Definition of facilitation

Facilitation refers to the process of running meetings efficiently and helping people to work together effectively.  A facilitator is the person responsible for carrying out such processes to achieve these aims.

S/he is responsible for promoting effective communication, time management and for encouraging participation from all stakeholders in the meeting.  If there are problems to be solved, s/he is tasked with making the problem-solving process easier between groups and individuals. 

S/he is responsible for

  1. Setting clear aims or purposes of the meeting;
  2. Ensuring that there are processes to achieve these aims;
  3. Ensuring that there are deliverables or products of the meeting, such as minutes to show what was discussed;
  4. Assigning various roles for people, for instance, a timekeeper to ensure that the meeting does not overrun and there is adequate time to discuss each agenda;
  5. Planning the meeting;
  6. Reserving a place for the meeting and ensuring that the necessary items are available, such as a projector.  S/he would also arrange the space to fit the purpose, for example, to create a more consensual atmosphere, a round table could be appropriate.

Example case study
As an officer for regulatory affairs in a major pharmaceutical firm, Rik was in charge of the introduction of the company’s new medicines into the UK market. However, he and some of his colleagues in R&D raised some concerns about a new drug.

Indeed, some scientific articles asserted that a molecule in this particular drug could create strong side effects, while other scientists considered that this new remedy could save many lives.

Before even submitting this medicine to the regulatory authorities, Rik wanted to collect a more informed opinion of the risks of this drug. He wanted to convene a meeting and decided to call a professional facilitator, whose role was to prepare and run the meeting with several world experts in the field.

During an entire day, the facilitator kept the dialogue focused and made sure that all the experts were heard.  Firstly, they had to determine if there was a potential risk associated with this medicine.  Secondly, if there was a risk, then what is its level and what kind of animal studies or lab experiments would be required to evaluate the risk.

At the end of the meeting, the facilitator summarised the key findings and a possible action plan that all experts approved of. After carefully weighing the results of this facilitation, Rik was able to advise his vice-president of R&D to decide the next steps to take. [1]