While conversations seem simple enough, there are many different processes for facilitating community conversations. Most impactful conversations and meetings will have had a lot of thought put into how they are run! Facilitation involves creating safe and comfortable spaces, creating opportunities for different ways of thinking, doing, and learning, and managing divergent ideas and interests.
Developing the agenda and processes you will use can take lots of time and thought. You may wish to talk to or even hire someone who has experience facilitating groups or meetings. This might be because of their skill and experience, but it can also be a good idea if you want to participate in the discussion rather than ‘holding the space’ for everyone else.
You can also create opportunities to co-facilitate with other members of the group, or move responsibility for facilitation around. For example, different members of the Hosting Team might facilitate different sections of the conversation.
Participatory leadership and the Art of hosting practices support people to share their voice and become leaders in change. Participatory leadership assumes that people give their energy and lend their resources to what matters most to them; in work as in life. It draws upon principles that align with community development, such as engaging people where they are at; that power should be diffused, and community members developed as leaders; and that solutions should be co-produced with the communities that are affected.
A key concept of Art of Hosting is ‘host yourself first’. This means anything you are prepared to encounter in conversations in the room, you must be prepared to encounter and host in yourself first – conflict, frustration, ego, fear, anger, weariness, envy, injustice and so on. Similarly, the presence, compassion, resolution and self-care required to host difficult conversations, you must show to yourself first.
Generally speaking, our events include some kind of check-in and check-out, some presentations and speakers, some kind of group process or activity, and methods to harvest the learnings from the day.
Some things to remember when facilitating and hosting conversations include:
- Create a comfortable space (physically and emotionally) for the conversation to take place
- Introductions, check-ins and getting to know people is important
- Gently keep the group focussed on the question
- Be mindful of how power is operating in the room. Ensure everyone is heard and listened to with respect and curiosity
- Pass a talking piece to keep focus on one speaker at a time (optional)
- Look for opportunities to reflect back and distil key concepts as the conversation progresses
- Capture or harvest key messages and actions/ideas that emerge
- Pay attention to time and purpose of the session.
Checking in and checking out are processes used to open and close a meeting. The purpose of checking in is to ensure everyone in the group is seen, heard and acknowledged, but it also helps people leave their busyness behind and be fully present at the meeting they have come to. Simply put, check in helps to focus everyone and lets every voice be heard from the start.
It is an important part of hosting conversations to feed back to attendees what has occurred and next steps. For more on this, see Documenting and sharing the work in Enacting the plan.
Capacity building for inclusive facilitation
The creation of Hosting Teams provides an opportunity to capacity build people in the region in inclusive facilitation practices and design and delivery of group processes. Building capacity in the region supports sustainability of the initiative going forward and build confidences in the Hosting Team to play an active role in the event itself. This can be particularly important when context experts are engaged as part of the Hosting Team. There are extensive resources available around facilitation, group processes, participatory leadership and Art of Hosting.
Socially inclusive facilitation
Being inclusive extends not just to the people you invite to a conversation, but to the way you host a conversation. People can feel excluded by many things – the structure of the meeting, the language used, or the way of thinking about an issue. Here are some tips for keeping processes inclusive:
Acronyms: Try to avoid acronyms when speaking, and if others use them, it can be helpful to ask them to spell them out or spell it out for the room.
Jargon: You will notice throughout this document we have included Jargon Alerts. In a similar way, it can be helpful to keep track of jargon used in community meetings. Try to avoid using it yourself; if others use it, you might gently interrupt them and ask them to define it for the room, or define it once the person has finished speaking.
Prior knowledge: During the conversation, people might bring up things that have happened in the past, but not go into enough detail to explain it to people who weren’t there. For example, one participant might say to another, “Remember that meeting we went to? They explained everything there.” In that circumstance, you might ask them to go into more detail for the room about the meeting, and what was explained.
Check for understanding: It is important when facilitating that everyone understands the process. Do not assume that everyone understood what was said, or that they were able to concentrate and listen all the time. If several people look confused, it is probably because they are. Pause and re-explain.
There are many more techniques to being inclusive and making people comfortable during processes.
Create a facilitation kit
If you’re holding regular meetings you can save yourself time and stress as a facilitator by having a ‘facilitation kit’ packed and ready to go! For us this includes; label stickers and a sharpie for name badges; sign-on sheet; whiteboard markers and duster; post-it notes and felt tip pens; blu tack; and butchers paper. There is a whole podcast about this very topic on First Time Facilitator by Leanna Hughes.