Effective facilitation

Continuing with our celebration of 30 years of Footsteps – our magazine for grassroots development workers – we have been looking back through the archive to rediscover some of the most popular articles that have been written over the years.

This week we feature an article from the front page of Footsteps 60, first published in September 2004: Facilitation Skills.

Multiple skills

Facilitators have an important role to play in most sectors, including development work. A good facilitator has to possess many skills and will be able to lead others in a participatory process of discussion, learning and change.

Serge, a facilitator for Tearfund partner FECABU talks to villagers in Rwisabi, Burundi. Photo: Tom Price

Footsteps 60 - Effective facilitation - front cover

‘Many of the skills needed for facilitation are similar to those we develop as Christians as we grow in love and respect for God and one another,’ says Isabel Carter, former editor of Footsteps. ‘Each person is special in God’s eyes. We are all made in the image of God. We all have unique knowledge, experience and opinions. Good facilitators are interested in listening to the views of other people.’ She adds that ‘good facilitation ultimately leads to empowerment’. This is when people gain confidence in their own abilities to change their own situations – and those of their community – for the better.

‘A facilitator involves the group in activities that help adults with low levels of formal education, literacy or confidence to take a full part.’

Sophie Clark

Moving online

During the current Covid-19 crisis, many groups are using video conferencing software or chat apps to meet online for the first time. Virtual video meetings can cause problems for facilitators around connectivity and audio issues such as people talking over one another. A good facilitator will set out clear objectives for the meeting, guide the agenda, keep participants on topic and make sure people can see each other’s facial expressions and body language. 

'Online facilitation is new for many of us,’ says Romnal Colas, Church and Community Transformation Lead for Tearfund in Latin America and Caribbean cluster. 'Given the virtual nature of a group video meeting the facilitator has to check from time to time that everyone is focused on the topic. One of the best ways to do this is to summarise people's ideas frequently to make sure everyone is on the same page. Giving simple tasks to the participants regularly also helps them to feel that they are making a valuable contribution to the meeting.' 

Emma Raspin is the E-Learning Manager at Tearfund. As part of her role, she facilitates online courses, such as e-workshops, where learners communicate by typing messages into chat forums. 'In common with face-to-face facilitation an online facilitator needs dedication, openness, flexibility, proactivity and strong organisational skills,’ says Emma. 

‘When facilitating learning through an online classroom where all communication is written, they must know when to jump into an online conversation to provide expertise or direction, or when to hold back so as to let students share and learn from one another. Just like in face-to-face group work, a facilitator who constantly looks over your shoulder is not likely to inspire free-flowing conversations!’ 

However, there are differences between facilitating physical-space meetings and online classrooms, adds Emma: ‘Although you may be captivating in front of a live audience in the room, when you facilitate a written online classroom you have to navigate a new set of challenges: you may have never met your students before, they may join your classroom at different times of day and, if you are not meeting in person or via video, you have to learn how to hold their attention without visual or vocal cues.’ The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has a useful Guidebook for Online Facilitators

The Footsteps 60 article explores the following areas of facilitation: 

  • The role of a facilitator 
  • Facilitation and traditional teaching 
  • What makes a good facilitator 
  • Difficulties facilitators may face 
  • Who needs facilitation skills 
  • 8 key skills of a good facilitator 

Read the article in full to learn more about effective facilitation

Explore more about the idea of being a servant leader in this Bible study from Footsteps 60

For safe ways of connecting with others during the current Covid-19 crisis please look at our dedicated Covid-19 page.

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