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An Interview With Barbara Weaver Smith of SmithWeaverSmith

By Nancy White SmithWeaverSmith - Home of the NonProfits + Knowledge online community.

NW: How would you describe the benefits of having a host or facilitator for a community?

BWS: Host/facilitator keeps the discussion going, uses "back channels" to encourage participation, helps to set and enforce rules of engagement, poses great questions

NW: How do you describe the role(s) of the online community facilitator?

BWS: Varies according to the community's purpose: "maitre de'", decidedly neutral re-stater of messages, provocateur, team leader, behavioral manager, teacher, coach

NW: Do you have a particular approach or style of online facilitation that you use? If it varies, why?

BWS: My style of facilitation is completely dependent upon the nature of the community and its purpose--in some communities I am the leader among peers and I interact freely, expressing my views, etc., simply providing technical support to help everyone share the "lead"; in work group communities I might be much more directive, pushing them towards developing outcomes and the desired work projects; in research-and-learn communities I would probably do both of those roles. In a very free-wheeling public community I would help to enforce standards of participation. In a very work-directed community I would provide opportunities for synthesis, seeking alignment, publishing summaries etc. or asking for help on those facilitation tasks.

NW: What are some important things to pay attention to when you are training and managing other online facilitators?

BWS: Helping them learn a balance between encouraging participation and stifling dialog (e.g. posting too often, posting solutions rather than questions, getting rattles), helping them learn a regular routine for participation, helping them learn facilitation skills in general and how these apply to online dialogs

NW: What is the worst thing that has happened to you as a facilitator online?

BWS: No bad things yet that I can think of.

NW: The best?

BWS: Many best things--especially I love posting a question that sends the dialog soaring for a day or a week or a month!

NW: How do you approach/handle conflicts in your community?

BWS: Have not dealt with many conflicts, but have used a variety of tools both online and back-channel communication.

NW: How do you approach/handle low activity in your community?

BWS: Post new topics, questions; post statements asking for help or "where is everybody?"; using e-mail, phone, fax;

NW: Who are some of your online facilitator role models?

BWS: Nancy White, Heather Duggan, Mihaela Moussou

NW: What do you think is your strength as an online facilitator?

BWS: I love it; I'm smart, literate, congenial and regular in my participation.

NW: If you had to choose one or two golden rules for online facilitators, what would they be?

BWS: "First, do no harm."

Consider the differences between f2f and virtua communications--"tone" becomes incredibly important.

NW: Why do you facilitate online communities?

BWS: Interested in helping distributed work teams accomplish their purposes in virtual space; nterested in building a global network of friends and associates

NW: What do you see in the future for online communities?

BWS: It will become ubiquitous; less frivolous, more purposeful--like the telephone

NW: What will your role be in that future?

BWS: A leader!

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