Online Facilitation – differences to the classical offline facilitation role

It is a completely different playing field. As soon as I facilitate an online community I’m playing with completely different rules and have a completely different role. If I have 200 people sitting in front of me, I can more or less garantee that I’ll finish my facilitation with a good bunch of answers to the questions I’m asking. People will stick fairly closely to the questions and be quite willing to be drawn back to the objectives of the meeting if I remind them to do this politely. It’s therefore much more a piece of cake to reassure my client that the meeting will be constructive and productive. And head in the direction it sets out to traverse, creating the sort of results intended and aimed at.

There is, of course, the problem of scale when dealing with large issues of change. 200 people is a large group to handle physically, but there are nice, useful tools to ensure every voice is heard and that there is enough focus to come to clear results and solutions to problems. There are also nice, effective ways of using the stage, technology and the facilitator’s presence to motivate 200 – or even quite a few more (i.e. 2000) – to get involved at the foreseen times in a way conducive to the target orientation of the meeting. But even 2000 people are not really enough to effect great changes in great systems (such as regions/countries, multinational firms, schools, etc.). Great changes take place involving many many more people and giving them a voice, a chunk of the decision making process. President Obama’s election process was, of course, one such process.  And it’s so funny watching dozens of other – less charismatic, less brave, less well advised – politicians achingly wishing they could activate the same amount of multipliers (some might say “fans”) as they prepare themselves for election.

So the question is: what do we as facilitators have to do and be in order to facilitate the online community in such a way as to effect change? How can we steer a group of invisible faces and hearts (all we can see are the words they write)? How can we create a group feeling amongst people sitting alone at their desks? How does our role as facilitator change? And are we kidding ourselves in thinking we still have control of what’s happening online?

Let’s continue this discussion together. What do you think?


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