A “notice” by Josef W. Seifert
Some facilitators think, if somebody calls himself/herself “facilitator” instead of “moderator”, the difference is likely as if he/she called a potato a “spud” or a group a “team”. Just the expression is different, but the meaning is the same. So why do some people talk about “Facilitation”, others call it “Moderation”? Are there any differences and if so, what is exactly different? Is Facilitation even perhaps the new way to moderate?
Whilst differences between the meaning of the two words “moderate” – derived from the Latin word “moderatio” for temperance, guidance, leadership and “facilitate” – which in English has the meaning of “making possible”, “enable”, “make it easier” are obvious, the terms moderator and facilitator describe the same issue.
For all those cases we are talking about instructing and/or steering group discussions. Nevertheless, if someone is looking for a moderator, usually he/she doesn't look for a facilitator and vice versa. And somebody who is looking for a professional training in moderation isn't necessarily looking for training in facilitation. In reality, there are two surroundings in parallel. The question is, if these two worlds are only two sides of the same coin.
In the sixties the "Quickborn Team", a management consultancy company for office design and communication and its successors have developed a special method to design group discussions. It was the result of a so called “training for deciders” with the aim to make decision-making-processes as participative and structured as possible – among others the “ModerationsMethode” as a special form of design for group discussions.
Since then, many consultants and trainers have varied and developed it; mostly the term “Moderation method” has been used. Today you can hardly overlook the offers under this title. Also the relevant literature differs very much according to presentation and as multifaceted as real life: Everything is allowed if people like it.
Beyond the big variety of individual approaches, some “standardized” moderation methods as for example the “Moderationszyklus” (moderation cycle) or “SixSteps Moderation” (Josef W. Seifert) or “Zukunftswerkstatt” (Future workshop by Jungk and others) were born. Approximately at the same time special methods or “designs” for steering groups like “Open Space” (Owen) and “World Café” (Brown) – just to mention the most important ones - have been developed, especially in the US.
While in German-speaking countries people talked and are still talking about “moderation”, the same action is called “facilitation” in the Anglo-Saxon area. However, this expression is being used more and more in the German-speaking area, too. The question is why?
Does the country need new methods?
As well as many management concepts have found their way from the US to Europe, also the “facilitation-concepts”– mostly coming from the US – were getting famous in German-speaking countries during the end of last century and were eagerly absorbed. Something new and even coming from the US – that was just something, organizational and personnel developers, consultants, moderators and trainers were waiting for.
They were able to present something new and work with shortcuts still unknown for managers, bosses and project leaders who didn’t know what was hidden behind, whereas the moderation method –“ the thing with the little cards” - was common among everybody and each one thought to be able to talk about it. The consultant was no longer an expert, but just a user of the method. So Facilitation and Co. just came up at the right time. Additionally expressions are subject to fashion, wording is changing. By the time “individual consultation” became “coaching”, “team development” has been changed to “team coaching”, “organizational development” is now called “Change Management”, the list could be extended…
Of course there are experts for each expression, who can explain what is so specific of the expression; this is the same for moderation and facilitation. Nevertheless always and constantly new expressions appear and old ones are suspected of getting out of fashion. So also in this field the new replaces (or better drives out) the old.
Do you speak English?
Globalization means that management- and project-teams are getting more and more international. Consequently, meetings have to be moderated more often in English. The degree of networking and
self-organization is rising worldwide, a new wave of participation and co-management tendencies is rolling across the globe.
Moderation / Facilitation is more than ever in demand and necessary. Groups meet live and also online or virtually in the internet. In an international context moderation then is changing into facilitation and online moderation into eFacilitation. Still to ask whether the described reasons will lead to the effect that “Facilitation” will replace “Moderation”.
Since those Anglo-Saxon concepts are used by German-speaking moderators, moderation is called “Facilitation” by some persons, if used for structuring processes or process consultancy, or still
“Moderation” by others.
Some moderators have specialized on those concepts (or reduced themselves?) and call themselves “Facilitator” instead of “Moderator”. If asked for the reason, they often say that it is more suitable because their work is to “facilitate”. The question still is, if this conversely means that the “moderator’s” target is to make the group’s work more difficult? No, a representative of the “Facilitator-fraction” would answer, not more difficult but hardly much easier.
From the “new moderators’” point of view the classical way of moderation is too structured, the moderator is the group’s obligatory “information manager”. He/she offers structured methods, keeps himself/herself in the background and is responsible for all collected topics to be “processed” as they should.
The facilitator however, is – from the facilitator’s point of view – the facilitator, the arranger who designs the group process actively. He/she puts things into a more general framework, relies
on self-organization and keeps the “flow”. While the “genuine facilitator” thinks that processing principals like e.g. (correspondingly) propagated in Open Space as: “Whoever is coming will be the
right one”, “It starts when it starts”, “It finishes when it finishes” are just brilliant, the “classical moderator” just turns away and shakes his/her head.
If we should put both points of view in a nutshell, we could say: Facilitation is self-organization in an externally organized frame or short: self-organization before external organization. Moderation is external organization with “controlled self-organization” or short: external organization before self-organization.
But are the mentioned “designs” really representing the term “Facilitation” and are the aimed organizational patterns of the two “different brothers” really
that different in a consultant’s daily routine? And: Is the moderation “scene” really so strictly structured, didn’t the moderators recognize the signs of the times and did they oversleep progress? Has the scene stopped with brown packing paper, coloured cards and red header clouds? The answer is a clear no. No, the concepts don’t represent the term facilitation and no, the moderation scene is not just stuck, quite the contrary.
While in German the term “moderation” is also used for the presentation of a radio or TV-broadcast, panels and talks, in English the word “facilitation” is often used also in the context of teaching and learning. However, it is also used independently from popular “standardized moderation methods” like Open Space & Co., for the design of participatory problem solving with groups.
In the area of moderation or (to differentiate from radio- and TV-moderation) more concretely in the area of “business moderation” represented by MODERATIO, the progress can formally be seen from professional equipment like light, friendly recycling paper, solvent-free markers etc. and the well-aimed use of colours and shapes. New techniques and new technologies are used: “Moderation goes Online”.
In future moderation will use more and more digital media not only for web-conferencing, but also for the design of live-meetings.
“Inside” moderation is “systemic” today. For manual structuring of the moderation the moderation cycle is used as framework and choice of methods. For psychological steering of moderation systemic know-how of the methods is useful.
One of the principal duties of a “systemic moderator/ facilitator is the reduction of complexity and canalisation of self-organizing tendencies on the one hand and focusing of attention and solution-orientation on the other hand.
Complexity and self-organization
This means to cut the handling of the topics into small time slices and process them “step by step”. The “moderation cycle” with its’ steps Introduction, Gathering Topics, Selecting a Topic, Handling the Topic, Planning Measures, Conclusion offers a clear process structure which can be communicated easily. Each of those “Six Steps” has its own target and a suitable set of methods is available. The cycle is installed as “meta-rule” for the organization of the common work.
Thus the common work will get a clear and comprehensible structure which reduces complexity and facilitates and is also a good process framework to add time slots for self-organization. To do away with the widespread prejudice: A clear structure of the process doesn’t obstruct the efforts of using the self-organizing forces of the system. The effort to give people more responsibility by creating more autonomy for self-organization must not lead to lost participants. It would be a fatal failure to think that a higher level of self-organization would allow to transfer the responsibility for the process to the group. In fact the new “systemic moderation” pushed by MODERATIO means to take over the structuring duty of the moderator and despite to think the moderation situation, the workshop, as a complex social system which cannot be steered like a simple machine. Therefore, the moderation cycle with its “hard structure”, the SixSteps, has been complemented with the “relativizing element” systemic-constructive view and (hypno-)systemic intervention methods.
Focus of attention and solution-orientation
One of the essential elements is the focus of attention on resources and possible solutions, focussing on problems only takes power and time for the field of possible solutions. Of course it may help to have a look into the rear mirror, for example when moderating a conflict situation or a lessons-learned-workshop after the end of a project. The basic idea however, must be (also in those cases), to focus on possible solutions. To do away with a common prejudice in this context: The rule is that blind solution-orientation is as noxious as blind problem orientation. In most cases the problem contains hints for the solution, as problems are expressions of needs. Problems are often consequences or side effects of problem solving attempts with the aim of solving a previous problem.
Moderators as well as facilitators benefit in their role as “problem-solving process consultant” from systemic orientation when dealing with their highly complex consultant tasks.
The described “positive-constructive” basic attitude is the foundation for systemic moderation with concepts and techniques from systemic order clarification until circular questioning. Those are concepts which will play an important role in the future for “moderators” as well as for “facilitators”. Thus the mentioned technological change on the one hand and the systemic thinking of moderation and facilitation will be unified at heart, even if in German-speaking countries furthermore both terms may be used. In future differences cannot be recognized (any more) by terminology, but by degree of structuring the method and consequent use of systemic consulting-knowhow with specific interventional concepts for moderation. The crucial factor for terminological differentiation will finally still be exclusively the linguistic frame: Moderation in German and Facilitation in English.