Moderating vs. Facilitating: What’s the Difference? Can You Do Both?
A few events in my career journey triggered the exploration of facilitating as a business opportunity and value-add for my clients. First was a breakout session at a QRCA conference where “facilitating” — vs. “moderating” — was brought to my attention. The second was when a client called me on a Sunday to replace his facilitator on Monday, to facilitate a session with R&D, sales, and marketing. With so little time to prepare, I trusted my instincts and experience as a moderator and let it fly… and suddenly I was a facilitator! It was a productive session — the client called me back for another session, and later to do consumer focus groups — and my curiosity was piqued to learn more.
Core Elements: The Same
I attended a three-day training session in facilitation (much like those offered at RIVA or Burke) and was pleasantly surprised to confirm that these two disciplines have much in common. The core elements of moderating and facilitating are the same: there is a gathering of people with something in common; there is a purpose behind the meeting; and there are desired outcomes. You guide the discussion in a thoughtful manner by providing structure and process.
Perhaps the biggest commonality is putting together an agenda — what we call a discussion guide — based on the client’s objectives and desired deliverables. Like a focus group discussion guide, much attention must be paid to the flow of the meeting and to the activities that will generate robust discussions.
Many of the exercises you utilize for qualitative can also be used for facilitating meetings. These might include:
- Developing lists and gathering, sorting, and ranking ideas
- Breaking out in small groups
- Mind mapping
- Perceptual mapping
Facilitated meetings are usually longer – a half day – and therefore benefit from energizing exercises interspersed throughout the session.
The Differences: Participants, Output, and Achieving Consensus
One key difference between moderating and facilitating is the participants. Focus group participants have no skin in the outcome; you will never see them again. Facilitated participants have to work with each other. A facilitated meeting may have colleagues from different functions (R&D, marketing, sales) and at different levels of authority (managers to vice presidents). When the meeting is over, they have to work together to achieve common goals. Their strategies and tactics – their jobs – might be affected by the outcome. I ask to conduct a few brief interviews of participants from different areas prior to the meeting to get a feel for the situation, personalities, motives, and issues that might arise.
Another difference is the output: in a focus group, the outputs are insights and determining their implications and developing recommendations. In a facilitated work group or work team meeting, the output is often an action plan that determines what, who, how much, and when. The action plan should be understood and agreed upon by all participants. In other words: achieve consensus, which means participants can live with the decisions that created the action plan and support them.
Two issues you’ll address more often when facilitating a work team than moderating consumers are resolving conflicts and achieving consensus. Marketing wants that new ice cream now; manufacturing can’t make it until next year. Your approach is somewhat intuitive and not much different than if moderating – but requires more attention and care. Things you’ll need to spend more time on include clarifying the issue, understanding its root causes, ensuring everyone understands the issue, brainstorming pros and cons, and ultimately utilizing techniques to rank or prioritize.
Projects and Meetings Where Facilitators Add Value
Facilitators can add value to a lot of different projects and meetings, but common types are:
- Innovation: Brainstorming to create new product ideas.
- Process improvement: This might include flowcharting a process, identifying roadblocks, and developing solutions to clear those roadblocks.
- Strategic planning: This might include a market situation assessment, SWOT analysis, and developing the outlines of a new strategic plan.
- Data Analysis: Sharing, analyzing, and assessing a lot of data from a variety of sources.
- Planning and executing a new product launch: The output is often an action plan.
Implications for You
If you are a good moderator, should you seek out facilitation opportunities? Yes! You already have many of the skills, resources, and experiences to successfully facilitate work group meetings. To pump up your confidence before jumping in, seek and find some formal facilitation training. On your first projects, get a partner to help plan and execute.
Put together a one- or two-page brochure (PDF is fine) highlighting your capabilities – and this can include moderating. Then network your way to generate awareness. Many of you work with research managers at large companies. Let them know and ask them to share your capabilities with their colleagues in other functions, such as marketing, sales, R&D, or HR.
About the Author:
Prior to becoming a qualitative consultant, Bruce Peoples worked in brand management, channel, and customer marketing for several well-known brands in different industries including Hanes and Jack Daniel’s. Bruce has been a QRCA member for about a decade now and utilizes a variety of methods to help his clients solve their marketing problems, whether they be consumer or business-to-business related. Bruce was trained in moderating at RIVA and in facilitation at Leadership Strategies.