Facilitating and Hosting a Virtual Community

Submitted by Ted Takacs on Fri, 12/24/2004 - 18:52.

Nancy White
Last edited 4/03/04

  • From Webster's: Facilitation \Fa*cil`i*ta"tion\, n. The act of facilitating or making easy.
  • From Wordnet: facilitation n: act of assisting or making easier the progress or improvement of something
  • "to free from difficulties or obstacles"
  • "to make easy or easier"

Why Facilitate Online?

Online group
interactions do not always "happen" spontaneously. They require care
and nurturing: facilitation. The core of facilitation and hosting is to
serve the group and assist it in reaching its goals or purpose. Some
describe this role as a gardener, a conductor, the distributed
leadership of jazz improvisers, a teacher, or an innkeeper. It can be
this and more.
Levitt, Popkin and Hatch, in their article "Building Online Communities for High Profile Internet Sites" wrote, "Communities are organic in nature and site owners can't make them successful or force them
to grow. As site owner can only provide the fertile ground on which a
community may grow, and then provide some gentle guidance to help the
group thrive. Much of the challenge in fostering an online community is
social, rather than technical."
Facilitation is a balance between functions that enhance the
environment and content, create openness and opportunity, and functions
that protect the members from harassment. It involves the sacred
rituals around freedom of individual expression while preserving
something of "the common good." It is juggling, tight-rope walking,
often without a net. The distance to the hard cold ground varies with
the community or group goals. The clearer the purpose,
the easier it is to craft the facilitation approach. Purpose provides
participants and facilitators expectations upon which they can base
their actions.
Facilitators foster member interaction, provide stimulating material
for conversations, keep the space cleaned up and help hold the members
accountable to the stated community guidelines, rules or norms. They
pass on community history and rituals. They "hold the space" for the
members. Perhaps more importantly, hosts often help community members
do these things for themselves. Without someone taking on these
responsibilities, it is easy for an online space to get sidetracked,
disrupted or simply abandoned. For more specifics on online
facilitation, see Some Considerations for Facilitating Online Interaction.

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