As a Group Facilitator, I am often hired by a governmental entity or a business to manage a large public meeting (e.g., a public informational exchange about a proposed project) or to facilitate a series of meetings (e.g., for a public task force or a series of retreats to develop a strategic plan). In either case, the client is also hiring me as a conflict consultant.
Prior to facilitating a public informational meeting, I advise clients on the best strategies to:
- Make a quality, interactive presentation at the meeting.
- Respond to questions from the public in a non-confrontational way, while delivering honest information.
- Develop and present a plan for long-term interaction with those members of the public with ongoing concerns with the proposal (see The Issues Group). (If the client desires, I can be the manager of that long-term plan.)
- Most of all, I make sure that the clients understand the differences between my role as the process person and their presentation and advocacy roles.
When I facilitate a series of meetings, I can serve as an ongoing advisor to the client (typically the convener of the meetings), giving advice and counsel on:
- Ensuring that the group selected is inclusive – even aggressive, “radical” elements must be at the table for exhaustive discussions to occur and credible decisions to be made.
- Setting out clear expectations for the task expected of the group (sometimes this is very difficult for a client who simply wants to create a task force to “bring down the heat” about an issue).
- Cooperatively developing a documentation process for the meetings of the group (if the meetings are public, they may be documented electronically, as well as by my flip chart notes).
- Modifying the agendas for individual meetings in the fluid world of an ongoing task force (e.g., the group may decide to move to decision making earlier in the sequence of meetings than anticipated and, if resisted, shut down).
- Continuing to monitor the “temperature” of the group to help the client have a realistic picture of the progress being made.
- Forging on through to the end of the process, allowing the group the best chance to make an informed, independent decision that responds to the original expectations set forth by the client.
Some of these services can only be adequately provided if I am brought in as a conflict consultant prior to the selection of the group. The client does not always choose to do so. In that case, I do the best I can with who and what the client provides (e.g., an already-selected group may be, in my opinion, non-representative of the interested/affected parties). A group facilitator must always be adaptable – “fast on his feet” – to succeed, but good planning with a client can keep this uncertainty to a manageable level.