Facilitating a Person Centred Event
A skilled facilitator is able to:
- Maintain high levels of interest and attention within a group
- Steer the group through an agreed process or agenda
- Deal successfully with conflict within the group
- Support consensus building
- Listen at a deeper level
Looking after the focus person is the core role of the facilitator. This will involve actively listening and nurturing the child or adult. Are they comfortable, are they being supported and are they being listened to? Standing close to the person, checking in with them, ensuring they are feeling supported and never judged will be important. Getting down to their eye level rather than towering over them can help for someone in a wheelchair or for a small child.
Work to constantly reference back to the focus child, even when someone else is speaking, keeping them central to the process even if this feels unnatural. They are the person our planning is centred around. Nothing is recorded that the young person cannot live with.
Active listening, reflecting back facts and feelings are essential facilitator skills. During person centred processes it is also helpful to emphasise the importance of ‘respectful’ listening. Many groups will contain individuals who like to speak to the person next to them during processes as ideas or thoughts are stirred up. We always actively interrupt this.
We encourage respectful listening with eyes, ears and heart. Listening deeper than the surface words, underneath the words is often where the true meaning lies. If members of the group are struggling to listen and engage quietly – we often rehearse these three elements and remind people about how it feels if when you are speaking someone starts to talk to their immediate neighbour. This usually works. Failing this holding a hand up to the person who has started speaking rather than listening – with a broad smile can do what is required.
Speakers can hold Native American talking sticks, magic wands, brass keys or precious stones to elevate the gravity of the speaker’s presence and clarify who we should be listening to. Try using magic wands that light up!!
Whilst not doing therapy the facilitator is listening in an active way and showing this by repeating back key elements of what they hear. This approach is associated with non-directive Rogerian counsellors and is very powerful. Verifying, checking back, paraphrasing or reflecting back what happened or how someone is feeling is going to convey powerful listening and will help the graphic facilitator keep up. This will involve paraphrasing such as – ‘so it sounds like what you are telling me is…’ ‘sounds like you are feeling’… and so on.
Use of props such as a ‘judges wig’ can introduce fun and remind everyone that this is not a traditional meeting. A judge’s wig can be used as a prop and be dramatically removed! This is a simple way of reminding each other that it will help if we are not critical of the session leaders, each other or ourselves. In such a safer climate people will try out ideas, play, take risks and learning will be optimised.
Involve the group and ensure that the whole group participates. You want a wide range of voices as possible especially those who know the child the best.
The facilitator needs to be standing and moving. They will need to move around the group particularly engaging those quieter members who may be less likely to participate. Prompting and catching eye contact, whilst checking back with the child – what a group member is saying before it gets recorded.
Process facilitators that bravely wait, hold the space, especially when someone is struggling with emotions or for words will reap the benefits. The group will need times when there is a deliberate opportunity to reflect individually or with someone else in the group.
One great unwritten rule of person centred planning is that the person who spends the most amount of time with the child should be the person who talks in the meeting for the same proportion of time. So a person who sees the young person for 80% of their time should take up 80% of the time of the meeting contributing. The professional who sees the child briefly once a year should speak little and never dominate however powerful their ‘role’. This will be a challenge for even the most experienced facilitator!
At the start of the session a relaxed tone needs to be set, no matter how tense people may feel at the beginning of the session. Use your humour and sense of fun with the person never against them. It’s a delicate balance.
Be firm and clear and hold your boundaries. Stay within the remit of the question being asked at that time. As a facilitator you have to be able to challenge in a positive way. You may have to interrupt someone if they have gone off track and need to bring the meeting back to the task in hand. Clear rules and structures can make meetings of all kinds feel safer, more constructive, focused, a better use of time and more likely to lead to productive consensus. They are the coat hangers for meeting content and a good facilitator makes sure they are always in excellent condition.
Keep an eye on time as this is all within a set time frame. Know which bits are ahead and planning for or checking whether the young person needs a break at some point. In order to allow the young person to be present they may need breaks at certain points through the meeting. They may be short breaks or long in the middle. Some young people may have to come and go a lot during the meeting. This is OK too.
Maintain a good pace to the meeting. Be careful not to speed up to much or slow down too much.
Amplify positives and actively look for possibilities. Someone may say something positive in quite a small voice or part of a larger conversation piece. As a facilitator you should highlight this and check back with the person who said it that this is what they meant.
Jack Pearpoint and Marsha Forest provide an excellent list of essential qualities of a facilitator.
- Self confidence