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Possible Meeting Facilitation Services

Criteria, Checklist and Commentaries

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Presented to a session on 'Planning for Spontaneous Assistance and Techniques in Meeting Organization' at the Associate Members Meeting, Union of International Associations (Brussels, 1993)


  1. Simple: both to implement and to understand;
  2. Non-invasive: and non-disruptive of normal meeting processes;
  3. Designed to 'fail safe':in the event of implementation difficulties;
  4. Cost-constrained: in that resources used can be increased and decreased by modular amounts according to need and availability;
  5. Reconfigurable: in that the particular facilities actually used can be changed during the meeting according to need and response;
  6. Output-oriented: in that it gives rise to a concrete output wherever possible;
  7. Enthusiasm-responsive: in that where interest in operating a particular facility exists (such as on the part of a motivated group of volunteers) it can be done independently of other initiatives.


  1. Communication services
    1. Participant interaction messaging
    2. Conference newspaper
    3. Computer-based bulletin board
    4. Message board
    5. Participant pigeon-holes
    6. Participant document display
  2. Participant profiling
    1. Database
    2. Metaphors, parables and stories
    3. Insight sheets (on request)
    4. Vision statements for future organization
    5. Culturgrams
    6. 'Special needs'
  3. Facilitation
    1. Editorial facilitation
    2. Language interpretation
    3. Running commentary interpretation
    4. Music
  4. Documentation
    1. Guidelines (participant package)
    2. Background documentation (participant package)
    3. Past declarations (on request)
    4. Video and audio tapes
  5. Special facilitator roles
    1. Conventional facilitator
    2. Background facilitator
    3. Social interactor
    4. Interviewers/Profilers
    5. Comment solicitation
  6. Visualization
    1. Integrative images
    2. Mapping
    3. Visual minutes
    4. Video taping
    5. Slide projection
  7. Focus rooms or areas
    1. Messaging
    2. Newspaper
    3. Press
    4. Interview
    5. Video viewing
    6. Computer networking
    7. Participant database
    8. Monitoring
    9. Contact
    10. 'Retreat' centre
    11. Open space
    12. Visualization
    13. Issue relevance
    14. Declaration
    15. Pigeon-hole
    16. Participant displays
    17. Sales
    18. Meditation



The purpose of the following is to provide channels of communication for the meeting that are independent of the formal session processes. Only one of the services may be provided, or several may be used in combination -- preferably in such a way as to complement each other.

  1. Participant interaction messaging: This procedure involves collection of relatively brief messages from participants (whether during or between sessions), sequence numbering them, typing them into wordprocessor documents, printing them out to fill pages, photocopying (two-sided) pages), distribution to participants (possibly during and between sessions). The messages may cover: comments on speeches, questions to speakers, points of information, proposals, comments on documents, wisdom, humour, or poetry. Various degrees of editing are possible. Several language versions may be produced (or combined). Resources are readily controlled and little, if any, training is required. Depends on ability to encourage participants to supply and respond to messages.
  2. (See Manual and Guidelines, which includes samples)

  3. Conference newspaper: This is based on the standard journalistic approach: articles, interviews, reproduction of key documents. It may also include messages (using a 'small ads' format). Texts are made into pages using any desktop publishing package. Photos may be scanned or pasted in. Reproduction may be done on a photocopier or an offset machine. Tends to require more resources and is therefore usually mono-lingual. Information from participants is effectively filtered by journalistic and editorial constraints. Can acquire a very attractive and professional feel. A technique used at a number of large conferences. Depends on journalistic and editorial skills.
  4. Computer-based bulletin board: This may be used prior to and during the event to communicate messages from both participants and from others not able to be present. It is possible to print out messages for wider distribution, but otherwise access is dependent on use of a terminal and the assistance of people who understand the software.
  5. Message board: This is the most commonly used communication technique between participants, and from organizers to participants. It requires minimal effort. To the extent that it appears chaotic, it may discourage other than casual interest.
  6. Participant pigeon-holes: This involves creating individual pigeon-holes for participants into which documents can be placed. Access to this facility may be restricted. If it is open, there is both the possibility of 'junk mail' communications and the advantage of serendipitous exchanges. The pigeon-hole facility may be replaced by some form of filing cabinet, especially if access is supervised (which can discourage placement of items in the system).
  7. Participant document display: This commonly used facility provides a means for participants to layout documents and books describing their activities and interests. They may either be single copies (with sign up sheets) or free hand-out copies. Main requirements are for sufficient table space, although some form of supervision may be preferable if single copies of valuable documents are displayed.

  9. Database: A participant database may be developed in relation to the registration system and subsequently used to incorporate participant profiles and other contact information. As such it can be used:
  10. - to confirm and verify message author names;

    - as a basis for 'matching' profiles based on interest keywords to identify clusters of people with similar concerns;

    - for subsequent addressing of communications.

  11. Metaphors, parables and stories: Consideration could be given to encouraging each participant or faction to formulate metaphors relevant to inter-faith discourse on 1 page documents. These might take the form of stories or parables from a particular tradition -- preferably without culture specific proper names. As with insight sheets (below), these could be held in ring binders for inspection and photocopied on request -- if they proved too bulky to be issued as conference documents.
  12. Insight sheets (on request): Consideration could be given to encouraging each participant to formulate insights relevant to inter- faith discourse on 1-2 page documents. These could be numbered, grouped and displayed in ring binders so that they could be inspected by other participants. Those of interest could be checked off on a photocopy request list. Copies would then be supplied at cost.
  13. Vision statements for future organization: As with the insight sheets, these could be held in ring binders for inspection and photocopied on request at cost.
  14. Culturgrams: These are existing fact sheets on the specificity of particular cultures designed to sensitize people dealing with people of such cultures. As with insight sheets, these could be held in ring binders and photocopied at cost. Similar sheets could for example be prepared on specific religions as 'cultures'.
  15. 'Special needs': There is merit in sensitivity to the special needs of participants, whether in relation to physical movement (for the disabled), diet and food preparation, varying concepts of cleanliness (use of utensils, etc), or concepts of protocol and relation between the sexes. These may affect who greets whom, where people are seated, and forms of address. A profile of special needs could usefully be related to the participant database.

  17. Editorial facilitation: Editorial skills may be used to different degrees to provide or solicit commentary on the evolution of the conference for insertion as special messages in the participant interaction system or in the conference newspaper.
  18. Language interpretation: Standard interpretation may be provided between languages, if the equipment and interpreters can be found.
  19. Running commentary interpretation: If language interpretation equipment is used, one or more of the standard interpretation channels may be used for various forms of running commentary, especially on plenary events.
  20. Consideration could be given to the use of one (or more) styles of 'interpretation':

    Participants could select between 'competing' perspectives, as is done in selecting between languages under normal circumstances.

  21. Music: If language interpretation is used, one or more of the standard interpretation channels may be used for music, in the event that participants need relief from a particular speaker.

  23. Guidelines (participant package): The participant and speaker packages could usefully contain brief guidelines on more useful and less useful styles of communication, the value of imagery, etc. It could also indicate how best to make use of the various modes of facilitation. Such a package could draw attention to the challenges of communicating across languages and cultures -- especially where there are additional questions of protocol, seniority, rules of precedence and proximity, and degrees of bodily contact.
  24. Background documentation (participant package): This could be used to summarize the 'state of the art' in inter-faith discourse, summarizing progress to date and possibilities envisaged for the future.
  25. Past declarations (on request): There is value in having available a collection of past declarations, resolutions and recommendations relevant to inter-faith discourse. This provides historical perspective and a sense of progress. It is also a caution against unnecessary repetition of exercises that may have been less than helpful.
  26. Video and audio tapes: To the extent that these are made available, they could be used or ordered.

    Facilitators of various kinds may be of great advantage to an event. The challenge is to ensure that facilitators are sensitive to the inter-national, inter-cultural, inter- religious and multi-lingual conditions of the event. Few facilitators are skilled in this way, despite claims to the contrary.

  28. Conventional facilitator: In this case facilitators are present during a session. One or more may be used to help in the evolution of the interaction between participants.
  29. Background facilitator: In this case facilitation takes the form of interaction with participants without any formal 'facilitation' role being defined. It may occur within sessions or between sessions, and may blur into other participant roles. Some participants may specifically define their function as one of interacting with others in order to make their experience of the event more fruitful.
  30. Social interactor: As with the classic role of 'social hostess', this form of facilitation aims at ensuring that people are introduced to those that they want to meet, as well as those it might be fruitful for them to meet.
  31. Interviewers/Profilers: Some facilitators may work by using interviewing and profiling techniques to establish the interests of participants and those with whom they need to interact. This role would be associated with any monitoring function.
  32. Comment solicitation: Some facilitators may work by soliciting messages from participants for inclusion in the participant interaction system.

    The concern here is to ensure that the different preoccupations of the event are reflected in a form other than conventional documents -- especially as a means of communicating with those outside the event with a resistance to written documents.

  34. Integrative images: Appropriate skills could be used to interrelate the different dimensions and issues of the event to provide integrative images or overviews. The aim would be to capture integrative insights in visual form as a way of synthesizing the achievements of the event.
  35. Mapping: As part of the monitoring process, various 'maps' of the event, whether as sociograms or mind maps, could be generated to offer participants an insight both into the communication distance separating participants and factions, and into the lines of harmony drawing them together.
  36. Visual minutes: A visual record of the evolution of the event, in terms of the key insights and interactions, could be prepared in sketch form on flipchart sheets. During the event they could be hung on suitable walls. They could later be reduced, photocopied and bound to provide a record of the conference journey.
  37. Video taping: A video record of sessions could be made, together with selected video interviews. Copies could later be distributed and sold.
  38. Slide projection: Suitable slides, notably religious and cultural symbols, could be projected in a suitable room or in conference hallways (project in retreat centre, etc)

    Facilities such as those described above may each be located in special rooms (or partitioned areas in a facilities room). This helps to focus their efforts and provides a point of reference for those using such facilities. Several facilities may be combined in the same area. Some may be usefully located in neighbouring rooms. Thought should be given to the relative accessibility of different rooms. If isolated, certain facilities will attract little or no attention -- thus discouraging those endeavouring to make them work.

  40. Messaging room: Used for secretarial, translating and editorial services of the participant interaction messaging system. Participants can drop in messages and pick up message sheets (or back copies). Since priority access to photocopy facilities is required by such messaging, the photocopies may also be used for occasional low- priority requests.
  41. Newspaper room: Used for journalists and editors of the conference newspaper. Provides a point to which people can come to drop off proposed articles and pick up copies of the conference newspaper.
  42. Press room: Provides a base for external journalists. Such rooms usually have display tables for any written texts of speeches, communiqués, etc.
  43. Interview room: Provides a base for those conducting interviews of participants using video or sound equipment.
  44. Video viewing room: Provides a place where any videoed conference interviews may be viewed on request or by arrangement.
  45. Computer networking room: Provides a base for access to conference bulletin boards.
  46. Participant database room: Provides a base for participant profiling and 'matching' by interest.
  47. Monitoring room: Provides a base for groups monitoring the event, whether from an academic perspective or as facilitators. This could be used for facilitators to debate amongst themselves concerning the evolution of the event -- possibly observed by interested participants, or open to questions from them. The space may be designed to permit the presence of observers in a 'fishbowl' mode.
  48. Contact room: Provides a base for those endeavouring to ensure contacts and communications between participants, notably on the basis of the participant profile. The emphasis would however be on a place to handle requests for introductions to other participants or speakers. Can be usefully associated with any 'coffee' facilities.
  49. 'Retreat' centre: Provides a base for participants 'exhausted' or 'confused' by the conference and open to TLC from those capable of providing it. Provides a form of cultural 'first aid' for those suffering from 'culture shock' and requiring alternative perspectives on the event.
  50. Open space room: Provides a space for those wishing to convene and participate in roundtable discussions or other informal gatherings in relation to the event.
  51. Visualization room: Provides a base for those endeavouring to interrelate the conference themes in an integrated visual representation, whether artistic or in the form of mappings, mind maps, or sociograms.
  52. Issue relevance room: Provides a base for individuals endeavouring to focus attention on particular issues (eg environment, women, development, etc).
  53. Declaration room (fishbowl): Provides a base for those working on any conference declaration. The space may be designed to permit the presence of observers in a 'fishbowl' mode.
  54. Pigeon-hole room: Provides a base for transference of messages and documents between participants.
  55. Participant document room: Provides a base for display of participant documents.
  56. Sales room: Provides a secure base for sale of documents, videos and tapes.
  57. Meditation room: Provides a neutral space for private reflection for those who wish to use it. Suitably positioned, it may also provide an important focal point for the event.

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