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FaciliTips: Quick Tips for Online Facilitation

Last edited: 12/01
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Note: these are not unique to online, but have been found IMPORTANT in online facilitation!

General Tips

  • Assume good intent. Remind others of this simple trick.
  • Role model the behavior you wish others to use.
  • Practice and encourage active listening/reading.
  • Be as explicit as possible in your communication.
  • Don't automatically assume understanding -- ask for clarification as needed.
  • Build trust by doing what you say you will do. Encourage others to do the same.
  • Trust is slow to be granted, easily taken away. Encourage an environment that values trust.
  • Use irony and humor with care as it does not always come across online as you might have intended. You can always use emoticons to clarify! ;-)
  • Think before you hit the button and a post goes up.
  • Approach every contribution with curiosity, expecting surprise and wonder . . .

Process Facilitation Tips

  • Make rules, expectations or norms consistent, explicit and clear.
  • Provide orientation materials and paths for all new members.
  • Remember not everyone thinks or perceives the way you do. Seek to understand participants' styles and needs.
  • Provide ongoing (and often repeated) guidance on "what goes where" in any interaction space.
  • Use recognizable names or pseudonyms (for chat and such)
  • Encourage the use of personal profiles to build relationships.
  • Consider cultural differences of participants .
  • Help members take ownership of the interaction space.
  • Use small group activities to build relationships and "get acquainted."
  • Respond to all first-time participants. Welcome people by name.
  • Acknowledge and reciprocate participation.
  • Reply to messages that get no other recognition. Even if it is a "treading water reply."
  • Use questions to encourage participation.
  • Use (open-ended) questions to encourage participation. (move beyond yes/no)
  • Stimulate input with positive private emails to individuals.
  • Notice if someone is "missing" for long periods of time. Email them and invite them back.
  • Let others know when you will be offline for extended periods of time.
  • Nurture others to help host and facilitate the group.
  • Encourage people to mentor and assist each other. Recognize mentors.
  • Draw out the quiet members.
  • Help focus the chatters.
  • Don't fan the flames (or the flamers!) (see difficult situations below).
  • Ask members for feedback. What is working for them? What is not? What is missing?
  • Respect copyright and confidentiality. Do not repost other's postings or emails without explicit permission.
  • Tip for when working in email from Sue Canney Davison: When you are technologically chalenged with incredibly tight deadlines, things are moving fast with little effective communication, write the time and the day/date of your e mail above the 'Dear so and so'so people easily understand the sequencing and when it is out of sync.

Facilitation Tips for Task-Oriented Groups

  • Make purpose and task VERY clear/visible/explicit.
  • Post timelines and reminders.
  • Agree on process issues up front. Address as needed on an on-going basis.
  • Make roles and responsibilities clear and visible.
  • Use email as appropriate for notification.
  • Summarize and/or index conversations of value to make them accessible to the group.
  • Monitor member activity with available tools to gauge participation and alter your facilitation strategy accordingly.
  • When activity levels drop, evaluate to ensure you have compelling reasons for participation: real work, learning, shared tasks, personal or professional development.
  • Let divergent processes flow free. Channel convergent processes.

Tips for Dealing with Difficult Situations

  • Don't be intimidated by challenges. They are learning opportunities for everyone when handled with grace.
  • Help bring learning out of friction or "creative abrasion."
  • Help people understand how they come across if others are having difficulty with them. Consider doing this offline or privately.
  • Avoid "one-upmanship" and point-by-point defenses which usually only escalate problems.
  • Use back channel email to resolve problems unless the issue involves a larger group.
  • Use your administration tools (i.e., deleting posts) lightly and carefully.
  • Don't assume a lack of response means dissent or assent. Seek explicit responses.

Structural & Content Tips

  • Provide great links, resources and relevant, stimulating content to foster interaction.
  • Label topic and conference items clearly
  • Frame topic openers clearly and demonstrate the goal or purpose of the topic or thread.
  • Take into account participation from different time zones.
  • Explore the use of color and images as communication and facilitation tools.
  • Keep "conversations" in their most logical place -- social chat in social spaces, content or action specific interaction in their own spaces or topics.
  • Look for participation patterns and changes in conversations.
  • Open new topics to support new threads as needed.
  • Observe the rhythm of topics and close old topics as they grow dormant.
  • Consider time-delimited events or topics to foster activity.
  • Keep the online space free from "garbage" such as duplicate posts, or disallowed content (ie. pornograpy, advertising or whatever your group norms dictate.)
  • Don't pile too much into one post. Break it up into small paragraphs or multiple posts, especially if you are dealing with more than one point or topic.
  • Don't obsess about typos. Life is too short.

One for the Road...

  • Facilitation is the combination of knowledge and practice. So practice, practice, practice.
  • Read between the lines.
  • Seek to be fair.
  • Have fun.
  • Use common sense.
  • When all else fails, ask and listen. Again. Again.


Notes from Uri Merry, Mihaela Moussou, Margaret McIntyre, Denham Grey, TJ Elliott and others from the Knowledge Ecology Work Group at http://www.co-i-l.com

Online Facilitation Classes from Wise Circle Training, including Kimberly A. Adler of the National Mentoring Partnership

http://www.fullcirc.com (Full Circle Associates)

http://www.rheingold.com (Howard Rheingold)


http://www.wwcoco.com (Sue Boettcher)

http://www.bigbangworkshops.com (Heather Duggan)

The members of the GroupFacilitation, OnlineFacilitation, and ComPrac listservs

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