Friday, July 04, 2014

8 of 11: Suggested Facilitation Strategies - Knowing When You Should Summarise and Synthetise and When to Let the Group Do It

For a Facilitator, there is definitely an art to knowing when you should summarize and synthesize discussion for the group; and when it would be better to have the group summarize and synthesize. Here are some suggested strategies for how to work with the difference:

(1) Summarize progress in the process towards achieving desired outcomes to make it more apparent.  For example: “We considered numerous potential project ideas and then, concerned about how to prioritize these, generated a list of criteria for prioritizing.  These were then applied to the ideas, resulting in the selection of the following as the top 3 to take forward…”

(2) Structure your agenda to elicit synthesis from participants as you go along, so that you can steer clear from synthesizing subject matter yourself.  This is a point that some facilitators may debate.  We feel, however, that as the process guide, the facilitator should steer clear from summarizing subject matter and substantive content discussions (and never produce reports!).  Instead, structure your agenda with regular moments designed in, during which participants summarize and synthesize as you proceed through logical, iterative sessions. 

(3) Guide participants in summarizing and synthesising by providing time for reflection (individually and in groups) and rather than asking one person to do the work, distribute the task, potentially using a funnelling approach, where the individuals reflect on their own, and then at tables participants share their reflections and come up with 3 key points, and then these 3 key points are shared in plenary, and then in plenary participants are invited to suggest the key patterns or trends emerging across all the different interventions.

(4) Provide templates to capture synthesized ideas – asking clear questions and providing space for key points to be written in.  Having well-structured templates to capture information makes any post-event summarizing or synthesizing much easier later (for participants).

(5) Use methodologies for synthesizing and summarizing. For example, rather than having an open discussion on various controversial statements, write the statements on sheets around the room and invite participants to place a sticky dot representing their position from strongly agree to strongly disagree, along with a place to write open comments.  Then assign randomly mixed small groups to analyse the various results sheets and describe reasons for the results, and suggest implications for going forward.  This way, rather than lengthy conversation, you quickly and effectively provide everyone with the opportunity to express their perspective, and distribute the role of analysing and summarizing to sub-groups of participants.  You could then combine this with a carousel discussion, where participants add to the work of previous groups doing the analysis and synthesis.

(6) If you feel you really need to summarize (because someone’s gone off on a tangent and you need to bring them back to the task at hand), do it as a question rather than a statement.  For example: So do I understand correctly if I say that the 3 next steps are x,y, z?  Or simply invite someone else to paraphrase for you:  So, could someone please summarize or paraphrase that for me in a few words that I can capture on this flipchart?   (There is usually someone in every group who prides themselves on their ability to synthesize!)

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