Thursday, June 16, 2011

Online Facilitation - Adapting to a Virtual Environment with Free(mium) Tools - Part One

We've written a number of posts about both facilitation and the use of online tools for virtual and face to face events. See, for example:

"The Connected Facilitator: What's in the Online Toolbox?",
"Look Behind You! The Webinar Facilitator's Non-Technical Checklist",
The Two-Day Total Twitter Immersion: Using Twitter for Social Learning",
"Knowledge at a Distance: Skype Video - It Works!"; and
"Create a Facilitator Role for Your Conference Calls and Webinars"

In this two-part blog post, we are sharing (in part 1) some examples of tools that are either free or have a “freemium” model (you pay for increased functionality) and which we think can be usefully used in online facilitation; and (in part 2) some ideas about how you might adapt facilitation methodologies to an online environment using these tools (plus IRISnotes – as we haven’t yet discovered a lower-cost option…). We hope you find it useful, and that you'll share your ideas and experiences too!
● Contribute to / follow conversations in real time with short bursts of info: max 140 characters
● Hashtags aggregate related content
● Content can be ‘retweeted’
● “Follow” option
● Tweetdeck /
● Similar to twitter
● Private option
● Conference call diverse group sizes
● Option to add video (max 10)
● Screen-sharing
● Instant-messaging with chronological display
● Send files
● Create screen-casts, recording screen and voice to share online
● Share presentations, documents and professional videos publicly or privately
● Create slidecasts (slideshow + MP3 audio synced)
● Create channels & favourites
● Upload video content
● View video content online
● Create channels & favourites
● Co-create documents collaboratively
● Track changes / contributions
● Password protection option
● Co-create documents collaboratively
● Similar editing to word / excel (and can export in these formats)
● Design surveys (google forms)
● Auto-generate survey reports with graphics
● Design and manage online surveys
● Auto-generate survey reports with graphics
● Create multiple choice or free-text polls
● Collecting info in real time via text message, web, twitter, and smartphone responses which can be instantly combined
● Charts update instantly as people respond (online or embedded in ppt) / /
● Propose dates / times and gather responses online to quickly and easily determine preferred options
● Co-create Mindmaps online in real time
● Working simultaneously and see changes as they happen
● Generate “word clouds” from text with greater prominence given to words that appear more frequently

Smart Phone / computer video cameras
● Create short videos for sharing (by email if video-bites)

Smart Phone / computer audio / voice recorders
● Create audio files for sharing
● Slideshow, chat function, audio for presenters, recording, private chat, whiteboard, video link for the facilitator, and more.
● Keep time online, counting up or down
● Customize the visual (stop-watch, clock, egg timer, etc.) and sound (bell, alarm, laughing, beeping, etc.)
● Once customized, download the link to your timer. (Personally, I like the egg timer with applause as here:

And here’s another one we love but that's not free (you'll need to make a small purchase):

● A pen and mobile note taker
● Capture handwritten notes and drawings
● Edit, save and export them
● Convert handwritten notes into editable text

Online Facilitation - Adapting to a Virtual Environment with Free(mium) Tools - Part Two

Following part one of this blog post (which shares some examples of tools that are either free or have a “freemium” model and which we think can be usefully used in online facilitation), this part two shares some ideas about how you might adapt facilitation methodologies to an online environment using tools that are either free or have a “freemium” model (plus IRISnotes – as we haven’t yet discovered a lower-cost option…).

1. Scheduling future events
• Use / / to quickly and easily determine favourable dates and times for future events (e.g. future conference calls). Not only can this be done to schedule your online event – you can effectively use it during the online event to efficiently schedule your next in real time!

2. Presentation
• Use Ignites ( / Pecha Kucha ( (timed presentations) to keep to timing in online events and make sure presentations are well prepared and maintain a good pace.
• Use Prezis ( for variety in presentations (a change from powerpoint), creating visual interest.
• Use short videos and/or screen casts via / or

3. Work in small groups with online “job aids
• Provide a participants list to everyone in advance, including names and IDs (or equivalent). Divide the group up into small groups, designating a host.
• Pre-create job aids using Wikispaces / Google Docs / Mindmeister etc. These will most often be templates, to which you can provide links.
• Direct people to your ‘job aids’ with links (plus log-in and password).
• Provide an online timer to keep time and remind people to promptly rejoin the whole group at the specified time.

4. Report back (after small group work)
• Use to create screen-casts for report back
• Create video or audio recordings – using computer and smart phone programmes / applications to pre-record report-back and share using or - helping to avoid lengthy monologues and add diversity to the event
• Use an online timer (such as to help with time-keeping and speaker management

5. Prioritizing questions (e.g. for a Q&A with a speaker)
• Use / / Determine a hash-tag in advance and provide this to participants.
• Give participants a few minutes to submit questions. To prioritize these for the speaker (so they respond where participants are most interested in learning more in a limited time), then ask participants to ‘retweet’ the questions others have posted that they are most interested in hearing the responses to. The questions most ‘retweeted’ are then prioritized and the speaker addresses the questions according to this prioritization.

6. Clustering questions / ideas
• Use a mind-mapping online tool such as (or do a hand-drawn version using IRISnotes). Set up the mind-map in advance and provide all participants with the link / access (to edit or view) or, just use screen share (or equivalent) to share the map and designate one editor.
• Ask all participants to think of a question / idea and then cluster these as follows: Ask any person to start, sharing their idea using instant messaging (this is important to keep it concise and to the point) - as well as reading it aloud (but not expanding on what is written unless someone asks for clarification!).
• The mind-mapper copies and pastes the idea from the instant message into the mind-map. With this done, ask for someone with a like / similar idea to share it (again, instant messaging it and reading aloud), which is then copied and pasted into the mind-map / or summarized by hand if using IrisNotes. Do this until there are no more like / similar questions or ideas. Then start with a different ‘branch’ of questions / ideas on the mindmap. Repeat until all questions or ideas are represented.
• The mindmap will clearly show where there is greatest interest, most clarification needed, most energy and/or ideas and conversation in plenary afterwards can start from here.

7. Voting
• Use an online tool such as to do real-time voting (with an anonymous option). Prepare the questions / options in advance, or generate them online and set the poll up in the course of the online event. Either-way, if you think you might vote on something, get familiar with polleverywhere and its parameters (e.g. more than 30 people and you may need to pay a subscription fee) ahead of time.
• One advantage of poll-everywhere over google docs and survey monkey (see below) is that rather than having to download the results as a pdf, you can actually see results live – as they change second by second, creating more excitement and anticipation.
• Google docs (‘forms’: and could also be used for voting prior to or during an event. Both enable results-exporting as visuals (pie charts / bar graphs) in pdf.
• All give you the option to track – or not – who responds and how, so you have the option of anonymity or respondent profiling and analysis. (e.g. how do responses vary by sector / region…)

8. Carousel
• Use video conference calls (or equivalent) for small group discussion (Note: make sure all participants are in one another’s contact list in advance and provide a participant list with names and skype IDs, as well as who is in which group for the carousel so that the host / facilitator of each station discussion knows who they need to include in the conference call)
• Use / google docs ( / mindmaps in place of flipchart stations
• And/or use IRISnotes for visual / hand written work in combination with screen share (can save and share doc with next group for further editing, or have same station ‘facilitator’ throughout)

9. Open Space Technology
(visit for the ‘how to’ steps in a face-to-face environment)
• Use instant messaging (e.g. chat) for people to submit topics / questions to schedule
• Prepare a blank timetable (in word / google docs / and copy and paste across questions and topics as they are submitted
• Provide each topic ‘host’ a few minutes to decide where they would like to capture the key points of the discussion as it progresses (e.g. / google docs / / irisnotes), to set up the appropriate ‘page’ and send you the link plus log-in / password if necessary. Note: If you prefer, you could just pre-determine that everyone will use (for example) a wiki and provide the topic hosts with links to appropriate wiki pages - labeled topic x through to topic y.
• In the same doc as the timetable, include the following info:
(a) Who is hosting the conversation (plus their Skype ID)
(b) Links to the page(s) where the conversation will be captured, plus log-in / password if necessary.
• Use a screen share tool (e.g. Skype screen share) to share the timetable with everyone as it is developed
• Ask participants to instant message the topic host when they wish to join a conversation
• As the facilitator, keep time and use instant messaging to inform groups when they have 10 mins / 5 mins / 0 mins until the end of their session (OR use an online timer such as and then invite everyone to revisit the timetable for information on where to go for their next conversation.
• Use Skype conference calls (or equivalent) for small group discussion, in combination with Skype screen share as necessary.

10. World Café
(visit theworldcafé.com for the ‘how to’ steps in a face-to-face environment)
• Provide a participants list to everyone in advance, including names and Skype IDs (or equivalent). Include also in this list some coding (in a table) to facilitate organizing three different groupings of 4 participants for each round of the World Café, and nominating a host.
For example, for the first round of the World Café / first grouping of 4, you might group people by simply going through the participant list organized alphabetically by surname, and counting people into groups of four – giving each person a letter next to their name – e.g. the first four participants would be coded ‘Group A’, the second four ‘Group B’ etc. For the second grouping of four participants, go back through the list and this time number them from 1 through to the total number of participants / 4 (e.g. if you had 40 participants you would number them 1-10 four times. For the second round of the World Café, all the 1’s will chat together, all the 2’s together, etc. Then for the third round, you might assign different symbols or colours. You choose – the important thing is to determine in advance how you will group everyone, and include this ‘coding’ in the participants list so it is clear and easy to create the groupings.
Additionally it is important that, for each round of the World Café, you designate clearly in the participant list who is responsible for hosting the conversation (i.e. hosting the Skype call, keeping time and making sure everyone contributes!)
• Once everyone is clear about with whom they will chat in the first round and who is hosting the call (plus their Skype ID), you can launch round one. But first – set an online timer (such as that everyone can see and which will ring to call everyone back into plenary.
• Back in plenary, take some highlights ‘popcorn’ style from each group (call on the hosts of each group of four) and capture these in / google doc / / irisnotes using screen share at the same time.
• Repeat.

11. Point and counterpoint (read the description of this methodology for the ‘how to’ steps in a face-to-face environment in the book: Thaigi’s 100 Favourite Games)
• Provide a participants list to everyone in advance, including names and Skype IDs (or equivalent).
• With everyone on the conference call, use (or google forms / or to gauge participant’s positions regarding a controversial statement. Set the poll/survey question up in advance, putting opposing controversial statements at either end of a scale of 1-10, with 10 fields in between into which they must enter their first name. (You need the names later!) Give participants only 30 seconds to decide where they are on the scale.
• As soon as you have all the results, generate the report (export the results) and share this with participants using Skype screenshare (or equivalent). You should be able to see the names of all participants on the scale from one to ten. At this stage, make a comment on the distribution. Then ‘count off’ participants, starting at the person nearest 0, putting them alternately in team 1, team 2, team 1, etc. Note: Designate one (or two) participant(s) – you want to ensure there is an equal number of participants in each team) who fall in the middle of the distribution as ‘judges’ who won’t participate in the work of team 1 and 2. Then designate the person nearest 0 as the “captain” for team 1 and the person nearest 10 as the captain for team 2. They are then responsible for hosting two team calls (using the list of participants shared prior to the meeting).
• Use a tool such as / google docs / as a work space for each of the groups (having set up a space for each team in advance). Provide them with the link and (if necessary) login/ password and set them to work brainstorming all the arguments in favour of ‘their’ controversial statement – capturing all contributions on the tool provided. (This capture is essential for later.) Use an online timer ( to keep time and remind them to return to a full group call.
• Meanwhile, set up 2 quick slideshows. Make sure you can play both on loop. In the first, go through the results from the poll, entering one name per slide into the slideshow starting with the name closest to 0 (and remembering to remove the judge(s)). With all the names in place, make the slides with the names of all participants from team 1 one colour, and all the names from team 2 in another colour. When you play the slideshow, as it goes through the names, the slides should alternative team/colour one and team/colour two. You will use these to call on the members of the teams to share their arguments, as well as helping everyone keep in mind who is talking and on behalf of which team / position. A second slide set is just two slides with just the two team colours (no names).
• Back in full group, launch the ‘debate’, determining who speaks when using your slide set, until all the arguments captured are exhausted. The switch to your second slide set and invite people to ‘change teams’ and spontaneously argue from the other team. You will not have names, so just switch from colour one to colour two. Participants can only share if they are adding a new argument from the other team to the one in which they participated.
• Once all arguments are exhausted. Invite the judge(s) who have listened to the debate to give their ‘verdict’ with a brief synthesis of which arguments they found most compelling.
• Finally re-do the poll that you started with. Generate the report and compare the results! Have people shifted in their thinking?

Please let us now how you get on and what you think!

Sunday, June 05, 2011

I'm the Facilitator

We are currently running a Facilitation learning programme with a large organization here in Geneva that is focused not so much on tools and techniques, but more on the design of facilitated learning processes, and what it means to be the person leading them. Overall we are working to help people use facilitation in a very nuanced, thoughtful way rather than as a blunt instrument.

We have a session that is focused on ourselves as facilitators and for that we use any and all information that people have generated over the years (their choice) using diagnostic tools such as MBTI, Strengthsfinder, FIRO-B, etc. They can also talk to friends and family to get some inputs. The objective is to reflect on how our behavioural preferences might manifest themselves in our facilitation and group process leadership work.

It has been a very interesting thought exercise to try to identify times when our individual behavioural preferences might really help our processes, or might get in the way. Just asking the question - How might my behavioural preferences manifest themselves in my facilitation work - is an intervention in itself as it is something most of us don't consider or consider very often.

We both give examples of where we see our own preferences at work, and take the exercise one step further to talk about how, once we are aware of them, we manage these. We are both very different facilitators, Lizzie and I, and it is interesting to see what we both actively do to make sure that the best outcome is achieved.

I grappled with one of my behavioural preferences recently during a large group facilitation exercise in Mali. My FIRO-B results in inclusion are rather high (expressed and wanted). This is a good thing, of course, when it comes to working successfully with groups, and at the same time it gives me a challenge when ownership by the group is one of the soft outcomes desired of a facilitated process. This might be the case for a network building meeting, one generating an action plan or campaign, or a Youth Call to Action - as was the case in the Mali event.

For any facilitator high in inclusion, turning over the process, standing back and letting the group take over takes deliberate thought and action and can really work against that behavioural preference to be in the middle of everything until the very end. But that ownership outcome demands it. In Mali, at the end of our process, that hand over needed to occur and did occur, but it was a little messy and felt for some as though the process was listing to starboard. As easy as it would have been for me to step in (my inclusion was ready to jump), I didn't. I was present, I helped from the floor, I gave advice when needed, but the group representatives and the process we had set up took over, and they finished the work, and could revel in their success in doing it themselves.

That was hard for me personally, but very good for the process.  Lots of additional relationship building, deeper perspective sharing, and considered decision-making might have been lost if I had run that process myself right to the very end. And these outcomes can be used as social capital when this group meets again.

We use other examples of how our behaviour preferences map over to our facilitation work, and we talk about what we do to manage these, whether it is to design in specific things (like a handover point), to working with a co-facilitator that balances them out, to contracting differently with the group. We all have preferences that both make us good at being facilitators and that also might get in the way. Being mindful of these, and frequently asking the question - How might my behavioural preferences be showing up in my facilitation work? - is a good way to constantly be learning when I'm the Facilitator.

Related blog posts:
What Did You Say? Building a group's capacity to deal with its own issues
A sampling of good intervention statements to use when you are trying to help a group work through its issues, take control of the process and lead its own development.

You Have the Right to Remain Silent
Reflections on dealing with a group that has different inclusion needs - just because someone is not talking doesn't necessarily mean that he/she is not engaged. Watch jumping up that Ladder of Inference!

Understanding What We are Bringing to the Party: Group Process Consultation Resources
A list of tools and resources that facilitators and Group Process Consultation practitioners can use to explore their own impacts on a group.