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  Alternatives Pty Ltd
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Contents | 1. Essence | 2. Frameworks | 3. Skills | 4. Process ideas | 5. Resources

4. Process activities and ideas

The processes and activities facilitators use need to:

  • be consistent with their core values (eg. democratic participation, empowerment...)
  • help the group work on what the group is trying to achieve in the group process.

These two criteria can be used to evaluate the appropriateness of process activities.

The following examples highlight some participative and democratic activities and activities to enable the group to take responsibility for its work.

Keep seating flexible

How people are seated makes a big impact on the interactions between the people in a group.

Ideally seating should be flexible so it can easily be moved into different configurations suitable for different processes, for example, facilitating a group of 20 people could start in a large circle with introductions, be reformed into four groups of 5 for small group discussion and then reformed again into 6 groups of 3 or 4 for some brain-storming.

When there are more than 25 people a single circle is likely to become too large to be useful. Sitting people in rows one behind the other is not conducive to building interactions between people in the group.

It is often more useful to seat larger numbers of people in many small groups. For example it would be better to seat 50 people in 7 groups of 7 or 8 people rather than keep one large circle or a smaller circle with two or three rows.

Make opportunities for people hearing each others experiences

Sometimes it is useful for people to share their experiences. When there is more than 8 or 9 people in a group there may not be sufficient talk time for everyone.

The following approach allows half the people to be talking and half listening at any one time.

  • Seat people in a circle.
  • Make pairs - identify everyone as an A or a B while going around the circle (so that As and Bs are next to each other)
  • Explain that in each pair person A will ask person B a question and person B has 2 minutes to answer and Person A has 2 minutes to listen. Person B will then ask person A the same question. Person A will then be given 2 minutes to answer.
  • Explain that you will tell people what questions to ask and keep time.
  • After the first question you will ask all the As to stand up and move around one pair. You will then give them a second question. Repeat the process for each subsequent question.
  • All together there could be 5 or 6 questions and so 5 or 6 different pairs.

Good questions to ask are ones that focus on people's experience. For example in a workshop with staff you might ask:

  • What is the experience of your work like?
  • What do you enjoy/ like about your work?
  • What do you find difficult/stressful about your work?
  • How do you find the balance between work and your personal life?
  • What is the biggest challenge you face in your work and what do you want to do about it?

In a workshop with a grandparents support group you might ask:

  • What is your experience of being a grandparent like?
  • What do you enjoy/like about being a grandparent?
  • What do you find difficult or stressful about being a grandparent?
  • What would help you in your role as a grandparent?

Democratically tell the story of the organisation/program

One approach to telling the story of an organisation is to ask someone who has been with the organisation for a number of years to tell the organisation's story. This is often not helpful because it is one person's perspective.

A better approach, especially at planning days is to:

  • ask everyone present to individually write a list of 6 to 10 significant events in the life of the organisation over the past .... years.
  • organise people into small groups (eg of 5 or 6)
  • in the small groups asked people to share their lists and discuss what emerges (20 minutes)
  • have a very large white board or large area of butchers paper available
  • tell people you want to put the significant points up on the whiteboard as a time line
  • ask people in the groups for the significant events - write them up
  • ask questions about any key area that seems to be missing (eg clients, staffing, funding, ...)
  • ask the small groups to identify significant trends and observations about the life of the organisation
  • get feedback from the small groups and summarise the trends and observations.

The whole process might take 45 to 90 minutes depending on the number of people at the meeting.

Ensure the people in the group know what others are thinking and feeling about the work at hand

Sometimes an important part of facilitating a group is for the people in the group to understand what the others in the group and thinking and/or what they are feeling. This is especially important in setting priorities and reaching consensus. One approach is:

  • give each participant three pieces of coloured paper (about 8cm x 8cm squares). A green piece, a red piece and a yellow piece.
  • Use them like traffic lights. Green = go/I agree; Red=stop/I disagree. Yellow = caution/I'm not sure.
  • When you want feedback from the group ask them: Do you agree that ................ Please indicate your response by holding up the appropriate coloured paper so everyone can see.

The amount of colour in the room will give a quick indication of the level of agreement or disagreement with the statement.

If you want to explore the issue further, ask individuals: Why are you green? Why are you red? Why are you yellow?

Put planning day agendas in plain english (not technical planning language).

Here is a sample agenda for a planning day.

Facilitating people

There are many situations that facilitators can find difficult, for example:

  • people who don't participate
  • people who talk too much
  • people who don't want to be there
  • people who are aggressive towards others.

In dealing with these situations it is useful to:

  • ask yourself what are the possible explanations for the 'difficult' behaviour?
  • develop a set of responses for dealing with the 'difficult' behaviour.

For example if someone is talking too much, to the point of talking over other people, what are the possible explanations?

  • is the person especially excited or interested in the issue?
  • does the person feel they have not been heard and so have to make their point again and again?
  • does the person not see/feel the cues from other people at the meeting about their level of frustration at the meeting being dominated by one person and so is oblivious to what is happening in the group?

Initially you may not know what the explanation is but you need to respond to the situation. It is useful to have a series of responses in mind, for example:

  • thank you for your comment, can we hear from some of the others.
  • thanks for the point you have made, I just want to check that everyone understood your point (ask group). They understand what you are saying, now can we hear from the next person.
  • I have the impression that people in the group are feeling frustrated because you keep interrupting what others are saying. I just want to check out with them whether they are feeling that (ask group). They are feeling frustrated with what is happening. Can you allow other people to talk without interruption?
  • I have the impression that people in the group are feeling that they can't get on with their work in the group because of your interventions. I just want to check out with them whether they are feeling that (ask group). They are feeling that they can't get on with their work. If you continue to interrupt I will have to ask the group whether they want you to leave the meeting.

The facilitator would start with the first response and possibly use it or a similar intervention several times. If the interrupting behaviour continues the facilitator can move to the next level of response. If it continues further the facilitator can more to the next level of response ....