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Interventions: Behind the Scenes or Out in Front?

As a facilitator, you are going to run into problems in almost any group. So when do you address issues offline "backchannel" (privately) and when do you do it "in front of the group" (publically)? Here are some *very general* things I consider when thinking about back channel or "front of the house." When applying them, they must be filtered through the information of a group's purpose, norms and make up. Consider the cultural context -- in some settings, questioning authority is not acceptable behavior and will influence your intervention strategy.

Working behind the scenes

  • If a member is violating stated community or group guidelines I send a back channel reminder of the guidelines after the first violation.
  • If another community member expresses concern in back channel, I start by trying to clarify the situation via email. This can save face for the member in question as well as for the host/facilitator. Often it is an issue of interpretation.
  • Sometimes a little message saying "just ignore the other person" to the aggrieved party in back channel will solve the whole thing. This also does not give online attention to the person who is acting out.
  • If the complaint was posted publicly, I will still check it out back channel if I can do that quickly. Then respond online.
  • If I am responding to a request/complaint from another community member, I ask them if they have tried to resolve the issue with the person in question first. If they have, I advise them that I'm looking into the situation. This is to make the issue "visible," and say "yes, I heard!" When people feel unheard, they may escalate a situation.
  • If the person doing the questionable thing does not respond to email and continues the behavior, I go front of house...
  • If the person doing the questionable thing is clearly seeking attention, back channel is good... does not feed their attention cravings. Sometimes people are just looking for attention. Try and help them get attention for positive behavior instead.
  • If I'm not sure I'm interpreting things clearly, I'll go back channel to a co-facilitator or a trusted member to get another POV. This is VERY helpful. I can judge too quickly sometimes... ;-)

Working 'live' in front of the community

  • Some communities value knowing what is going on so "in front of the house" is a norm.
  • Some communities are simply less trusting of "behind the scenes" interventions -- so out front whenever possible.
  • When working a problem in front of the community, it may feel as if you are working "without a net." You are! So be humble!
  • The stakes increase as people's reputations are on the line.
  • If problems are to be resolved in public, clear resolution procedures help. If there is no procedure, offer one before starting the intervention. Tell them what you propose. Then do it.
  • Isolate - handle conflict or issue resolution in a different topic -- in other words, take the flames to a conflict resolution "space" and let the rest of the folks get on with their conversation.
  • Don't make the process center stage unless that is what your group is all about.
  • Restate the problem as neutrally as possible.
  • Measure it against any community rules or norms, if applicable.
  • When it is over, keep it "over" -- get the conversation back on track ASAP!

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