E-facilitation – Facilitation gone online. How to smite the bite! Part 2

July 05, 2011 | bit-wartung | Learning Elsewhere |


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Olivia Hartmann II swIn the first part of this blog I looked at e-faciliation and how it compares to face to face facilitation. For this second part I asked myself, what are the strengths and weaknesses of the online situation and what would be the content of a twenty minutes crash-course on “the specifics of online facilitaiton”. And as a round-up of both blog posts on e-facilitaiton I share my thoughts on the future prospects of facilitation in cyberspace. Please do feel free to react to/comment on any of these thoughts! I would be thrilled to read about your experiences or opinions on that matter!

Strengths and limitations of the “e”- situation

As with all things in life e-facilitation has its two sides, the strong sides and the weak points. So, what would be the strengths and weaknesses or limitations of the online situation? Below a collection of the points that popped into my mind – I leave it up to you, in which category you classify them, good or bad.

  • Saving of cost and nerves. Online collaboration has quite some potential to save cost (travel cost, time cost) and nerves. In an asynchronous setting people can work as per their individual convenience, and thus there is no delay due to difficulty to find a common slot for interaction. It is easily possible, before a f2f event, to perform first steps such as e.g. pre-discussing certain matters, collecting ideas or clarifying issues online. With these activities one can also get a “feel of the crowd” and all in all one can then plan and structure f2f meetings more geared towards the acutal needs, keep them shorter and concentrate on those things that are preferably done f2f.
  • Outreach. The use of online media makes it possible to bring together a larger number of persons, even persons who would never meet f2f (distance, time constraints, difference in status). It allows pooling a bigger spectrum of information for learning and experience exchange; that is particularly valuable for topics that are of international, world-wide interest. Asynchronous settings, such as discussion forums, allow including contibutions of persons with slow connectivity, limited access to internet or long absences from the office. Be aware, however, of the black box effect (see below) and of the fact that whoever is not “on e” is not in the boat unless specific measures are taken to bring them in.
  • The black box effect: online interactions are less personal, there is more emotional distance and, in open groups there is an uncertainty who all can read a contribution. The lack of non-verbal signals and direct interaction make it more difficult for the facilitator and the participants to grasp the general “mood” in a group. Emotional distance makes it more difficult for some people to contribute, whilst others tend to be more direct and inconsiderate. That is particularly true if the involved people do not know each other. As a facilitator try to include f2f events if and as possible. Consciously request feedback from time to time and use backchanneling to investigate perceived problems. If you have to work with undefined, open and infamiliar groups, make an extra effort to create transparency and to instill an attitude of trust and respect. And don’t try to talk about sensitive issues in such settings.
  • Competing against other requests is challenging. It is a reality that any (non-scheduled) online activity is easily pushed off the wagon by other, more immediate, immanent requests of “real-life”. As a facilitator be aware of that fact and strive to ensure that your “cause” is of importance and interest to the participants (!!!); encourage the use of email alerts; give clear deadlines and set mile-stones, e.g. by schedulling fix in-time appointments between streches of asynchronous, individual work.


What are the most important things to remember when facilitating online?

Below my personal list of 7 “crucial points to remember when facilitating online – as opposed to f2f” – I still remind myself of them whenever I am about to facilitate online. I hope they are of use to you, too.

Particular to asynchronous facilitation

  • you need to prepare more in detail, all instructions etc. need to be written in self-explanatory way, clarification rounds need a lot of time and create confusions; so, reserve enough time for the preparations!

Particular to in-time interactions

  • in-time meetings are very tyring for both participants and facilitator! keep them short (max 1.5 – 2 hours), limit them to things where direct interaction does create added value over asynchronous interaction; have everything you need in reach before the interaction starts; ideally try to find a second person to assist
  • the danger to “lose” people is greater; you cannot read and react to non-verbal feedback; the participants are in their usual environment, can be easily distracted; therefore include reality checks and ask for feedback;

for both:

  • do test out the online environment first; give enough time to participants to familiarize with the technical set-up; ensure support (can also be by delegating it to a third party)
  • be aware that participants need (more) time to “arrive” and for getting to know/trust each other
  • be aware, that online interactions need more initiative and discipline from the side of participants – thus don’t expect more participation than in a f2f meeting.
  • The good news- you don’t have to bother wearing a tie or a business suit!


What is the future prospect of e-facilitation? will f2f facilitation with time be replaced by e-facilitation?

I do not believe so. In my view the future brings about a co-exsistence of the two kinds of facilitation in terms of a well-balanced, conscious and optimal combination of the two, yielding maximum outcome with the minimum investment of time and minimal negative side-effects.

And, who knows whether within the course of time we will not be able to meet cyber-face to cyber face?! Not by means of video pictures, but with real cyber-bodies that would exist parallel to (or instead of) our normal bodies?! Unrealistic? Well, some centuries ago, who would have thought that an A380 would ever be possible?! Nothing is impossible.

Maybe I should soon start thinking of a concept for our newest training – the e-f2f-facilitation training I! Once it will be ready, I’ll make sure you get the invitation ;).

Looking forward to meeting you there!


Comments to“E-facilitation – Facilitation gone online. How to smite the bite! Part 2”

  1. Camille Aubry says:

    Hello, thank you very much for this very interesting topic – e-facilitation. But I can’t access the second part of Olivia Hartmann’s contribution. The title is there, but the content doesn’t appear.


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