A group of well-trained facilitators is a key component to the dialogue process because facilitators ensure a quality and equitable discussion in each circle. Facilitators need to be good listeners and relate well to many different kinds of people. Here are five steps to recruiting and training facilitators:
1. Identify a few skilled trainers
Begin by identifying some potential trainers. You have two options: contact us to provide facilitator training tailored to the kinds of discussions you’ll have in the dialogue circles, or use a local resource.
If you choose to use a local resource to train your facilitators, ask someone whose opinion you trust to recommend a trainer. Is there a community college or university that offers courses in facilitation, mediation, or conflict resolution? Who teaches the courses? Is there a list of graduates? Is there a mediation center in town? Where does it find its mediators, and who trains them? How about corporate trainers or facilitators? Think about adding these organizations to your coalition, with the goal of having them assume this part of the work. Keep in mind that you will most likely need to pay trainers for their time.
2. Plan and schedule trainings
Facilitators should be trained a month or two before the dialogues begin. Allow at least a full day – or two half days – for the basic training. Most communities schedule additional practice time to provide more experience for new facilitators. Remember, the more training and practice facilitators have in preparation for the dialogues, the more successful they will be.
3. Recruit a diverse pool of facilitators
Your group of facilitators should be diverse, so be sure to recruit potential people from every sector of the community. Consider racial and ethnic diversity, religion, political view, sexual orientation, age, profession, age, and neighborhood. During the dialogues, it’s important to have two diverse facilitators guide the discussion. This helps the participants feel comfortable opening up and trusting the process.
Facilitators need to be comfortable with all kinds of people; have the ability to listen well and “read” group dynamics; know how to help move conversation forward, deal with different communication styles; and can guide a conversation without adding their own opinion.
Consider these groups:
- Social workers
- Group leaders from congregations
- People trained in conflict resolution
- Therapists and counselors
- Corporate facilitators
- Senior citizens
- High school or college students; students trained in peer mediation
- Educators of all ages (remember retired teachers)
- People interested in public issues
We recommend you use co-facilitators for each dialogue. While this requires recruiting and training more people, it offers several advantages:
- The pair can model diversity in race, age, gender, and other differences.
- Pairing experienced facilitators with beginners helps give new people more skills.
- It’s easier for two people to monitor the conversation.
- Responsibility can be shared for planning and implementing.
- Working in teams brings different skills to the process.
- If one facilitator can’t make it to a dialogue session, the group can still meet.
To determine how many facilitators you need to recruit, think about the number of participants you’d like to have in your dialogues. We suggest that each dialogue have between 8 and 12 participants. So, if you’re goal is to have 100 people, you will likely have about 10 dialogue circles. For each circle to have two facilitators, you’d need 20 people to facilitate the dialogues. This is the bare minimum. It’s always a good idea to recruit more than the minimum since it’s likely a few may drop out before the dialogues start.
4. Prepare materials to help facilitators succeed
You can help your facilitators do their job well by providing them with some support materials. For example, give them a written description of the overall project – its sponsors, its goals, and its scope. Be sure to include important information, such as the date, time, and location of the kickoff, and action forum. You should also give them forms (with instructions) for evaluating the process and tracking the discussion as it develops.
Another important piece is a step-by-step outline of each of the sessions, including approximate times for each part of the discussion. Pay particular attention to the final session where the dialogue focuses on action. Work with the trainers to make sure facilitators are equipped to lead brainstorming sessions, and have the necessary skills and written materials to develop, articulate, and prioritize their group’s action ideas, as they prepare for the action forum.
5. Help facilitators decide how they will handle note taking
Note taking can be a simple, effective way to capture and share the wisdom that dialogues generate. These records help create connections and they can form the basis of a report that extends the message and power of the program to the broader community. Be sure to let facilitators know what information they should be capturing and sharing from the dialogues.
Here is some note-taking guidance to share with facilitators:
- Capture the main ideas and keep track of the direction that the conversation takes.
- Use the language of the speaker when you can. Don’t paraphrase.
- Note taking should serve the discussion, not distract attention from it.
- Check your notes with the group. Did you capture what the speaker meant?
- If your group’s notes will become part of a report, be sure to write enough to make sense to someone outside the group.
- Include the date, location, session, and the group’s name.