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Comparing Structured and Unstructured Facilitation Approaches in Consultation Workshops: A Field Experiment


Facilitators must make important decisions when preparing for consultation workshops. One critical choice pertains to how much structure should be incorporated in a workshop and imposed on group discussions. Highly structured consultations may ensure efficiency and help produce specific outputs. However, too much structure may limit group discussion, creativity, or be ill received by participants. To examine the impacts of structure in a workshop consultation, we conducted a field experiment that compares structured and unstructured facilitation approaches in a workshop on participatory environmental monitoring. We randomized participants (n = 34) into two parallel sessions where they completed the same tasks of idea generation and prioritization but with contrasting facilitation approaches. We collected pre and post surveys to compare satisfaction between groups across a range of variables. We find that structured facilitation with small group discussions provide a modest yet consistent improvement over the unstructured facilitation approach. We also find that women and men had very different perceptions about the level of women’s participation in the session. Experimental research designs are feasible for learning about facilitation methods and testing best practices in public participation and consultations.

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  1. We thank Mark Buntaine for sharing this insight.


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We are grateful to all the workshop participants who agreed to take part in this research during the “Regional Workshop on Participatory Environmental Governance for Sustainable Natural Resource Management” on October 3–5, 2018 in Panama City. The workshop was convened by the Environmental Governance Programme of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), in partnership with the Canadian International Resources and Development Institute (CIRDI). The Environmental Governance Programme is co-implemented by the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA), and UNDP, and funded by the Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA). This research was supported by a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC: Grant No. 430-2017-0072) Grant of Canada and funding from the Faculty of Applied Sciences at the University of British Columbia. We thank Tim McDaniels for providing special insight in early discussions regarding research design; Mark Buntaine for comments on an earlier draft and Claudio Pareja for his support during the workshop.

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Correspondence to Jordi Honey-Rosés.

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Honey-Rosés, J., Canessa, M., Daitch, S. et al. Comparing Structured and Unstructured Facilitation Approaches in Consultation Workshops: A Field Experiment. Group Decis Negot 29, 949–967 (2020).

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  • Consultation
  • Facilitation
  • Experiment
  • Field experiment
  • Public engagement