Re: Using outside facilitator
From: Catherine McCarthy (
Date: Fri, 10 Jun 94 02:43 CDT
>Gordon  Weil wrote:
>>We have hired a facilitator to help our group work through tough issues.
>I would be interested in knowing more about how your group found a 
>facilitator. (They're not listed in the yellow pages :-)

I'd like to comment on this as a trained/experienced facilitator as well as
a researcher who observes public meetings and gets to see lots of different
facilitating styles.

Some facilitators believe it is absolutely necessary to have an
outside/neutral party as a facilitator while others believe it is okay to
have an internal facilitator (such as a meeting chair or rotating

For an ongoing group like co-housing, it may be good to work on developing
skills among the members rather than hiring an outsider.  Although the
outsider has definite advantages, but the big disadvantage is money. 
However, many different kinds of groups I observe - especially those
dealing with contentious issues or have a lack of trust within the group -
feel that they are much happier, effective, and find it much easier to work
to make the group process work with an outside facilitator.

If you are looking for a facilitator, try and talk around to local groups
who use a facilitator.  Many ARE in the phonebook under such things as
"public involvement specialist," "public relations," etc.  But I would
definitely try to find one through personal contacts first.  May contact
with the facilitator and ask to observe a meeting that this person
facilitates.  This is the best way to see if you like their style.  There
are many different styles, some facilitators are much more active and work
hard to bring the group to a consensus quickly, some tend to let the group
discuss a lot of issues, some are very active about sticking to groundrules
- while others are more laid back. Some make suggestions to bring closure
to issues, while others are opposed to this and never interject their own
ideas.   Really think about what your goals are in hiring a facilitator and
what skills you'd be most interested in.  One of my personal biases here
would be to find someone who is knowledgeable about the issues you are
facing - facilitators can be extremely useful sources of information or can
conversely not understand many key issues and not be as effective as they
could be.

Another way to do it is to bring in a person who could train some/all
members of your group to be a facilitator - or send a bunch of you to a
workshop. I would suggest avoiding having only 1 facilitator all the time -
this often leads to burn-out for the individual, frustration on the part of
the individual with others in the group, inability of the individual to
express his/her ideas without being viewed as domineering/bossy, and
resentment of the individuals power by others in the group. 

This would give you the skills to do it yourselves and would probably save
a lot of money. Training all/some of you give you good skills, e.g. active
listening, etc.  Those who are trained tend to become better process
participants, better listeners, more respectful of the process, and more
effective overall.   However, it would not fill the need for a
"neutral/outsider."  A really inexpensive way to get training is for all of
you to read a book - this is a great first start.  

There are lots of books out there on different facilitation methods and
group process.  Here are a few:

          Center for Conflict Resolution (Madison, WI)
                A Manual for Group Facilitators

         M. Doyle and D. Straus 
                How to Make Meetings Work:  
                The New Interaction Method (1982) Jove Books

        There are MANY others (I got tired of typing)
        some focus more on consensus,
         others more on negotiation, mediation               

Another good resource on-line here on the cohousing list is Kevin Wolf
(with the Davis N-Street community).  If you want some specific info on
suggestions for training, places to look,  etc., you can contact  me at
cmccarthy [at]

good luck!


Catherine McCarthy 
   OFFICE: Division of Environmental Studies, UC Davis, Davis, CA 95616
   HOME:   503 F Street, Davis, CA  95616, (916)753-8389
   EMAIL:  cmccarthy [at]

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