The difference between facilitation and facipulation

Zini is sitting down while making an input

Zini is sitting down while making an input

Whenever a facilitator stands in front of a group of people sitting in a workshop, it is important to realise that the standing position is a powerful and dominating position. While the purpose of a facilitator is to enable a discussion to take place, and certainly to challenge or stimulate thinking; facilitators often use their platform to share their ideas, thus influencing the group. I refer to this habit as ‘facipulation‘, which is a combination of facilitation and manupulation. Inputs made by the facilitator during a workshop could be extremely influential and manupalitive. While in some cases people will not mind being facipulated, in other cases people resent being told by an outsider what to do or how to think.

If it is necessary as a facilitator to make an input during a facilitated session, the facilitator should first ask for permission to switch roles. If the group permits, then the facilitator should take a seat (or take a less dominating position) and share their idea. This is done whilst complying with the rules that the group agreed to at the beginning of the facilitated session. Again, I emphasize, the facilitator must make the input as a normal group member. No special favors or rights for the facilitator like extra long time, or by critising other ideas. I prefer that the facilitator should sit down, as this breaks her power over the group. In fact, I take it so far that I ask a group member to faciliate or make notes on the flipchart in cases where I do not have a co-facilitator supporting me.

Remember, a good facilitator is like a mid-wife of the facilitated discussion concentrating on the process of discussion, while the RESULTS and the CREDIT belongs to the group

3 Responses to “The difference between facilitation and facipulation”

  1. Frank Waeltring Says:

    Dear Shawn,

    thanks for your introduction on facilitation and facipulation. Still facipulation in your lines sounds mainly as negative. But facipulation sometimes is necessary to move forward.

    In general we combine with manipulation something negative, like domination, influencing mindsets or even stronger “psychological infiltration”. if we discuss about facipulation it is necessary to distinguish between negative and positive aspects of manipulation and also between manipulation without letting the others realise that they are manipulated or to make this manipulation transparent.

    Best regards,
    Frank from mesopartner


    • Shawn Cunningham Says:

      Hi Frank,

      You are right, sometimes a bit of facipulation is needed, especially when you try to get a group to a break through that is within their reach (but not their sight). However, carefully and purposefully prodding people towards a break through in their thinking (what you would describe as positive facipulation) is very different from the manipulation that we often see where facilitators use their prior expertise to manipulate a group towards an objective. The sad part is that this kind of negative facipulation is sometimes deeply entrenched in the whole style of the facilitator.

      But it must also be said that too much positive facipulation is not healthy and also often do not lead to a change in performance or behaviour of the group participants.


  2. Natasha Walker Says:

    Hi there! I agree with Frank that steering participants in a transparent way is vital for succesful facilitation. We are, after all, facilitating someone’s processs. And that someone has given us the task of reaching certain goals in a certain space of time with a certain group of people. These goals and the process design have to be presented to and agreed on by the group of participants. There will also be no-go areas and best practice to be passed on to participants, although this is best done by a) the host/client and/or b) an external expert, in order to avoid the facilitator having to take sides…
    Facipulation is bad when it involves asking questions such as “But, don’t you think that…”. Steering a group towards a set goal involves asking quite different questions, such as “How can this help us achieve our goal?” We shouldn’t be scared of standing up for the process and intervening actively and transparenty to steer the group (back) towards where they have agreed to go.
    Does that make any sense?


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