Its critical to remember that core facilitation practices must always be reflected in the manor, style, and behaviors (including body-language) exhibited by the facilitator throughout the process.

Stay neutral on content

The community engagement facilitator's job is to focus on the community engagement process overall and process for meetings being facilitated. The facilitator should avoid the temptation to offer opinions about the issue or topic under discussion. Facilitators should use suggestions or questions to introduce ideas about the topic being discussed that spring to mind.

There will be times that some individuals will ask the facilitator to express their opinion about a topic or issue or about a decision being made by the group. If you are asked to express your opinion or about content you should stress that your role is to help them understand the opinions of the group or team members and that expressing your opinion could decrease your ability to facilitate the engagement process. You have three options to respond to requests about content:

  1. Redirect the question to someone likely to have the right answer or refer it to the whole group.
  2. Defer any questions that are beyond the expertise or scope of anyone present and commit to get back to the group with an answer later.
  3. Provide the answer yourself only as the last resort, or when you are the only person who can come up with the right answer.

Listen actively

Active listening is a practice that demonstrates that you value the group members' participation in and contribution to the discussion. Facilitators look people in the eye, use attentive body language and paraphrase what they heard to demonstrate that speakers are being heard. Always look people in the eye when they speak. The active listener focuses on what the person is saying, taking care to understand what the speaker is saying and trying to understand what they might now be saying. Paraphrase what they have said when you summarize their key ideas. Facilitators also use eye contact to let people know they can speak next or to prompt quite participants to share their opinions or ideas.

Ask questions

Asking good questions is one of the most important tools in the facilitator's arsenal. Questions test assumptions, invite participation in the discussion, gather information from other group members and probe for hidden points. Effective questions help a group to move beyond symptoms of a problem and get the root causes. (Vogt et al, 2003) (Facilitating with ease).

Paraphrase to clarify

Paraphrasing serves three purposes.

  1. Using your words to repeat what you heard them say to make sure they know they are being heard.
  2. Let other members of in the meeting hear the points made by the speaker time.
  3. To clarify the speakers main ideas.

Paraphrasing involves describing what another person's comments convey in your own words. Effective facilitators paraphrase continuously, especially if a discussion starts going in circles or if conflict seems to be heating up. This repetition of the points made by speakers helps assure participants that their contributions are being heard.

Facilitators often start their paraphrase with:
"If I understand you correctly you are saying . . . . "
"Is this an accurate understanding of your point . . . "
"What I hear you saying is . . . "

Collect ideas

Facilitators keep track of the ideas that emerge during group discussion as well as any decisions that might be made during a meeting. These ideas are normally captured on flipcharts, a whiteboard, or electronic board so that everyone can see the notes. The notes should be brief, capture the idea being shared and must reflect what the participants said, rather than an interpretation of what was said. Collecting ideas in this manner is common when larger groups are meeting (8 or more individuals). This practice is also very effective when used with smaller groups to help manage conflict, surface values and hidden agendas or identify potential goals.

Synthesize ideas

Great facilitators are able to listen closely to everything that is being said and offering a concise, accurate summary. This synthesis of ideas takes place numerous times during a meeting including: when the dialogue comes to a halt, when it is time for a transition to another topic and at the end of a meeting. Synthesizing is also a great way of helping groups see what progress is being made and what they have accomplished.


Vogt, Eric E., Juanita Brown, and David Isaacs. "The Art of Powerful Questions: Catalyzing, Insight, Innovation, and Action." Whole Systems Associates, 2003.