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Facilitating

Facilitators play an important role in ensuring successful Dialogue & Deliberation participation. The facilitators hold the important responsibilities of being the guide, the motivator, the questioner, the bridge builder, the clairvoyant, the peacemaker, and the taskmaster. They must be able to stay impartial, prompt participants to process and engage with materials and concepts, keep the discussion moving and on task, call on all participants to take part in the discussion, encourage deeper thinking and reflection, and mediate tension and conflict—especially between participants and subject matter experts and organizers—in order to bring participants toward common ground and group decision making.

To encourage discussion, facilitators must be able to build trust with their participants and they must be alert and aware of the various dynamics at play. Facilitators who share similar backgrounds with the participants and the community can help to bolster participants’ trust in the process (e.g., including facilitators who represent gender, racial, and ethnic diversity). In addition, facilitators must be able to build bridges across divides and help find common ground, thereby engaging diverse voices and values and creating space for people from different backgrounds to disagree and also come to mutual decisions (more advice about this can be found in pages 50-57 of this resource).

While the goals for the meeting will be set by the organizers in the design and structure of the meeting, the facilitators are responsible for achieving those goals through the discussion. In developing Dialogue & Deliberation programming, organizers must also develop capacity for facilitating the public engagement events. This includes identifying who should serve as facilitators and, if necessary, holding trainings to prepare the facilitators for the events. Trainings and preparations should allow facilitators to develop the following competencies for the Dialogue & Deliberation session, as described in this guide developed by Oregon State University: 

  • Creating space for difference and dialogue 
  • Integrating content and process
  • Naming and framing emotions
  • Cultivating connections across difference 

As organizers design the meeting agenda and structure, considering how the discussions will be carried out—and by who—is an essential competency and capacity to develop for productive Dialogue & Deliberation, and, in particular, for bringing participants to spaces of common ground and participant-developed solutions.

Key Resources

These resources offer additional guidance and tools to help develop competencies for successful facilitation practices for Dialogue & Deliberation programs.

This includes many useful resources for those interested in learning more about Dialogue & Deliberation, including an online Certification Program for facilitators, example ground rules for a public deliberation event, and issue guides for divisive topics. View resource.

This paper discusses the findings of the Nano & Society project, which involved hundreds of museums and universities in public-engagement efforts about nanotechnology. It includes a section about Facilitation Techniques, including advice and examples. View resource.

Facilitation is a key phase in Everyday Democracy’s Dialogue to Change model, and a subset of their resource library houses several facilitation best practice guides and tips. View resource.

Knowledge Base is a compilation of resources developed by Involve, a U.K.-based organization that supports organizations in the delivery of public engagement processes to improve democratic decision making. The section, “How Do I Facilitate a Participatory Process?,” contains useful facilitation guides, including a guide specifically for facilitating tricky situations. View resource.

While this U.K.-based organization is focused on supporting universities in public engagement, some of its resources provide practical advice that is transferable to the museum context. They offer several guides about facilitation, including “How to facilitate STEM engagement”, “How to facilitate deliberative engagement”, and “How to facilitate co-enquiry”. View resource.

National Issues Forums Institute is a model for Dialogue & Deliberation around difficult public problems, particularly highly partisan policy issues. They use some different language (Dialogue & Deliberation events are called “forums” and facilitators are called “moderators”), but their “For Moderators” section includes plenty of useful resources, no matter what you want to call it! View resource.

This handbook is aimed at academic researchers, but it is a helpful resource for anyone seeking to improve their communication skills to enhance mutual learning with the public. Pages 46-54 specifically discuss the role of the facilitator in Dialogue & Deliberation. View resource.

Responsible Research and Innovation works to connect research and innovation with society in a variety of ways. This repository compiles useful tools for this work, including “Facilitating Meetings: A guide to making your meetings effective, inclusive, and enjoyable”. View resource.

This primer details foundational practices for translating your knowledge of facilitating in-person discussions on community issues to the virtual world. View resource.