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Role of facilitator

In order to achieve a fair outcome the facilitator has to define its own role and function - both for itself as for the parties involved.

What challenges does it focus on?

Define the facilitators's role and function

Short summary

Facilitators from many organisations combine the roles of a mediator, lawyer, process and quality manager to help parties work towards a solution. To achieve a fair outcome the facilitator has the tasks to:

  • Make it most attractive for parties to cooperate
  • Organise a fair process for getting to a fair and acceptable outcome
  • Develop a mutual understanding of the conflict
  • Help parties to understand their options and possible solutions
  • Actively manage the process in terms of time and meetings
  • Ensure that both parties’ have the same chances to speak and to be heard
  • Ensure that needs, interests, emotions and views of both parties are addressed 
  • Provide information on what others’ have done in similar situations
  • Explain relevant legal and other neutral information.
  • Use language that the parties can understand (no jargon) 
  • Advice on fair outcome (no guarantee)
  • Not adjudicate or provide a decision themselves unless parties explicitly ask him or her to do so
  • Sometimes, he can organize support of another party to get parties towards acceptable and fair outcomes
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To carry out his work effectively, the facilitator must be:

  • Neutral (also not be affiliated to any political party)
  • Non-judgmental
  • Confidential
  • Calm and collected (very emotional facilitators can makes things more complicated)
  • Switch between roles (sometimes more mediator, lawyer or judge like person)
  • Casual, friendly and smart.
  • Respectful and polite.
  • Influential and respected.
  • Popular and fitting in the community so s/he will be able to bring in social norms and acceptability.
  • Aware that s/he is the mood-maker, how they act will influence the way the parties behave.
  • Patient and active listening.
  • Positive, serious and non-violent

Research evidence

Evidence from practice

  • Verbal Communication: In Mali and Cambodia, Deme-so and CDRCs respectively, use verbal communication to make sure that both parties know how their process of meetings work. They also emphasize that they are neutral, not on either party's side.
  • Use of T-Shirts: The facilitators of the OAS in Nicaragua can be recognized by their T-shirts. These are clearly marked and symbolize their neutral role and approach.
  • Explanation of Aims: In Mae Sot (Thailand), the dispute resolution providers in the Karen refugee camps explain that they are there to help the parties themselves find a solution, rather than to provide a solution.

Evidence from handbooks

Tips for the mediator:

  • Do not present yourself as a lawyer

Skills of the mediator:

  • Be impartial and neutral
  • Facilitate constructive dialogue
  • Active listening
  • Identify need, interest and outcomes
  • Take a problem solving approach
  • Broaden the perspective of both parties
  • Familiarize yourself with the law
  • Know when a matter is not suited for mediation
  • Summaries and communicate key points in a clear message that parties understand
  • The paralegal practice manual Legal Aid Forum, Rwanda 2009
  • Operations Manual for Commune Dispute Resolution Committee UNDP Cambodia 2008

Evidence from literature

The joint use of a rights-based grievance procedure, negotiation training, and an interest-based neutral generate greatly improved outcomes.

Complementarities in Organizational Dispute Resolution Systems: How System Characteristics Affect Individuals' Conflict Experiences, Bendersky, Corinne, Industrial and Labor Relations Review vol. 60 (2007) nr. 2 p.204-224, 2007
Lawyer as Problem Solver and Third-Party Neutral: Creativity and Nonpartisanship in Lawyering, The; Menkel-Meadow, Carrie, 72 Temp. L. Rev. 785 (1999)*Barendrecht, M. (2009). "In Search of Microjustice: Five Basic Elements of a Dispute System." SSRN eLibrary.

Gerard Egan also has a list of 'Essential Communication Skills' for helpers in his 'Skilled-Helper Model':

  • Tuning In
  • Active Listening
  • Responding with Empathy
  • Checking Understanding
  • Probing
  • Summarizing
  • Challenging
  • Negotiating

Egan, G (2007) The Skilled Helper. Brooks/Cole; Belmont CA

Best practices