The success of peer support depends on the skills and dedication of peer facilitators and their ability to establish rapport with participants.43 Facilitators should receive training in both general facilitation skills and the approach and content of the curricula.
Facilitators play four basic roles and each role requires a slightly different set of skills:
- Engaging ― creating a welcoming and safe environment that draws participants in and encourages them to stay.
- Informing ― providing knowledge and information that is meaningful and useful to participants through a variety of approaches that engage and involve participants in the sharing of knowledge.
- Involving ― ensuring all group members are able to participate and benefit from the group activities and discussion.
- Applying ― allowing time for reflection about key take-home messages and encouraging the use of new awareness, knowledge, and skills to build stronger relationships and outcomes for children and families.44
Facilitators should know the subject matter and be able to establish credibility while drawing on group knowledge and recognizing they are not the only expert in the room. Preparation can make the difference between an engaging rap session and a successful group session focused on outcomes. In fact, veteran program managers recommend that facilitators spend at least twice as much time preparing as they do facilitating. Part of that preparation should involve a careful review of the purpose and goals for each session, as well as awareness of long-term goals for the group and the fatherhood program.
Effective facilitators focus on the journey of the group members and have a clear vision of the changes needed in their attitudes, knowledge, skills, and behavior. To successfully guide their participants, they:
- Create a safe and comfortable learning environment.
- Promote group interest and interaction through various types of activities.
- Encourage active participation and involve all group members.
- Keep things on track by being prepared, organized, and clear about the goals of group activities.
- Keep a focus on outcomes by encouraging development and application of new skills.
The most productive facilitators engage in an ongoing process of self-reflection and practice to hone their skills. Reviewing, sharing, and working on these strengths and growth areas with a co-facilitator, supervisor, or other colleague can strengthen their skills. Observing other facilitators in action is also beneficial.
Features of poor group facilitation:
- Insufficient preparation.
- Lack of purpose.
- Too much lecturing or dominating the conversation.
- Personal storytelling that is not relevant to group goals.
- Failure to manage problem group behaviors.
- A boring speaking style.
- Approach feels too much like school.
- Judgmental attitude.
- Projecting insincerity.
Many fatherhood programs whose staff do not have strong group facilitation skills have contracted with individuals to provide workshops on a freelance basis rather than committing to a full-time hire. It is important that any consultants, part-time staff, and/or volunteers work closely with full-time program staff to ensure they have adequate time for preparation, meet the needs of the group, and focus on program goals.
“If facilitators aren’t doing a good job, pull them out. They can do harm.”
- Joe Jones, Center for Urban Families