Possible Meeting Facilitation Services
Criteria, Checklist and Commentaries
-- / --
Presented to a session on 'Planning for Spontaneous Assistance and Techniques
in Meeting Organization' at the Associate Members Meeting, Union of International
Associations (Brussels, 1993)
- Simple: both to implement and to understand;
- Non-invasive: and non-disruptive of normal meeting processes;
- Designed to 'fail safe':in the event of implementation difficulties;
- Cost-constrained: in that resources used can be increased and decreased by
modular amounts according to need and availability;
- Reconfigurable: in that the particular facilities actually used can be changed
during the meeting according to need and response;
- Output-oriented: in that it gives rise to a concrete output wherever possible;
- Enthusiasm-responsive: in that where interest in operating a particular facility
exists (such as on the part of a motivated group of volunteers) it can be done
independently of other initiatives.
- Communication services
- Participant interaction messaging
- Conference newspaper
- Computer-based bulletin board
- Message board
- Participant pigeon-holes
- Participant document display
- Participant profiling
- Metaphors, parables and stories
- Insight sheets (on request)
- Vision statements for future organization
- 'Special needs'
- Editorial facilitation
- Language interpretation
- Running commentary interpretation
- Guidelines (participant package)
- Background documentation (participant package)
- Past declarations (on request)
- Video and audio tapes
- Special facilitator roles
- Conventional facilitator
- Background facilitator
- Social interactor
- Comment solicitation
- Integrative images
- Visual minutes
- Video taping
- Slide projection
- Focus rooms or areas
- Video viewing
- Computer networking
- Participant database
- 'Retreat' centre
- Open space
- Issue relevance
- Participant displays
A. COMMUNICATION SERVICES
The purpose of the following is to provide channels of communication for the meeting
that are independent of the formal session processes. Only one of the services may be
provided, or several may be used in combination -- preferably in such a way as to
complement each other.
- Participant interaction messaging: This procedure involves
collection of relatively brief messages from participants (whether during or between
sessions), sequence numbering them, typing them into wordprocessor documents, printing
them out to fill pages, photocopying (two-sided) pages), distribution to participants
(possibly during and between sessions). The messages may cover: comments on speeches,
questions to speakers, points of information, proposals, comments on documents, wisdom,
humour, or poetry. Various degrees of editing are possible. Several language versions may
be produced (or combined). Resources are readily controlled and little, if any, training
is required. Depends on ability to encourage participants to supply and respond to
(See Manual and Guidelines, which includes samples)
- Conference newspaper: This is based on the standard
journalistic approach: articles, interviews, reproduction of key documents. It may also
include messages (using a 'small ads' format). Texts are made into pages using
any desktop publishing package. Photos may be scanned or pasted in. Reproduction may be
done on a photocopier or an offset machine. Tends to require more resources and is
therefore usually mono-lingual. Information from participants is effectively filtered by
journalistic and editorial constraints. Can acquire a very attractive and professional
feel. A technique used at a number of large conferences. Depends on journalistic and
- Computer-based bulletin board: This may be used prior to and
during the event to communicate messages from both participants and from others not able
to be present. It is possible to print out messages for wider distribution, but otherwise
access is dependent on use of a terminal and the assistance of people who understand the
- Message board: This is the most commonly used communication
technique between participants, and from organizers to participants. It requires minimal
effort. To the extent that it appears chaotic, it may discourage other than casual
- Participant pigeon-holes: This involves creating individual
pigeon-holes for participants into which documents can be placed. Access to this facility
may be restricted. If it is open, there is both the possibility of 'junk mail'
communications and the advantage of serendipitous exchanges. The pigeon-hole facility may
be replaced by some form of filing cabinet, especially if access is supervised (which can
discourage placement of items in the system).
- Participant document display: This commonly used facility
provides a means for participants to layout documents and books describing their
activities and interests. They may either be single copies (with sign up sheets) or free
hand-out copies. Main requirements are for sufficient table space, although some form of
supervision may be preferable if single copies of valuable documents are displayed.
B. PARTICIPANT PROFILING
- Database: A participant database may be developed in relation
to the registration system and subsequently used to incorporate participant profiles and
other contact information. As such it can be used:
- to confirm and verify message author names;
- as a basis for 'matching' profiles based on interest keywords to identify
clusters of people with similar concerns;
- for subsequent addressing of communications.
- Metaphors, parables and stories: Consideration could be given
to encouraging each participant or faction to formulate metaphors relevant to inter-faith
discourse on 1 page documents. These might take the form of stories or parables from a
particular tradition -- preferably without culture specific proper names. As with insight
sheets (below), these could be held in ring binders for inspection and photocopied on
request -- if they proved too bulky to be issued as conference documents.
- Insight sheets (on request): Consideration could be given to
encouraging each participant to formulate insights relevant to inter- faith discourse on
1-2 page documents. These could be numbered, grouped and displayed in ring binders so that
they could be inspected by other participants. Those of interest could be checked off on a
photocopy request list. Copies would then be supplied at cost.
- Vision statements for future organization: As with the insight
sheets, these could be held in ring binders for inspection and photocopied on request at
- Culturgrams: These are existing fact sheets on the specificity
of particular cultures designed to sensitize people dealing with people of such cultures.
As with insight sheets, these could be held in ring binders and photocopied at cost.
Similar sheets could for example be prepared on specific religions as
- 'Special needs': There is merit in sensitivity to
the special needs of participants, whether in relation to physical movement (for the
disabled), diet and food preparation, varying concepts of cleanliness (use of utensils,
etc), or concepts of protocol and relation between the sexes. These may affect who greets
whom, where people are seated, and forms of address. A profile of special needs could
usefully be related to the participant database.
- Editorial facilitation: Editorial skills may be used to
different degrees to provide or solicit commentary on the evolution of the conference for
insertion as special messages in the participant interaction system or in the conference
- Language interpretation: Standard interpretation may be
provided between languages, if the equipment and interpreters can be found.
- Running commentary interpretation: If language interpretation
equipment is used, one or more of the standard interpretation channels may be used for
various forms of running commentary, especially on plenary events.
Consideration could be given to the use of one (or more) styles of
- as in politically neutral parliamentary commentary
- reflecting particular concerns (possibly interpretation for a particular cultural
perspective (eg Christian) of the significance of other perspectives (eg Islam))
- possibly from an activist perspective concerned with a particular issue
- possibly from the perspective of a particular school of facilitation or, as in sports
commentaries, using a succession of commentators offering contrasting perspectives
- a 'weaving' commentary to reflect the degree of contribution to better
dialogue by noting how different views support or oppose each other.
Participants could select between 'competing' perspectives, as is done in
selecting between languages under normal circumstances.
Music: If language interpretation is used, one or more of the
standard interpretation channels may be used for music, in the event that participants
need relief from a particular speaker.
Guidelines (participant package): The participant and speaker
packages could usefully contain brief guidelines on more useful and less useful styles of
communication, the value of imagery, etc. It could also indicate how best to make use of
the various modes of facilitation. Such a package could draw attention to the challenges
of communicating across languages and cultures -- especially where there are additional
questions of protocol, seniority, rules of precedence and proximity, and degrees of bodily
Background documentation (participant package): This could be
used to summarize the 'state of the art' in inter-faith discourse, summarizing
progress to date and possibilities envisaged for the future.
Past declarations (on request): There is value in having
available a collection of past declarations, resolutions and recommendations relevant to
inter-faith discourse. This provides historical perspective and a sense of progress. It is
also a caution against unnecessary repetition of exercises that may have been less than
Video and audio tapes: To the extent that these are made
available, they could be used or ordered.
E. SPECIAL FACILITATOR ROLES
Facilitators of various kinds may be of great advantage to an event. The challenge is
to ensure that facilitators are sensitive to the inter-national, inter-cultural, inter-
religious and multi-lingual conditions of the event. Few facilitators are skilled in this
way, despite claims to the contrary.
Conventional facilitator: In this case facilitators are
present during a session. One or more may be used to help in the evolution of the
interaction between participants.
Background facilitator: In this case facilitation takes the
form of interaction with participants without any formal 'facilitation' role
being defined. It may occur within sessions or between sessions, and may blur into other
participant roles. Some participants may specifically define their function as one of
interacting with others in order to make their experience of the event more fruitful.
Social interactor: As with the classic role of 'social
hostess', this form of facilitation aims at ensuring that people are introduced to
those that they want to meet, as well as those it might be fruitful for them to meet.
Interviewers/Profilers: Some facilitators may work by using
interviewing and profiling techniques to establish the interests of participants and those
with whom they need to interact. This role would be associated with any monitoring
Comment solicitation: Some facilitators may work by soliciting
messages from participants for inclusion in the participant interaction system.
The concern here is to ensure that the different preoccupations of the event are
reflected in a form other than conventional documents -- especially as a means of
communicating with those outside the event with a resistance to written documents.
Integrative images: Appropriate skills could be used to
interrelate the different dimensions and issues of the event to provide integrative images
or overviews. The aim would be to capture integrative insights in visual form as a way of
synthesizing the achievements of the event.
Mapping: As part of the monitoring process, various
'maps' of the event, whether as sociograms or mind maps, could be generated to
offer participants an insight both into the communication distance separating participants
and factions, and into the lines of harmony drawing them together.
Visual minutes: A visual record of the evolution of the event,
in terms of the key insights and interactions, could be prepared in sketch form on
flipchart sheets. During the event they could be hung on suitable walls. They could later
be reduced, photocopied and bound to provide a record of the conference journey.
Video taping: A video record of sessions could be made,
together with selected video interviews. Copies could later be distributed and sold.
Slide projection: Suitable slides, notably religious and
cultural symbols, could be projected in a suitable room or in conference hallways (project
in retreat centre, etc)
G. FOCUS ROOMS OR AREAS
Facilities such as those described above may each be located in special rooms (or
partitioned areas in a facilities room). This helps to focus their efforts and provides a
point of reference for those using such facilities. Several facilities may be combined in
the same area. Some may be usefully located in neighbouring rooms. Thought should be given
to the relative accessibility of different rooms. If isolated, certain facilities will
attract little or no attention -- thus discouraging those endeavouring to make them work.
Messaging room: Used for secretarial, translating and
editorial services of the participant interaction messaging system. Participants can drop
in messages and pick up message sheets (or back copies). Since priority access to
photocopy facilities is required by such messaging, the photocopies may also be used for
occasional low- priority requests.
Newspaper room: Used for journalists and editors of the
conference newspaper. Provides a point to which people can come to drop off proposed
articles and pick up copies of the conference newspaper.
Press room: Provides a base for external journalists. Such
rooms usually have display tables for any written texts of speeches, communiqués, etc.
Interview room: Provides a base for those conducting
interviews of participants using video or sound equipment.
Video viewing room: Provides a place where any videoed
conference interviews may be viewed on request or by arrangement.
Computer networking room: Provides a base for access to
conference bulletin boards.
Participant database room: Provides a base for participant
profiling and 'matching' by interest.
Monitoring room: Provides a base for groups monitoring the
event, whether from an academic perspective or as facilitators. This could be used for
facilitators to debate amongst themselves concerning the evolution of the event --
possibly observed by interested participants, or open to questions from them. The space
may be designed to permit the presence of observers in a 'fishbowl' mode.
Contact room: Provides a base for those endeavouring to ensure
contacts and communications between participants, notably on the basis of the participant
profile. The emphasis would however be on a place to handle requests for introductions to
other participants or speakers. Can be usefully associated with any 'coffee'
'Retreat' centre: Provides a base for participants
'exhausted' or 'confused' by the conference and open to TLC from those
capable of providing it. Provides a form of cultural 'first aid' for those
suffering from 'culture shock' and requiring alternative perspectives on the
Open space room: Provides a space for those wishing to
convene and participate in roundtable discussions or other informal gatherings in relation
to the event.
Visualization room: Provides a base for those endeavouring to
interrelate the conference themes in an integrated visual representation, whether artistic
or in the form of mappings, mind maps, or sociograms.
Issue relevance room: Provides a base for individuals
endeavouring to focus attention on particular issues (eg environment, women, development,
Declaration room (fishbowl): Provides a base for those
working on any conference declaration. The space may be designed to permit the presence of
observers in a 'fishbowl' mode.
Pigeon-hole room: Provides a base for transference of
messages and documents between participants.
Participant document room: Provides a base for display of
Sales room: Provides a secure base for sale of documents,
videos and tapes.
Meditation room: Provides a neutral space for private
reflection for those who wish to use it. Suitably positioned, it may also provide an
important focal point for the event.