Collective Mind Networks in Action

Inclusive facilitation in networks

5 min readNov 10, 2022

by Kerstin Tebbe, Founder, Collective Mind

Collective Mind hosts regular Networks in Action sessions to unpack critical network concepts with our global learning community. Each session focuses on a specific network concept and through a series of facilitated reflection exercises, builds out the concept by crowdsourcing ideas and experiences.

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In October 2022, Collective Mind hosted our Networks in Action on inclusive facilitation in networks. The session, hosted by Collective Mind founder, Kerstin Tebbe, built from inputs shared by event registrants and followed the frame of “what”, “so what”, “now what”. The ideas shared here are a summary of the participants’ inputs and discussion.

What?: Defining inclusive facilitation in networks

Participants shared their definitions of inclusive facilitation in networks, which focused on the “what” and the “how”: what inclusive facilitation is and how it is enacted. Responses to the former revolved around ideas of ensuring that people are seen and their voices are heard, that diverse views are able to co-exist, and that no one is left behind.

Inclusive facilitation requires creating a safe space that empowers everyone to participate. Doing so can rely on multiple means including using different methods for communication and engagement and using a variety of participatory experiences. Specific techniques can include relying on a few individuals to monitor interactions and help network members engage, inviting group members to facilitate meetings or sessions, or having tools and methods in place to address any issues of participants abusing the space should these issues arise. Having participants join in setting the agenda and sharing in facilitation can likewise create space and ownership.

So what?: What methods have you used/seen as a facilitator/participant that has enabled more voices to be heard?

Responses shared by participants fell into two categories: general and specific. General approaches included co-creating spaces, ensuring feedback opportunities, and using mixed methods for expressing ideas and feelings, including anonymous ways of doing so. Participants noted the need to focus on individuals by engaging with them personally, allowing individuals to engage at their own level of comfort, and providing them with time to prepare and to digest new ideas. Participants also articulated the facilitation of group dynamics such as taking time to build community before jumping into action and encouraging the voicing of others’ opinions on their behalf as allies.

A wide variety of specific methods and techniques were described. Participants shared ideas for varying the formats of participation including surveys, focus groups, community meetings, follow-up calls, and workshops.

They likewise promoted providing multiple media options for people to use their “voice” (e.g., verbally, in the chat box, writing in shared notes) and providing designated spaces for individual responses (e.g., post-it notes, virtual spaces) prior to group sharing. Responses noted that more inclusive conversations could be facilitated by asking those who have not spoken if they would like to contribute, allowing for conversation to happen in the chat for those who feel more comfortable writing, limiting speaking for those who have taken up a lot of space, or organizing specific people to speak up at meetings, to ask questions or make statements, to ensure broad representation of ideas.

Now what?: What specific challenges does your network have with inclusivity?

We can categorize participants’ responses about their challenges into two overlapping categories of a) cultivating and managing diversity and b) managing dominance and power. Beyond these two categories, the need for trust was highlighted as foundational by multiple participants.

Related to cultivating and managing diversity, participants noted the challenges of high levels of diversity within their networks — and the converse challenges of not having enough diversity, for example, of how to be inclusive while being a predominantly White network and staff. Multiple challenges were noted as relate to ensuring access for example, how to engage all those in the community or across communities, how to understand and value different lived experiences and expertise, and how to be welcoming to those who don’t fit a specific profile or background. Participants also noted communication challenges around language barriers and managing differences in cultural norms and habits as well as in the use of technology.

In regards to managing dominance and power, participants articulated challenges around whose voices are heard and how, especially in meetings. The loudest or more experienced voices are typically heard and, as such, it is necessary to fight against the tendency for prominence of a small number of very experienced, vocal, and/or influential members. Participants noted that when certain voices dominate the conversation others may not feel safe to speak or may feel like they don’t need to contribute to the network since someone else is filling the space. Power dynamics influence member participation more broadly, whether in terms of who fulfills leadership roles or whether there is adequate representation and visibility within the network. Participants also noted struggles with differences in preferred modalities amongst network members with some more comfortable with initiating ideas or activities and others preferring to take more supportive roles.

Highlights from the conversation

This synthesis above was the basis for reflection and discussion during the session which raised additional thoughts and ideas.

Participation that is engaging, equitable, and inclusive was a key topic of discussion, as indicated by the participants’ responses to the registration survey. Participation must be multi-directional, not just one direction from the facilitator or expert to the participant as recipient. This type of multi-directionality requires enough space for everyone to participate and interactive formats, especially for virtual conversations.

Thinking about inclusive facilitation must be a broader exercise that is contextualized within structures and processes for the network. We can consider a “pre-facilitation” phase during which we identify potential barriers to participation to the people coming into the space. We can then design safe spaces both for those participating in the conversation and those who aren’t. We can similarly use the structures of our network to promote inclusion, designing and mobilizing them to ensure that everyone has a voice. We can also consider creating group agreements from the beginning of a process to collectively set the terms of how we engage with each other. These agreements can then be relied upon if issues or conflicts arise. It’s also important to recognize that within networks inclusive facilitation might appear slower than other forms of facilitation. But we must accept — and plan for — the fact that it takes more time to be intentional and inclusive.

Finally, facilitators themselves must recognize their own roles, biases, and limitations. We must think about power in ways that also acknowledge our power as facilitators in a space — and set ourselves guardrails to ensure our accountability for being inclusive.

Miss the session? View the recording here.

Get involved

Have your own experiences with inclusive facilitation in networks? Tell us about it in the comments below.




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