For facilitating activities or experiences that ask participants to do things they've never done before, modeling as a facilitative move is essential. While conducting Feederwatch: Sketch, our facilitators found that modeling helped elicit more on-task responses from participants. Modeling the types of conversations that you wish to have allows facilitators to be a part of activity as well as provide a way for participants to feel less anxious about sharing new things.

For the purposes of this website, modeling is an explicit behavior used as an example to follow or imitate.
At various points during the creation and execution of our programs, facilitators intentionally used and also witnessed modeling behaviors. Facilitators used modeling for several reasons, including: as a way to test activities while designing the experience, to communicate instructions more explicitly, to encourage risk taking by jumping in first, to stimulate conversation, and to gain participants' trust. In our study, we also saw participants modeling facilitation moves in response to other participants' comments.
Some examples:

  • During Experimonth: Race/Identity, all facilitators modeled behavior by regularly putting on their "participant hat" (i.e. completing an assignment and contributing as a participant would through creating personal content and adding to conversations from a personal point of view). This type of "participant hat" modeling served primarily as a way to communicate instructions more clearly by offering a real-life example. It also built trust and encouraged participants to take risks and show vulnerabilities (e.g. facilitators who were not artists drawing pictures of birds and sharing them; facilitators sharing childhood memories and photos).
  • During Project Feederwatch: Sketch, facilitators tested the activities and scaffolding before the project was launched. The reasoning for this was to ensure the activities accomplished our shared purpose and were fulfilling to do. This resulted in a stack of drawing that also gave facilitators a way to communicate the objective of each activity through modeling the sharing we intended to elicit from the participants.
In each of our projects, we observed instances where the participants also became facilitators of learning, both for the "official" facilitators and for each other, often in a way that modeled our facilitation framework (see Facilitation Techniques). This type of modeling was unintentional and unanticipated, but rewarding from both a project and learning point of view.

Watch the video below to see our facilitators discuss one thing they learned from being an active participant:

But what happens when a participant throws you a curve ball and you don't know what to do? Watch the video below to see our facilitators discuss this predicament: