There’s a problem with the title of this post if we think of experts and participants as being some sort of dichotomy. So I’ll try and clear up any misunderstanding right now. If participants are not experts, then why are we allowing them to participate in solving a problem, generating ideas or planning a strategy? We have to be particularly careful of suggesting that participants are anything less than experts with regard to the question a facilitation poses. We need participant thought and participant input. A facilitated process is not a training or other learning process, in which it is our job as facilitator to impart expert knowledge onto non-expert learners. It’s about calling on participants’ experience, knowledge and innovation to create new, unique results. If we allow the dichotomy to persist, participants will be reduced to those who sit and ask questions and applaud at the end.
However, it may still be sensible and necessary to involve “other” experts in a facilitated group process. There are several reasons for this:
- The group of participants has requested external (and maybe neutral) expertise to help mediate differing views or conflicting opinions.
- The facilitated process is embedded in a broader process, which needs to be explained.
- A specific question (i.e. financing projects, press work, political decision making process, technical matter) needs to be temporarily addressed by an expert in order for the group to continue working.
- etc. etc.
Generally, the expertise required to solve the group’s problem or reach the group’s common result should be contained in the group. The most important attribute of a facilitator is his/her confidence and trust in the group’s capability to solve problems and come up with good ideas. If we, as facilitators, start doubting the group’s expertise too much, the group will push responsibility for its results from it (“We’re not qualified to answer that…”) and rely on the experts who’ve not managed to provide the answers in the first place!
Trust in the process and trust in the group.