Schools of thought in group facilitation

By schools of thought in group facilitation, we mean an approach to facilitation with a unique set of assumptions and or values. A school should have or support a number of applications, methods or interventions. These differences in values and assumptions lead to using different process, different understandings of the way groups operate and how decisions are made.

Click titles for more description and an overview of related content in this database. For discussions about schools see the Forum section.


Constructionism is a theory of learning where humans construct meaning from current knowledge structures. All knowledge, including the most basic, taken-for-granted common sense knowledge of everyday reality, is derived from and maintained by social interactions. When people interact, they do so with the understanding that their respective perceptions of reality are related, and as they act upon this understanding their common knowledge of reality becomes reinforced. Since this common sense knowledge is negotiated by people, human typifications, significations and institutions come to be presented as part of an objective reality. It is in this sense that it can be said that reality is socially constructed. This philosophical framework is a set of assumptions about the nature of human learning that guide constructionist learning theories and teaching methods of education. Constructionism values developmentally appropriate facilitator-supported learning that is initiated and directed by the learner. (Wikipedia)

Inquiry based learning

Inquiry based learning describes a range of philosophical, curricular and pedagogical approaches to teaching. Its core premises include the requirement that learning should be based around student questions. Pedagogy and curriculum requires students to work independently to solve problems rather than receiving direct instructions on what to do from the teacher. Teachers are viewed as facilitators of learning rather than vessels of knowledge. The teachers job in an inquiry learning environment is therefore not to provide knowledge, but instead to help students along the process of discovering knoweldge themselves. (Wikipedia)

Appreciative Inquiry

Appreciative Inquiry is about the coevolutionary search for the best in people, their organizations, and the relevant world around them. In its broadest focus, it involves systematic discovery of what gives “life” to a living system when it is most alive, most effective, and most constructively capable in economic, ecological, and human terms. AI involves, in a central way, the art and practice of asking questions that strengthen a system’s capacity to apprehend, anticipate, and heighten positive potential. It centrally involves the mobilization of inquiry through the crafting of the “unconditional positive question” often-involving hundreds or sometimes thousands of people. In AI the arduous task of intervention gives way to the speed of imagination and innovation; instead of negation, criticism, and spiraling diagnosis, there is discovery, dream, and design. AI seeks, fundamentally, to build a constructive union between a whole people and the massive entirety of what people talk about as past and present capacities: achievements, assets, unexplored potentials, innovations, strengths, elevated thoughts, opportunities, benchmarks, high point moments, lived values, traditions, strategic competencies, stories, expressions of wisdom, insights into the deeper corporate spirit or soul-- and visions of valued and possible futures. Taking all of these together as a gestalt, AI deliberately, in everything it does, seeks to work from accounts of this “positive change core”—and it assumes that every living system has many untapped and rich and inspiring accounts of the positive. Link the energy of this core directly to any change agenda and changes never thought possible are suddenly and democratically mobilized.

Open Space Technology

Open Space Technology was developed by Harrison Owen. It is a self-organizing process for decision making. OST operates with a simple set of guidelines.
1. The law of two feet (two footprints graphic): If you find yourself in a situation where you are neither learning or contributing, move somewhere where you can. This is a law like the Law of Gravity. You can choose to notice it or not, but it's safer just to notice it.
2. The four principles:
- Whoever comes is the right people,
- whatever happens is the only thing that could have,
- when it starts is the right time,
- when it's over it's over.
These aren't prescriptive, they are the results of thousands of little experiements.

Principled approach to Facilitation

This school uses a set of principles as guidelines for group diagnosis and interventions. Roger Schwarz's "The Skilled Facilitator" is the most obvious example.

Schwarz's 9 Ground Rules are
- Test assumptions & inferences.
- Share all relevant information
- Use specific examples & agree on what important words mean.
- Explain your reasoning & intent
- Focus on interests not positions.
- Combine advocacy & inquiry
- Jointly design next steps & ways to test disagreements
- Discuss the undiscussable issues.
- Use a decision-making rule that generates the level of commitment needed.

Technology of Participation (ToP) Methods

The ToP approach was developed by the Institute of Cultural Affairs from the late 1950's to the mid 1970's with some development after that. This approach is currently being applied in corporations, communities, organizations at the grassroots level and in board rooms around the world.

ToP Methods are structured, often scripted and process oriented set of methods including, The Focused Conversation Method, The ToP Workshop Method, ToP Strategic Planning, ToP Action Planning and others.