Do we need a moderator or a facilitator?

Knowing the difference between a moderator and a facilitator can lead to a productive outcome.

There is a presidential election on the horizon, and with that a series of debates. The debates often spark interest in the “moderator role” and how that differs from the “facilitator role.”

A facilitator is someone who helps a group of people understand their common objectives and assists them to plan to achieve those goals without taking a particular position in the discussion. Facilitative tools, such as recording on a flip-chart, can also assist the group in achieving a consensus on any disagreements that preexist or emerge in the meeting so that it has a strong basis for future action.

According to the International Association of Facilitators, facilitators:

  • Take a strategic and comprehensive view of the problem-solving and decision-making processes and selects, from a broad array, the specific methods that match the group’s needs and the tasks at hand
  • Support the group’s social and cognitive processes, freeing the group members to focus their attention on substantive issues
  • Are trusted by all group members as a neutral party who has no biases or vested interest in the outcome
  • Help the group understand the techniques being used and enable the group to improve its own problem-solving processes

Facilitators assume a position of responsibility that influences group outcomes. While facilitators should assume responsibility for the group process, they should not attempt to apply content expertise.

Conversely, a moderator is an individual who presides over an assembly, meeting, or discussion. A forum moderator oversees the communication activity. They monitor the exchange between participants and move discussions from one topic to another to keep conversation organized.

If the tone of a forum becomes hostile or starts to move in the direction of personal attacks, the forum moderator usually has the discretion to address the issues.

Moderator duties are as diverse as the forum topics themselves. Some moderators are virtually invisible; they surface only when situations arise that do not seem likely to resolve themselves. Other forum moderators are always there, ready to intercede at the smallest hint of discourse. Public forum moderators often have to enforce many rules of conduct and decorum.

Despite the interchange of the words moderator and facilitator, the nuance between the two words may be more important than most think. A lot of insight can be gained by closer scrutiny and considering the outcome one hopes to achieve.

Michigan State University Extension offers leadership programs for both new and experienced youth and adult leaders who would like to develop or improve their leadership skills.

For more information, see the article "What to Look for in a Group Facilitator."

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