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Resources about facilitation

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While working on the ‘Practitioner stories‘, we found that storytelling and facilitation were considered the most important skills a service design practitioner should have. I’ve gathered some resources about facilitation in this post.

stickies notes of various colours and sizes mentioning the tips in this post

What is facilitation?

Facilitation: the act of helping other people to deal with a process or reach an agreement without getting directly involved in the process or discussion yourself.

The problem can be of some importance to you, especially if you are the designer on the project as well as the facilitator.

On being a workshop facilitator

Teaching or facilitating?

Make sure facilitation is the right approach for the session you are organising. These are different approaches which will use different content, authority and roles. Read more about this in “Designing hybrid workshops: sharing wonder” by Alastair Somerville.


Plan ahead, do your homework

If face to face, check the venue: room, facilities and more, make sure it’s accessible and if not tell your participants so they know what to expect. Do you have wall space, whiteboard, plugs near by, WiFi, the right cables? sticky notes, paper, pens, refreshments, enough chairs?

You should know your agenda, and the activities you will be doing, rehearse them if needed and have the material ready ahead of the session.

Ask for people’s expectations

You can ask ahead of the session or at the start. What do people want to take from this session, discuss if it doesn’t fit within the scope of the session (next point) and check at the end that you did meet their expectations.

Have a clear goal and make sure everyone knows it

Before the session, speak with the stakeholders to draft an agenda that moves people through activities towards the group’s desired outcomes. 

  • Why are you holding this event?
  • What would make this event successful ?
  • What would you like the group to have accomplished together by the end of the event?

Then make it clear in the invite. Give the agenda and the goal of the session. Repeat it at the start of the session and make sure everyone understands it. People are more likely to respect the process if they know what they’re working towards.

Create a safe space

Create a safe place by settings a code of conduct and responsibility. Alastair Somerville uses 4 codes: a code of conduct, a code of conversation, a code of comfort and a code of control. Learn more in: More than conduct – losing control in workshops to gain more for everyone

Keep the time right

Make sure you planned enough time. For group activities, allow for some time for people to chat socially because they will do it anyway. After a while, remind them of the task they are supposed to be on so they can start if they haven’t already.

You need to find the right balance, where you will keep an eye on the time but also don’t rush people.

Have a buddy / buddies

Make sure you have one or more people as co-facilitators. It will help you to reflect after the event, but hopefully also during the event: you might be dominating or influencing the group without realising it, they will be able to let you know so you can adjust. They can help with time keeping, spot a person who has something to contribute but is not confident enough to share for example. You can’t focus on everything. They can also bring back for you anyone who might be drifting away from the focus of the meeting/workshop (see next tip for this too).

Have a parking lot

I’ve seen the power of this in many meetings: a parking lot is a place where you record any idea that is not on the agenda, out-of-scope or when people get stuck at some point. This will help you to keep the pace and focus without losing track of unresolved conversations . You can go back to it later if you have the time. Make sure to explain why things are parked for now and how we will get back to them so people are confident that these won’t get lost. Ideally keep some time in your session to go back to them to decide the next steps.

The less you do, the better

This is one of the points of On being a workshop facilitator by Jeremie Douchet, which is worth reading:

“You should spend less time speaking, and more time listening. You shouldn’t interrupt a conversation unless it has run its course or if it is going off-track. During activities, make yourself available by walking to each group, but don’t initiate the interaction with them. If they need your help, they will let you know, if they don’t, walk up to the next group.”

You will also spend a lot of your speaking time on asking questions to get to the bottom of things.

Get feedback

During the session, especially if it’s a long one and after. This will allow you to adjust.

Some tools

Have a look at the methods library of the International Association of Facilitators (IAF)

If you are into card decks, you can check pipdecks.

I like to use the circles of influence because it’s a simple way to sort the ideas or insights we came up with as a group.

My home life Scotland has some resources which could help too.

When thinking about the power dynamic in a group, the Liberating Structures are a great source of ideas. I wrote about this before.

Make it accessible and inclusive

Co-op has a good blog post on this which details their 7 guidelines:

  1. Give everyone the opportunity to contribute 
  2. Set clear expectations, early 
  3. Give context: do not assume any prior knowledge 
  4. Use clear language 
  5. Respect people’s time 
  6. Value all contributions equally 
  7. Encourage clarity, curiosity, and challenges 

More on this

Advice for online facilitation

Make sure you are using the right tools with the right audience. Not everyone is confortable with using Miro and Mural, and you can get good results with simpler tools like a shared Google doc. Lizzie Cass-Maran has a good article on this: Moving on from Miro: Using Google docs as a low-tech alternative

More on this

The best way to learn is by doing it

“The main thing that helps me to get better and learn things is to jump in and try things without worrying about it going wrong. By trying things and it not working I learn so much more than if it had worked first time.”

Sharon Dale


Some of them have already been mentioned in the post but there are some more: