Saturday, August 28, 2010

What is online facilitation?

We were asked to summarise your learning so far in our blog.

This a bit late. I’ve had a hard time getting to this task with kids parties and political parties in our general election. We had a great result for my team, The Greens.

The most important learning for me so far has been that I have a clearer idea of what I need to learn and how to go about that learning.

What is online facilitation?

I’ve been into facilitation for a long time. I wrote a book back the early 1990s that had chapter on facilitation of meetings. Well before that I was doing workshops on meeting skills built around facilitation. I was also doing workshops on concepts of networking and net weaving way back in 1988.

My very first experiences of virtual facilitation was using a “bridge” to hold a teleconferences back in 1985 with people who where interested in forming a national Greens party. This was well before telephone companies offered this service. You needed to go to someone who had an expensive hi-tech device called a “bridge” that linked all the individual calls together.. We were lucky that a technology steward at one of the local universities pointed us towards this technology. I remember the bills for a hook up in of people in six capital cities were comparable to one airfare to Sydney from Brisbane.

Now going on teleconference is often a mundane experience. One to be endured. But I do recall the feelings of the new teleconference bridge. I recall the thrill of the new possibilities from a new technology. I feel that thrill about the Web 2.0 again.

I first started online facilitation in the early days of email. I participated and played a leading role in a swarm of public and a private email groups that debated the best way to form a national Greens Party in Australia.

We joke we got a black belt in cat herding from what we learned from that process.

Curiously, I have not used a lot of online facilitation skills, other than in teleconferences since I started working for Queensland Health.

So I guess I’ve done a lot of online facilitation and found and developed theories and concepts to help myself along.

I seem to have a wider conception of what online facilitation is than most in this course. Also seem to I want to put online facilitation of communities to a wider and more ambitious range of uses than most.

Some of my learning I will use in my professional life and others in my activist and volunteer in NGOs life.

Some of the things that I’m exploring with online facilitation include:

* Promoting social connection (social capital) between people in a geographical community
* Improving community governance and create more effective and responsive services for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and other newly emerged ethnic communities.
* A self help online community for carers and people experiencing chronic illness.
* Communities of Practice.
* Organising F2F events with social media for families of small children.
* Online advocacy campaigns using viral methods.
* Selling health promotions products, ideas or marketing health related behaviour change.
* Use of social media in planning, consultation and even research.
* Using social media o project development and management.

What skills do you need as an online facilitator?
You need a wide range of skills.
* Generic facilitation skills
* Keep learning
* Play.
* Adapt previous skill and knowledge.
* Understand the tools and help others with them
* Barriers facilitators and risks.
* The ability to plan an coherent session.

My mindmap set out long list of related skill that come in handy in online facilitation.

How does a facilitator build an online community or network?

You need to have suitable purpose/problem in mind. Online tools need to be appropriate to this.

You need to pick the right online tools for the purpose and context. This might mean not using the best but the best fit with the community.

You need enough people for the online community to reach a critical mass. There is no magic number but you do need readiness to use the online tools and to work on the focus problem. You will need a core group of champions.

You will need to be persistence and responsive. You need to Do it and keep doing it. If you strategies need to change, Recognise they need to change.

You need ask questions and listen. Social media is about two communication. Prepared to invest time and effort in doing this.

* You need to acknowledge people for their contribution.
* You need to keep people on topic. The topic might take its own course but as facilitator you need to wisely influence the process so that it get the results that are wanted/needed. (Needed by whom? Wanted by whom?)
* You need to summarise previous discussions and decisions and test for agreement about the main points to at least allow others to give their versions..
* You need to establish social norms via rules and customs and you need to police them. Light policing is probably better than nuclear options.
* You need to model a respectful tone and the norms and skills people need to participate in an effective online community..
* It helps to throw in interesting things into an online discussion and ask for comment.
* You need to be interactive not a broadcaster.
* It is important to use the old publicity skills. Call people, send emails ect, put up posters. What does it take to let people know and to get them interested?

What are the key things to remember when facilitating an event, meeting or education course, especially when working with people who are new to online technology?

* Remember and be prepared it can all turn to Custard.
* Attempt to understand the risks.
* Use the facilitators to over the barriers.
* Explain and help people over the barriers. Screenr is a good tool for this.
* It takes practice to master the tools.
* F2F skills and know need to be modified.

What is the difference between teaching and facilitation?
Teaching and facilitation are just words- contested words.

There is a lot ferment and research and theorising about what good educational practice means in a new online world.

Online tools create new pedagogical possibilities. Teaching is not what it was when I studies teaching at the ends of 1970s.

It is more participatory and learning is co-constructed, and situated. Learning is also becoming more flexible.

I feel it’s a case of change or become irrelevant. Consumer expectations have changed and we need to adapt our methods. The teacher as the expert has been undermined by move to technology. Learning has become more interactive, more responsive, and punters have many more choices.

Learners have needs and are demanding new methods. Web 2.0 has precipitated a powershift between teachers/schools and the consumers of their services.

I really enjoyed this wiki on new understanding about e-learning:

What is netiquette?

Netiquette is etiquette in the online world.

Like F2F etiquette, netiquette is a constant flux and is culturally constructed.

Netiquette has the same purpose as F2F etiquette. It si about putting people
at ease. When people are at ease they can learn and perform better. They can also enjoy more.

Netiquette like etiquette consists of rules and customs and social norms so people can cooperate achieve social goods they value.

Netiquette also arrises out the technical issues surrounding online tools.

One of the reasons you don’t hit reply all button to some emails is that it can bring down the email system.

Poor netiquette can waste peoples time, and hog shared resources. Sending big files as attachments can clog up someone system.

There is also tendency to be crueller online than people are face to face. I think this might be related to the perceived lack of consequences There is a greater social distance and reduced empathy.

The lack of social cues can mean people take offence when none was intended.


  1. Well said Malcolm. It strikes me that this could be the outline for an update of that book on facilitation you said you wrote in the '90s.

    I particularly enjoyed your perspective on the changes in teaching with the advent of technology. It helped soften my personal distinction between facilitating and teaching. Thanks.

  2. Thanks Karen. I'm really enjoying your blog posts and I find they stimulate my thinking and learning.

  3. Hi Malcolm, I continue to be interested in this concept of social capital and now you have mentioned indigenous people. How do we as priviledged online facilitators reach those who are poorer than us...less well resourced...less digital literacy etc