Understanding Facilitation – Theory and Principles

Industrial and Commercial Training

ISSN: 0019-7858

Article publication date: 1 January 2004



Cattell, A. (2004), "Understanding Facilitation – Theory and Principles", Industrial and Commercial Training, Vol. 36 No. 1, pp. 41-42. https://doi.org/10.1108/00197850410516120



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2004, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Within this book, Christine Hogan conducts a critical analysis of conventional theory as regards facilitation, while also expanding on this and making developmental links to current facilitation theory and practice. In her introduction she explains her rationale for writing the book as being the result of her PhD research, which first, followed her own development as a facilitator, and second, her wish for facilitation to be regarded as a profession (which is the focus of this text). Throughout the text she draws on her considerable experience as a professional facilitator and educator.

The book is of interest to managers, trainers and developers, social and community workers and anyone interested in facilitating change interventions in an increasingly more complex and global world. It is suggested that the book is a useful introduction for newcomers to the topic area as well as providing critical analysis of the field for existing practitioners.

The text is divided into two sections: one which looks at the development of facilitation in the fields of management, education and training, and community development; and the other which describes how practitioners define facilitation and also presents models which help the reader understand what the practice of facilitation means and involves.

The information on the origins and emergence of facilitation in the first section may be of interest from an academic point of view; however the informed reader might find this less useful than other elements of the book.

The definitions and metaphors of facilitation presented help the reader place facilitation within a framework of what it is and what it is not and essentially who it is for, and as such provide different interpretations and common links. This is a short and pithy chapter but gives the reader a useful starting point.

The chapter on models of facilitation offers a number of approaches, including the Heron (1999) model of facilitation styles; the International Association of Facilitators’ (Pierce et al., 2000) competency model of facilitation; the Kiser (1998) masterful model of facilitation; the Hunter et al. (1999) model of facilitation and the author’s own (Hogan, 2001) living frame of facilitation. Each model is evaluated, with comment being made on structure and application. A useful comparison diagram also explains the type of model, what the model summarises, and what the main emphases and uses are. The author also details the process by which she developed her own model, which involved discarding the original idea to develop a more visual representation of the living frame in the form of a mindscape. Hogan makes the comment in the conclusion to this chapter that all the models described help to make the more covert roles of a facilitator, more explicit. The chapter is well researched and written, the reader being left with plenty of ideas and thoughts to reflect on.

Co‐facilitation is covered within a chapter by Marie Martin, a friend and colleague of the author. Areas described are definitions, requirements and outcomes of co‐facilitation along with tips to help maximise the benefits and minimise the disadvantages. Again, models are presented along with discussion of the stages of co‐facilitation. Working relationships at individual and group level are well described as is the contribution of co‐facilitation to theory, practice and professional development.

I found the chapter on basic theories and concepts of group work to be just that, basic. Some readers may find this to be a hotchpotch of ideas, ranging from contexts and systems across diversity, difference, gender, group theory, groupthink, hierarchy of needs, group size, adult learning skills and knowledge, experiential learning, how we learn, and self‐development. While Hogan presents these as a variety of theories that underpin facilitation, she also gives a health warning as to their use. Despite this, this element felt disjointed and did not seem to have the flow and continuity of other chapters.

Facilitating culturally diverse groups is a short, no‐nonsense chapter in which the author illustrates ideas from her own experiences in Hong Kong, Malaysia, Mongolia and Lao PDR. These include addressing issues faced in facilitating multicultural groups; advantages and disadvantages of multicultural groups; and exploring some dimensions of cultural characteristics.

While the start of the book encourages the reader to look in the rear‐view mirror, the last two chapters take a snapshot in time of the current state of play in facilitation and also look towards future developments. The text on technology and its effects on facilitation first describe the technologies available to facilitators and groups, and second, the competencies needed by e‐moderators. For the first area, a useful table outlining facilitator/group needs, technology/software, description of uses and issues, and references and resources is provided. The final chapter looks at changes in the facilitation movement through the medium of case studies and then looks at developments towards the recognition of facilitation as a profession. Ethics and accreditation are also explored as an aid to the latter.

As reviewer, I enjoyed and learned most from the two chapters on models of facilitation and co‐facilitation. These seemed to be the “meat” of the book and contained theory I had not previously encountered. Other chapters either covered models and theory that I already knew about, or were very short in length. The writing style of the book makes it an easy read and besides written text there are diagrams, tables, case studies and stories which maintain the reader’s interest. Additionally it contains an Appendix detailing useful journals, e‐mail discussion groups and Web sites, along with a very comprehensive references section. I was not convinced that the book offered a “total” package in itself but I understand that this book is part of a duo – the companion being Practical Facilitation: A Toolkit of Techniques.


Heron, J. (1999), The Complete Facilitator’s Handbook, Kogan Page, London.

Hogan, C.F. (2001), “The makings of myself as a facilitator: an auto‐ethnography of professional practice”, PhD thesis, Curtin University of Technology, Perth.

Hunter, D., Bailey, A. and Taylor, B. (1999), The Essence of Facilitation: Being in Action in Groups, Tandem Press, Auckland.

Kiser, A.G. (1998), Masterful Facilitation: Becoming a Catalyst for Meaningful Change, American Management Association, New York, NY.

Pierce, V., Cheesebrow, D. and Braun, L.M. (2000), “Facilitator competencies group facilitation”, A Research and Applications Journal, Vol. 2 No. 2, pp. 2431.

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