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Group facilitating.

Successful facilitation involves a great deal more than simply running a group of participants through some activities. No matter what the population, successful program outcomes depend on skilled facilitators who subscribe to a definite programming philosophy and who possess a variety of skills.

A sequential approach

Facilitators must understand why they are doing things before they attempt the what of facilitation. There are a variety of learning philosophies in existence today, but the best ones always make use of some form of sequencing.

Sequencing seeks to match levels and types of activities to the developmental level of the group at any given stage of the learning process. This concept argues that it is inappropriate to subject groups to activities that are too mentally and physically difficult or easy, or that present an inappropriate degree of perceived risk. Particular attention must be paid not only to the participants' level of physical readiness, but to their mental readiness as well. This provides the participants with a smooth learning curve in which they feel challenged but safe, and enables them to optimize the learning from each experience.

One of the most common and effective sequences in use today is the Challenge Education Sequence developed at Indiana University's Bradford Woods, Martinsville, Ind. (Figure 1).


This sequence, developed through extensive research, maintains that participants begin by developing goal setting skills through setting clear goals for the outcome of the program. Subsequently, each level of the sequence builds on the one prior to it, adding awareness skills, trust, cooperative skills, and problem solving skills. The group challenge level utilizes high-level problem-solving activities that require the demonstration of a high level of functioning in the preceding sequence levels. Finally, extended challenge activities seek to provide a peak experience that will help the participants transfer their learning to their "real world" situations.

Understanding and utilizing such a sequential approach provides several benefits for the facilitator and the participants. Primarily, a sequential approach provides a coherent structure to the facilitator's program and activity designs, helping to answer the question "How do I know what activity to do next?"

Reflection is the key

Facilitating a series of sequentially appropriate activities is only a portion of what makes a successful program. One of the most important tasks of the facilitator is not leading activities, but rather facilitating the participants' reflection on their experiences. The three primary tools are debriefing, processing, and transfer.

Debriefing -- the "what"

Debriefing is simply the practice of asking participants to recapitulate the flow of events during a given experience. This allows all the participants to share their perceptions, come to a common understanding of all that happened, and begin to raise some issues that may have developed as a result of the experience.

Debriefing is generally "safe" for participants to engage in because it is non-confrontational and involves a minimum of self-reflection. Debriefing speaks to the "facts" of the experience. Typical debriefing questions asked by a facilitator might include:

"What are some of the ways

people noticed the group trying

to solve this problem?" or

"What steps did we use to

reach success?"

Processing -- the "why"

After debriefing, it is beneficial for participants to reflect on cause and effect relationships of the "facts" discussed during debriefing.

Effective processing requires more self-reflection, and can be more threatening to participants. However, processing is a critical step because it asks participants to reflect on their motivations and examine the group processes they used. Only through effective processing do participants begin to analyze their relationships with others and lay the groundwork for behavioral change. A typical processing question might be:

"Why did we listen to Jim's

ideas, and not to Jane's?" or

"You said that communication

was important to you in this

activity Why?"

Transfer -- the "connection"

The final step in facilitating reflection is transfer -- the connection between the participants' experience and their "real" environment. This is a critical phase, since the applicability of the entire experience is established here. Effective transfer requires not only good facilitation skills but a fairly extensive knowledge of the participants' environment.

Only by understanding where the participants are coming from can the facilitator ask appropriate transfer questions and play devil's advocate with the participants' responses.

Since transfer activities often strive to develop commitment to action in the participants, resistance is not uncommon. This is the phase of reflection where the facilitator asks the participants to commit to behavioral change, and if it is done before they are ready for it, participants will back away. Typical transfer questions include:

"How does this activity relate

to our day-to-day

environment?" or

"What does this tell us about

what we can do differently at


Knowing your audience

Over the years, the most consistent mistake repeated by facilitators is inadequate assessment. The result is that the facilitators spend at least half the scheduled time with the group determining what participants want to get out of the experience. Unfortunately, in a process like this, the participants often have no clear idea why they are there, standing out in the middle of the woods, doing strange activities. Clearly, this is a recipe for disaster. An optimal learning environment is not created when facilitators are more focused on learning about the group than on helping the group learn.

Adequate assessment is imperative for effective transfer. It also has significant implications for program design since the same strategies won't work with every group.

Obtaining accurate assessment information varies from group to group, but certain information is necessary across the spectrum:

* Demographic data: Who are the participants, and why are they part of this group?

* Logistics information: How large is the group? How much time is available for the program?

* Organizational data: What are the particulars of the organization this group is affiliated with? This is important not only for facilitators working with corporate groups, but educational, therapeutic, and youth groups as well.

* Goals: What are the specific goals of this program? Why is this group seeking to be involved in this learning process? "Team building," for example, covers a lot of territory and means different things to different people. What is the big picture? Will this program be conducted in a vacuum, or does it fit into some larger scheme of training and development?

* Physical readiness: What is the physical condition of the participants, and what level of physical activity are they used to and prepared for? Many programs and facilities assess physical condition through the use of some type of health form, but often fail to determine the level of activity for which the participants are prepared.

* Issues: What are some of the issues specific to this group? How can the group's interaction be characterized? How likely is it participants will resist this process? Why is any resistance anticipated?

Facilitators must learn to read the group throughout the course of a program and adjust the mix of activities, settings, and reflection tools to meet the participants' emerging needs. They should not seek to develop a prescriptive list of activities to facilitate when designing a program, but rather select activities based on the perceived needs of the group. Good facilitators are adept at designing and modifying activities on the fly to create experiences tailored to each group of participants.

Tips for directors

Hold a debriefing session with all facilitators immediately after the program. This can be facilitated much in the same manner as the learning process is facilitated with participants. Encourage the facilitators to discuss what went well and what some of the difficulties were. Specifically seek opportunities for programmatic improvements, and encourage the facilitators to give feedback to each other on new techniques or ways to improve their facilitation.

Another powerful tool is the frequent inclusion of external facilitators. By including facilitators who come from different environments and who have developed different facilitation styles, a facility or camp can continuously infuse fresh ideas and viewpoints into its programs. These facilitators usually don't share the same paradigms and are able to point out new ideas and techniques that may not have been obvious.

Written evaluations by participants provide immediate feedback while the program is still fresh in their minds, but they also are filled out in a cursory fashion as the program is being wrapped up. A follow-up evaluation with selected participants can compensate for this. For example, a telephone call several weeks after the program gives participants the opportunity to more fully consider the implications of their learning. Hopefully, they have had the chance to apply the concepts to their "real" environment. It is generally possible at this time to ask more in-depth questions and receive more substantial answers. This type of process often results in suggestions for improvement and innovation.

Training facilitators

How do you develop a pool of effective facilitators?

* Research and adopt a solid philosophical and theoretical grounding for your learning programming. Train all facilitators to understand this process as the foundation for their actions.

* Train facilitators to concentrate more on assisting participants to reflect on their experiences than on leading experiences. Success depends less on what you do than on how you do it. Effective transfer of learning is the yardstick of applicability and success.

* Incorporate adequate assessment into all learning processes. The more information facilitators have about the participants, the more applicable they will make the activities. Additionally, assessment provides an excellent opportunity to educate campers, families, and organizations about your programming.

* Establish a climate of innovation and improvement based on constant evaluation. Encourage facilitators to evaluate themselves and each other's techniques. Create a climate where open and honest evaluation, both internally and externally provided, is encouraged.

* Good facilitation techniques, like anything else, are best learned experientially. The more practice a facilitator has, and the more reflection on these experiences the facilitator undergoes, the more his or her skills will improve.

Who are your facilitators?

counselors, program instructors, activity leaders, unit heads, directors, outside facilitators...

Who are the participants?

campers, staff, conference/retreat guests, corporate personnel, school and youth groups...

What activities do you facilitate?

team building, challenge course, trust activities, ice breakers, experiential education, adventure-based education...

Where does facilitation occur?

in day and resident camps, conference and retreat centers, in cabins, under trees, at the waterfront, on challenge courses...

Have you made the most of processing your participants' experience?



Association for Experiential Education, 2885 Aurora Avenue #28, Boulder, CO 80303-2252. 303/440-8844.

Association for Challenge Course Technology, P.O. Box 970, Purceliville, VA 22132. 703/668-6699.

(ACCT is working with AEE and other organizations and professionals to establish minimum staff competency guidelines for challenge courses.)

Bradford Woods, State Road 67 North, Martinsville, IN 46151.317/342-2915.

The Reser Miller Group, Inc., 609 Sunblest Blvd. S., Fishers, IN 46038.317/726-0086. Email:


Challenge Course Installation Standards, compiled by the Association for Challenge Course Technology. Available from ACCT.

Manual of Accreditation Standards for Adventure Programs, published by the Association for Experiential Education. Available from AEE.

All of the following resources are available from the ACA Bookstore. Call 1-800-428-CAMP.

Center for Conflict Resolution. (1978). A Manual for Group Facilitators. Madison, WI: Author. $13.95

Davis-Berman, J. & Berman, D. S. (1994). Wilderness Therapy: foundations, theory & research. Dubuque, IA: Kendall-Hunt Publishing Co. $27.95

Glover, D. R. & Midura, D. W. (1992). Team Building through Physical Challenges. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics Publishers. $16.95

Gredler, M. (1992). Designing and Evaluating Games and Simulations: a process approach. Houston: Gulf Publishing Co. $24.95

Knapp, C. E. (1992). Lasting Lessons: a teacher's guide to reflecting on experience. Charleston, WV: Eric Clearinghouse on Rural Education and Small Schools. $11.95

Nadler, R. S. & Luckner, J. L. (1992). Processing the Adventure Experience: theory and practice. Dubuque, IA: Kendall-Hunt Publishing Co. $27.95

Pfeiffer and Company. (1993). 25 Activities for Teams. San Diego: Author. $36.95

Rohnke, K. (1984). Silver Bullets: a guide to initiative problems, adventure games and trust activities. Hamilton, MA: Project Adventure. $19.95

Rohnke, K. (1989). Cowstails and Cobras Il: a guide to games, initiatives, ropes courses, and adventure curriculum. Hamilton, MA: Project Adventure. $19.95

Rohnke, K. (1991). Bottomless Baggie. Dubuque, IA: Kendall-Hunt Publishing Co. $18.95

Rohnke, K. (1994). The Bottomless Bag Again (2nd ed.). Dubuque, IA: Kendall-Hunt Publishing Co. $32.95

Rohnke, K., & Butler, S. (1995). Quicksilver: Adventure games, initiative problems, trust activities and a guide to effective leadership. Hamilton, MA: Project Adventure. $23.95

Sanborn, J. (1984). Bag of Tricks: 180 great games (and three more with real potential J. Florissant, CO: Search Publications. $8.95

Sanborn, J. (1994). Bag of Tricks Il: More games for children of all ages. Florissant, CO: Search Publications. $9.95

Schoel, J., Provty, D., Radcliffe, P. (1988). Islands of Healing: adventure-based counseling. Hamilton, MA: Project Adventure. $20.95

Smith, T. E. (1994). Incidents in Challenge Education: a guide to leadership development. Keene, NH: Roland Diamond Associates, Inc. $36.95

Smith, T. E., Roland, C. C., Havens, M.D., & Hoyt, J. A. (1992). The Theory and Practice of Challenge Education. Dubuque, IA: Kendall-Hunt Publishing Co. $39.95

Webster, S. E. (1989). Ropes Course Safety Manual. Hamilton, MA: Project Adventure. $15.95

Weinstein, M, & Goodman, J. (1980). Playfair: everybody's guide to noncompetitive play. San Luis Obispo, CA: Impact Publishers. $12.95

Williamson, B. (1993). Playful Activities for Powerful Presentations. Duluth, Minn.: Whole Person Associates, Inc. $19.95

Doug Miller is a principal of the Reser Miller Group, Inc., an organizational development and management consulting firm in Indianapolis.
COPYRIGHT 1995 American Camping Association
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1995, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:camps
Author:Miller, Doug
Publication:Camping Magazine
Date:May 1, 1995
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Next Article:Looking ahead by honoring the past.

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