The ability to facilitate a meeting is an important part of working with the public. Being a facilitator simply means enabling or easing, making it a smooth process!

There are approaches, methods and exercises for facilitation, and attitudes, behaviours, relationships and ethics for facilitators to consider.

Grid of many faces

On the surface, it sometimes seems that facilitation is somehow neutral: surely all a facilitator does is bring people together and enable them to interact, with outcomes which emerge from the process and belong to the participants? This is theoretically possible, and may, to a degree, be desired and achieved, but more often a facilitator has an idea of where things should be going, and is far from neutral. Facilitators can, to varying degrees, set agendas, steer processes, frame analysis, and summarise conclusions. (from Participatory Methods)

Working with a group requires some understanding of how individuals are affected by being in a group, and how they can be encouraged to participate and learn in that situation. The trainer [facilitator] has two responsibilities; one is to ensure that the objectives are met – that the task is done; and the other is to maintain the kind of atmosphere that will allow this to happen. (S, Daimow. and C, Bailey. (1990) Developing Skill with People. Wiley.)

The National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) acknowledges an imbalance of power in relationships between the public, researchers and institutions. This is especially true when you work with those who may be considered as vulnerable, discriminated against, marginalised or lacking power. The role of the facilitator is to be aware those relationships, of that group dynamic and to endeavour to enable people to overcome them.

Here are some tips for facilitators to get you started:


  • Remind people of the question the group is addressing; read out the question at the beginning of the discussion.
  • Reiterate that you would like to hear from everyone who wants to contribute
  • Be positive, upbeat and enthusiastic.
  • Try to get clarity.  It’s OK to ask, "can you expand on that point?" or "can you tell us more about that?"
  • Encourage discussion and get the views of others on a point made.  Ask, "What do other people think about that point?"  It’s OK to create space for someone who hasn’t contributed: "Gary, have you got anything you would like to add?"
  • Get people back on track if the discussion has drifted away from the question: "That’s a really interesting discussion but, due to time constraints, I’m going to ask that we come back to the question."
  • You are not there to judge or give your opinion.  Ask "what are people's experiences of/thoughts on etc?"


  • Don't dominate the discussion.  Listen more than you talk.
  • Don’t get ‘hung up’ on coming to a consensus – if there is a clear difference of opinion that’s fine.  Report back on it.

(From Professor Gary Hickey, Reaching Out event Guidance for Facilitators)

  Things to consider:

  • What type of facilitator do I need to be in this situation?
  • Have I been clear about the aim/purpose of the meeting?
  • Who are the individuals in the group I am working with?
  • How does this affect the group dynamics?
  • How can I make everyone feel comfortable enough to share?
  • What can I change in the way the meeting is organised to improve this?
  • Has the group bonded?
  • Are they passive or active in the meeting?
  • What are the agendas of the individuals? Why are they at this meeting?
  • Whose are the main voices in the group discussion? Can I balance that out?

Just because someone has attended a meeting, doesn't necessarily mean they have been actively involved.

Links to Resources:

More discussion of what good facilitation looks like

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