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Five Tips for Facilitating an Inclusive Event

Participants listen intently as the CityCamp Facilitator sets the agenda for the day. Photo Credit: Steve Spiker, OpenOakland

Participants listen intently as the CityCamp Facilitator sets the agenda for the day. Photo Credit: Steve Spiker, OpenOakland

So, your huge event/hack-a-thon/un-conference/extravaganza is THIS weekend!  It is time to do a final run through of the day and double check your ready with the most essential items.

The Checklist

Confirmed location  ✓

Invited city employees and government partners ✓

Invited other local NGOs and community partners ✓

Invited everyone else I know ✓

Confirmation emails sent to attendees ✓

Order the food ✓

Order the coffee ✓

Order extra coffee ✓

Print direction signs and check-in spreadsheets ✓

Volunteers and facilitators know when to show up ✓

Phewf! From the looks of things, you’re running a tight ship and everything is in order.

Or is it?

Unfortunately, coffee + people does not equal participation or productivity. It’s important that all your facilitators are trained and ready to cultivate an active, inclusive, participatory space.

This crash course offers some easy to implement facilitation tips that can really help you create an open and inclusive space at any event; from your weekly hack night to your upcoming CodeAcross event.

Five Facilitation Tips to Try at Your Next Event

1) Give away responsibility. Facilitating is actually all about giving your participants control over the space; after all, they did not come to hear you talk. They came to share their ideas and build connections with people who share common interests. This makes your job so much more fun! If you can shed the responsibility you feel for the content of the conversation, and simply introduce the topics, ask for a note taker, and keep time, your participants will be glad to step up to the plate.

2) There is no creativity in guilt.  When discussions get heated and opposing views surface, some people might start feeling ashamed, and others might do some shaming. In the beginning, familiarize the group with your Code of Conduct, and be sure to lay some ground rules for the day. Make it clear that that all exchanges must remain respectful; no creative solutions can arise if people feel to guilty or too ashamed to share.

3) Be comfortable with silence. Hearing crickets?  That’s okay. Sometimes folks need a minute or two to let questions sink in, and let their ideas marinate. Silence is golden, allow it. It is never as long as it seems.

4) Ask reflexive questions. Still hearing crickets?  Maybe the discussion is over. Maybe a new topic can be raised. If the silence is truly too long, as the facilitator your best move to pose a reflexive question to the group. For example, “how is everyone feeling about this discussion so far?” Or, “what other topics would you like to discuss?” This will allow your participants to get in the driver seat, propose new ideas, and come up with their own follow up items.

5) Post-its, post-its, and more post-its. It turns out post-its aren’t just colorful ways to display ideas. Post-its are also an alternative way to get folks involved, so you do not have to rely on discussion as the only participation channel. Pass out post-its in the beginning, and provide a space for people to display their ideas. When the discussion wraps, you can take pictures of your post-its, which helps everyone follow up after the event much more easily.

The results of great facilitation! Photo credit: Steve Spiker

The results of great facilitation! Photo credit: Steve Spiker

With these tips in mind you and your fellow facilitators can go forth and empower others to do the same! You can test drive some of these tips at your CodeAcross event this February (register here), and share your results via forum.codeforamerica.org.

Volunteers and facilitators know when to show up…and how to cultivate action ✓

A Note About Open Space Technology

These tips were inspired by a combination of key Open Space Technology (OST) principles. I was first introduced to Open Space Technology just a few weeks ago, when attending the OpenOakland weekly hack night’s Facilitator Training for City Camp. Thanks, Spike and Eddie! Got questions about Open Space Technology?  Contact OST facilitator trainer Carla Dartis, she is awesome!