Learning module
Topics:
Extension

Extension Best Practice Guidelines - Becoming an effective facilitator

Now let’s turn to another of the four critical roles identified within the red meat sector’s extension system model: the facilitator.

Extension research highlights the importance of facilitators and the role they play in helping farmers work through decision-making processes. Effective facilitation is key to ensure action groups identify a group focus and, that as individuals, the farmers can each identify their own goals.

The facilitator is important for helping:

  • identify the topics to focus on (both as a group and as an individual)
  • run extension activities
  • provide and/or source adoption support in between events.

Facilitators also are integral to the adoption support phase, helping to identify what is needed to encourage and support farmers to make changes in their practice on farm.

 

Who will be suitable for this role?

The role of facilitator could be filled by a range of people, as long as they have the requisite skills and undertake the required facilitation training, such as:

  • meat processor representatives
  • accountants
  • rural bankers
  • sheep and beef farm consultants
  • re-seller agents (e.g. rural servicing company reps)
  • veterinarians.

Levels of facilitation

Within the red meat industry, there are three levels of facilitation:

  1. Farmers who facilitate 10-15 minute conversations amongst a small group at a field day.
  2. Lead facilitators (consultants and SMEs) who plan and run a one-off extension event or activity.
  3. Facilitators/connectors who are responsible for designing a whole extension programme (one to three years in duration).

Those people taking on a lead facilitator or facilitator/connector role will require additional skills in programme or activity design and planning. All three of these levels will require some critical facilitation skills, such as managing group dynamics and facilitating discussion. We’ll look in more depth at these skills later in this section.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How will they benefit?

In addition to any payment facilitators may receive for their services, development of their facilitation skills may also provide the following opportunities:

  • For customer relationship development – to help foster loyalty for the organisation employing the facilitator.
  • To be seen to have farmers’ interests at heart – valuing and supporting farmers, and the red meat industry in general.
  • To influence outcomes for the organisation employing them (e.g. for meat processors this may lead to greater supply, better quality, greater return, more successful customers).
  • For greater engagement with farmers and other rural professionals.
  • To operate in a more sustainable and profitable red meat sector.
  • For professional development.

 

What skills does a facilitator need?

To create a highly engaging and effective group session, an effective facilitator will:

  • be clear about the purpose of the session and ensure the group has a shared understanding of the purpose
  • select appropriate activities and processes
  • provide a suitable environment and space
  • encourage full group participation
  • support the group by listening, clarifying, questioning, sometimes challenging and summarising
  • share information effectively
  • run a brainstorm session to help collect all the ideas
  • be nonpartisan, not take sides, and not have pre-determined answers/outcomes
  • not do the work for the group
  • ensure the group’s work is captured (where necessary)
  • manage activity debriefs
  • be adaptable
  • manage group dynamics.

To deliver on the above, a facilitator needs to build their skills and competencies as detailed in the RMPP Facilitator role description.

To create a highly engaging and effective group session, an effective facilitator will:

  • be clear about the purpose of the session and ensure the group has a shared understanding of the purpose
  • select appropriate activities and processes
  • provide a suitable environment and space
  • encourage full group participation
  • support the group by listening, clarifying, questioning, sometimes challenging and summarising
  • share information effectively
  • run a brainstorm session to help collect all the ideas
  • be nonpartisan, not take sides, and not have pre-determined answers/outcomes
  • not do the work for the group
  • ensure the group’s work is captured (where necessary)
  • manage activity debriefs
  • be adaptable
  • manage group dynamics.

To deliver on the above, a facilitator needs to build their skills and competencies as detailed in the RMPP Facilitator role description.

 

- Be clear about the purpose of the session and ensure the group has a shared understanding of the purpose

It is essential that the facilitator is clear about the purpose for any group discussion and that the whole group agrees with this purpose.

For a one-off discussion or meeting, this might be as simple as clarifying the agenda for the time and the items for discussion at the beginning. For a group that intends working together over an extended period, it’s worth investing time at the outset negotiating and agreeing the purpose with the group, as well as establishing ground rules for how discussions will be run.

The best way to ensure the purpose of the session is met is to have a plan about how to deliver on it.

 

- Select appropriate activities and processes

The annual extension plan  for a programme should have noted expected outcomes from each activity. Where a facilitator is engaged, the extension plan should be shared with them so they can plan and run the session in a way that is most likely to achieve these outcomes.

The KASA framework described below can help you to think about which of the following changes you (as the facilitator) are trying to achieve, and therefore which activities and processes are likely to support these changes.

Kasa - Knowledge

What essential knowledge will the farmer group need to make decisions about their practice and decide whether or not change is required?

Step 1 is always to consider and identify what the group knows about a topic already, and also what misconceptions they might have about the topic. People learn best when you can help them connect new knowledge to existing, as long as that existing knowledge is correct and can provide a stable foundation for new learning.

It’s easy to overwhelm a group by trying to present every bit of knowledge about a topic collected over a lifetime. Effective facilitators avoid this trap by filtering the knowledge shared with the group – whether by farmers, facilitators or subject matter experts – down to the essentials. Links to extra information can be provided separately for those who are still hungry for it.

kAsaAttitudes

Of course practice change won’t necessarily be an automatic result of gaining new knowledge. Often, it requires a change in attitude too.

Effective facilitators pay attention to what attitude their audience begins with towards the ideas being presented (are they receptive? excited? sceptical? suspicious? fearful?). You can then either use the (positive) attitudes or consider how you can turn around some of the more negative ones that may exist in the group. This is where examples of the desired practice change already working in similar farming situations can really help.

kaSaSkills

Often the desired outcome of a facilitated session is for people to be able to do something differently. This will require the group to learn new skills. Farmers are practical hands-on people; they learn best from opportunities to practice a new skill for themselves, rather than to just hear about it or see it demonstrated by someone else.

Wherever possible, activities should include practical skills development as this is much more likely to lead to practice change than knowledge gain alone.

kasAAspirations

‘Aspirations’ can sound a bit ‘tree-huggy’, but basically what it means is that facilitators need to think about how best to motivate the group to make the desired changes.

  • How do we link the farmers’ goals (aspirations) to the activity the group is participating in?
  • Will farmers need time to reflect on new information and then ask questions?
  • Will farmers need activities that walk them through a new process step-by-step, so new skills are broken down into achievable and memorable chunks?
  • Will farmers need to see and hear about case studies that illustrate how making the desired practice change has benefited other farm businesses?
  • Will they need time and a supportive structure to plan how they can apply the new information or practice change into their own specific farm situation?
  • Will it help the group to have anticipated things that might go wrong, or challenges that could hinder adopting the new practice, so they can think about how best to avoid or mitigate these before they even start?
  • Will farmers need to know where else they can go to for help and advice after the session, if they need it?
  • Will there need to be a follow-up after a certain amount of time, so the group can share their challenges and successes with each other?

Effective facilitators build these kinds of processes into their sessions so that the group leaves feeling motivated and confident to undertake the desired changes. The farmers need to know they’re capable of making these changes.

 

- Provide a suitable environment and space

Deciding what will make a suitable environment and space for any facilitated session will depend on the following factors:

  • How large the group is – you’ll need sufficient space for people to feel comfortable, rather than cramped. Remember: farmers are used to wide open spaces! You’ll also need plenty of room to break into smaller groups at times during the day.
  • Where the various members attending are located – some groups may be comfortable travelling some distance to a session, others may not.
  • What activities are planned for the session – practical activities may require a certain amount of space, or even access to equipment (including computers) or on-farm time to properly allow for any necessary skills practice.
  • How long the session is – there may be a need for refreshments partway through, as well as bathroom facilities suitable for both men and women.

 

- Encourage full group participation

A key role for the facilitator is making sure that everyone within the group participates, is heard, and asks questions. There may be some people in the group that are more vocal and confident, and perhaps more articulate, than others. But everyone – loud or quiet – will have useful input to give.

Effective facilitators are quick to read these differences within a group, and manage things in a way that encourages full group participation. Techniques that can help achieve this include:

  • Negotiating and agreeing ground rules for discussion, so that everyone feels it is a safe space and that their ideas will be respected and valued.
  • Positioning yourself (as the facilitator) so you are next to a particularly vocal member of the group – if it’s harder for them to make eye contact with you, it’s often more difficult for them to monopolise the conversation.
  • Asking everyone to take a moment to jot down their ideas before sharing them with the wider group – this can allow those people that want or need a bit more time to think through their response or question to do so, without being sidelined by more vocal participants.
  • Taking this one step further, you could employ a think-pair-share technique: ask group members to think first of their own ideas or response, then pair up with someone else for a brief discussion, before regathering as a group to share ideas.
  • Gently inviting people by name who haven’t spoken yet to contribute to the conversation.
  • If you’re running a series of small group activities, asking different people to report back each time so that the role is shared around the group.
  • In extreme cases, touching base with an especially vocal person outside of the group time – explain your concerns (diplomatically) and ask the person for their ideas on how more equal participation can be encouraged.

It may also be important for you to think about whether there are times and situations when it is appropriate to include the whole farm team – partners and staff as well as farm owners – and how to best do this.

 

- Support the group by listening, clarifying, questioning, sometimes challenging and summarising

These communication skills – listening, clarifying, questioning, challenging and summarising – are key to any facilitator’s success. Facilitators need to use all these skills to help farmers articulate the issues that are affecting their farm’s performance, or identify the factors that would lead to successful outcomes.

You can read more about each of these first three skills here:

Listening skills

Clarifying and clarification

Questioning skills and techniques

When it comes to challenging, this obviously needs to be done in a diplomatic way. A good facilitator can read when a person is not saying what they really mean, and can use probing questions to try and get to the core of the issue.
Summarising is really an extension of clarification. Sometimes a group gets so immersed in a discussion that they forget where they are at. A facilitator can help at that point by summarising the conversation so far, allowing people to think more clearly about where to go next.

 

- Share information effectively

Facilitators working with farmer groups need to have some background in farming systems and/or red meat sector knowledge. This will allow them to better:

  • evaluate farmers’ existing levels of knowledge
  • judge the appropriate level of information that needs to be provided
  • talk in a language the farmers relate to
  • draw on personal experiences and examples that can give context to the information being shared. 

However, it’s not essential for the facilitator to have this background. Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) can also be used as presenters within a session, either in person or via video. This will allow the information to be delivered from a credible source. It’s important that anyone selected as an expert has good communication skills, and is clear on the purpose of their presentation, so that they stick to the essential information. Ideally the expert involved also understands what good facilitation is.

 

- Run a brainstorm session to help collect all the ideas

Brainstorms can be a great tool for:

  • generating lots of ideas in a short amount of time
  • encouraging creative thinking and solutions
  • providing a platform for group members to build on each other’s ideas and knowledge
  • drawing out the wide range of experience and knowledge from a group
  • building a collaborative feeling amongst members of the group.

See the earlier section on brainstorming  in these guidelines for tips on how to run an effective brainstorming session, and useful ground rules for making these sessions productive.

 

- Be nonpartisan, not take sides, and not have pre-determined answers/outcomes

Any facilitator, whether it’s a result of their prior thinking and researching of a topic or idea, or through the process of facilitating the group itself, will have a position or view about a particular topic, technique, technology or practice.

A good facilitator knows how to keep objective, suspend judgment, and encourage alternative views. It’s not easy, but this is essential if you are to maintain credibility with the group. Keep conscious control over what you are saying (and not saying) or doing (and not doing). Remember – your role is to facilitate farmer conversations, not just share your own knowledge.

 

- Not do the work for the group

If the facilitator is doing all the work, something is wrong. A facilitator’s role is to provide a structure and environment for the group itself to do the work and get to the desired outcome. Effective facilitators know that sessions work best when they:

  • plan activities that allow the group to get involved
  • ask questions rather than give answers
  • listen more and talk less
  • feel comfortable with letting a session or discussion take on its own direction (while still keeping the overall purpose and desired outcomes in mind).

Aim for 70:30 – farmers talk/work for 70% of the time; the facilitator is instructing/talking for 30% of the time (maximum).

 

- Ensure the group’s work is captured (where necessary)

Great facilitators keep these principles in mind:

  • Not everything has to be recorded – it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that everything that is important needs to be recorded somehow, or that everything that is recorded is important.
  • The best people to keep a record of the group’s work are the participants themselves, not the facilitator. By engaging the group to do the recording rather than doing it yourself, you will find that any record made tends to focus on what is actually important to the group, as well as being in a format and language that is meaningful to them.

Ways to keep a record of the group’s work can include:

  • Capturing ideas to a whiteboard or flipchart, and then circulating a photo of these after the session as part of your follow-up.
  • Providing participants with a worksheet or paper-based planning template for them to record their own ideas during the session.
  • Asking a representative from the group to take responsibility for capturing and circulating a brief summary of any discussion points after the event. If the group meets regularly, members could take turns at doing this role.

 

Manage activity debriefs

Activities within a session work best when there is a debrief aspect included in them – giving the group time to reflect on what just happened, what has been learned from it, and how they might apply it to their own farm businesses.

Good facilitators use their strong questioning skills to support this process. Some questions that can be useful during a debrief include:

  • Based on what you’ve just heard, what would be one thing you’d start doing, one thing you’ll stop doing, and one thing you’ll continue doing?
  • What is the significance of [xyz] for your farming business?
  • What was your ‘Aha!’ moment during that discussion/activity?
  • What’s one thing you could take away from this activity that you can use back on the farm?
  • What’s the one thing you learned from that activity, which if you started doing now, could make a big difference to your farm’s performance?
  • What’s one thing you’ve heard or learned that you’ll take back to share with the rest of your farm team?

These questions could be answered verbally for the members of the group, or they can be provided on a worksheet to encourage the group to record their reflections to take away and review later. They can also be used (or adapted) to debrief a session as a whole.

Want more ideas about debriefs?

This collection of Memorable Debrief Techniques could spark all sorts of ideas for you.

 

- Be adaptable

It’s important to have a plan, so that both you (as the facilitator) and the group know where you’re heading. That said, there’s also a need to be flexible at times – knowing when to set the plan aside for a bit, to tackle whatever it is that may be blocking the group’s progress towards the desired outcome.

A good facilitator can respond to the way in which discussions are developing and adjust the format, or even the content, of a session accordingly, while keeping the end outcome in mind.

 

- Manage group dynamics

In any group there are likely to be different personalities, motivations and interests, and these can sometimes make for a challenging group dynamic. It may be that someone displays an aggressive attitude towards someone else in the group, or they don’t get actively involved in the session, or even that they dominate the discussion or try to highjack the session for their own purposes.

A good facilitator will:

  • be attuned to the dynamics within the group
  • be alert for signs of disconnection or conflict
  • actively manage the situation, where necessary.

 

 

Want more information about how to manage group dynamics?

For a discussion on the impacts of challenging group dynamics and an 8-step process for resolving conflict within a group, see Managing Group Dynamics.

 

Want to read more about facilitating and the skills facilitators need?

This collection of Basic Group Techniques gives simple, useful ideas for helping groups work more effectively together.

And here’s a great overview of the things you need to know to Facilitate Effective Meetings.

 

What skills does a facilitator need?

To create a highly engaging and effective group session, an effective facilitator will:

  • be clear about the purpose of the session and ensure the group has a shared understanding of the purpose
  • select appropriate activities and processes
  • provide a suitable environment and space
  • encourage full group participation
  • support the group by listening, clarifying, questioning, sometimes challenging and summarising
  • share information effectively
  • run a brainstorm session to help collect all the ideas
  • be nonpartisan, not take sides, and not have pre-determined answers/outcomes
  • not do the work for the group
  • ensure the group’s work is captured (where necessary)
  • manage activity debriefs
  • be adaptable
  • manage group dynamics.

To deliver on the above, a facilitator needs to build their skills and competencies as detailed in the RMPP Facilitator role description.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

- Be clear about the purpose of the session and ensure the group has a shared understanding of the purpose

It is essential that the facilitator is clear about the purpose for any group discussion and that the whole group agrees with this purpose.

For a one-off discussion or meeting, this might be as simple as clarifying the agenda for the time and the items for discussion at the beginning. For a group that intends working together over an extended period, it’s worth investing time at the outset negotiating and agreeing the purpose with the group, as well as establishing ground rules for how discussions will be run.

The best way to ensure the purpose of the session is met is to have a plan about how to deliver on it.

 

- Select appropriate activities and processes

The annual extension plan for a programme should have noted expected outcomes from each activity. Where a facilitator is engaged, the extension plan should be shared with them so they can plan and run the session in a way that is most likely to achieve these outcomes.

The KASA framework described below can help you to think about which of the following changes you (as the facilitator) are trying to achieve, and therefore which activities and processes are likely to support these changes.

Kasa - Knowledge

What essential knowledge will the farmer group need to make decisions about their practice and decide whether or not change is required?

Step 1 is always to consider and identify what the group knows about a topic already, and also what misconceptions they might have about the topic. People learn best when you can help them connect new knowledge to existing, as long as that existing knowledge is correct and can provide a stable foundation for new learning.

It’s easy to overwhelm a group by trying to present every bit of knowledge about a topic collected over a lifetime. Effective facilitators avoid this trap by filtering the knowledge shared with the group – whether by farmers, facilitators or subject matter experts – down to the essentials. Links to extra information can be provided separately for those who are still hungry for it.

kAsa - Attitudes

Of course practice change won’t necessarily be an automatic result of gaining new knowledge. Often, it requires a change in attitude too.

Effective facilitators pay attention to what attitude their audience begins with towards the ideas being presented (are they receptive? excited? sceptical? suspicious? fearful?). You can then either use the (positive) attitudes or consider how you can turn around some of the more negative ones that may exist in the group. This is where examples of the desired practice change already working in similar farming situations can really help.

kaSaSkills

Often the desired outcome of a facilitated session is for people to be able to do something differently. This will require the group to learn new skills. Farmers are practical hands-on people; they learn best from opportunities to practice a new skill for themselves, rather than to just hear about it or see it demonstrated by someone else.

Wherever possible, activities should include practical skills development as this is much more likely to lead to practice change than knowledge gain alone.

kasA - Aspirations

‘Aspirations’ can sound a bit ‘tree-huggy’, but basically what it means is that facilitators need to think about how best to motivate the group to make the desired changes.

  • How do we link the farmers’ goals (aspirations) to the activity the group is participating in?
  • Will farmers need time to reflect on new information and then ask questions?
  • Will farmers need activities that walk them through a new process step-by-step, so new skills are broken down into achievable and memorable chunks?
  • Will farmers need to see and hear about case studies that illustrate how making the desired practice change has benefited other farm businesses?
  • Will they need time and a supportive structure to plan how they can apply the new information or practice change into their own specific farm situation?
  • Will it help the group to have anticipated things that might go wrong, or challenges that could hinder adopting the new practice, so they can think about how best to avoid or mitigate these before they even start?
  • Will farmers need to know where else they can go to for help and advice after the session, if they need it?
  • Will there need to be a follow-up after a certain amount of time, so the group can share their challenges and successes with each other?
  • Effective facilitators build these kinds of processes into their sessions so that the group leaves feeling motivated and confident to undertake the desired changes. The farmers need to know they’re capable of making these changes.

 

- Provide a suitable environment and space

Deciding what will make a suitable environment and space for any facilitated session will depend on the following factors:

How large the group is – you’ll need sufficient space for people to feel comfortable, rather than cramped. Remember: farmers are used to wide open spaces! You’ll also need plenty of room to break into smaller groups at times during the day.
Where the various members attending are located – some groups may be comfortable travelling some distance to a session, others may not.
What activities are planned for the session – practical activities may require a certain amount of space, or even access to equipment (including computers) or on-farm time to properly allow for any necessary skills practice.
How long the session is – there may be a need for refreshments partway through, as well as bathroom facilities suitable for both men and women.

- Encourage full group participation

A key role for the facilitator is making sure that everyone within the group participates, is heard, and asks questions. There may be some people in the group that are more vocal and confident, and perhaps more articulate, than others. But everyone – loud or quiet – will have useful input to give.

Effective facilitators are quick to read these differences within a group, and manage things in a way that encourages full group participation. Techniques that can help achieve this include:

Negotiating and agreeing ground rules for discussion, so that everyone feels it is a safe space and that their ideas will be respected and valued.
Positioning yourself (as the facilitator) so you are next to a particularly vocal member of the group – if it’s harder for them to make eye contact with you, it’s often more difficult for them to monopolise the conversation.
Asking everyone to take a moment to jot down their ideas before sharing them with the wider group – this can allow those people that want or need a bit more time to think through their response or question to do so, without being sidelined by more vocal participants.
Taking this one step further, you could employ a think-pair-share technique: ask group members to think first of their own ideas or response, then pair up with someone else for a brief discussion, before regathering as a group to share ideas.
Gently inviting people by name who haven’t spoken yet to contribute to the conversation.
If you’re running a series of small group activities, asking different people to report back each time so that the role is shared around the group.
In extreme cases, touching base with an especially vocal person outside of the group time – explain your concerns (diplomatically) and ask the person for their ideas on how more equal participation can be encouraged.
It may also be important for you to think about whether there are times and situations when it is appropriate to include the whole farm team – partners and staff as well as farm owners – and how to best do this.

 

- Support the group by listening, clarifying, questioning, sometimes challenging and summarising

These communication skills – listening, clarifying, questioning, challenging and summarising – are key to any facilitator’s success. Facilitators need to use all these skills to help farmers articulate the issues that are affecting their farm’s performance, or identify the factors that would lead to successful outcomes.

You can read more about each of these first three skills here:

Listening skills

Clarifying and clarification

Questioning skills and techniques

When it comes to challenging, this obviously needs to be done in a diplomatic way. A good facilitator can read when a person is not saying what they really mean, and can use probing questions to try and get to the core of the issue.
Summarising is really an extension of clarification. Sometimes a group gets so immersed in a discussion that they forget where they are at. A facilitator can help at that point by summarising the conversation so far, allowing people to think more clearly about where to go next.

 

- Share information effectively

Facilitators working with farmer groups need to have some background in farming systems and/or red meat sector knowledge. This will allow them to better:

evaluate farmers’ existing levels of knowledge
judge the appropriate level of information that needs to be provided
talk in a language the farmers relate to
draw on personal experiences and examples that can give context to the information being shared.
However, it’s not essential for the facilitator to have this background. Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) can also be used as presenters within a session, either in person or via video. This will allow the information to be delivered from a credible source. It’s important that anyone selected as an expert has good communication skills, and is clear on the purpose of their presentation, so that they stick to the essential information. Ideally the expert involved also understands what good facilitation is.

 

- Run a brainstorm session to help collect all the ideas

Brainstorms can be a great tool for:

  • generating lots of ideas in a short amount of time
  • encouraging creative thinking and solutions
  • providing a platform for group members to build on each other’s ideas and knowledge
  • drawing out the wide range of experience and knowledge from a group
  • building a collaborative feeling amongst members of the group.

See the earlier section on brainstorming in these guidelines for tips on how to run an effective brainstorming session, and useful ground rules for making these sessions productive.

 

- Be nonpartisan, not take sides, and not have pre-determined answers/outcomes

Any facilitator, whether it’s a result of their prior thinking and researching of a topic or idea, or through the process of facilitating the group itself, will have a position or view about a particular topic, technique, technology or practice.

A good facilitator knows how to keep objective, suspend judgment, and encourage alternative views. It’s not easy, but this is essential if you are to maintain credibility with the group. Keep conscious control over what you are saying (and not saying) or doing (and not doing). Remember – your role is to facilitate farmer conversations, not just share your own knowledge.

 

- Not do the work for the group

If the facilitator is doing all the work, something is wrong. A facilitator’s role is to provide a structure and environment for the group itself to do the work and get to the desired outcome. Effective facilitators know that sessions work best when they:

  • plan activities that allow the group to get involved
  • ask questions rather than give answers
  • listen more and talk less
  • feel comfortable with letting a session or discussion take on its own direction (while still keeping the overall purpose and desired outcomes in mind).

Aim for 70:30 – farmers talk/work for 70% of the time; the facilitator is instructing/talking for 30% of the time (maximum).

 

- Ensure the group’s work is captured (where necessary)

Great facilitators keep these principles in mind:

  • Not everything has to be recorded – it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that everything that is important needs to be recorded somehow, or that everything that is recorded is important.
  • The best people to keep a record of the group’s work are the participants themselves, not the facilitator. By engaging the group to do the recording rather than doing it yourself, you will find that any record made tends to focus on what is actually important to the group, as well as being in a format and language that is meaningful to them.

Ways to keep a record of the group’s work can include:

  • Capturing ideas to a whiteboard or flipchart, and then circulating a photo of these after the session as part of your follow-up.
  • Providing participants with a worksheet or paper-based planning template for them to record their own ideas during the session.

Asking a representative from the group to take responsibility for capturing and circulating a brief summary of any discussion points after the event. If the group meets regularly, members could take turns at doing this role.

Manage activity debriefs

Activities within a session work best when there is a debrief aspect included in them – giving the group time to reflect on what just happened, what has been learned from it, and how they might apply it to their own farm businesses.

Good facilitators use their strong questioning skills to support this process. Some questions that can be useful during a debrief include:

  • Based on what you’ve just heard, what would be one thing you’d start doing, one thing you’ll stop doing, and one thing you’ll continue doing?
  • What is the significance of [xyz] for your farming business?
  • What was your ‘Aha!’ moment during that discussion/activity?
  • What’s one thing you could take away from this activity that you can use back on the farm?
  • What’s the one thing you learned from that activity, which if you started doing now, could make a big difference to your farm’s performance?
  • What’s one thing you’ve heard or learned that you’ll take back to share with the rest of your farm team?

These questions could be answered verbally for the members of the group, or they can be provided on a worksheet to encourage the group to record their reflections to take away and review later. They can also be used (or adapted) to debrief a session as a whole.

Want more ideas about debriefs?

This collection of Memorable Debrief Techniques could spark all sorts of ideas for you.

 

- Be adaptable

It’s important to have a plan, so that both you (as the facilitator) and the group know where you’re heading. That said, there’s also a need to be flexible at times – knowing when to set the plan aside for a bit, to tackle whatever it is that may be blocking the group’s progress towards the desired outcome.

A good facilitator can respond to the way in which discussions are developing and adjust the format, or even the content, of a session accordingly, while keeping the end outcome in mind.

 

- Manage group dynamics

In any group there are likely to be different personalities, motivations and interests, and these can sometimes make for a challenging group dynamic. It may be that someone displays an aggressive attitude towards someone else in the group, or they don’t get actively involved in the session, or even that they dominate the discussion or try to highjack the session for their own purposes.

A good facilitator will:

  • be attuned to the dynamics within the group
  • be alert for signs of disconnection or conflict
  • actively manage the situation, where necessary.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Want more information about how to manage group dynamics?

For a discussion on the impacts of challenging group dynamics and an 8-step process for resolving conflict within a group, see Managing Group Dynamics.

Want to read more about facilitating and the skills facilitators need?

This collection of Basic Group Techniques gives simple, useful ideas for helping groups work more effectively together.

And here’s a great overview of the things you need to know to Facilitate Effective Meetings.

Creative Facilitation gives a comprehensive coverage of the facilitation process and the characteristics and skills required to be an effective facilitator.

 

Some tips and tricks to get you started

Here are a few ideas to get you started.

Get clarity on the kind of facilitation you will be required to do

Will you be facilitating a one-off, short discussion group, or involved in a workshop session, or take responsibility for planning and facilitating a whole series of different events? Knowing exactly what your role will be will help you prepare in the best way.

If you’re also going to be playing the role of connector for the group, make sure you have read the section Becoming an effective connector in these guidelines.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Evaluate your current skill and knowledge level

Think about the skills and knowledge you’ve read about here that effective facilitators have.

  • Are there areas you could improve in?
  • How could you go about doing that?

 

Reflect on your own prior experiences of facilitators

We can learn a lot from observing others. You will no doubt have attended a meeting or participated in a training session in the past that involved a facilitator. Think about that experience, and ask yourself these questions:

  • What did this person do to set up the group as a positive environment for everyone to feel safe in contributing? What else could they have done?
  • How did they engage the group and encourage participation? What else could they have done to make this even better?
  • How did they present information? Was this an effective way to do it? What else might have worked?
  • Where there any difficult group dynamics the facilitator had to manage? What did they do? How successful was their approach?

Whether it was a positive or negative experience, use it as an opportunity to learn and improve your own facilitation skills.

Opportunities for further facilitator skills training

RMPP will provide facilitators with training, as well as useful resources including:

  • the Facilitators’ Handbook
  • the Facilitators’ Library  – a library of facilitator tips, tools and resources
  • an approval process for facilitators, tracking those being trained and working with Action Groups.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In addition, there is training available in the public sector that could prove useful to you as you develop your facilitation skills. Groups like Toastmasters and Centres for Continuing Education at your local high school, polytechnic or university, offer training in general communication skills as well as specific facilitation skills workshops. Do a Google search and see what’s available in your local area.

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