For most episodes of engagement and consultation CCGs have prepared themselves by making sure key spokespeople undertake media training. This is all good practice but when it comes down to the real hands on work of stakeholder workshops, focus groups and roundtable discussions NHS managers and clinicians are often just ‘volunteered’ to be facilitators. Sometimes this works well but often it can have disastrous consequences.
Without proper training ‘volunteered’ facilitators can fall into many traps. They might:
- Join in the debate and answer people’s questions – not listen and facilitate
- Rebut statements that they believe to be untrue – not listen and facilitate
- Lead the discussion down a route they prefer – not listen and facilitate
- Discourage people from participating – not listen and facilitate
- Allow confident or aggressive people to dominate discussions – not listen and facilitate
- Become embroiled in one-to-one arguments with participants– not listen and facilitate
- Allow silent people to drift out of the discussions – not listen and facilitate
- Passively discourage everyone from having their say and taking part – not listen and facilitate
Any of the above actions can make participants feel that their contribution is not valued and that the activity they are involved in is not genuine. This feeling can in turn undermine the whole credibility of the engagement and consultation process because people talk about their experience and word of mouth communication matters (especially when played out on social media). So poor facilitating can actually do as much harm, or more harm, than a bad media interview.
Good ‘volunteer’ facilitators therefore need to learn skills like:
- How to act as a facilitator and the expected qualities (e.g. empathy, listening and orchestrating a fair discussion)
- The purpose topic guides and how semi-structured dialogues work in practice
- The techniques for dealing with group dynamics (e.g. managing difficult people, people with a lot to say and people with a little to say )
- How to be a good listener? How to look like a good listener? How to ask questions like a good listener?
- How to use prompts to encourage participation and flush out insight?
- The importance of body language and how to be seen to listening and engaged?
- The importance of note taking, group feedback and replaying key points.
Some of these attributes come naturally to some people, others can be learned. So please don’t undervalue the importance of a good facilitator and make sure your volunteers are well trained.
If think your organisation would benefit from facilitator training please contact Jonathan Bradley (firstname.lastname@example.org)