Monthly Myth - Facilitators and Content - Information

Facilitators work across many industries, audiences and topics, and sometimes the issues or information being considered are complex or technical.  We’re often asked how we manage to move across so many broad ranging issues and projects, and whether we need to become ‘experts’ in each topic before we facilitate.

This #MonthlyMyth explores some of the misunderstandings that sit behind this myth, highlights the true role of a facilitator, and uncovers how facilitators really work with information and content.


Facilitators and content – some common misconceptions

There are a few assumptions that underpin this myth. Some people believe that facilitators:

  • should be across the breadth and depth of a topic, including technical details, in order to work with the group effectively,

  • should be able to offer an opinion when asked a question,

  • are being paid to be content experts and deliver information.

None of the above is true. In fact, if a facilitator was to do any of the above, it would undermine the process, lead to poorer outcomes and potentially expose the facilitator and host organisation to reputational risk.


 The real role of a facilitator

A facilitator’s focus

The primary focus of the facilitator is to support the group’s conversation.  We bring people together to consider and discuss an issue, task, challenge or remit, and help them work together collaboratively towards an agreed objective or outcome.  

The true source of wisdom

Facilitators believe in the wisdom within the group and are skilled at drawing it out.  They work to support the group to do their best thinking and tap into the wealth of knowledge, experience and ideas in the room.  It’s should never be the ‘facilitator show’.

Neutrality – a critical factor

Facilitators should not present themselves as topic ‘experts’. In fact, neutrality is critical.  Facilitators work to ensure all perspectives and sides of an issue are heard, and should never ‘lead’ a group towards a particular point of view.  

Facilitators should never have a ‘stake’ in the issue, defend a position or take a side. A neutral facilitator has the capacity to support participants to navigate difficult topics, work through conflict, and delve deeper into the issue. 

Neutral facilitation results empowers participants, building a sense of trust and ownership over process outcomes. In contrast, lack of neutrality can result in the facilitator or host organisation being accused of interfering with the process or manufacturing an outcome.



What a facilitator really needs to know

Facilitators need to have a broad understanding of the topic they are working with.  More importantly though, they need to be clear on core session elements such as session purpose, scope, the problem being shared, who will be involved and desired outputs.   This information helps the facilitator to design an effective session that meets the needs of both the organisation and participants in the time allocated.

Framing the question

Professional facilitators make ‘framing’ look easy, however it’s a skill that’s honed over many years of practice. 

One element of framing is clearly defining and sharing the problem, challenge or task the group is working to respond to – often called a ‘remit’.  Part of the facilitators job is keep the group focused on their remit, and frame the key questions and activities that fall out from under it in a clear and engaging way.

This means facilitators require a detailed understanding of the dilemma being shared with participants – but that doesn’t mean they need a doctorate in all the options, potential solutions, research, reports or technical data associated with the topic.

Bringing technical content and expertise into the room

Most processes require participants to consider or be across key information or data.  It’s often important that people have a chance to consider this information before they provide feedback or input, because this helps to elicit more informed, useful outputs.

A good facilitator will work with their client to identify the information inputs required to help the participants grapple with the problem being discussed.  If specific content or technical expertise needs to be brought into a conversation, the facilitator will develop a process that enables this information to be integrated in as engaging and impactful a way as possible.  A good facilitator has lots of techniques in their toolkit for introducing information to a room.


Want to learn more about the role of the facilitator? 



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