How To Have Better Group Discussions – Tips From A Facilitator

Govind Singh, an MSE officer and facilitator in the MCCY’s Partnerships and Engagement Network, shares some useful facilitation tips to improve group discussions.
Govind Singh, a facilitator, shares his tips on leading good discussions and encouraging participants to speak up.

In his day job in the Outreach and Engagement team at the Ministry of Sustainability and Environment (MSE), Govind is in the business of meaningful engagement.

While building partnerships with MSE’s stakeholders, such as citizens and private companies, he also aims to enhance their experience as they engage with the Ministry.

On top of that, Govind volunteers as a facilitator with the Partnerships and Engagement Network (PEN), which is organised by the Ministry of Community and Culture (MCCY). About once a month, he helps out at engagement sessions run by agencies across the Public Service, leading discussions on subjects ranging from race to sustainability.

Govind shares what he’s learnt about facilitating meaningful group discussions and creating a safe space for everyone to share their views. 

My interest in facilitation began when I was part of the team organising a major public engagement initiative by the National Environment Agency (NEA). To better plan for the engagement and understand how certain planning decisions would impact the participants, I volunteered as a facilitator, learnt a lot and got drawn in!

Early on, it was difficult to fight the urge to fill silent moments. I assumed a facilitator must be extra extroverted, entertaining and able to quickly connect with participants.

But after observing other experienced PEN facilitators, I learnt that the more you talk, the less time participants have to speak. As a facilitator, your role is to focus on the process and ensure everyone has the space to contribute.

Observe the type of participants in your group and their energy levels, and adjust your game plan accordingly. For example, if you have quiet participants, Post-its are very useful for everyone to have the space to share their views.

If energy levels are dropping, get the participants to stand up, or give them more time to discuss. If they're stuck on a decision point, get them to vote using stickers.

I personally feel an engagement has gone well when I learn something new about facilitation.
I personally feel an engagement has gone well when I learn something new about facilitation. For example, when I tried something that helped conversations flow, learnt from others or if I made a mistake that I can learn from.

Pay extra attention. When you put in the extra effort to focus on what the participant is trying to say, you ensure their points are brought across and captured. Sometimes, you can also tell if someone disagrees just by picking up on their body language. These can lead to a better discussion.

The ability to withhold judgement during a discussion is important to me. Sometimes you may hear views that you disagree with or think aren’t practical. But the moment you apply some judgement to them, and respond to them negatively, participants will feel it.

By being neutral, you don’t take sides, and you hold the space for everyone to contribute, regardless of the quality of their ideas.

Giving everyone the space to speak also means managing dominating voices. What I’ve found most useful is to:

  1. Politely interrupt them after they have covered their main point
  2. Summarise or paraphrase their point to let them know you have heard them
  3. Let them know that as there is limited time, you would like to hear from others and will get back to them later if there is time.

The biggest benefit to me is the many peers and connections I’ve made volunteering with the PEN. The people at MCCY and volunteer facilitators in the network are the most welcoming people I’ve met, so it always feels meaningful.

Become a facilitator with the Partnerships and Engagement Network

Become a Facilitator With the Partnerships and Engagement Network

The Network brings together public officers with a common interest in exploring new ideas for partnership and engagement. Officers can test their engagement ideas on the PEN Beta platform, while PEN facilitators can volunteer their facilitation expertise across agencies. Officers may join PEN by signing up here.

For more information and resources about Partnership and Engagement, visit the PEN microsite (intranet only).

Subscribe to the Challenge newsletter

To get more stories like this, subscribe to the Challenge Telegram channel.

    Mar 6, 2023
    Hidayah Md Sham
    Norman Ng
  • link facebook
  • link twitter
  • link whatsapp
  • link email