Harvard Humanist Alumni

Facilitating a Humanist Discussion

The facilitator's role is to ensure that all participants feel safe and welcome, and that the group has a rewarding discussion. 

The facilitator welcomes everyone to the group, introduces himself or herself, then invites the participants to introduce themselves to the group by saying their names and a few words about themselves. 

The facilitator then describes the topic, and focuses on a particular aspect to start the discussion.  If appropriate, the facilitator will start off the discussion by expressing his or her own views. 

The discussion may start by going around the circle, but it is fine for conversation to become more natural.  The facilitator should generally try to minimize intervention, but there are some exceptions:

  • When a particular aspect of the topic seems to have been mined-out the facilitator should steer the discussion to another aspect of the topic. 
  • If two participants go back and forth too much, or if anyone gets angry, the facilitator may have to intervene to re-start a more general conversation. 
  • If someone hasn't spoken the facilitator may want to ask that person if he or she has anything they would like to say, since some people are less comfortable speaking up than others.  Nobody should be pressed to speak, however. 
  • If the discussion goes seriously off topic the facilitator may choose to steer it back to the stated subject.  But if the group seems engaged there's no harm in letting the conversation go where it will. 

Each meeting should conclude with an opportunity for each participant to briefly evaluate what went well and what could have been improved about the meeting.