The Facilitation Toolkit is a resource for facilitators, in any learning cycle, that shares the skills and practices we have used to engage group process, build shared leadership and facilitate collective learning.

The toolkit offers strategies to help you hold the center in creating supportive and transformative experiences for your community of practice.

Created after the March 2017 UACT 6-part facilitation training series sponsored by Ethics and the Common Good, contributors include: Javiera Benavente, Desta Cantave, Rose Carr, Olivia Espinoza, Luis Guevara, Kristie Herman, Alina Ortiz-Salvatierra, Jules Peterson, Kali Ransom, Adam Rejto, Emily-Rose Brown, Emma Rothman, Tony Santacruz, Maya Sungold, Justin Taft-Morales, Teal Van Dyck and Edd Yearby.

Contents

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Making A Container

Community Norms

Norms that you make together as a group. This is a living document that asks, what do you need from yourself and others in the group in order to be present and able to participate at your fullest? These are agreements you make collectively about how you want to communicate and be with one another in the space. It can be helpful to come to the space with some prepared, such as: being on time, confidentiality, welcoming all feelings, etc.

Resonance

This is a form of active listening. Resonance asks the listener to pay attention to the moments in the storyteller’s story when they felt right there with them. After the story is finished, you say back to the storyteller those moments that you felt something in your body, usually using their same words. For example, “I was right there with you when you said…” or “I resonated with you when you said…” It is not necessary that you experienced the moments that you resonate with, it is about just noticing what came up in your body.

Resonance is NOT:  
Asking questions
Telling your own story
Making meaning
Sharing judgements, opinions, or giving advice
One upping or one downing

Affirmation

There is not enough affirmation in many group dialogue or discussion spaces. Everyone needs more affirmation in our society because of the ways systems of oppression tear us down. Affirming those who take the risk to speak in the space you facilitate is important. Affirmation is one of those tools best paired with other tools. Affirm and ask clarifying questions to anyone who speaks up in the space. For example, “I really appreciate you saying that, can you share more about what you mean when you say that word…” Or sometimes you need to affirm and remind someone of the group’s community agreements if they have spoken or acted otherwise. It is a versatile tool and can be used wherever needed.

Learning Objectives

Your learning objectives or goals for the space you’re facilitating come from asking yourself/your co-facilitator(s), what do we want people to leave with after this workshop, meeting, or gathering? What do we want people to feel after this experience? What are we hoping to accomplish as a group? These questions will lead you to your goals. 2-3 goals are usually all you can do in a 1-2 hour workshop and making them relatively simple can be helpful sometimes, but will depend on your context.

Some examples of learning objectives are:
Participants will begin to build community with one another.
We will cultivate spaces of knowledge and skill development around [these themes].

Modeling

It is important to model whatever you are asking your participants to do. For example, if you would like people to be vulnerable in the space you’re facilitating, it is important to first model vulnerability. The same can go for a game or simple activity; model it first for the group before asking others to do it.

Transparency

Being transparent as a facilitator allows your participants to know what you are doing and your role. It sets up a norm of transparency and honesty within the space. One way to do this would be to write out the agenda on a flip for everyone to see, so all can have a sense of what is to come and feel prepared. Another way to do this is when someone asks you a question you don’t know the answer to, affirm that question, be honest about your knowledge around it, invite the group to respond, and support them in finding resources towards answering that question.

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Community-building / Relationship-building

Check ins

Usually done in the beginning of a workshop, meeting, or gathering. This tool involves everyone in the space checking in about how they are doing and what they are bringing to the space. It’s a chance to allow and affirm each other as emotional and physical beings. Sometimes check ins can be paired with introductions and pronoun go arounds.

Temperature reads

When you are making a decision as a facilitator about time or changing your agenda and want to get a feel for what your participants think, you can lead a temperature read. This is an exercise where everyone closes their eyes and either gives a thumbs up, side thumb, or thumbs down to indicate how they feel about the change you are proposing.

Storytelling

Sharing a personal story about your life and experiences with the group and in turn listening to others’ personal stories too. It is helpful to offer a structured prompt to guide people towards a story that recognizes support, though this does not always have to be your goal. Can be done as a big group or in smaller groups/pairs.

Shared text

Depending on your space’s context and needs, it can be supportive to bring a reading, video, or other media that you’ve asked everyone to engage with prior or offer during the workshop, meeting, or gathering. This is a shared resource that can be used to develop understanding around a specific topic or have people share personal stories connected to the text. When we are in a new space there are so many things we can talk about because we are all coming from different places, literally and figuratively. Shared text can ground people in being in that space together.

Games

Playful activities and games allow people to use multiple parts of their nervous systems and brains! Our nervous system is always checking for signs of safety in any social situation. Games, play, and laughter allow our nervous systems and our bodies to relax and feel connected, even if we are just meeting one another for the first time.

Continued engagement outside the space

This tool makes sense for ongoing meetings or gatherings, in which having structured engagement after the facilitated space would support the overall work everyone is doing together. This can look like breaking bread or playing games together. It can also look like having meetings in beautiful spaces or going on field trips together.

Co-facilitation / Support

This tool asks you to think about what kind of support you need to facilitate your best. Sometimes this means working with another facilitator that has complimentary skills and gifts to you. Sometimes this means asking a friend to help you with setup and cleanup. Sometimes this means having a different person in your group take responsibility for different parts of the facilitation – make sure people consent to this beforehand and feel confident about their role or what they are able to contribute. Usually support for facilitation involves more people. While reaching out for support and sharing leadership can be a growing edge for many of us, it can also make the process easier and more fulfilling.

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Communication

Agenda

An agenda is your plan for the workshop, meeting, or gathering. You can also choose to list the times for how long you want to spend on each activity or topic dialogue.

Go around

A check in, prompt, question, or topic goes around the group and each person is given the same opportunity to share their thoughts.

Pair shares

A pair share is when two people share with one another for a given period of time, usually responding to a prompt given to the group by a facilitator. Sometimes this can be an active listening activity or trust building activity, depending on the space’s context or the group’s needs. You can also do this activity as a triad (three people).

Group activities / Small groups

It is helpful to have a mixture of big group discussions and activities, as well as small group time. This allows people with different learning styles to participate fully.

Dialogue

This is when you invite the group to share together. Dialogue is different from discussion. Discussion involves a group talking about a subject with the goals of sharing information but not necessarily building knowledge. The key component of dialogue is listening to respond and build knowledge with what has already been said in the group. It is more focused on building knowledge together than only sharing information in a group.

Active listening

If you are leading anything that offers storytelling or requires collective decision making, teaching active listening or creating space for people to practice active listening can be really helpful. Everyone needs to feel heard and listened to in order to be happy and healthy. A way to bring active listening into a space can be to ask the group to name ways they know someone is listening to them (this can be different for different people, culturally and experientially). Then do an active listening pair share where one person talks for 2-3 minutes and the other person just listens. Then switch. Afterwards, you can open up the space to let the group debrief how that felt.

This can also work in groups of three, where there’s 1 listener, 1 talker, and 1 observer. The talker speaks and the listener listens for 2 minutes. The observer notices what the listener does to show they are listening and then relays what they saw after the 2 minutes are up. Then everyone switches so each person gets a chance to be in each role.

Nonverbal communication

So much of facilitation is about communication, so it is also important to recognize the ways you communicate nonverbally. Do you have open body language when you are facilitating? What do you want to communicate to your participants with your body language? It is equally important to pay attention to the body language of the participants. What is their body language telling you about their engagement with or experience in the space you are facilitating? Follow up questions can be a good way to assess if what you’re picking up from participants’ body language matches their experience.

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Wholeness / Wellness

(Bio)breaks

If your workshop, meeting, or gathering is more than an hour long (and sometimes even in that time frame) it is important to offer bio breaks, breaks for our bodies to do whatever they need to in order to be present. This can be going to the bathroom, getting some water, moving around, or getting some fresh air, whatever folks need.

Snacks

Having food/snacks at any workshop, meeting, or gathering can create a more welcoming space that invites everyone to feel nourished.

Breathing / Meditation

It can be helpful after people are vulnerable with one another to take a collective deep breath; sometimes more than one can be a needed release. Leading everyone in a deep breath or guided meditation can ground people in the present and in their bodies, which can support the work you are doing together.

Movement

Similar to breathing/meditation, movement can support people in releasing energy kinetically. This can be a movement game or a collective shake/wiggle to let go of stuck energy.

Wellness Stations

Having a specific space set aside in the room you are facilitating with objects or food that support wellness can make participants feel welcome and held from the moment they enter the space. This is a form of caring for people even before you begin to work together. There can be an electric kettle for tea, smooth rocks, flower essences to support the heart or body, aromatherapy like essential oils, or granola bars. These things and more can support a wellness station.

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Accessibility

Pronoun go around

This is an important tool usually used in the beginning of a workshop, meeting, or gathering for creating a trans and non-binary inclusive space. We use pronouns to refer to one another all the time, and we cannot know someone’s gender or how to refer to them unless we create space for everyone to share their pronouns. Some possible pronouns are they/them, she/her, he/him.

Flips / Visuals

A flip or flip chart is usually a large piece of paper that facilitators use to share information and/or record knowledge being generated by the group. This can be any visual representation or support for what is happening in the space when you meet.

Tactile activities

Activities that allow people to use their senses and bodies can be engaging and helpful to your overall goals.

For example, you can use this check in game that asks everyone to use their voice and body to express themselves and then has the whole group recognize each person’s expression through mirroring. In this game, everyone picks a gesture and sound that describes how they are feeling. Then you go around and share your gesture. After each person shares, the rest of the group mirrors them. The game usually evokes laughter and softens anyone’s judgements or suspicions of the space.

Accessibility support

It is both helpful and crucial to have a person or group of people who are attending to needs that may be present in the space. They should be easy to find and access, whether through an accessibility support station (defined below) or other easily identifiable ways.

Accessibility support stations

A physical station or space where differently abled folks and allies can find information that will support their accessibility needs. This information can include accessible bathrooms, workshop entrances and exits, etc. It can also be tailored to the specific needs of those you know are coming to your particular space. For example, if someone is coming who is deaf it is important to have support for them by offering someone who can sign in the space and have visuals be a part of your facilitation.

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Processing, Reflection + Evaluation

Clarifying questions

We all have different experiences and perspectives on almost everything so it’s important to create a space where questions and curiosities are supported. Asking simple questions about what someone meant when they said this or to elaborate on that concept can really help the whole group understand more.

Reflection

Asking people to reflect on an activity or exercise you do together can help deepen the experience and give everyone important information about how they were affected. This can look like a prompted free write or prompted pair share and then bringing the group back together to share out so people can hear what one another are thinking and feeling.  

KLPDQs / Evaluation

Evaluation is an important tool for a facilitator to get information on how effective their facilitation was and how it impacted the participants. It can also help you know what people need in the space in the future.

KLPDQs are one evaluation tool. It stands for Key Learnings, Plus’s, Delta’s (it would be better if…), and Key Questions. This structure allows the group to share out different times in the facilitation that fit into these categories.

Additional resources from outside space

It is very helpful to have resources available to anyone in your workshop, meeting, or gathering relevant to the purpose of your space. It is very likely that what you are doing has been done before or is happening somewhere else in the country or world. Giving people more access to that can support the work you all are doing together. These resources can include readings, websites and blogs, podcasts, and other media, among many.

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Follow-up / Resources

Looking for more? Here’s a small list of further resources to get you started.

In Print

  • + Unlocking the Magic of Facilitation, Meg Bolger & Sam Killermann
  • + Teaching to Transgress, bell hooks
  • + We Make the Road by Walking, Myles Horton & Paulo Freire
  • + Emergent Strategy, adrienne maree brown
  • + Collective Visioning, Linda Stout
  • + Braiding Sweetgrass, Robin Wall Kimmerer
  • + The Next American Revolution, Grace Lee Boggs
  • + Leadership and the New Science, Margaret Wheatley

Online

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