Cornell UniversityThe Nature Conservancy

Process Facilitators

Small Group Facilitation, Photo by Deb Nystrom (CC BY 2.0)A skilled facilitator is an invaluable asset to a community working through each phase of the CBDM process. Facilitators play key roles in involving community members, creating learning opportunities for the community, and developing processes the community will use for decision making. A facilitator can help the community carefully define their problem, establish collective goals, and select action alternatives that have broad community support.

Process facilitators are generally selected by local leaders and may come from within or from outside the local community. Communities seek facilitation assistance from a range of sources, including their state wildlife management agency, Cooperative Extension system, professional consultants, or respected local leaders. Sometimes, the facilitator needed at one phase of the process may be different than at another. Process facilitators:

  • help create adequate knowledge among stakeholders
  • help foster partnerships and information networks
  • help create decision-making processes that are regarded as fair and credible among stakeholders
  • facilitate discussion that leads to a common community purpose


Phase 1: Problem Definition

  • Helping to design a stakeholder involvement process.
  • Helping to involve or recruit community members with multiple perspectives in the process.
  • Setting and enforcing ground rules for process participants.
  • Helping community residents to articulate a clear problem statement.
  • Helping community residents to articulate their goals and objectives related to deer management.
  • Helping community residents fully articulate the problem statement and establish their community goals and objectives before discussing potential management alternatives.
  • Involving content experts to provide information/education on topics such as deer natural history, local deer-related impacts, and deer management activities affecting that community.

Phase 2: Decision-making

  • Soliciting community viewpoints on management alternatives from multiple perspectives.
  • Helping participants process information and make decision recommendations.
  • Leading discussion on acceptable measurements for assessing progress toward community goals for deer management.
  • Helping decision makers stick to a timeline established by formal community leaders
  • Involving content experts to provide information/education on deer management alternatives and their potential consequences.
  • Helping community residents gain an understanding of how well various management alternatives are likely to work, and the feasibility of each alternative in their community, based on the best-available information.
  • Facilitating discussion to evaluate possible consequences of various management alternatives (e.g., costs and benefits; identifying stakeholders who would gain benefits or incur costs).
  • Advise committee members regarding how they will communicate results to municipal or elected leaders.

Phase 4: Evaluation and Adaptation

  • Leading discussion about the outcomes of assessment and evaluation.
  • Leading discussion about whether selected management actions should be continued unchanged, be modified, or be discontinued.
  • Advise committee members regarding how they will communicate decision results to community members or leaders.

Common Questions

Clearly identified ground rules for participant behavior and for group decision making are an important initial task for community deliberative processes. Respect and recognition without accusations, blaming, or making personal attacks, as suggested by Forester (2009), are good rules to begin with, coupled with allowing each participant the opportunity to speak without being spoken over.  Some facilitators may even use tools such as “talking sticks” to allow participants the opportunity to speak in small group processes. These ground rules are often agreed upon and suggested by process participants, as well as facilitators. Appendix B of Susskind and Cruikshank (2006) lay out detailed ground rules for both the behavior of participants and for decision making, if you are looking for a more specific and comprehensive list. 

Facilitation skills may partly account for why different communities may have different outcomes for similar processes. If training is available to you, you might find it helpful. Some organizations (see our resources tab) may provide training specifically on conflict resolution and negotiation, but many accomplished facilitators have developed their skills through experience. So no, training is not a requirement, but it can be beneficial.  Resources for facilitators can be found under our “resources” tab; a few good references to begin with may be these three books

No, not necessarily. It is important that facilitators be perceived as unbiased by stakeholders, and sometimes being viewed as not having a stake in deer management may be a benefit to facilitation. However, a facilitator does need to have some knowledge about the issue, especially given that part of their role is to help create knowledge among stakeholders. What is especially important is that facilitators are able to effectively help foster partnerships and information networks, create decision-making processes that are regarded as fair and credible among stakeholders, and facilitate discussion that leads to a common community purpose.