training Facilitators.
This is our comprehensive guide for recruiting and training facilitators. The coordinator and others who are responsible for this part of the program should review this publication as they plan. Ultimately, every person who trains facilitators for your program should have a copy of this guide.
A Guide for Training Public Dialogue Facilitators
Identify a few skilled trainers.
Begin by identifying some potential trainers. Ask someone whose opinion you trust to recommend a trainer. Is there a community college or university that offers courses in facilitation, mediation, or conflict resolution? Who teaches the courses? Is there a list of graduates? Is there a mediation center in town? Where does it find its mediators, and who trains them? How about corporate trainers or facilitators? Think about adding these organizations to your coalition, with the goal of having them assume this part of the work. Keep in mind that you will most likely need to pay trainers for their time.
Plan and schedule one or more trainings.
Working with the trainer or trainers, decide how many trainings to plan. How many people need to be trained? For larger programs, plan to hold several training events to give people more options.
A training should give potential facilitators an opportunity to learn and practice the skills they will need to conduct a dialogue; it should also provide information about the overall program, so that facilitators will see their work in the broader context of the community-wide model.
Facilitators should be trained a month or two before the dialogues begin. Allow at least a full day – or two half days – for the basic training. Most communities schedule additional practice time to provide more experience for new facilitators. Consult the training guide for ideas on the basic agenda, content, exercises, and practice sessions. Remember, the more training and practice facilitators have in preparation for the dialogues, the more successful they will be.
Recruit a diverse pool of facilitators.
Your facilitator corps should be diverse, so you should identify and recruit potential facilitators from every sector of the community. You are looking for people who are comfortable with all kinds of people; have the ability to listen well and “read” group dynamics; know how to help move conversation forward, and deal with different communication styles; can guide a conversation without adding their own opinion.
Consider these groups:
- Social workers
- Group leaders from congregations
- People trained in conflict resolution
- Therapists and counselors
- Corporate facilitators
- Senior citizens
- High school or college students; students trained in peer mediation
- Educators of all ages (remember retired teachers)
- People interested in public issues
Most programs use co-facilitators for each dialogue. While this requires recruiting and training more people, it offers several advantages:
- The pair can model diversity in race, age, gender, and other differences.
- Pairing experienced facilitators with beginners helps bring new people along.
- Two people can get a better “read” on how the group is going.
- Responsibility can be shared for planning and implementing.
- Working in teams brings different skills to bear on the process.
Prepare materials to help facilitators succeed.
You can help your facilitators do their job well by providing them with some support materials. For example, give them a written description of the overall project – its sponsors, its goals, and its scope. Be sure to include important information, such as the date, time, and location of the kickoff, and action forum. You should also give them forms (with instructions) for evaluating the process and tracking the discussion as it develops.
Another important piece is a step-by-step outline of each of the sessions, including approximate times for each part of the discussion. Pay particular attention to the final session where the dialogue focuses on action. Work with the trainers to make sure facilitators are equipped to lead brainstorming sessions, and have the necessary skills and written materials to develop, articulate, and prioritize their group’s action ideas, as they prepare for the action forum.
Help facilitators decide how they will handle note taking.
Note taking can be a simple, effective way to capture and share the wisdom that dialogues generate. These records help create connections and they can form the basis of a report that extends the message and power of the program to the broader community.
Here are some suggestions for facilitators:
When you recruit people to fill the recorder’s role, look for good listeners.
- They must be committed to representing what the group as a whole thinks.
- Two facilitators, working as a team, can take turns leading the discussion and taking the notes.
- A facilitator who is working alone can ask for a volunteer from the group to take notes.
Give the note takers guidance ahead of time.
- Capture the main ideas and keep track of the direction that the conversation takes.
- Use the language of the speaker when you can. Don’t paraphrase.
- Note taking should serve the discussion, not distract attention from it.
- Check your notes with the group. Did you capture what the speaker meant?
- If your group’s notes will become part of a report, be sure to write enough to make sense to someone outside the group.
- Include the date, location, session, and the group’s name.
The note taker and facilitator work as a team, especially in the last fifteen minutes of each session.
At the end of the session, the facilitator should ask the recorder to give a brief summary of the discussion (based on the notes).
Ask the group to make sure that the notes truly reflect the discussion.
Use recording forms.
In preparation for report writing and for the action forum, many organizers