3 of 11: Suggested Facilitation Strategies – Designing a Thorough and Detailed Facilitation Agenda that is Structured AND Flexible

This set of suggested strategies aims to help you in designing a thorough and detailed agenda that is (a) structured, logical and outcome-driven; and at the same time (b) flexible, allowing for flow and emergence. Here are some things to consider:

(1) Make sure you are really tuned in to the detail of ALL of the desired outcomes for the event.  Often clients have a notion of these.  However, rarely are these articulated in a sufficiently nuanced fashion.  For example, rarely is due attention given to both to the desired outputs (such as a written vision statement, an action plan, a letter to policy makers), the ‘hard outcomes’ (such as consensus going forward, decisions taken, items prioritized) and the ‘soft outcomes’ (such as sense of ownership, enthusiasm and energy for going forward, improved relationships between group participants).  Prepare yourself well, ensuring clarity around these objectives AND how they are prioritized by your client and participants.  

(2) Share the desired outcomes with the group at the start.  Then keep checking in with the group on progress towards these achieving these.  If you are making good progress, great.  If you are not, assess (perhaps with input from the group) whether or not what you had planned is going to get you there, and then determine whether you proceed as plan or adapt accordingly.

(3) Check your design is sufficiently structured by asking yourself (and possibly others) what you would expect to get out of each session, giving some examples of how the diversity of participants would answer the questions posed.  If this isn’t crystal clear, think further about the questions and sequencing of sessions.

(4) Plan an iterative process that is – by design – both structured and highly emergent – where the outcomes from one session naturally flow into the next, and determine the focus of conversation.   For example, you may have a tightly timed-agenda with sessions progressing from plenary presentations to table discussions to reflections in plenary to voting on the most important points to small group work on those points.  Highly structured?  Yes.  And at the same time what the group prioritizes to focus conversation on is entirely up to them. For this to work, just remember that it is imperative to be very clear about the logic of the structure and the questions you use to guide the thinking of the group in the early sessions.  Note also that transitions between activities takes time.

(5) Schedule a session where participants determine the agenda – for example, how about incorporating a session in the agenda drawing inspiration from Open Space Technology?  Participants can openly propose table discussions and then other participants choose from this marketplace of offerings which conversations they join. This can be very valuable when people come with something they desperately want to share or discuss with others, but which doesn’t fit perfectly in the logic of the agenda and achieving the desired outcomes.

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