Blog: What is facilitation and how can it be useful?
February 22, 2023

Blog: What is facilitation and how can it be useful?

Dialogue is a universal tool for communication, irrespective of your sphere of activity. We use dialogue everywhere – at school, at work, at the coffee shop – to express our needs and cooperate with one another. But what if we need to find a collective solution to an issue that does not have a definite answer? Or, let’s say if you need to find a project idea that would help your business or NGO to involve more customers and stakeholders? When brainstorming in a group of people, each of us may suggest various relevant ideas, but there isn’t always mutual understanding and consent on the final decision. If dialogue is not used wisely, the group may get into a conflict and harm their initial goal. That is why facilitation is an essential method for maintaining a reasonable dialogue among the members of the team and ensuring smooth and constructive communication over issues at hand.

Indeed, facilitation skills are useful not only for professional trainers but also for the general public and youth. This is because in today’s world, there are many opinions and differences, and the tools of dialogue and facilitation on which the facilitation process is based can help to overcome prejudices and understand other people’s points of view. When used effectively, these facilitation tools show us a new way of looking at the world and protect us from potential conflicts.

Facilitation is a purposeful and thorough process that creates an environment where participants can work together to achieve desired outcomes. This process involves facilitating open discussions, activities and processes that help to develop ideas, thoughts and creative solutions.

The Ukrainian YEAs: from the left Rostyslav Semka and Yaroslav Morozov

Being a facilitator and being a group leader are not the same thing. Facilitators differ from group leaders in that they must always be objective and without personal interest in the final decision. Being a facilitator is primarily about fostering an atmosphere of cooperation and shared responsibility, rather than using your authority to impose decisions.

Facilitation is often used to facilitate dialogue between people with different perspectives and experiences. This process uses various methods and tools that enable young people to engage in quality communication. The most popular are brainstorming, group problem-solving, and group exercises. Experienced facilitators use tools such as role-playing, stories and interactive exercises to create an environment that can create conditions for active dialogue and relaxed interaction for each participant.

Facilitation tools can be used to promote young people’s understanding and acceptance of other cultures and perspectives, and to reduce the risk of stereotyping and prejudice. For example, facilitation techniques can be used to organise working groups, seminars and round tables on intercultural communication, peacebuilding and social justice. Young people can also use empowerment tools to promote understanding and acceptance of individual differences and to foster a sense of mutual respect among peers.

Investigating the issue of facilitation, Ukrainian Young European Ambassadors, Rostyslav Semka and Yaroslav Morozov, took part in the recent “Dialogue School” training organised by the Ukrainian-Danish Youth House in Ivano-Frankivsk (Ukraine). During the event, participants learned about the Danish experience of youth facilitation and mastered new tools of dialogue.

“For me, as a person who organises pieces of training and works with people, the topic of facilitation is really interesting. It is like a key that can become a gateway to an extremely interesting flow of ideas and thoughts, a key that helps to find an approach for each of the participants in group work. I think that for active Ukrainian youth, mastering facilitation methods is extremely timely today. Because now in Ukraine, the public sector is more active than ever, but at the same time, different groups of the population do not always have similar views, and sometimes have traumatic experiences. Therefore, during the interaction, disagreements may arise, which have special risks in the circumstances caused by the hostilities that Ukraine faces today. And the methods and tools on which the facilitator’s approach is based precisely help to prevent conflicts, and to find a solution to difficult circumstances as a whole, with everyone’s understanding,” said Ukrainian YEA, Rostyslav Semka.

“Being interested in the sphere of public administration, I realise that quite often government authorities and local self-government bodies have to conduct dialogue with the population and NGOs in order to work on certain social issues together. Public discussions often end up with open debates without agreement on a clear conclusion or accepted roadmap to specific solutions. Therefore, facilitation techniques would be essential to expand the efficiency of this process and help both sides to be heard. The task of the facilitator in this regard is to ensure that the parties stay on track with their discussion agenda, follow the main points that are being expressed, and summarise them to help the parties move on. Such an approach would help parties to stay focused and be more productive towards the desired final destination of the discussion,” added Ukrainian YEA Yaroslav Morozov, sharing his perspective on the relevance of facilitation.

 Unlike the team leader or moderator, the facilitator is not focused on the final conclusion of the dialogue that will be reached by the parties at the very end of the discussion. His or her goal is to control the process of the discussion, make sure that everyone has the chance to express their point of view, provide suggestions on how the group can optimise their work, etc. For example, if the brainstorming group consists of people who are not familiar with each other, it is the task of the facilitator to “break the ice” by suggesting an acquaintance exercise at the beginning of the dialogue session. Once participants get to know one another better, they will have a certain level of mental affinity among themselves. This can bring the participants closer to each other and reduce possible controversies that may arise during the dialogue.

The next task of the facilitator is to make sure that the parties come up with clearly formulated issues that they need to solve and to set up the agenda of the dialogue. To prevent the group from exceeding the time limit assigned for the discussion and avoid distractions that may arise during the dialogue, the facilitator has to control the timing of the agenda. No less important is the facilitator’s help in summarising the views expressed on the issue, thus assisting the participants in reaching their final conclusion. However, the facilitator is not supposed to suggest his or her own ideas during the discussion, but rather observe the process of brainstorming and organise the discussion in a manner that is comfortable for the parties and makes the decision-making process possible.

Successful implementation of the facilitator’s role depends on several factors. First, the facilitator needs to possess certain personal qualities, like clear and well-structured oral presentation skills, the ability to catch the attention of the audience (maintain eye contact, interact with the participants, ask relevant questions), and the ability to define the topic of the discussion based on the clients’ needs. Secondly, the facilitator has to manage conflict situations that may arise during the dialogue. For example, some participants may ignore the discussion or distract others through interruptions or irrelevant conversations. Therefore, the facilitator has to manage these situations and keep participants focused on the discussion. Thirdly, it is essential to outline and summarise the ideas suggested by the parties so that the results of the discussion are clear and understandable for all. Otherwise, if the main arguments are not clear, the parties will not be able to make final conclusions.

Facilitation is thus a powerful tool that can be used to promote dialogue and peaceful coexistence. By using methods and tools to promote open dialogue, young people can work together to create an environment of mutual understanding and respect for different cultures and perspectives. This not only helps to build bridges of understanding and achieve greater appreciation among those involved in teamwork but also helps to create new constructive solutions to common problems and the achievement of common goals.

If you are interested in this topic and you, as a young person, want to try out the role of Facilitator, The Dialogue Handbook (the art of conducting a dialogue and facilitating dialogue workshops) will be useful for you. This handbook was developed by ©DUF – Danish Youth Council and Danish Centre for Conflict Resolution, precisely for these purposes.

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