Having a good facilitator at a meeting is crucial for any meeting, but especially for those where consensus decision making is being used. The role of the facilitator ensures that a meeting is well prepared, that the discussions are useful, relevant and involve everyone, that people don't dominate the discussion, that times are kept to so that all agenda items are discussed, that everyone agrees with the consensus reached, and so on.
Again there is already good information out there about how to facilitate meetings (Seeds for Change), and training is recommended for everyone in the group about how to facilitate meetings.
We developed the following basic guidence for facilitation - again it's pretty simple stuff, but it just serves as a reminder for each of us when it's our turn to facilitate a meeting:
The role of the meeting facilitator.
Before the meeting:
- Create the agenda: (from the meeting agenda document that everyone will have filled in and revised a week before the meeting).
- Order the agenda items: for example you can alternate between easy-difficult-easy for each point on the agenda; or you can start with easy, then put the more difficult themes later and then return to easy points when everyone is tired.
- Put time limits for each point of discussion
- Put the agenda up on social text a few of days in advance.
- Make sure all the roles have a person: facilitator, minute taker, filter (someone to answer the phone, door etc.). Sometimes there is also a person to watch the time and to write things up on the board (or these things can be part of the facilitator's role).
- Ensure that there are people to present the items that need to be debated, or think about how you are going to facilitate the debate.
- Get enough sleep the night before and be ready for action!
- Set up the room with presentation equipment (whiteboards, flipcharts etc) and refreshments.
- Introduce the agenda
- Propose the process for how to discuss the issue.
- Actively listen: take notes, observe the group dynamics.
- Be aware of possible hidden problems that could be effecting discussions, and bring it up if you detect one (proposing it to the group and asking what they think, and if we deal with it now or at another time).
- Make a list (could be written on the white board) of the order of hands for speaking - could have a second person who does this job so the facilitator doesn't have to be aware of everything.
- Ask those who haven't spoken what they think about the issue
- Interrupt and ask people to resume their points, return to the point, not to interrupt, not to repeat.
- Have a 'bike rack/elephant' to write up issues that come up and need discussing, but are not the point currently under discussion (remember to revisit this at the end and look at where to discuss them).
- Propose leaving the things that don't need to be discussed in the meeting until later: in a subcommittee, between two people, after reading a certain document etc.
- Observe emotions, dynamics, who speaks and who doesn't, body language, the energy levels of the group, your own energy level.
- Be flexible: change of process etc.
- Be aware of the time; ask for more time for a point if necessary.
- Summarise and form proposals.
- Repeat decisions reached to the group to confirm that consensus has been achieved.
- The facilitator must NOT take advantage of their role to manipulate the decision to that which seems best to them. If the facilitator wants to give their opinion they have to make it obvious that they are not speaking as the facilitator (“I want to speak”). If they have strong opinions, they should ask someone else to facilitate that discussion.
- A facilitator is always needed!
- Evaluate the meeting in a go round of the group. This is important for improving the process, to see how the group dynamic is, and to evaluate the usefulness of specific techniques used.