Facilitation Guidance

Group Agreements

It’s strongly recommended that each group establishes “Ground Rules” or group agreements during their first session. It is important that participants feel engaged in setting their own rules. Some facilitators ask the group to generate a list of rules, and add important ones that are not mentioned. Others present a basic list to the group and ask participants to add to it. Either way, the group should have a common understanding of all the rules and agree to hold each other accountable to them. The list should be posted visibly for the group each time you meet. 

The following are some basic ground rules that past facilitators have found useful:

  • Look for the good things in other people.
  • Don’t use put downs, even in a joking way.
  • Listen carefully. No side conversations.
  • Don’t interrupt. (Talk only with the koosh or talking stick)
  • KISS (Keep It Short and Simple).
  • Volunteer yourself only.
  • Observe confidentiality – Respect the privacy of other people. 
  • You have a right to pass from an exercise, but the group will come back to you. 
  • Participate fully.
  • Spelling doesn‘t count. 

In addition to these standard rules, here are a few others that groups have used: 

  • Use a buzzword – a word to bring the group‘s attention back.
  • Sparkle at people (waving hands from side to side) when you agree or think they have said something useful instead of clapping so as not to interrupt.
  • Say “Cancel that” when you hear someone use a put-down.
  • Call “Hurricane” when you need to move around, as long as it does not interrupt an activity.  


Through Ground Rules, facilitators are trying to foster an environment in which participants create and enforce their own rules of behavior and yet, if facilitators fail to exercise their authority, the workshop can be a frustrating, scattered, or unproductive experience for everyone.

Here are some reflections on discipline:

  • Sometimes what seems to be disruptive behavior may be positive. HIP encourages participants to speak up and voice their needs and concerns. It may not feel good for facilitators if participants voice their dissatisfaction, but it may be a sign that people are feeling empowered to speak. Resistance can open dialogue about methods of learning, individual styles of learning, the philosophy of nonviolence, and other important issues. If facilitators don’t take it personally and encourage the dialogue, these discussions can be very productive parts of the workshop.
  • Engage a critical group in finding solutions to the problems or dissatisfaction they are voicing.  Don‘t get upset or personally hurt if they want something different from what they are getting.  
  • Refer to the Ground Rules when you need to address a discipline issue, and remind people that they agreed to them. Even when the group decides on its own ground rules, it may not know yet how to enforce them in a respectful way. The facilitators may need to prove some examples and enforce the ground rules themselves in the beginning, and let the group gradually find ways to discipline itself.
  • Be selective in your application of the Ground Rules. If you create too rigid a structure, people will resist.


“Debriefing,” or reflecting on an activity afterwards, is important. Debriefing can help participants relate what they learned in the activity to their daily life, as well as express and work through any strong emotions raised by the activity. 

Here are some suggestions from Help Increase the Peace facilitators on the art of debriefing:

  • “Our main job in debriefing is to get most participants talking with each other, not to us, about the issues at hand. To do this, we need to ask good questions and avoid lecturing at all costs.”
  • “It doesn’t take even very young people long to figure out the main points of an activity if we ask good questions and briefly discuss the ideas in an engaging way. Ask open-ended questions, such as “If that activity had a point, what would it be?” “Does this ever happen in real life? When and how? What can we do about it?” Or, if it’s something positive, “How can we make it happen more often?” Avoid questions that give people the idea that you’re looking for a specific answer, as these often come across as patronizing.”
  • “We’re asking for people to tell us what they think, and sometimes we don’t like or don’t agree with what they come up with. Remember that we are not here to tell people what to think, but to challenge people to move in their thinking one step further. We don’t have to respond to everything everyone says. It doesn’t help to lecture or debate. When you challenge someone, try to do it through a question. For example, if a participant says, ‗The only way to survive on the street is not to trust anyone,‘ a facilitator could respond, ‗Can anyone think of an example from the street where you survived because you trusted others?‘ Be prepared to offer your own example!‖
  • “We aren’t trying to make people feel uncomfortable with probing questions. Our goal is to get people talking to each other, within their comfort zone. We are always trying to expand that comfort zone, but we need to do this in a way that respects the privacy of each individual.”
  • “While everyone should be actively involved in the debriefing, not everyone will respond verbally. Some may respond with nods, facial expressions and laughter, and still be engaged.”
  • “Rarely is it wise to let a debriefing session run on, especially if it means cutting out another activity. It’s better for people to think about the ideas in their own space and time than to let a debriefing session continue with most people not engaged. If the conversation is charged and everyone is engaged, let it continue. More often, however, a few people talk, others zone out, and the entire group misses out on another activity. Even if you like what people are saying, find a friendly way to cut off these discussions. One way to gauge when to move on is to try to see the discussion from the perspective of a first-time participant with a fairly short attention span. Would that person be interested in the discussion? If you feel that the ideas people raise need to be explored further, look for an active, experiential way to address them, and schedule it for one of the next sessions.”

Often knowing what to talk about can be challenging.  Since many of the strategies provided to you can be used in different contexts, the questions which are asked after the activity can vary, depending on the points which the facilitator is hoping were realized.  In general, however, when planning a program a facilitator should think about what the point is of the activities.

  • Do you want the participants to become more aware of their communication style?  Or of the content of the discussion?
  • Do you want them to notice that resolving conflict is an intrinsic part of cooperation?  Or simply that it took cooperation to solve the problem?
  • Do you want them to recognize that win/win is possible if one chooses to go for it?  Or do you want them to notice the elements that go into creating a win/win solution?

Essentially, what is the point?  That will determine the kind of questions you will ask.  

In thinking about how to order your questions:

  • Start with observations- What happened?  What did you notice?
  • Then you could move to feelings- How did it feel to you when that happened?  What was surprising?  What pleased you?  What made you angry?
  • Next, you might want to address the question of what meaning they put on the experience.  What did you learn that you might use in other situations?  How does this reflect your experience in the world outside of this workshop?
  • Finally, you might ask them if they are making any new decisions based on their experience, will they do anything differently as a result of having had this experience?
  • Think also about bridges between exercises and modules. Although the activities can stand on their own, you have chosen to put them together in a certain order for a reason. You had some particular learning points you wanted the participants to experience.  Sharing your thinking with the participants is a way of being a transparent leader.
  • You want them to know what you were thinking when you decided to do the activities in a certain order.  This does not mean that you are ―controlling‖ them, merely that you have been thoughtful in designing your agenda because you have an intention of them coming away with value for having spent their time with you.

Some examples of questions you might ask if you’re trying to highlight cooperation and collaborative skills are…

  • What communication skills did you need to be able to cooperate with each other?
  • Were there any conflicts? How were they resolved?
  • Was there a leader in the activity? How could you tell?
  • Are there different ways to be a leader? When are the different kinds of leadership useful or appropriate?
  • What makes you respect a leader?
  • If everyone follows the leader and something goes wrong, who is responsible?

Cooperative games can also bring up issues of competition. Again, focused debriefing questions can bring to light how competition affects cooperation. Here are some suggestions for debriefing questions:

  • Did you find yourself comparing your group to the other group(s)? Why do you think that happened?
  • If another group worked faster than yours, did that change how you felt about working with your group? What if another group worked slower than yours?
  • When does competition bring people together in a positive way? When does competition push people apart?

For trust exercises, some useful debriefing questions are:

  • Is it good or wise to trust everyone?
  • Does trust mean different things in different situations?
  • What are some signs that you can trust someone?
  • What are some signs that you shouldn’t trust someone?
  • Why is trust important for problem solving? Why is it important for social change?

Closing and Evaluations

At the end of each session and before the closing activity, facilitators should ask the group to quickly evaluate the session. The evaluation, like the activities, serves several purposes. 

First and foremost, it allows the facilitators to find out what is working and what they may need to change. Second, it shows respect for participants’ opinions and ideas, building their self-esteem and helping them to feel more invested in the workshop. Third, as participants reflect on the activities of the session, they reinforce what they have learned. And fourth, participants practice articulating their needs and offering suggestions for change – essential skills for working cooperatively in a group.

Facilitators should model how to gracefully accept feedback without responding defensively. Some facilitators choose not to respond to feedback until the beginning of the next session, to emphasize that participants should speak freely, without fear of being shot down.

It is important to let participants know that their suggestions will be taken seriously, and more important to actually take them seriously. As it is all too rare for adults to ask young people what they want or what they think, it may be hard at first to elicit responses from the group. However, as participants see facilitators sincerely respond to their ideas, they tend to participate more fully.

Some evaluation strategies are included in your resource folder.

Closings are a way to mark the end of each session and bring the group together. They are generally quick and simple. Closings can serve a number of purposes:

  • Closings can bring out the positive aspects of the session. They are different from the formal evaluations that comes before. They allow people to leave on a positive note.
  • Closings can help make the connection between the material covered in the session and the “outside world” clearer.
  • Some examples of prompts you could use:
  • Something from this workshop that I am going to try to do after we leave is…
  • One thing that I can do to end racism (sexism, domestic violence, homophobia, stereotyping, etc.) is…
  • One thing that I/we could do to make the world more just is…
  • Closings can highlight the talent in the group. If someone sings, raps, knows a cheer, plays an instrument, or has another way to bring the group together, facilitators can invite them to lead the group in a Closing.
  • Closings can be a physical expression of unity and cooperation.
    • Closings that require participants to touch each other may not be comfortable for all participants. Give permission to sit out, after encouraging everyone to participate.

Creating New Activities

Here are some guidelines to keep in mind as you experiment:

  • Activities should be open-ended, meaning that they should not have one point that everyone must grasp in order to be successful. Instead, they should provide a framework within which participants can come to their own insights about the topics at hand.
  • Activities should build on what people already know, and take them a step further, through experience and reflection or the introduction of new information.
  • Activities should increase dialogue. As much as possible, participants should be talking to each other, not to the facilitators.
  • Activities should encourage participants to look to each other as resources, rather than reinforcing the idea that there are “experts” who can give us the answers.
  • In asking small groups to report back to the large group, participants may get bored if they feel like they are just recapping the discussion in the small group. You may want to ask them to report back in such a way that it builds up the knowledge of the group. For example, if people are sharing experiences of prejudice in the small group, they may reflect on the patterns in their experiences, or note what they had in common, when they return to the large group.