Three dimensions of the facilitator role – a focused conversation


I used this great little 4 minute video in a Group Facilitation Methods course in Brussels yesterday (to be repeated as a public course in Brussels in November), to launch a conversation on the role of the facilitator and to demonstrate the ToP Focused Conversation method in the process. The group of 18 were mostly staff members of a variety of European-level social NGO networks, supporting their member NGOs to learn, collaborate and campaign together. It produced a rich conversation and a great demonstration of the method, and many insights that we were able to refer back to again and again during the remainder of the course.

I shall certainly use the video and my conversation questions again, so I thought I would share them here for others to try as well. If you use them, please do let me know how it goes for you!  I allowed 20 minutes for the conversation, which worked well for us. We pretty much followed the sequence of questions as shown below, although by the interpretive level the conversation has taken off such that I used the questions to steer the conversation rather than to stimulate it.

The video is by the International Institute of Facilitation and Change (IIFAC) and is now available also in multiple languages.  For more on the ToP Focused Conversation method, see the ICA:UK ToP method overview (pdf) and Brian Stanfield’s ‘Art of Focused Conversation: 100 Ways to Access Group Wisdom in the Workplace‘. When I first shared the video in an earlier post, I quoted John Miller of ICA Associates on his experience of using the video for a Focused Conversation with a high school class in Canada.


Objective level questions

1. What words and phrases do you recall from the clip?

2. What images do you remember?

3. What people or characters?

4. What else about the clip did you notice, such as sound, colour, design?

Reflective level questions

5. What particularly surprised or intrigued you in the clip?

6. Which ideas were most familiar to you?

7. What reminded you of your own experience of meetings that you have designed and facilitated, or participated in?

8. What other metaphors for facilitation come to mind for you?

Interpretive level questions

9. How well do these three metaphors capture the role of the facilitator in your experience? What would you add?

10. Which of these three dimensions is best understood and appreciated in your own situations?

11. What aspects of the facilitator role would you most like to learn and practice more? How?

Decisional level questions

12. What is one insight from this clip or conversation that will you take away and apply in your own work?

13. Who would you like to share this clip with?

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29 thoughts on “Three dimensions of the facilitator role – a focused conversation

  1. What is the role of a facilitator (and of a moderator, MC, chair etc.)? | agilefacil

  2. Thank you, Martin for posting this again. Great conversation! Here is a slightly different one that I use for the video when I teach GFM Online. It is a bit shorter.

    O. Go around – what words or phrases did you hear in the video? What images or pictures did you see?

    R. At what point did you laugh? What experiences are you reminded of?

    I. What is something you learned from this video about the architect? About the pilot?
    About the guide?
    What did you already know that was reinforced by the video?

    D. How might you use what you’ve learned from this video in your own work?

  3. Thanks Stephen, delighted to hear it. I use the questions one by one, as a guide and adapting them as necessary as the conversation unfolds. I don’t usually record anything in writing, if the aim is simply to have a conversation and learn from it. You can see how I used the video and questions in an online conversation in my January webinar at (from about minute 5:40 of the youtube recording) Good luck, and do let me know how it goes!

  4. Hi Martin, I will be using this video this coming weekend for a retreat for facilitators who are getting together to refine and renew their facilitation skills. In terms of process, did you ask the the questions one by one and just scribe their answers for each question or did you give all the Objective questions at once or did they record their own answers on coloured sheets or something like that. It seems for me with all those questions it could take more than 20 minutes

  5. Hello Neils. Thanks for your astute observation. The video was written (by me!) primarily from the point of view of the facilitator, but of course the role of the participants is crucial. Perhaps we need a second video from this perspective…mmm?

    • Dear Beatrice, you can follow Joyce and his Ulysses and create videos from different participants’ view points. That would bring new senses every time, diminishing of the previous ones as well

    • Hi Martin and Beatrice. I’ve been racking my brain for a metaphor suitable for illustrating the role of the facilitator and the participants. I can’t improve on Martin’s suggestion of an ancient galley powered by rowers and steered by a helmsman. But that implies the helmsman knows where their headed, when, in fact the direction comes from the rowers. Will keep on trying!

      • I used the video and questions again with another group this week, and was interested to hear the same concern about the pilot metaphor – but the suggestion of a rowing cox was considered too “shouty”!
        Sent using BlackBerry® from Orange

  6. Hi Martin. Great site, thank you! I watched the video and went to the IIFAC site. The video is great content and presentation. However, It seems to imply that the participants (passengers on the plane) just sit back and let the pilot do all the work. No one else raised the point, so maybe I’m out in left field. Neils

    • Thanks Neils, that’s a very good point! I supppose the pilot would be a better metaphor if the vessel was powered by the work of the people inside, like a big rowing boat. Can you think of a better metaphor, that’s equally clear and simple?

  7. Four steps to a universal principle of facilitation and learning: Guest Blog by Martin Gilbraith, former IAF Chair and IAF Europe Director | Kellow Learning :: facilitating curious futures

    • I am really thrilled to learn how many people are using the video in such varied contexts. Thanks, Martin, for being such a great evangelist! Look for translation into other languages in 2014

    • Very simple questions, not as profound a conversation as you created, because we are online, everyone sees the video individually, and the most important intent of the conversation is to experience the four levels so we can build theory and generalization on the experience:

      O. Go round – What words or phrases did you hear in the video? What images or pictures did you see?
      R. At what point did you laugh?
      What experiences are you reminded of?
      I. What is something you learned from this video about the architect? The pilot? The guide?
      What did you already know that was reinforced by the video?
      D. How might you use what you’ve learned from this video in your own work? (Go round)

  8. Very nice, Martin. We are using the video in our online Focused Conversation module as the first demonstration of the conversation method. I will check my questions against yours!

  9. Martin, I recently used this video with a group of business college students here in the States and it worked beautifully. I had been asked to present the concept of facilitative leadership to an honors class, many of whom had no idea what a facilitator is or does. Thanks for the gift of your Focused Conversation.

    • Martin, I grasped you meaning the first time but my reply was not very clear. We will be looking for help with French, Italian and Portuguese translations after the first of the year – and other languages as needed!

      • Korean would be good… Might be able to find someone to do it, since I’ve used it in English with an online course of Korean speakers already…..

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