Practice Facilitation Strategies

Meeting facilitation can be scary because participants may respond to prompts and discussions in different ways. Emotions are often particularly intense when it comes to discussions of bias. Therefore, it is critical to anticipate potential reactions from participants and what your facilitation strategies would be in response.

Visit Scenarios Page for Practice

Effective Approaches

There is no single 'right' way to facilitate discussions on bias, but there are ineffective and effective approaches. Derald Wing Sue summarizes five of each in Facilitating Difficult Race Discussions. They are listed below, but read Sue's article or book Race Talk and the Conspiracy of Silence: Understanding and Facilitating Difficult Dialogues on Race.

Five Ineffective Strategies

  • Do Nothing
  • Sidetrack the Conversation
  • Appease the Participants
  • Terminate the Discussion
  • Become Defensive

Five Effective Strategies

  • Understand your racial/cultural identity
  • Acknowledge and be open to admitting your racial biases
  • Validate and facilitate discussion of feelings
  • Control the process, not the content, of race talk
  • Validate, encourage, and express admiration and appreciation to participants who speak when it feels unsafe to do so

The Confronting Prejudiced Responses Model

This approach was developed by Leslie Ashburn-Nardo, Kathryn Morris, and Stephanie Goodwin and is presented in the Speaking Up workshop. When framing responses, facilitators must address two areas:

  1. Questions that shape the timing and actions of the best responses
    • Is it bias?
    • Is it urgent (a combination of harm and intent)?
    • Am I responsible?
    • What can I do?
    • Is acting too costly?
  2. Actions that can be used
    • Question/interrupt: "I'm sorry, could you repeat that? I'm not sure I understood you correctly."
    • Arouse dissonance: "I'm surprised to hear you say that. You've always supported equity and this doesn't sound like you at all to me."
    • Express emotions, including highlighting the harm done: "I'm really [uncomfortable, disappointed, surprised] by this comment."
    • Pivot: "I want to come back to what [marginalized colleague] said earlier about [x]. I think that is an excellent point and merits more discussion."
    • Disagree: "I don't think we should make statements that imply women can't make it in [science/academia] because of family responsibilities. That assumes a lot of stereotypes."

More Possible Responses

ADVANCEGeo has suggested ways of responding to hostile behaviors within and beyond meeting settings. Additional suggested responses are available from Learning for Justice from the Southern Poverty Law Center.

The next page contains a list of practice scenarios to aid in understanding different challenges associated with facilitating meetings pertaining to equity and inclusion.

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These webpages are based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF) Division of Earth Sciences under grants #2028640 and #2028642.

Disclaimer: Any opinions, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this website are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.