SessionLab is proud to present the outcome of the first comprehensive survey on the state of facilitation, 2023 edition. Read on for inspiration, information and insightful commentary by workshop design and delivery experts from around the world.
Facilitation is everywhere. Across industries and continents, facilitators use their skills to design and lead effective workshops and meetings. They step in to remove obstacles to collaboration, enabling groups to progress toward their desired outcomes.
But, wait: who are facilitators? What do they do? And how do they do it?
506 hours filling the survey
7 experts’ insights
There is a growing interest in the practice of workshop design, with facilitation often being quoted as a desirable leadership skill. Despite this growing interest, there is not much data on who facilitators are, how they learned their trade, and what tools and methods they use. With this yearly report, we bring our contribution to filling that gap.
In 2022 the global facilitation community was generous enough to provide over 1100 responses to this first-ever survey on the state of facilitation.
Scroll on to find aggregated results from the survey, divided into 7 sections with different experts sharing their views on each.
With this report, our ambition is to:
Before we jump in, a word of caution:
To collect responses we reached out to our networks, colleagues, business partners, and friends. We did our best, but inevitably that reach is limited. A majority of responses reached the survey through our own channels, such as the SessionLab’s facilitation newsletter. This may help explain certain aspects of the data we’ve collected, for example overrepresentation of European and North American responses.
Help us widen our reach in the next edition by joining in and reaching out to your networks. Leave your email below and we will let you know as soon as survey for 2023 is open.
We got responses from 93 Countries, with 41% of responses coming from the European continent (of which 29% from the EU), and 28.5% from North America. We are glad to see facilitation represented all over the globe (93 Countries is a lot!).
At the same time, we must acknowledge a lack of representation of the Global South and, in particular, Asia in this data. Our hypothesis is that this is to be attributed in part to the limited reach of our survey. But even with that caveat in mind, data points to work to be done on diversity and inclusion.
The data also indicates a low number of facilitators under the age of 30 (only 38 responses) and beginners (7.2% of respondents) in the field. This matches our general impression that there are actually very few Gen-Z facilitators out there.
This may well be a combination of two factors:
Whatever the reason though, the fact that less than 4% of respondents are under 30 poses a challenge to the facilitation community as a whole: what can we do to include younger voices, and train the next generation?
We received quite a number of questions regarding our choice to include an ethnic/racial breakdown in the survey. “What is this for?” People asked, and also “How did you pick these specific categories?”
Our aim in showing this data is to allow for patterns to emerge and for more informed conversations around what diversity (or the lack thereof) means for our profession.
We acknowledge any such breakdown is far from perfect, and we are on a learning path here. Thanks to everyone who left helpful feedback and tips on how to improve this question next year. We hope to see some of these trends change in time!
When we look at demographics, besides discovering our diversity we also gain awareness of our lack of it.
Who is facilitating in 2022?
The main profile, in short, would be a white (70%) middle-aged (61%) woman (63%) from North-America and Western and Northern Europe (58%).
Quite a privileged profile if we look at the social dimension of power except for gender, right?
Why so? The binary cis-hetero-patriarchal gender socialization taught men to become breadwinners and women to become homemakers, which then evolved in men undertaking the productive & public roles in society and women the reproductive & private ones. Facilitation, even if it is a public role, it is also a reproductive one. Facilitators are those who take care of the group and support them to go through a process and reach a collective purpose. Facilitation is, thus, socially understood as a women’s profession.
And: who is not facilitating in 2022?
We could actually ask ourselves first: who might be a facilitator left out from the sample? As usual, the sample might have stayed close to those who were working on the study. Also, facilitators acting in their local communities might have missed the existence of an international study. Or we might look at the term “facilitator”, which is becoming familiar in English, but not so well-known for those speaking Romance languages. There might be many other reasons, but let’s go to some of the important matters that should be looked at as future challenges as well:
On one side, there is the matter of race and ethnicity, where we observe a very strong difference between the presence of White (70%) and the one of Asian (9%), Hispanic (8%), Black (5,5%), Middle-eastern (2%) or African (1%) people. This dynamic is present also in the geographical location of respondents, where after the majoritarian profile taking up to 77%, we can see only 9% coming from Asia, 7% from Oceania and 7% from Africa.
On the other side, in the matter of age, young people from 20-29 y.o. are really out of the picture (3%) and those from 30-39 y.o. are present in a shy 20%.
In my view, the data is asking us a question: what can the facilitation community do to become more diverse?
Facilitator and trainer on feminism, peace, human rights, organisational development and youth participation working with nonprofits, social and solidarity economy organisations and public administration
Facilitation is a highly skilled service profession, so it is not surprising that 90% of respondents have completed their higher education degrees.
When it comes to professional education, though, almost 50% of respondents stated they have no certification related to facilitation at all. It seems that facilitation is not (or not yet?) perceived as a discipline worthy of study, with its own body of practical skills to learn and theoretical frameworks to master.
Meanwhile, facilitators who do have some form of certification have, in 34.8% of cases, responded “other” to this question. Going through those 367 answers with a fine comb, we found they could barely be aggregated.
Those answers that were common enough to deserve a category are marked with an *asterisk in the graph. These are certifications and training courses we had not included as options in the original question.
The remaining hundreds are many different certifications coming from individual training organizations and, in most cases, attesting proficiency in a single specific methodology.
Perhaps, the data seems to suggest, this abundance of approaches is actually an essential feature of the profession.
Looking at the results of the survey two different things come to my mind: one about gender, and the other about the future of certification.
A highly-educated woman in her 40s or 50s, active in many different sectors and industries, with over 20 years of facilitation experience. This is the most common profile of professional facilitators according to the survey.
I am not surprised to see that women are very active in the world of facilitation. Thinking of my colleagues, most of them are well-educated women with a long experience in the field of facilitation.
Why does this happen? Is the world of facilitation more accessible to women? Are women more interested than men in facilitation? And considering that facilitation is used across different industries and sectors, is facilitation helping women to break the glass ceiling?
I like to think the answer to that final question is yes—facilitation is contributing to a more balanced gender representation in the world of employment. Whether pay is also balanced or there is a salary gap (as information collected in a later question on pricing appears to suggest) is a topic that will require further attention and exploration.
Looking at data collected on certification and training, facilitators seem to be more familiar with training than certification programes. While most of them have attended training programes, only a few held a credential gained through an assessment, despite their declared high level of experience.
What does it mean? Why is this happening? According to which standards we can identify a professional facilitator or a professional level of facilitation? I think these are very important questions for the future of facilitation and facilitators.
Personally, I can imagine two alternative trends. The first is a progressive institutionalization of the profile of professional facilitators through the definition of some extensively recognized standards, such as for example the IAF Core competencies.
The second possible scenario would indicate the progressive disappearance of the role of professional facilitators, due to facilitation becoming widespread as a transversal competence among leaders as well as in the general workforce. Despite the fact that in my capacity as IAF Board Member I personally value our accreditation programs, I must confess I tend to see the latter scenario as the most likely to manifest in the future.
IAF Certified Professional Facilitator | Master
Passionate and pragmatic facilitator, consultant and trainer. Currently IAF Vice-chair
Here is a section in which you can dig deep into the existential question of what facilitation actually is. The data mirrors the fact that sometimes facilitation is seen as a skill, sometimes as a profession, and sometimes it’s not even recognized but is inherent to some other skill or role.
In a multiple-choice question asking to pick their current roles, respondents selected on average 4 roles that they identify with. And yet they all chose to spend time answering a survey on the state of Facilitation. Clearly then, facilitators are not defined by their job titles alone.
Also, we are glad to report, data points to facilitation in 2023 as being present in private and public sectors alike, from large corporates and international organizations all the way to small NGOs and local communities.
When it comes to facilitation expertise, it seems bigger organizations usually have that skill in-house, while smaller organizations tend to outsource such tasks to freelancers. In fact, about half of our respondents work as freelancers and the majority of them are sole facilitators in the organizations they work for.
These two aspects put together paint a clear picture of what makes facilitators great bridge-builders and silo-breakers: they have a language and toolset in common while speaking the jargon of many different sectors.
It is clear from the report that individuals who identify as “Facilitators” still largely work as independents, while facilitation is a secondary set of skills that may appear in a full-time employee role. It is also important to recognize that facilitation is a fundamental skill for leaders, though many masterful facilitators don’t consider themselves as such. With this in mind, it is easy to understand why facilitation need not be a job title or identity to have value, as it is essential to almost any role in most organizations, and its importance is growing.
As the world becomes increasingly complex, we will see more job functions emerge that are designed to bridge boundaries. These roles will be the lubricant between the cogs of the organization, relying heavily on facilitation, collaboration, and interpersonal skills.
Facilitation practitioners and organizations who train facilitators have a responsibility to help organizations prepare for the systemic changes that will affect all industries and sectors. They must first help organizations build an understanding of a common language and appreciation of what these facilitation skills can achieve. From there, they can begin to deploy and scale these abilities throughout their organization.
If we move beyond titles and focus on core competencies, principles, and abilities, we have the opportunity to be part of an unprecedented moment of change for organizations and the world. To do this, we must broaden our perspective from those who identify as facilitators and invite more identities and roles to the facilitation conversation. Facilitation is everywhere.
An entrepreneur and human-centered technologist. He is the founder and president of Voltage Control, a change agency that helps leaders and teams thrive through change to fully unleash their potential
Results presented in the next section focus on respondents’ practices during the past year. What kind and length of sessions were most popular? In the shift to remote-only, the facilitation community learned (sometimes, the hard way) that sessions should be no more than 2 hours long in order to safeguard participants’ well-being and focus in front of a screen.
Whether this is true of in-person events is debatable, but it certainly seems to be the main mode of delivery: 42.2% of facilitators delivered sessions lasting 1 or 2 hours at least monthly. 32.8% of respondents have delivered very short, less-than-one-hour sessions at least weekly.
One-quarter of respondents have not delivered, in the past year, a single session longer than a day (such as a typical retreat). Our impression is that this used to be different before Covid-19. Sessions seem to have become shorter, and longer workshops less frequent. If this is true, it might mean more learning opportunities, and more exchanges punctuating daily work experiences but, on the flip side of the coin, less time for deep thinking together. Is this your experience as well?
It is in looking at facilitation practice in 2022 that the striking emergence of hybrids becomes clear, with over 60% of facilitators having led at least a hybrid session. We wish we had asked in how many cases it was the first! Hybrids are rather new, and they are difficult (see the Challenges section below), but clearly, facilitators are learning how to work in this mode and adapt.
It is also interesting to see that most sessions in 2022 were delivered remotely, but an almost equal number happened in person. This is likely a combination of many companies having returned to office work and other businesses and sectors having taken the opportunity of organizing face-to-face meetings and events bringing people together after all this time apart.
In another indicator of what we’ve referred to as the “lonely facilitator” scenario, facilitators work mostly alone: 64.8% facilitate alone most of the time. Yet, we hear many professionals advocate for co-facilitation as best practice, particularly for numerous groups or complex sessions. Is it not needed in most cases, or are there other barriers to sharing the work, such as, possibly, the increased price tag?
We recognize that the matter of pricing is a thorny and complex issue that gets oversimplified when squeezed into a single, quantitative question. We tip our hats to Myriam Hadnes and the Never Done Before community for a previous exploration of this topic in this pricing survey.
We did notice some interesting data pointing to pay gaps. When we apply gender breakdown on the chart below, we see around 20% salary difference (favoring men) in almost every role (consultant, coach, and so on).
If we’re comparing by regions, North America is the area with higher price tags, with a median of $3500 with Western Europe and Australia and New Zealand having a median of $2500. This is more than double that of Asia or Africa, but our number of respondents from these regions is also much smaller, while diversity throughout the region is huge.
How does this information compare to what you know about facilitation costs?
Adaptability was one of the superpowers facilitators needed in 2022, a year marked by uncertainty and adjustment to a space between the old and a new normal. These times need facilitation to make a positive impact.
Although the data doesn’t show whether the large number of shorter (1-2 hours) sessions are paid or unpaid work, it shows that there is a demand for facilitation of even shorter meetings or workshops. Interestingly, despite the overall hype about hybrid work, a third of all respondents had not yet delivered any hybrid workshop in 2022.
While more workshops were scheduled to take place onsite, ongoing Covid-19 infections and remote work policies asked for short-notice hybrid solutions. Given the lack of training and technical equipment, most hybrid workshops remained rather underwhelming in terms of participants’ experience and outcome.
The data shows that many facilitators lack experience and routine in hosting hybrid sessions. Almost one-third of the respondents haven’t hosted a single hybrid session. Without knowledge, we cannot educate hiring clients about the complexity of hybrid and the need for additional investment.
Especially hybrid workshops require at least two facilitators to ensure equal inclusion of the onsite and online participants. The data reveals that co-facilitation among facilitators is far from being the standard. The majority of facilitators still works alone in most of the times.
Interestingly, experienced facilitators are more likely to collaborate with a colleague than their less experienced peers. Early stage facilitators miss out on an important learning opportunity by not pairing up with more experienced colleagues.
It is possible that the low numbers in terms of co-facilitation are driven by budget restrictions and namely by clients not valuing the presence of a second facilitator.
The prices paid for a full-day session reveal the appreciation of the value of facilitators compared to coaches and consultants. While the latter charge an average of 2,400$ for a full day, facilitators charge on average 400$ less. This shows that clients tend to under-appreciate the value added by facilitators which could come from a misunderstanding of what facilitation means.
It would be interesting to investigate whether the difference in pricing is driven by the label consultant/ coach versus facilitator or by the job to be done and expected outcome.
Dr Myriam Hadnes is a facilitator by passion and profession. She hosts the workshops work podcast, builds NeverDoneBefore, a global online community that became a think tank in the facilitation space and is the CEO of workshops.work, a facilitation services, training provider and agency.
It looks to me like there are two groupings for the challenges faced by facilitators today. The bottom half of the list includes challenges related to a facilitator’s developing mastery and business maturity. While learning how to keep sessions on time or set prices can be tricky, these are also within each person’s control.
The top half of the list speaks to what I believe is the facilitation world’s core crisis: the struggle for influence and relevance.
Despite a growing awareness of what facilitators do, most organizational leaders still do not see this as a necessary capability. When facing a problem with team communication or decision-making, they’re more likely to call for coaches or personality assessments than a facilitator. When facilitators are contacted, they’re often asked about ways to succeed with hybrid meetings, AI, or other challenges related to the setting rather than core collaboration. This pressures facilitators to stay up-to-date with trends so they can have relevant answers for clients, even though the solutions to most clients’ challenges reside in getting the basics right.
I think this raises an important question about the future of facilitation. How important and relevant will facilitation be as a profession, given these persistent challenges? Will more job listings call for dedicated facilitators in the future? Might “meeting and workshop facilitation” become commonplace on the list of required skills for managers, at the same level as “excellent written communication” and “proficiency with Microsoft Word?” Or will we continue to shout «No, really! You can totally run a productive meeting that people enjoy. Let us help!» at a world that refuses to adopt the basic best practices identified over 80 years ago?
Whatever the future holds, today’s challenges make it clear that facilitation has not yet achieved the recognition given to other professions. Perhaps we need to approach these challenges from a different angle.
CEO of Lucid Meetings
The most popular feedback to our survey was how interesting it was to look over long lists of tools facilitators use. And respondents added many more! How many of these tools do you know? We hope this part of the report will inspire you to go explore and add some more to your collection.
A disclaimer is in order: the SessionLab Library of facilitation techniques and its Session Planner feature prominently in these lists. We recognize that many respondents reached the survey from our networks so we are certainly over-represented here.
When it comes to methodologies, the scenario is almost as fragmented as with certifications! Liberating Structures was the most oft-cited set of methods, thanks no doubt to its versatility, ease of application, and long-time consolidated use.
At AJ&Smart we’re no strangers to facilitation tools.
During my 11+ years facilitating workshops for some of the world’s best companies, and helping thousands of people build facilitation careers, we’ve pretty much tried every facilitation tool, toolkit & methodology on the planet.
Reading through the survey data, there were a few things that really stood out to me:
Remote facilitation is here to stay (and if you don’t adapt then you’ll struggle) but there’s still a place for sticky notes, pen & paper. Facilitators should keep in mind that clients and teams do still enjoy and crave that in-person facilitated experience.
Mastery of one workshop/methodology is not enough. We used to just specialize in the Design Sprint. This was great for us, but our facilitation business really exploded when we learned how to facilitate any workshop, for any team, for any challenge. It’s clear from the data that there’s a wide spread of methodologies and workshops that teams/clients want. The flexible facilitator, who can be presented with a challenge and design a session accordingly, pulled from all of the various methodologies they know, will be the one that wins.
Facilitation will go more mainstream and we’re going to see some new names and exciting new tools popping up. We expect that in 2023, and beyond, that facilitation is going to become a more mainstream topic and career path, meaning businesses will see the massive opportunity to create tools and methodologies to serve this growing population of facilitators. It’s also an opportunity for you to create something to serve these people!
If there’s one thing that’s extremely clear to me from reviewing the data and from my experience, it’s that tools, toolkits, and methodologies change every year. New things are popping up all the time. Sometimes they gain some traction, and occasionally make it into the mainstream, but what doesn’t change is that the most sustainable and “future-proofed” thing you can rely on is your facilitation skills. Working on becoming a master facilitator, who understands the principles that underlie facilitation and group collaboration, in my mind will bring more value to your team/clients and make you more successful as a facilitator, regardless of the tools and methodologies out there (you’ll also be able to make your own methodologies this way!)
The CEO and founder of one of the most well-known innovation agencies in the world, AJ&Smart. He and his company have helped companies like Twitter, Google, P&G, Lego, Mercedes-Benz, the UN and 100s more to solve problems and innovate faster using the power of facilitation and workshops.
As we aggregated this data into categories manually, you can see there is a lot that fell under “other”: in most cases, these were indications of individual resources (a single book title or article) facilitators appreciated in the past year.
Here are two special awards:
Responses to the question about facilitators’ participation in communities came as a surprise. Most respondents participate in in-house communities or peer groups inside their own organizations: great spaces for mutual support and sharing tips, success stories, failures, and learnings!
Sadly though, the second most popular response to the question on communities was “none”. When discussing challenges, 45 people who responded to the open question on Other challenges mentioned issues related to capacity: not having enough time or not having enough resources. Perhaps our collective chronic shortage of time might explain why so many respondents have not actively joined communities in the past year.
“Keeping up to date with the trends” was the number one challenge in 2022: it is our assumption that facilitators who spend more time learning from one another and strengthening community relations find it easier to overcome it. So if you need an excuse to explore facilitation community spaces, look no further!
And what communities do facilitators join? Besides in-house ones, you will find numerous groups linked to a specific tool or method, as well as a few more locally-based ones. Prominently featured, here and elsewhere in the report, is the International Association of Facilitators, which has chapters in 40+ Countries.
We have noticed data in the survey answers that point to facilitation as a rather lonely profession: freelancing alone (55%), leading some or most sessions alone (97%), active in no community (25.7%).
Autonomy and independence may be the values behind this scenario, but if you find yourself also craving more interaction and belonging, consider joining one of the communities listed by respondents. SessionLab has a friendly, collaborative community space as well, and you are welcome to join and share your views there.
I am pleased to see that so many people report here that they are participating actively in numerous communities, as I know from experience how enriching that can be. I am especially pleased to see that so many have access to a community of practice in-house, however, I hope that facilitators who are involved mainly in their in-house communities do get out as well. I say this as an encouragement to take the opportunity to learn with and from others who work in different ways and in different contexts to their own.
I am sorry to see so many participating actively in no communities at all. While there is much to be learned from books, courses, and all the other resources mentioned, I think there is no substitute for active participation when it comes to developing and improving skills in facilitating just that.
I also notice here, as a facilitator with long involvement in ICA and long specializing in its ToP methodology, something very particular that seems to be missing. As many as 53 respondents report in 2.4 that they have ToP facilitation certification, and no less than 115 in 6.1 that they use ToP methods: great that so many ToP facilitation colleagues responded to the survey! Yet, not a single one refers here in 7.2 that ICA or the ToP Network are professional communities that they are actively participating in. I find that very curious, since I know that so many do.
I wonder what we regard as active participation, and what we regard as professional communities/organizations, to affect our responses to such a question. My own conviction, and my own experience from many years of active participation in ICA and IAF in particular, is that there is much more professional development to be gained from actively collaborating with professional peers than there is from passively receiving ‘professional development’ services and resources.
That is why I see volunteering opportunities as one of the greatest benefits a professional association such as IAF can provide its members. And that is why I have always volunteered and encouraged others to do so – so much so, in fact, that my name came to be used when I was Chair of IAF England & Wales as short-hand for the experience of finding oneself to have volunteered unexpectedly for a certain role (to be “Gilbraithed”!). In that spirit, if you haven’t been drawn into a community yet, I hope you will soon!
IAF Certified Professional Facilitator (CPF|Master), Certified ToP Facilitator & ICA:UK ToP Associate, #FacPower author
As we wrap up this first edition, here are some questions we find the report has opened, rather than resolved, for us.
In some cases, getting more information at the end of 2023 might yield the answers. In others, it will take a longer timeframe to see patterns emerge. And some questions are there to spark discussion, not necessarily to ever reach a definitive answer.
What open questions are you left with? What new ideas did reading this report spark for you?
Your comments and feedback will also help shape the next edition of the State of Facilitation survey: some questions will stay the same (to allow for the emergence of patterns) but we have quite a few ideas for improvement already, and would love to hear yours.
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Editor-in-Chief, Founder & CTO @ SessionLab
Research Consultant, Content Writer @ SessionLab
Adviser, Founder @ NeverDoneBefore
Adviser, IAF board member
Adviser, President @ Voltage Control
Expert Insight, facilitator and trainer
Expert Insight, CEO @ Lucid Meetings
Adviser, CEO @ AJ&Smart
Expert Insight, IAF Certified Professional Facilitator
Technical Support, Developer @ SessionLab
Adviser, Associate Professor @ KTH
Design, UX Designer @ SessionLab
PM of Report, Founder & Integrator @ SessionLab
How we collected and analyzed the data
Data was collected through a survey run between October and December 2022 using the Typeform platform. To obtain responses we promoted the survey in our SessionLab newsletter subscribers and to our users, as well as our partners’ networks, various facilitation-related communities and social media channels. Due to limited tracking capabilities, we cannot tell with certainty where the responses come from, but correlation of our promotion efforts with responses inflow gives us a good estimate that a majority come from our own users and newsletter subscribers, with some external networks contributing a smaller but still significant number of responses. Our aim for future reports is to further even out this distribution.
The survey reached 1600 individuals and had a 70.3% completion rate resulting in 1124 responses. As some questions were optional, when we present results to these questions we exclude those who did not answer the specific question. Therefore, our charts always display the number of responses collected for each question.
When analyzing the data, we used visualizations to present the data distribution. In the report we included the basic breakdown of the data, and in a few cases a few alternative breakdowns, while in our analysis we used many more views of the data to try to identify patterns. For the open-ended questions, we used both manual and automatic methods to classify the responses, and several people were involved in cross-checking final results. We shared our analysis and data breakdowns with domain experts who additionally provided their insights.
The State of Facilitation report is an initiative from SessionLab – A better way to design workshops.
With our session planner and library of methods we support facilitators and workshop designers because nothing pleases us more than excellent collaboration. With this yearly survey and report, we are holding up a mirror to the profession in order to inform, challenge and inspire.
If you have any questions about the report or the data behind it, or want to contribute to the next edition, get in touch with us on firstname.lastname@example.org.