Blog > More on ‘What is a facilitator?’

July 14, 2007


It must be the cold, wet and miserable weather that’s making me a mite introspective at the moment.

*gazes out the window at the rain*

Inspired by ‘Ideas that Stick’ and a question from an artist about ‘what is a facilitator?’ I’ve been trying to establish for myself what is the core of facilitation. Surely it’s not so obscure that it can’t be described in concrete terms? My colleagues on the Australasian Facilitators’ Network (AFN) list have provided some valuable ideas and thought food.

One of the comments in ‘Ideas that Stick’ that has really stuck with me is about the ‘curse of knowledge’. As facilitators we know what we do, even if we can’t describe it to someone who has never experienced it. And we can tend to talk in abstractions that leave others rolling their eyes. It’s not enough. I reckon we should be able to nail what it is we do. So I thought about coming at this question from the other way: What would be missing if a group didn’t have a facilitator? Even if they don’t have a designated facilitator, there’s nothing stopping someone in the group taking on that role.

Which has helped me start to clarify something – facilitation, like leadership, is a role, not a designation. So, a facilitator is someone who facilitates. Therefore the question isn’t really ‘what is a facilitator?’ rather it’s ‘what is facilitation’ (because it doesn’t really matter who does it – and just as there are good and bad leaders, there are also good and bad facilitators).

So – what is facilitation?

It’s something I do – not what I am.

And if it’s something I do, I will probably do it differently to others. But I wonder if there’s some common thread that links all the people who facilitate? Is it a motivation maybe? If the ‘how’ is not as important as the ‘why’ (because there are a squillion different ways of facilitating, many of them dependent on all sorts of factors) then maybe that’s the bit we should describe.

So I can describe ‘how’ I facilitate – using processes etc.

And the ‘type’ of facilitator I am in any given situation – improvisational, participatory, directive for example.

I can describe the effects of facilitation – learning, decision making, dialogue etc. Hang on, these can happen without facilitation. Surely there is something about ‘better’ or ‘enhanced’ learning, decision-making, dialogue as the effects of facilitation?

Remember – anyone can do this – you don’t have to be designated a ‘facilitator’ (recognising of course that there are a lot of skills, processes, understandings etc that anyone taking on the role will have to be competent in).

Which still leaves the ‘why?’. Why does any group need someone to play the role of facilitator? Why would they need something that is called ‘facilitation’?

To make their task easier. And more effective.

So, facilitation makes it easier for groups to (insert task or results) more effectively.

Lets’ test it:

Facilitation makes it easier for groups to learn more effectively.
Facilitation makes it easier for groups to meet more effectively.
Facilitation makes it easier for groups to plan more effectively.
Facilitation makes it easier for groups to resolve disputes more effectively.


*gazes out the window at the sunshine*


Enough of this introspection! I’m going for a walk.

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