IAF Methods

Dynamic Facilitation

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500 - 720 2 - 25

Dynamic Facilitation (DF) is a methodology, rather than a method, for small groups of up to 25 participants. It allows each participant to productively reflect on the complexity inherent to a given situation. In this approach the facilitator engages the participants' thinking and reflection in its entirety. New ideas, perspectives and approaches emerge in a non linear process beyond what can be planned or predicted. The issue evolves over time.

DF works on the assumption of our natural ability to see cross-links, to use our intuition and to be creative. It is demanding from the facilitator to create and hold the space for emergence throughout the process, to continually welcome divergent perspectives, allow new problem statements to evolve and group convergence to emerge over time.

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Dynamic Facilitation is an energy-based form of facilitating where people address difficult issues creatively and collaboratively to achieve breakthrough results. It establishes a process of talking, listening and thinking, known as Choice-Creating, that builds mutual respect, trust and the sense of community.

The facilitator plays an active role, helping people follow their heart more than a preexisting agenda. He/she helps participants to determine an issue they really care about, whether it seems solvable or not, and helps them to say what is on their minds in a way that all can hear and respect.

The facilitator fosters shifts of heart and mind by following the natural flow of conversation and supporting group spontaneity. Sometimes these shifts take the form of new ideas; other times they bring a new sense of what the real problem is; and other times there is a change of heart.


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  • 5 flipcharts, one for each of these four lists: Ideas, Concerns, Information, Problem statements and a 5th flipchart for outcomes
  • lots of wall space to post flipchart papers



Setting: Room set up for participants to sit comfortably in a semi-circle around 4 flipcharts. Lots of wall space required for posting flip chart paper. Marker pens and something to post flip chart paper also required.

Types of participants: Participants who are authentic. They speak their minds and hearts. Diversity of views is an asset in the quest for breakthroughs.

Time needed: four 2-3hour meetings; ideally used in one ongoing event, e.g. a 2-day retreat

Ideal conditions: Dynamic Facilitation is especially valuable when people face really important, complex, strategic, or seemingly impossible-to-solve issues, when there is a conflict, or when people seek to build teamwork or community. It is a way to spark ongoing dialogue, systems understandings, trust, wisdom, and to generate the spirit of involvement. The responsible manager must commit the necessary resources and time, and ensure basic conditions for full participation of all participants over the entire process.

Pre-Work: Preparation may include individual interviews with managers and participants for the facilitator to explore the field and for them to become familiar with the process.


  1. Opening activity to get persons voice heard right from the start. If necessary have a brief round of introductions
  2. Explain role of the facilitator and that of participants
  3. State aim of the meeting and explain the process
  4. Purging:
    Facilitator invites and records contributions from each participant, working with each person one at a time. Facilitator mirrors, reflects and records what was said in the participant's own words under the four categories of Ideas, Concerns, Information/Data and Problem statements on the four lists. If a manager or executive is in the room, have him/her go first. The executive's information, parameters, initial solutions must be shared openly first, for everyone needs to know and not be surprised at a later stage.
    This first phase of purging can take 20 minutes to a few hours.
  5. Give participants time to assimilate all that has been put forward and to reflect. This is a messy phase in the process, as there are very likely no easy answers. It may help to recap the larger picture.
    If step 4 took a couple of hours, this may be the time for a natural break, summarize the main topics that were explored on the 5th chart, including any unresolved tensions.
  6. Search for new creative ideas or solutions for implementation. Participants will reflect and share with all contributions in mind. Facilitator will continue to record contributions on the 4 charts. Group members now also engage with each other, not only via the facilitator. New shared perspectives will begin to emerge.
  7. When it seems apparent that the group is working on a coherent vision, the facilitator needs to check in that all are on board, verify and confirm any breakthrough ideas, and honor any divergent perspectives. Summarize all these on a 5th chart titled "Outcomes", include any action items and commitments that have been identified.

The rule is, it does not matter how far the group has come.

During the last half hour of each session it is important to give participants time to review the process and how the conversation progressed, not about the content, but e.g. when breakthroughs or turning points, which milestones were achieved etc. This is organisational learning that will also benefit other interactions and tasks.


Follow-Up Required:  The five lists are the minutes of the conversation. Write up and share meeting notes. Notes can be clustered by topic, pointing out progress/shifts, decisions, next steps, action plan.

Usual or Expected Outcomes: The best, fastest way for a group of people to solve a tough problem and to reach consensus is for them to have a breakthrough. Then, the results are exceptional and each person feels involved, knows what to do, and is committed to the group results. Also, the process builds individual skills, empowerment, trust and the spirit of community.

A lot happens between meetings, maybe the breakthrough happens between sessions as well. Insights often are gained in between meetings and will be shared in the next session. Others' responses and reactions will build on this.

Potential pitfalls: Dynamic Facilitation is not helpful when people are inauthentic, or playing an assigned role. Rather it's for when people are authentic, really caring about problems and wanting them solved.


Source: Jim Rough

Derived from: Dynamic Facilitation was originally developed in a sawmill in Northern California. As an internal consultant for Simpson Timber, Jim Rough was told by management to make the line workers happy. In weekly meetings, using Dynamic Facilitation, line workers met and transformed from wary and uninvolved to spontaneously addressing process problems within the plant in between meetings; from wanting to get rid of management to wanting to involve them in their creative process; and from quiet, solitary and uninspired to passionate, empowered and involved. The managers were blown away and the organization became a vibrant, creative place to work.

History of Development: Dynamic Facilitation was developed by Jim Rough in the early 1980's, consulting with mill workers in Northern California. The process has been developed through its use in other organizations and through the teaching of public seminars since 1990.

Dynamic Facilitation has been taught for nearly fifteen years to people who work in all types of industries and sectors, including corporations, government agencies, nonprofits and social activism, and consulting and organization development.

There are over 1000 people who have taken the Dynamic Facilitation Seminar and have practiced the approach in the spheres of business, public participation, counseling, coaching, conflict resolution, organization development, community organizing, and government.

Recognizable components: Dynamic Facilitation takes people as they are, without pre-meeting training, relationships or agreed-to guidelines. The dynamic facilitator helps each person be themselves, assures that each comment is heard and appreciated, and that the group achieves the optimal zone of talking, Choice-Creating.

Dynamic Facilitation may use an agenda and meeting objectives, but the dynamic facilitator goes with the flow rather than trying to manage the group toward an end. The dynamic facilitator is more oriented to how much people care about the issue or how enthused they are in the moment. Choice-Creating is like dialogue in that people explore topics open-mindedly and open-heartedly. But unlike dialogue they address problems and reach specific conclusions as well.

A dynamic facilitator captures what people think and feel in the way our brains naturally work through an issue, rather than trying to focus on each piece one at a time. What emerges from the process is an unfolding view of an issue, diverging and converging around different ideas, thoughts, feelings, worries, and assumptions. Eventually the group converges around a shift or insight that reflects a shared assumption, a solution to a problem or key aspects of an action plan.

Specifically, a Dynamic Facilitator uses lists for various statements of the problem at hand, ideas or solutions, concerns, data, and any decisions the group makes. These lists are key to the process, because the facilitator uses them to catch thoughts and responses out of the group on an emerging basis -- not to sort or as a record, but simply as a written reflection of what participants have said. As the process unfolds: people end up speaking less with each other (in cross-talk) and more in interaction with the evolving collective picture of what they are discovering as it takes shape up in the "shared space" being held by the facilitator and the lists. When this process is flowing, it is quite remarkable to witness.

A beauty of the process is that objections there are to each others' ideas can be framed as concerns -- to be acknowledged, understood, and placed in public view for all to consider. Participants can just be their uncensored, passionate selves and the facilitator translates their experiences, insights, beliefs, knowledge, and feelings into group wisdom. 

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