Community Readiness for Economic Development: Facilitating Group Processes

Factsheet - ISSN 1198-712X   -   Copyright Queen's Printer for Ontario
Agdex#: 880
Publication Date: June 2001
Order#: 01-039
Last Reviewed: June 2001
History: This Factsheet is one of a series of six. See also 01-031, Working with Volunteers, 01-033, Community Leadership, 01-035, Community Readiness Checklist, 01-037, Resolving Conflict and 01-041, Chairing and Managing Meetings.
Written by: Chuck Bokor - Community Leadership Specialist/OMAFRA

Table of Contents

  1. Does Your Group Have...
  2. Facilitation Skills Self-Assessment

Does Your Group Have...

  • problems to solve?
  • decisions to make?
  • issues to identify?
  • solutions to explore?

Undertaking a community economic development project. Much of the work of the project will be done in groups, teams and committees, etc. There is a difference between the processes used for identifying priorities, making decisions and solving problems in a group setting, and the way you do these things if you were on your own, responsible to no one else and able to determine your own future.

In the group situation, personalities come into play, along with a wide variety of perspectives. Each person may have his or her own opinion and idea about the project: what the priorities are; what should be done; how it should be done; who should do it; etc.

How does a group get through all of that discussion and make any progress?

The answer is in processes that work. Fortunately, your group is not alone in taking on a complex project involving different perspectives and choices. Community groups like yours have worked through similar challenges, and a variety of tools and techniques exist to make your job easier and less frustrating.

Facilitate means "to make easier". A skilful facilitator pays attention to the process elements of the group, and helps the discussion proceed to a conclusion by using these tools and techniques. The result is a greater degree of buy-in from individuals in the group, participation among more group members, and people empowered to take charge.

Ideally, you want an external facilitator to join the group to help it work through specific processes. Because that is not always affordable or practical, you can turn to the leader or chairperson to facilitate the discussion and various processes. This is appropriate as long as the leader is not also needed as a group member. If this is the case, then the roles could become blurred, and the facilitation is not sufficiently neutral. An alternative is to have all members develop their facilitation skills, and take turns managing meetings and processes.

The good news is that facilitation skills can be learned and used by anyone, and the tools needed to work through group processes are within easy reach.

The Core Practices of a facilitator include:

  • staying neutral
  • listening actively
  • asking questions
  • paraphrasing
  • synthesizing ideas
  • using appropriate language
  • keeping discussions "on-track"
  • offering clear summaries
  • giving and receiving feedback to the group

Facilitation Skills Self-Assessment

The most important facilitation skills required to help the group move effectively through a meeting are listed below. Have group members rate their personal ability to facilitate discussion, and then take a look at the group as a whole. Based on the findings, the group will have a better understanding of how to proceed.

For example, if the group can rate each area with a "3" or "4", then it is off to a good start, because the skills it needs to get through many common situations are present. Ask individuals in the group with high skill levels in certain areas to facilitate that discussion when the need arises.

If your group lacks adequate facilitation skills, you might bring in an outside facilitator to help you through the planning, decision-making and problem-solving discussions.

Rank your group's current skill level using the 4-point scale below.

Table 1. Facilitation Skills Self-Assessment
Skill Rating
1: No skill
2: Some skill
3: Good skill
4: Excellent skill
1. Skilled at active listening, paraphrasing, questioning and summarizing key points  
2. Able to manage time and maintain a good pace  
3. Knowledge of and ability to use techniques for getting active participation and generating ideas  
4. Keep clear and accurate notes that reflect what participants have said  
5. Familiar with the basic tools of brainstorming, forcefield analysis and decision grids  
6. Skilled at achieving consensus and gaining closure to a discussion  
7. Able to ask good probing questions that challenge own and others' assumptions in a non-threatening way  
8. Able to stop the action and check on how things are going  
9. Able to deal with resistance and perspectives counter to your own in a non-defensive manner  

10. Able to manage conflict between participants and remain composed


Brainstorming to Create Bigger and Better Ideas

What is it?

  • method that is free of criticism and judgment, creatively generating a lot of ideas on any topic

What does it do?

  • encourages open thinking when a group is stuck thinking "the same old way"
  • gets everyone involved and enthusiastic, and prevents domination by a few people
  • encourages people to explore new ideas and challenges traditional thinking
  • allows group members to build on each other's ideas without fear of being corrected or challenged
  • demonstrates that everyone has had a say, and helps people feel they are an important part of the solution

How does it work?

  1. Review rules of brainstorming
    • as many ideas as possible in a short period of time
    • no judging or evaluating of ideas until later
    • build on the ideas of others
    • be creative
    • there are no bad ideas
    • no debating
    • everyone participates
    • think in new ways - break away from "what we've always done"
    • keep a fast pace
  2. State the question
    • clarify the topic, making sure everyone understands the issue or problem
    • check to make sure everyone understands by asking one or two people to paraphrase it
    • record it on a flip chart or board
  3. Allow thinking time
    • give the group a few minutes of quiet before asking for ideas
  4. Get the ideas
    • each person, in turn, gives an idea
    • no idea is criticized, ever!
    • do not discuss ideas or elaborate on them
    • keep it moving
    • with each rotation around the group, anyone may pass at any time

An alternative is to have people give their ideas spontaneously, allowing members to offer ideas as they come to mind. There is higher chance of the process being dominated by a few, but shy members may not feel as anxious about having to participate.

  1. Record the ideas on a flip chart
    • write down all ideas as they're given, in big, visible letters
    • use the words used by the member giving the idea - do not try to interpret for them
  2. Allow more time
    • when people have run out of ideas, take a break for thinking and reflection
    • sometimes the best ideas come out in the next round
    • total time is 5-20 minutes, depending on how complex the topic is
  3. Discuss each idea
    • look at each one in detail, asking members who gave the idea to clarify it so that it is well understood
    • allow others to add to it so that it is fully developed
    • combine similar ideas that say the same thing only worded differently
  4. Agree on the final list of best ideas

Forcefield Analysis

What is it?

  • a method of analyzing a situation by looking at all the forces and factors affecting the issue

Why would you use it?

  • to clarify the pros and cons so that everyone fully understands the situation and can then make an informed decision
  • encourages honest reflection on the real, underlying roots of a problem and its solution
  • to raise everything contributing to a complex issue or problem, including those that support and those that work against a possible solution

How does it work?

  1. Identify the topic
    • state the issue or problem (situation, topic or project, etc.)
  2. Write a goal statement
    • help the group state a goal it wants to achieve
    • the goal must address the issue at hand
    • it must be specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timely
    • write it down across the top of a flip chart
  3. Brainstorm the forces at work
    • on the left side, list the forces that are helping, or could help, drive the group towards the goal
    • on the right side, list the forces that are hindering the situation, or could get in the way of reaching the goal
  4. Remove the barriers
    • the temptation is to add to the left side and strengthen the resources or improve the things that are helping the situation, BUT
    • the best way to make progress is to reduce the barriers
    • identify the barriers or hindrances, and make a decision about the priority for immediate problem solving

Table 2. Forcefield Worksheet

Goal: ___________________________________________________________

Forces that help us reach the goal

Forces and barriers that hinder reaching the goal

Other words to help describe the forces:

  • pros
  • things we are doing well
  • hopes
  • best case scenario
  • assets
  • strengths
  • positives
  • opportunities

Other words to help describe the forces:

  • cons
  • things we could do better
  • fears
  • worst case scenario
  • liabilities
  • weaknesses
  • negatives
  • obstacles

Decision Grid

What is it?

  • a table of the most critical factors to consider when making a decision

Why would you use it?

  • to bring more objectivity (rather than opinion, assumptions and guesswork) to the process of making a group decision
  • changes the process from being a debate based on members' feelings to an objective process of judging each potential solution against the same set of criteria

How does it work?

  1. Identify how the solutions should be judged
    • Just like judging at the grocery store what makes a good head of lettuce (fresh, firm, big, etc.), you need to judge what makes a good solution to the problem at hand
    • Create a list of judgment criteria. For example, some of these might apply:
      • saves time
      • saves money
      • reduces stress
      • is timely
      • is easy to do
      • is affordable
      • is fast
      • is a major improvement
      • supports the overall plan
      • is something we have control over
      • represents the right sequence
      • builds empowerment in the community
      • will get support from other groups
      • satisfies the needs of the community
      • doesn't "rock the boat"
      • is tangible, easy to show to others
  2. Choose the top three to five judgment criteria
    • from the list you have brainstormed, have group members choose the top three to five criteria
    • write them down along the top of a grid
    • give each judgment criteria a value from 1 to 3, with higher numbers going to the more important criteria
  3. Evaluate each solution option
    • list the options of potential solutions down the left side of a grid
    • look at each option in turn, considering it for each judgment criteria
    • have each member rate each solution against the criteria as follows:
      • 1 = does not meet the criteria
      • 2 = somewhat meets the criteria
      • 3 = good at meeting the criteria
  4. Add up the scores
    • for each option, total members' ratings for each criteria, then average them
    • multiply the averaged rating by its criteria importance value
    • add the resulting numbers for the total score per option
Table 3. Decision Grid Worksheet
Potential Solutions
Judgement Criteria (importance value)
Total per option
Saves money (x1)
is easy to do (x3)
is "doable" (x1)
is fast (x2)
Option 1
1,2,1,1 ÷ 4 = 1.25
1.25 x 1 = 1.25
1,1,1,1 ÷ 4 = 1.00
1.00 x 3 = 3.00
3,3,3,3 ÷ 4 = 3.00
3.00 x 1 = 3.00
1,1,1,1 ÷ 4 = 1.00
1.00 x 2 = 2.00
Option 2
2,2,2,1 ÷ 4 = 1.75
1.75 x 1 = 1.75
2,3,2,2 ÷ 4 = 2.25
2.25 x 3 = 6.75
1,2,1,1 ÷ 4 = 1.25
1.25 x 1 = 1.25
3,3,3,3 ÷ 4 = 3.00
3.00 x 2 = 6.00
Option 3
2,2,3,3 ÷ 4 = 2.50
2,50 x 1 = 2.50
2,3,3,3 ÷ 4 = 2.50
2.50 x 3 = 7.50
2,2,2,2 ÷ 4 = 2.00
2.00 x 1 = 2.00
2,2,2,3 ÷ 4 = 2.25
2.25 x 2 = 4.50

Sample illustrates a group of 4 people rating 3 potential solutions with 4 criteria

At this point, the group should look at the total scores for each option. In the example above, Option 1 scored 9.25, Option 2 scored 15.75, and Option 3 scored 16.50. For some in the group, the fact that Option 3 achieved the highest score would be enough to convince them it must be the highest priority.

For others, the fact that Options 2 and 3 had similar scores will cause some dismay, and there will have to be further discussion and possibly a more refined set of criteria to distinguish them even more.

If there is a large disagreement with the outcomes of Decision Grid, then the group needs more discussion about their criteria and the weight assigned to each. For example, after reflecting on the scores in the example, the group may decide they didn't give enough weight to the "saves money" criteria, which eventually emerged as being more important than was originally thought. Additionally, they may decide that another criteria (supports the overall plan) should be in the grid because they all were thinking that some of the ideas really didn't fit in with their vision of the project.

The process of weighting and scoring may have to be repeated, until the group is comfortable with how it made its decision. In the end, it is the group's responsibility to make a decision. A Decision Grid facilitates that process by helping the group identify what's important to them, and determine which options are most desirable. A benefit of this approach is that they will be better able to explain their decision to others.

Revised by Luna Ramkhalawansingh, Community Economic Development Unit, OMAFRA, Guelph.

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