'If time is taken to involve affected and interested parties (stakeholders), the plan will become their plan, implementation will be accelerated, and the potential for future conflict and disagreement will be reduced.' — Dr Shirley McCune

I began facilitating when the producer of an event I'd designed suggested that, as I knew more about what we were trying to achieve than the other facilitators, I stood as good a chance of success as they did!

Since then I have adopted a variety of facilitation roles - linking presentations and setting up new topics; running workshops to elicit knowledge from its participants; or in the case of the famous GM Nation debates for the COI, facilitating live consultations with the public. This is far scarier than an internal business session. You have no idea what kind of people will turn up or how they will behave!

One of the techniques we employed on that project was table discussion groups with report-backs by chairs from the groups. This helped take the heat out of the debate because there was no visible target to attack and it encouraged everyone, not just the most opinionated to contribute.

Being well-prepared is important as is having the most appropriate method for capturing outputs - this can range from flipcharts to sound recordings to wireless laptops and electronic voting systems.

But there is no substitute for being able to think fast on your feet. A good facilitator will:

  • Keep the meeting on track and to time
  • Keep the atmosphere productive and good-humoured
  • Stimulate constructive debate
  • Ensure that not only the most confident and opinionated are heard

I can also review the outputs from facilitated sessions and write reports that draw out the key themes. An example of this was a series of workshops held by the Department of Health with healthcare professionals and patients to create a National Service Framework for Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease.