Being the facilitator – a visual reflection

February 08, 2017 | Blog Admin | SDC Experiences |


Rating: 4.7 out of 5

Jany pictureNadiaThis blog post draws a colorful picture of what it means to be the facilitator. A facilitator has many roles to play before, during and after a workshop or learning event. But what are these roles? And how do we as facilitators see ourselves? During a Lunch & Learn event a group of facilitators reflected these questions in a visual way and uncovered a series of interesting metaphors. 

By Jany Barraut and Nadia von Holzen

Visual inquiry

A group of SDC staff members who are acting as facilitators gathered during a Lunch & Learn event for a visual inquiry around what it means to be a facilitator, what are the roles we play, and what are our own understanding and perceptions.

What metaphors come to our mind when you think of the roles of a facilitator? Draw and build these metaphors with the material at your disposal (paper, markers, coloured pencils, wax crayons, scissors and glue, modelling clay). 

Many images – many roles 

The created metaphors visualize the different aspects of work a facilitator is taking care of.

The space holder

Metaphor fac 1

During the workshop the facilitator holds the space. The participants (flowers and butterflies) are in conversation; the butterflies cross-pollinate the ideas in the room. The ball symbolises leverage; the facilitator supports the group process and tries to intensify and deepen conversations and solution finding. The facilitator makes sure the workshop process enables to achieve the workshop objectives.

The planet connector 

Methaphor fac 4

With long arms the facilitator brings the different planets – people and their ideas, perspectives and experiences – together. The facilitator keeps an eye on the sandglass to lead the group within the limited workshop time through the process. Hereby the facilitator works with the heart and not only with the brain.

The dynamic fluid

Metaphor fac fluidFacilitating is like chemistry. The facilitator assists in mixing the various fluids coming together. It is dynamic and purposeful process. Ingredients and colours mix, and there are many opportunities for different ideas to come together. The facilitator provides the container and gives the direction for the group process so that everyone can collect the fruits in the end.



A good facilitator is a person that is able to change his/her rhythm and dancing steps according to the music around her/him.
Ernst Bolliger

The flexible “chewing gum”

Metaphor fac 2


The facilitator is well prepared and therefore flexible to act in the moment. The facilitator is juggling between many roles and acts as hotel manager, conductor, juggler, scout, waiter, architect, tourist guide at the same time. The facilitator listens and observes, and acts as catalyst. Compass, maps, guideposts and microphone are the helpful tools.

So what?

The colourful and imaginative metaphors point us to the core tasks the facilitator has: Framing and creating the space for bringing people and ideas together:

* The facilitator creates the space for participants to have meaningful and deep conversations and collaboration. This requires some preparatory work to create the appropriate climate and atmosphere and ensure a smooth process during the workshop;

* The facilitator designs the workshop. This work starts with clarifying the intention – the purpose, getting a sense of the participants, and of what we are aiming to achieve through the workshop. Together with the organising team and other stakeholders, the facilitator defines which workshop environment needs to be created, which format is needed and how the whole and the different parts can be framed.

* During the workshop the facilitator guides the group through the process. And while the workshop is in full swing the facilitator is “standing there”, fully present, and observing the sound level and intensity of the conversation, flexible to jump or adjust if necessary.


Which metaphor comes to your mind if you think about the various roles of the facilitator?

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