identified facilitators. The next step is training them with extra
attention to language, culture and other considerations. The most
artful facilitators are sensitive to these issues and, consequently,
develop trust with participants more quickly than facilitators who
are not. Training facilitators well in how to be aware of cultural
and language barriers and the history of minority communities can
make the difference between success and failure as groups come together
for the first time.
The strategies highlighted next are designed to enhance good facilitation
While knowing your audience is critical to the success of any community
forum or discussion, it's more critical for facilitators working
with parents, community members and others from different cultural
backgrounds. The more facilitators acquaint themselves with their
participant's needs, the more meaningful the discussion.
Here's a checklist of questions to consider:
community members are likely to participate in the discussion?
languages do they speak?
there cultural barriers to overcome?
traditions or customs dictate where or how people want to sit
during the meeting?
extra time be needed for interpretation?
audio equipment required to help overcome language differences?
considerations been made for nonreaders?
facilitators welcome and introduce themselves to every participant.
This may seem painfully obvious, but a flurry of activity takes
place before a community conversation and this most important step
is often overlooked. This step is critical because this sets the
tone for the entire meeting. It can affect the comfort level of
participants and the quality of the conversation.
SEDL staff who attended Study Circle meetings observed participants
entering a room and standing alone, unsure and uncomfortable. After
a quick hello they were on their own not because facilitators
were unfeeling, uncaring people, but because they were caught up
in pre-meeting logistics. Take care of the logistics early on, so
that when participants arrive, you can concentrate on them. Consider
assigning community leaders solely to the job of welcoming participants.
You may want to have one to three designated greeters, maybe more
if the group is large. And, if you are unsure how to pronounce a
person's name as you greet them, ask an interpreter to help you.
Allow participants time to become familiar with the meeting site.
Point out where participants can park. If transportation is provided,
make sure participants know where to meet the driver when the meeting
ends. Show them where they can make a telephone call or use the
restroom. If childcare is available, introduce participants to the
caretaker before the meeting and let them know they can visit their
children any time during the meeting. This will help ease concerns
for parents who are not used to being separated from their children
and rely on extended family when they are apart.
Accepted practices vary from one culture to the next. In some cultures,
a handshake or direct eye contact with an authority figure is frowned
upon. In other cultures, individuals stand just a little more than
a foot apart when they speak to each other. Still other cultures
see this as an invasion of personal space. Keep these cultural differences
in mind as you greet participants and involve them in the discussion.
Talk to a local cultural expert to learn what's acceptable and what's
Sometimes it's not what we say, but how we respond physically that
makes the greatest impression. Smiling and listening closely are
nonverbal communication strategies that put participants at ease
and show respect for their contribution to the conversation.
Be aware that nodding, within some cultures, indicates politeness
and respect rather than agreement. Other cultures see silence as
an important nonverbal strategy feeling it is not necessary to talk
all the time in a conversation. However, too long a silence by the
facilitator during a conversation between two individuals may not
be viewed as appropriate. Again, the local cultural experts can
offer both knowledge and suggestions for making community conversations
comfortable for all involved.