Diversity Awareness During Moderation

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We have a responsibility for the seminar, the content, the participants, and for ourselves. Additionally, for the participants facilitators are role models of a culture of diversity. Through our behavior, language, and decisions, we implicitly impart certain knowledge, values, and attitudes. Sometimes we are just tired, make mistakes,voice our own opinions, or consciously say something political incorrect. In such cases it is important to clearly communicate to the group about our current state or current role in avoiding misunderstandings.

The danger of stigmatizing

A stigma (Greek: stitch, wound) is an undesirable otherness compared to expectations.

"A stigma is a generalization of a person’s specific action or quality with respect to their overall character.

A stigma causes a person status to stand out against the rest of their qualities. It causes a person status to stand out against the rest of their qualities. Stigmatizing is a process by which individuals limit other individuals to certain social positions, schemes of behavior, or characteristics. This can happen by attributing characteristics and features to someone based on prescribed norms that are not necessarily true. For example, an unmarried woman without children may be seen as being unhappy or having an unfulfilled life.

Another type stigmatization appears through discrediting characteristics and qualities. For example, when a person who has little education is automatically labeled as less intelligent or as a looser. The third type is discrediting a person’s visible features or characteristics. In this sense, disabled people are seen as permanently unhappy, pitiful, and needy.

Stigmatization has a contradictory effect on our goal of sharing an appreciative and empathetic Stigmatization in trainings Emphasizing and problematizing Talking explicitly about the otherness of some participants as if it were a problem for the rest of the group.

Therefore, the facilitator’s duty in the seminar is to manage the diversity of the group without stigmatizing its otherness in any way. People can stigmatize unwillingly and unconsciously, so the danger of it happening, even in a seminar is significant.

Examples for stigmatization

  • Putting participants with less sophisticated English skills on the spot and referring to them while repeating
  • Making assumptions
  • Talking with disabled participants by using a “mild” voice, giving them privileges where there is no need to
  • Referring to a Muslim woman wearing a veil as being repressed or passive
  • Seeing an atheist as having no moral standards
  • Referring to a person who did not grow up in a family with two parents as having unhappy childhood

Dealing With the Power of Majority

Sharing the power of the seminar with participants requires the whole group to contribute to discussions or feedback in order to know what their preferences are. When we make this process oral and open to the whole group, for a variety of reasons, some participants might not want to share disagreements they have in front of the whole group. There is a danger of the facilitator being led by the loudest voices in the group or by the majority. In order for the group to reflect honestly, we have to be very attentive by observing the quiet participants, their body language, for example. It is a very difficult seminar situation - what are we supposed to do when we know that there are participants who disagree with the opinion of majority but are not voicing their objections? We have several possible ways to react, but the best option totally depends on the situation, facilitators, and participants.

Ask Quiet Participants

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Ask quiet participants for their opinions explicitly in plenum, encourage them. This is only recommended if you are sure that the participants need space or encouragement.

Other Ways of Decisionmaking

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Introduce a way of making decisions other than public speech – such as anonymous voting cards, sticker dots

Become an Implicit Speaker

Take on the role of the implicit speaker for the quiet ones and work out a compromising decision.

Reflect Publicly on a Meta-level

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Reflect publicly on the meta-level about what is happening. Describe the process without using names and judgmental language. So everyone can reflect on their behavior and change it.

Follow the Majority

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Let the majority or the loudest voices make decisions. Sometimes quiet participants are fine with letting others to decide.

Leave the Room

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Leave the room and let the group discuss it alone. Sometimes it’s not the majority or charismatic participants who hold others back, but the presence of facilitators.


Reflect critically on your assumptions about the minorities, deficits, weaknesses and prevent stigmatization.


Dealing With Conflicting Needs

You are in the middle of a very crucial and important session but you see that the group cannot concentrate on the task at hand. You have to complete the current session and you won’t have a chance to do it later. This is a situation in which facilitators draw a line between themselves and participants – each group has different needs.

We know from school that forcing participants into something they do not want, cannot do, or do not need will not help them absorb the information at hand. As an alternative we propose a way to deal with the dilemma in a more equal way. To start, make your dilemma transparent - talk about your goals for the session, your needs, and your impressions about the work with the group.

Show your trust in the group’s capability for finding a solution by asking about their current needs. Show your willingness to cooperate with your participants and soon you will have a result that is satisfying to everyone. Even in learning environments in which participants are not used to being asked about their needs - not to mention about their individual needs – they usually (after a phase of irritation) appreciate the concept of personal responsibility and equality.

Handy solutions for when different needs clash

  • Introducing additional breaks,
  • Changing location for a while (e.g. going outside),
  • Changing the form of the task (e.g. group work instead of one large discussion),
  • Changing the order of the tasks or even omitting some parts of it and assigning it as homework

We have often received feedback saying that these sorts of reactions confirmed to participants that we take principles like responsibility, trust, or cooperation seriously.

Equal Treatment

As a facilitator you have a lot of power and you will most likely use it, even if only unconsciously. Unfortunately our own perception can be deceiving in cases like these. That is why, if you have a team, it is good to get feedback from them on these types of questions.

  • Do you show the same appreciation to people who share your personal opinion as well as to others who don’t?
  • Do you give the same amount of time to everyone who wants to talk?
  • Do you communicate non-verbally that you support or reject a particular opinion?
  • When you qualify or correct a person’s input, can that person accept it?
  • Get feedback from your team!

Empower co-facilitating participants

Sometimes you have a very active participant in the group who knows a lot about the topic at hand and wants to share it with others. A co-facilitating participant often wants to appear to be an expert on the topic and feels a need to share this knowledge.

Some feel the need for acknowledgement and attention – this is totally normal in groups. This co-facilitating behavior appears spontaneously and may be counterproductive to our planning. So as facilitators, we tend to identify this as disturbance or even competition with our expertise.

Prioritize participants’ knowledge

But does it really threaten your competence? When examined rationally, this is often not the case. In any case, it is counterproductive to enter into some kind of competition with this person or to try to quiet them drastically. Appreciation helps us concentrate our thoughts on this person’s needs and respect their knowledge – the valuable parts of the person’s input. Despite the fact that co-facilitation can be the expression of a lack of other ways to participate, we have had positive experiences in incorporating participants’ knowledge into our program in planning the schedule, choosing methods, and leisure time. In most cases, participants are willing to take partial responsibility for the seminar and respect the facilitators’ needs.

Our main goal in non-formal education is empowerment, which means addressing the belief in one’s personal capacities and personal responsibility. When a participant knows a lot or has relevant experience that they want to share, this means that the person wants to take responsibility. It follows that this might result in a negative outcome if we as facilitators do not leave participants room to express themselves. Step back and give your participants the chance to open their treasure box of experience. You are allowed to learn from them as well. They may well come up with great explanations and images that will stay in your memory for days afterward.

Asking for diverse experiences

When a person is wearing “rosy glasses”, their perception of reality has been smoothed over. The glasses are a filter between the individual and reality. On the other hand, glasses can also help us see more clearly. In this sense we would like to encourage you to try out a new tool – diversity glasses – for filtering your perception and improving your diversity awareness.

Wearing diversity glasses, you will see how much the quality of your seminar improves thanks to your participants’ contributions. Ask about their experiences as often as possible, create space for them to share their knowledge among one another. They could give a short presentation, tell a story, make a poster, or complete many other types of activities.

This is applicable even to ambitious, intellectual parts of a seminar. Sometimes facilitators have to explain an abstract concept to their participants. During their explanation, they might see that they have failed to apply their concept to their audience’s reality. In situations such as this, it might be helpful to re-orient from teaching to listening.

Including Participants’ Experience

Include responsible presentations, create space for sharing knowledge. Ask participants to explain what they have understood, encourage them to share their associations. Use the experience that your participants already have as a basis for further training.

Some successful participatory tools became popular for inspiring and participatory group work. They focus on the participants’ knowledge and experience rather than on the dissemination of new knowledge through a moderating experts:

Incorporate Opposite Opinions

As a facilitator, you set an example of tolerance and acceptance for participants. Working with a diverse group means including many different views on social or political topics, different approaches towards a problem, and different values, all of which might differ from our personal opinions. And we are free to reject or not tolerate certain opinions. But where do we draw the line?

First, there are practical limitations in our methodological work. In general, our role is not self-realization but facilitating. In this role, you don’t necessarily have to share your opinion unless it helps your group reach their goal.

Secondly, we have to be careful not to jeopardize your high values and basic principles that were established in the beginning of a seminar - such as non-discrimination, transparency, and participation.

Just because we are faced with a dissenting opinion does not mean we are allowed to change our working attitude, to become less facilitating, or to mistreat the participants.

Flipchart Work

This can be illustrated with an example. We’d like to do this with a common method used in group work – collecting a group’s statements with regard to a certain topic on a flipchart.

Following our basic principle of equal treatment, we should write down any idea or thought that the group has. Not writing down all the ideas on the flipchart has disadvantages: it does not show a real picture of the group and it discriminates against some people. If you behave in this way, you send a message to the group that you are not ready to work with a variety of ideas and opinions. In contrast, treating every answer equally meansthat no matter how (un)popular an opinion is, it was noticed and valued in the same way the others were. Only statements or actions that harm human dignity or aim to harm specific people directly should be excluded.

Implementing a culture of diversity in the seminar does not mean securing pluralism of opinions at any cost.

Tips for Boardwork

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Collect all statements and ideas without judgment or filter

Select only specific statements and sort out those you do not like

Ask for clarification or more information on what was meant

Analyze or comment on individual statements

Cluster ideas only if the group sees the relation as well

Present your own clusters without explanation

Ask the group to assign priorities

Show nonverbal/verbal approval of particular statements


H. Fahrun, E. Skowron, N. Zimmermann: Diversity Dynamics: Activating the Potential of Diversity in Trainings ISBN 978-3-944012-02-5

Eliza Skowron


Co-founder Working Between Cultures, born in Poland, studies at Jagielloian UniversityKraków (Polen). Facilitator and expert for constructive communication, Anti-Bias, train-the-trainer, author in Competendo.

Heike Fahrun

Facilitator and educational expert since 2001, author of handbooks for facilitators. Focus: particuipation, civil engagement, diversity-cobnscious learning, rememberance, mentoring, train-the-trainer.